Friday, September 29, 2006

Diversity of the blogosphere

Simon Owens of bloggasm publishes the results from a survey he did on the diversity of the blogosphere. Not the biggest survey out there, but it looks like a very interesting strategy to extract and demonstrate the diversity of the blogg world.

Link by way of Jan Fredrik Hovden.

Male locker-room humour

---Update: I am going to "Do a Dave" here, and change this blogpost a little. I am doing that because talking to some of my colleagues reminded me that the way this reached the journalist may not have been as deliberate as the article presents it.---

This post has been written as a response to an article in Sunnmørsposten 29th of September, where the journalist claims I have attacked my colleagues in a blogpost.

To begin with I want to give a little English-Norwegian lesson.
locker-room = "garderobe"
men's room, loo, toilet, wc, bathroom (and I am certain a lot more words I never learned) = "do"

male locker-room humour = "herregarderobehumor", or as the article translates it in one case, "mannehumor."

And I want to point out that despite the journalist's use of "several" while he was talking to me and in the article, I don't believe he had been contacted by a majority, not even a significant minority of my male colleagues. The acts of one or two have created what is presented as a massive conflict.

When that's said: I obviously stepped on something sore in my post about my fear for losing my voice: Voice update. This sentence hurt one or two of my male colleagues in a bad way:
Scared enough that I am deeply unhappy about the male locker-room humour of our staff room, which I thought the last 15 years had made me deaf to.
I obviously hurt something badly enough that the owner(s) have been talking about this in the company of a journalist. As Norwegian readers can see from the article, some of my colleagues mentioned my blogpost to a journalist.

What can I say to these hurt individuals of the staff but: I am so sorry. I am so sorry I interpreted certain words as humour. I am so sorry I interpreted them as something particular for males. I am so sorry you felt so hurt by that blogpost. Want me to wear a scarlet B for Blogger? Want me to stop talking about my life, my feelings, my opinions?

Well... in that case, let me quote what Gunnar Bodahl-Johansen, cited as an expert on journalistic ethics in the article, told the journalist: "We must, in the name of freedom of speach, accept that people have their opinions of what happens in a college. It (the blogpost) did not mention private relations and did not expose private individuals, Bodahl-Johansen says."

And let me add:
I did not say that I had been to a meeting and been hurt by jokes told there. I never leaked what happened at the morning meeting in question. This is something the journalist got from the offended parties after the posting. What I did was to mention that a workplace where I until this fall was the only female researcher and teacher, permits a form of humour which is typical of male-dominated and male exclusive rooms. What a bomb.

I am so sorry I had to be the one to tell you.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The subject blogs back

I spent a nice afternoon and evening with two young men, a journalist and a cameraman from "Schrødingers katt". It's a program on NRK, Norwegian Broadcasting, and they wanted to make a case on games and game research. Main topic for the interview was The Truants, the game researcher's guild I am part of. And with that as an entrance to the topic of game research, we also talked about games, gamers, gaming and game research - for hours and hours and hours. All those hours are supposed to be cut down to 5-6 minutes, so it's not like I will be proselytising endlessly. But the experience was interesting: the conversations with two nice and interested people, the technical solutions in order to get the best filming conditions, the sheer physical work of hours of information collection.

After all these hours I admit I enjoy blogging the journalists. They were great people, great guests, good fun to talk to.

The program is supposed to be sent October 19th November 2nd October 26th, with a teaser October 19th, and will be online the day after.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Children and online communication

There's a report on children's use of the net, safety and awareness, published this year in Norway. The report and summary is in Norwegian, but SAFT, Safety Awareness Fact Tools is an international European consortium working to increase awareness of good and safe internet use.

The study reports that more children have been harassed online and had more unpleasant meetings with other people they first got in touch with online than in 2003. It also shows an increase in net use for communication. Boys have been harassed more than girls, something which may have a connection to the fact that boys use the net more for chatting and games than girls do. Of the people reporting unpleasant meetings with strangers after netchat, the majority already had dysfunctional relationships to parents, friends or other in close relationships, a sad mirror of an adult reality where victims attract further abuse.

On the up side, children are more careful about giving out their physical address or other information which can be used to track them. They also have more email addresses, which can be used to cover their identity in online communication, and they are increasingly suspicious to information they get online. They use the net for homework, and are aware that they need to check on their information.

Spam flatters

Spam gets smart, and not just technologically. I just got a comment which seemed to be both believable and nice, until I googled some of the keywords in it, and found that the exact same comment was all over the web, in some really strange places. Here's the comment, links removed:
****** ******* has left a new comment on your post "Let me screw up!":

I'm doing a paper about the merchandise liquidation and got this post. Its not where I was looking for but it is a good article for my Finance class... Very professional blog.
Of course I like to hear my blog is very professional. And yes, I know that Google can give random hits. Nice to hear that you can use what I write - what's not to love about this little comment? The spammer skillfully wields one of the more manipulative ways to address people, and makes it sound sincere and a little naive, as the sender positions him/herself below most people by being a student who uses your article/post in class.

But being suspicious, I checked if that search would actually lead to this blog. No, it doesn't. It does however lead to comments from the same person in several places.

For this blog I have activated several layers of blogger's protection options. First people need an account to post comments. Then they need to write a keyword which is not supposed to be copyable by bots. And last, I moderate comments. The first is fairly easy for a bot to deal with. The second was a good way to stop spammers, but either spammers are buying work time off chinese goldfarmers and having the spam done by hand, or there's now a way to translate the visual cue to letters without having it touched by human hands. Once those two things are dealt with, the spammer uses flattery and the randomness of net search tools to work on me, to have the human in the other end accept the comment. Clever, very clever.

(Another post analysing spam.)

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Privacy, scrutiny and research ethics

The last few days have linked some interesting discussions. Jill and Dennis says much of what needs to be said on this, but I'd like to add another perspective to this topic.

When doing research, we know that surveillance changes the behaviour of the research object. We also know that covert surveillance is very problematic, and there are rules about how we can use the kind of information we collect withut the knowledge of the subject. If we are not open about our role and our activities, when we publish we have to anonymize the information to the point that the objects can not be identified. Hence such inventive names as "case A" or "subject 1", and the total lack of environments and other things which can give flavour to the story. All this gives contextual information, and contextual information can be cross checked and ruin the anonymity of the research objects.

People who find themselves suddenly revealed through a study are, and have a reason to be, angry. They often feel abused and used. To reveal the secrets of another after careful study is powerabuse, the same kind of crime as rape. To hold and use certain information against another is called blackmail. It doesn't matter that the information has been gathered legitimately, if you use it to gain power over another individual, it's a crime.

As researchers we are in control, we are the ones who are gathering information. We know that we have to talk about our own behaviour, and so we are not taken by surprise when something comes up: We can't be blackmailed, we were there and were there for a reason. Armoured with a cause and armed with knowledge, we are both invulnerable and powerful.

The people who implement such things as MyBlogSpot and the changes on Facebook rarely think of themselves in the context of doing systematic information gathering along the lines of research. Truth is: that's what they do. We, the net users, don't think of the net as a field for information harvesting (for others than us). Truth is: The flow goes both ways. We don't move invisibly through the links, we leave a fine trail, much more real than pixie dust, but as intangible. Gathering information, we leave a trail of information. The ivory tower does not protect us here, and there are no sets of information gathering ethics protecting the subjects clicking on a link online. There shold be though. Information is power, and the right to gather and display information should definitely be discussed in a wide range of contexts.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The Player's Realm

After a loooong and slow publishing process, the anthology edited by Jonas Heide Smith and Patrick Williams is finally up on the publisher's site, to be published spring/summer 2007. Name is now: The Player's Realm, and I have an article in it called "Mutual Fantasy Online: Playing with People." Or that was what it was called last time I looked...

Privacy and options

By way of Dennis G. Jerz and apropos of Jill's thoughts on MyBlogSpot, a link to an article about another display of online behaviour on Facebook, this one prompting a huge response.

If I were an evil spammer...

I have just been looking at Jill's excellent post about MyBlogLog as well as their quick response, and of course had to have a look at it. It looks like innocent fun, but I agree totally with Jill, I don't want to have my face or my information on the front page of all sites I visit.

However: some do. Now if I was an evil spammer, a seller of porn or something equally evil and tempting, like WoW gold, what would I do? I'd make a blog, register with MyBlogLog, write a bot to click its way around the blogosphere through the MyBlogLog links, and leave my "face" in as many spots as possible.

Of course, the MyBlogLog providers probably thought about this before they made the nice, cool, social sharing technology, so I am sure there are ways to block spammers other than doing it by hand with each and every one that leaves a "face" on your blog. Or at least they are thinking about it:
Similarly, the site publisher will be able to ban the appearance of specific profile pictures from the widget and will no longer know when those individual MyBlogLog users visit their site. That feature is also not yet available.
Now I am looking forwards to seeing how this will develop. It's too good an opportunity for exposure at other people's web sites (some of them heavily trafficked) for some to pass up, and if the creators and users manage to keep it clean, that's a great feat of sorting and censoring.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Not going there

Resolution: I am not going there.
I have thought about the flattering request I got, talked to friends and relatives, and had all kind of responses. "Power is fun!" was one response. "Go for it!" "No, don't do it, it's the death of your career and all you have worked for" was another. The most important and reasonable comment came from the people who really know me: "You are great at this kind of work, but it's the stuff that wears you down and makes you unhappy. You'll be bound and restricted, and that's not good for you. It's what you've been trying so hard to get out of." And they are right, really, although my freedom is not exactly Kris Kristoffersen's version:
Freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose
Nothin' don't mean nothin' hon' if it ain't free, no no
And feelin' good was easy, Lord, when he sang the blues
You know, feelin' good was good enough for me
Good enough for me and my Bobby McGee

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Money and power or research?

I have been asked if I'd be interested in going for a position which means a lot more responsibility and a good chunk more money (at least 15 000$ or 12 000 eu a year) than what I have, for the next 4 years. It implies political influence, the possibility of making a real difference for (this little spot of) Norwegian academia, and a chance to meet a lot of interesting, important people and perhaps even be listened to by the same. The drawback? No research, no travel for conferences, no time to write and explore, no books, no articles, no research- or writing leaves for 4 years. At least. The maximum time, if I get caught up in this, is 12 years.

I can get the same kind of money, although not the same kind of influence, by working my ass off at publications and projects and become a full professor. Problem is - I don't get funding for my projects, because I don't have experience in leading researchers, something this job would give me.

I am suffering from cognitive dissonance. Or I am just plainly in doubt about what to do.

WoW is the new MUD

The October version of Games and Culture by Sage is out with a WoW edition. In it I have an article on MUDs and WoW.

There's a lot of great stuff there, some of my favourite people have published in it, and I thoroughly enjoy reading their work. I hope you will too!

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Orc Professor, lev 40...

Our researcher's guild is pretty well established by now, enough that it's been discovered by a Swedish journalist in the game magazine Super Play. I am not sure if the interview is (or will be) published, but he did find us in Azheroth and did an interview with me, T. L. Taylor and Jessica Langer - in our game avatars.

Running a guild like this has its special challenges. The problem with researchers is that we always have more will and curiosity than time, and with time at a premium and tight schedules, logistics becomes an issue. I never had ambitions of 40 man raids in Black Wing Lair, manned only by game researchers (although... how cool would that be? Not to mention a pre-made game researcher Alterac Valley?), but I still have ambitions of being able to just once raid Upper Black Rock Spire with the guild.

Recruiting for a guild like this is however special. We have a few non-researchers in the guild, but it's people who like to hang with us anyway. You know, the ones who are close enough friends or sufficiently fans to tolerate having their media experiences ruined by sarcastic deconstruction even after a bottle of wine, or to show up to have lunch with a bunch of strange academics and still be polite after an hour of literary references flying through the air. They are rare though, so it's not like we have a huge recruiting base.

What I am trying to do with the guild is to give the members a varied range of game experiences. We spent the spring term levelling and just learning to play. The fall has a role play motive, a plan for more in character interaction and role play events. We move through these things slowly, frustratingly so for those of us who are experienced gamers, but quickly enough for a group of folks who are constantly interrupted by conferences, deadlines and students. It's not all parts of our work that can be done ingame, after all.

But I am still having fun. It gives a warm and fuzzy feeling to log on and find scholar friends right there. See you in Orgrimmar?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Big Men, small bikes

As I walk in the shadow of the famous bridge, several people ride past me on bicycles. The speed bikers out to excersize in all the requisite equipment are hardly noticeable. Nor are the few female bikers, either in sportswear or just on a more casual trip. It's the men I notice.

For some reason, men who ride bicycles in Brooklyn are either dressed for it from the tip of their pointed toe clicked onto the pedal and to the top of their aerodynamic helm, or they ride a too small bike. Even men who ride together with some woman on a fitting bike will ride a bike that is too small, or at least has the seat adjusted so they can't stretch their legs properly. They pedal along, looking like they have just found a bike outside a school, and taken a ride.

Perhaps they have. It may be that all Brooklyn men past 18 who are not dedicated bikers are dedicatd bicycle thieves. That's one theory. A nicer one is that all these guys have been looking after their bikes since they got one as a present when they were 12. Now, 20 years later, they are still pedalling along on the bike their parents bought them.

A third theory, which struck me today, is that perhaps biking isn't something men are supposed to do. I mean: In a society where the ultimate freedom is owning your own car and handgun, who wants to admit that he likes to ride a bike? The bike is soft, it has no round metalling edges, no dark glass, no real weight. When you crash into something, you will hurt as much as they do, there is no cushioning. The power you control is no more than what you can produce with your own muscle, no purring horse power to add to the waning strength in your thighs. A bicycle is a soft vehicle. It's not one for men.

So what can a man do, if he wants to enjoy the freedom, the leisure and the fun of riding a bike, but doesn't want to dedicate himself to it, like a lifestyle? Yes, he has to pretend he isn't really doing it. The bike has to look like it belongs to somebody else, like he just brought an old relic out of the basement, like he borrowed it right now from a younger brother. It has to be ill fitting and odd, not matching his frame, his height, his weight.

Then and only then can he enjoy his freedom from being trapped in his car like a carapace.

For some reason, the men I meet on these bikes all smile. They look happy with their ill-matched rides. Perhaps they know a secret about what riding a bike is all about?

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

The Diner

The other piece of Americana out here at the edge of Brooklyn - right under the bridge that they are doing stupid stunts on in Saturday Night Fever, you know - is the diner. The closest diner is a weird mix which could exist nowhere else in the world.

It is a low, concrete building, with an ample parking lot in front. Still, most people walk here, this diner is for the locals. There's no traffic through this area, it's all people who live here or who come to visit their relatives. Here you meet all the cliches.

In the boot behind me, two men discuss what they will do if they get crossed, in heavy fake-russian accents. They loudly flirt with the waitress, in between describing their favourite weapons. With them is a woman with a blue wig and an old handbag. As they leave, my New York connection murmurs "bad actors. Really need to work more on that accent if they want to pass the audition. Not to mention their table manners."

The waitress they were flirting with is no little spring chicken. She banters with her guests, yells across the room, and calls everybody "love", "honey" or "darling". She wears white sneakers with the black skirt and vest that's the diner uniform, and a white towel, tucked into the belt of her skirt, trails her as she jogs by. The service is quick and efficient and definitely no-nonsense. And with the food you'll get her opinions on just about anything, just give her a moment of chance. It will also be freely shared with the rest of the people in the diner.

Not that the guests are a private lot. In five minutes after the wannabe russian mafia has moved out, we learn all details about an aunt's chemotherapy and the relatives coming over from Manhattan for dinner, tonight. And where is a good restaurant? My New York connection joins into the common sharing of local restaurant lore, and suggests my favourite restaurant. 30 seconds later three waitresses are trying to lower their voices while they explain to the lady that THAT restaurant is just too... Well, you should have seen what they do... how they behave... so stuffy... and the food is just odd...

We quickly learn the names of all the waitresses, as they are yelled across the room. Only the one male waiter is somehow outside of this. He is serving in the table section, not the boots. He moves quietly and quickly back and forth, silenced perhaps, by the massive - in all ways - femininity ruling the booths.

The diner isn't bad. The food is OK, and the servings are good for at least two meals. The cakes are huge and overdone, and the desserts are a punishment, not a treat - unless you share them with eight. They have a cocktail lounge, which means mainly that you can get all kinds of cocktails. This is where I had my first Long Island Ice Tea. It was served with a snicker, and I am never doing it again. If you don't know what a Long Island Ice Tea is - well, let's just say, it's an experience.

This may sound like a nightmarish experience, but it isn't, it's just really different. I think the reason why I like it is the people who come here, and the way they are received. Old ladies who can hardly hear are treated with the same offhand manners as their yuppie grandsons. Pretty student girls bend quietly ignored over their books in the corner boot, while kids going trick or treat are taken in, treated, have their costumes discussed and then are sent off again with tips to where they should go. It is an institution, abrasive and brash, yes, but also alive, vigorous and in synch with the people who live here and use it. And despite its fake stained-glass decorations, complete with clashing music selections at each booth, it could only exist here. I do think it's a place outside of time though. I have seen it in movies for 80 years.

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Laundromat

I have written about it before, since it is so different from how I live at home, but the nearby laundromat is large, efficient and a space station of washing technology. Normally I sneak over to do laundry at odd hours - jet-lagged I do laundry at 3 am, working odd hours I do laundry at 10 am Tuesday mornings, I never do it during laundry prime time in weekends.

That is, until today.

I had to *gasp* wait for a drier. There were no baskets. The tables were crowded. In my european rudeness, I just lifted (dry!) clothes out of a drier to put my own stuff in. I was brash and rude and got things going.

In that period, I was observing people.

I am 45 years old. I have been folding clothing for at least 40 years. The first 5-10 of those years were kind of slow and light, but then I got into the serious laundry business. First I did it at home with the family, large family, then I did it for myself, then after a very short period of single life I was part of a couple and doing laundry for 2, then suddenly for 4 - which has been the situation for the last 20 years. Folding clothing is something I thought I was good at.

Watching New Yorkers at a public laundromat fold their clothing, I realised what a pathetic slob I am. When you're used to your own washing machine, your own drying rack and your own spacious living room to spread the clean laundry in, you get lazy. You don't immediately smooth out all the creases. You don't fold the collar just so as it comes out of the drier, so it will be easier to iron later on. You don't stroke the T-shirts out to make them fold into a uniform size that fits in your landry bag, which you have to carry home. You - ok, don't know about you, but I - get sloppy.

Today was interesting. I watched a group of people popularly assumed to be rude, brash, loud and forward carefully negotiate the lack of washing machines, driers and laundry baskets, politely assisting when the time-lags were evident, ignoring the intrusions on personal space with almost Scandinavian stoicism, and happily folding their clothes side by side; Spanish, Irani and Irish. It was beautiful. It made me believe in human cooperation, also in the United States. Outlaw private washing machines, fill the world with laundromates, and see people work those differences out in coordinated folding of intimate apparel.

Friday, September 08, 2006

On games in Norwegian

These are a few links to articles and notes on games in Norwegia. Most of these are pdf's of reports from the Norwegian Media Authority, one is a note by the Norwegian media researcher Eva Liestøl, on games and violence. This stuff is not exactly brand new, but still contain some interesting descriptions and good points to consider when discussing games in a Norwegian context.

Nettsvermere (On children and their use of the internet)
Dataspill og Vold (Computer games and Violence, by the game researcher Faltin Karlsen)
Regulering av dataspill (Regulating computer games, a report on games to assist in considering systems for regulating computer games in Norway.)

Friday, September 01, 2006

A Good Day

Killed Drakkisath, sent off a book proposal, chatted with my son about his homework, had strawberries and cream for dinner, shopped for red wine and sauntered through the messy streets of Bay Ridge.