Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Christmas spirit arrives digitally

This year the feeling of Christmas has been hard to achieve. But on Monday, suddenly, my daughter calls me. "Mom, did your present to your sister get lost?" "My what?" I respond, because I really wasn't thinking about Christmas presents. "It's on the internet, a present for her from you and dad." On the internet? WTF!?! What does the internet have to do with my presents? "A friend just mailed me," the girl continues, "she says that there's a list at posten.no, over lost presents at mail offices, and this one is in Bergen."

So online I go, hurriedly, ignoring my husband's demands to hear what's up, and yes, there it is:

Ikke typisk julegaveinnpakking, blekblått papir med mørkere tegninger av blader ca 12x9cm og ca 2cm tykk gave.Til/fra lappen er hjemmelaget i turkis papir, pyntet med gullfarget sløyfe i stoff.Kloke ord på innsiden av gavelappen

That's definitely my present to my younger sister, and it's fallen out of the envelope I had packed their presents in, at some mail office in Bergen. And so I hit the "send us a tip" button hard, hoping there's somebody at the other end to receive the message about the correct address. But then I start reading about all the other presents, and there's this image before my inner eye, of presents spilling out of bags and boxes, falling out of envelopes, condemned to an unsure fate at the mail offices all over Norway.

However, using the internet, the Norwegian mail has finally found a very sensible, loving use of the net and the social media. Somebody sits down and registers each present, and then you can look through the list, and if you see something you think you know you can tip the mail office, tip the person you think it's for or from, or just spread the message through facebook or twitter. "They sent you a present after all." There's a box of perfume. There's a soft present in star-splattered paper with a self-made snow-ball tag on it. There's something that looks like a book in blue and gold paper, from Maria to Elena. It's at the mail-office, and if you know Maria or Elena, you can help them and make sure their message reaches the destination. I love you. I care about you. I remember you. I took the trouble to find something for you, wrap it and send it, and I really hope it reaches you. And if the traditional channels are not good enough, I really hope somebody helps my message along, because I care, I do.

Merry Christmas!

Update: the mail office didn't register the "tips oss" tip, so I called them. After a few minutes I received a call back from a lady who was not at work at the moment, but she was willing to ask her husband, who also worked at the Norwegian mail, to find the present tonight, when he went to work, to make sure to deliver it. Talk about service and friendliness!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Philosophy and games

A conference in April, in Greece, the Philosophy of Computer Games. So tempting! Now, do I dare approach philosophy and games again, and do I manage to do so in time for the deadline of February 1st?

Monday, December 06, 2010

The weirdest people

By way of the Danish videnskab.dk, a pointer to an article by Canadians that concludes with how a lot of American research about human behaviour is wrong. Well, it may conclude that European and Asian research is wrong too, but since they haven't really checked that, who knows.

The important thing with this article is how it talks about generalisation. So much of the research done in the United States is done on first year students. This means it's done on a very narrow group of people, with very specific views and cultural background. An example they give is the relationship to death. Americans have, according to the researchers cited at videnskab.dk, a fundamentally different approach to death than Europeans and people in other cultures. The fear of death is much higher, something which influences the entire society.

When I have stayed in the United States I have felt that very clearly: The sense of being in an alien culture. I thought I would find something familiar, due to language and how we all feel we "know" USA, but oh dear, I was so wrong. An English friend who worked out of New York in a highly international firm told me how Americans are more xenophobic than even the Japanese, and how in their line of business they were quite reluctant to hire Americans due to this.

This kind of connects to my thoughts about English as a "lingua franca" for research, something which of course makes it very easy for American research to spread through the world, but put all non-English speaking people at a distinct disadvantage when going in the other direction. It is a mechanisms that helps maintaining the illusion that we are all similar, because we have to learn how to communicate not only in a language Americans can ready, but also through concepts understandable in an English language culture.

An experience which was an eye-opener to me was when I published this article. I had originally used class to describe differences which would create communication problems within a culture, but I was told that I should not use class but ethnicity, because class wasn't really relevant (in the US). I compromised by using gender, which worked, but the experience was quite shocking. I never thought (and still don't think) there can be a culture where class isn't relevant. For instance, I suspect that a lot of ethnic conflict is also a struggle of class, and the strive for acceptance and respect isn't only about skin colour, but also about making a class journey. This is a fundamental paradigm for anybody who have grown up in an academic tradition heavily influenced by marxism, and while I may be wrong, it highlights the differences between Scandinavia and the USA.

On this background "the weirdest people" is a very important contribution to the discussion of western research, and I guess I should go looking to see if there's a library near me with access to Behavioral and Brain Sciences at Cambridge journals.

Thursday, December 02, 2010

The world falls apart

For those out there who still play WoW, the last few weeks have been some ride, right? With the preparations for Cataclysm, the expansion arriving next week, Azeroth is changing, and I find myself wondering about how much I have relied on the stability of the game world.

agirra's wolf

This week-end I took my original game character and rode around Durotar and the Barrens, her starting area. It was shocking. Where I had quested as a newbie, where I knew every nook and cranny, every quest and bug, it was all different. A huge rift split the land. The Alliance (ouch, that hurt) has several more strongholds in Southern Barrens, and the orcs have been pushed back into the mountainsides. Stonetalon Mountains is the site of fierce battles between gnome and goblin technology, Ashenvale is being stripped by gnomes and orcs working together, Thousand Needles is almost gone, and Feralas has large human and elf settlements. Azshara is a low-level goblin zone - I remember grinding bloodelves for cloth and gold when saving for my first fast mount - and Tanaris has a lot of new beaches. I find the changes hurt me in a way not too dissimilar from when they built a road right over my favourite mushroom place in Ørsta. It's not like I was hanging out in that spot much except when I looked for mushroom, but I always knew it was there.

Now, it's gone, like the great lift into Thousand Needles.

It's cool though, in a way losing the mushroom patch was not. It has made me drag out the low level characters I haven't bothered level, and re-explore with the sense of risk and adventure I felt way back then, more than five years ago. It's beautiful and different and terrifying, and I feel like a newbie, disoriented and frustrated and happy at the same time. The sensation of something being at stake is back. So far, I love it.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Christmas present tips for your geeky friend

I know what I want, at least: A very special memory stick! And if it's a girl geek and you want to say "I love you" in a suitably romantic way...

Or, if she's an academic geek, and happen to be exactly like me, then she wants to try out new software, or needs a new version of the old. Trust me, nothing says "I love you" like knowing exactly what software your favourite geek girl needs. Or do you want to impress? Go for something expensive!

Pink bloggers

One of the most popular Norwegian girl bloggers at the moment is a young lady who calls herself Linnea, and writes the blog "All you know is wrong" (Alt du vet er feil). At first glance you expect to encounter a typical fashion blog, as the top picture is of a very good looking girl with nice earrings, a fashionable top and a cheeky smile. The "About me" section gives a warning though, as she writes:
Jeg er over gjennomsnittet bitter, og liker stort sett ingen andre enn meg selv. OBS: Man lærer ingenting her inne.
Translated: I am more than averagely bitter, and don't like anybody but myself. Note: You learn nothing here.

Then you start reading, and you realise that this is not your average fashion blogger. Linnea writes a wonderful stream-of-consciousness type posts, all about herself, her experiences, feelings and, yes, clothes. Where your average fashion blogger would show herself off in handsome clothes, Linnea posts a picture of herself, on the floor of a gym, the result of a fall because she was just slipped going down one step. Not only did she fall, most ungraciously, she did so while wearing a thermo-suit, which is standard winter workwear for anybody working outside. So, not your standard fashionable one-piece; it's utility clothing for the most unfashionable (but extremely important) jobs.

This particular post, titled "I don't know," discusses exactly her position as a blogger, and particularly a "pink" blogger. She is outraged at being characterised as a pink blogger, and I can very well understand that. Her writing is sometimes as delicate as if she had puked all over the screen, as her stream-of-consciousness often appears to not have been subject to any editing at all. There's nothing polite, sweet or candy-scented in her texts, and pink is definitely not a colour that comes to mind.

What this random, meandering and carefully not-edited post still manages to say is: "Look, I am not cute or graceful or strong or smart, and I am still the most popular and potentially influental blogger in Norway." And I have to say: I can see why. Linnea is the girl who doesn't have a grip, her closet is a mess, her life is filled with inner conflict and struggle, and she is intolerant and angry - your normal, average girl, who happens to be able to write and use a mobile camera. She speaks for the bitch in all girls who are sick of trying to blend and be gracious, and she reveals her total lack of taste quite ruthlessly.

If Linnea has a colour to her blog, I think it's orange. It's warm and angry and temperamental and contrary, and it picks you up and makes you feel cheery, even if it's obnoxious and hard to tolerate in too large doses.