October 2003 Archives

informal legal advice needed


I have a relatively simple question.

Can I use a famous quotation from a living person on a commercially marketed t-shirt without first getting that person's consent?

I'm not sure whether that consitutes copyright violation or whether it falls within fair use.

(And yes, I realize that advice I get for free via my blog is worth less than the paper it's not printed on. Just trying to get a general sense as to where I should look for guidance on this.)

you may ask yourself...


"How did I get here?"

That's what I was asking myself the whole time I was at the NSF PI conference this week. What an amazing experience.

I'm still trying to sort out what I can blog about the workshop, and what I can't--many people were sharing very preliminary results, and it wouldn't be appropriate to disseminate them at this point. But I will try to sit down this week and distill some of what I took away from the whole thing.

Meanwhile, blogging will continue to be light because I leave town again on Saturday--this time for the Internet Librarian conference in Monterey. Happily, the hotel rooms there have high-speed access (and I'm hoping for conference wifi, as well).

(Speaking of wifi, there's now free access in the Rochester airport! Frontier Communications is running a business center, and the signal is strong enough to reach most of the gates in the A terminal.)

wise words from a boing boing guest author


Jason Scott of Textfiles.com is Boing Boing's guestblogger this week. He's got a nice piece on "The Parties I Missed and the Parties I Didn't." Here's a piece of it:

Having an event be invitation-only and then not getting invited is always a downer. It's probably not you; it's just that invitations depend by nature on the right webs of knowledge and trust, and if you're not in the one that drives the event, then you're not getting in no matter how much you might deserve to. The solution is simple: Build your own massive web of trust, and then wait for the cross-links to make your world a richer place.

Nicely said. Good perspective.

we're misbehavin'

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I'm delighted to announce the debut of a new weblog on the topic of gender and technology:

We've got a really amazing group of women participating on this site:

  • danah boyd
  • Caterina Fake
  • Meg Hourihan
  • me (Liz Lawley)
  • Dorothea Salo
  • Halley Suitt
  • Gina Trapani
  • Jill Walker

We all believe it's important to begin changing the public perception of women in the context of technology, and that one of the best ways to do that is to make women's accomplishments, writings, and contributions more public and visible.

I hope you'll add the new site to your blogroll and/or aggregator list!

bad blog juju


I was going to write about our unexpected watery adventure from last night, but Halley beat me to it.

She got all the details right. What she didn't get was the incredibly chagrined look on Gerald's face when, after we cleaned up the worst of it, I asked him what happened. It was like asking one of my kids how the lemonade ended up all over the floor. He knew he had to tell me, but he didn't want to.

She also left out the part where I called her back to tell her what had happened, and Gerald was shouting towards the phone "D*mn that Halley Suitt!" (he was kidding, folks, please don't chastise him in the comments!)

So there it is...a cautionary tale. Blogs can be bad for your (or your home's) health. All things in moderation, especially Halley's Comment!

color picker site

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I'm always on the lookout for cool tools for my students, and I just found a nice one via Kottke's remaindered links.

One of the problems with teaching web design is that many of my students have, shall we say, only a rudimentary sense of color combinations. For several years, I've pointed them to this Shockwave-based site.

But the Javascript-based site Kottke points to is far better. Not only does it provide a better interface for selection and refinement, it even adds a wonderful component to let you see how your colors will appear to someone with a variety of colorblindnesses. (I tested it with my husband, who's red-green colorblind. "Do you see the difference between these?" I asked, toggling between the "normal" and "deuteranpy" modes. "Between what?" he responded. Guess it works!)

happy blogiversary to me

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One year.

Four hundred and thirty-nine entries.

One thousand, five hundred and forty-six comments. (Thanks for being the first, Joi!)

Over fourteen thousand page views per month.

An entire world of new friends and colleagues.

A changed life.

immersion in narrative

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No time today to write the long, thoughtful post that's rumbling around in my head right now. But I can at least sketch out some of the ideas, so that when I do have time (perhaps while traveling to Albuquerque this weekend) I can expand (expound?) upon them. Or maybe not. Either way, some of this has to get written before the end of the day, or my head's going to explode.

I've been meeting people IRL ("in real life") after first meeting them online for a lot of years now--starting with the University of Michigan CONFER conferencing system back in 1986. Since then I've had in-person meetings with people I've encountered on CompuServe's CB Simulator, Usenet newsgroups. DC-area BBS systems, FidoNet echos, e-mail lists, and most recently, blogs.

But this weekend, meeting Joey deVilla, I had a very different reaction to the in-person encounter than I've had in the past. And I've had to think about why that is.

Weez has written about her sense of blogs as "first-person narrative in real-time." (Here, here, here, and here.) Of all the blogs I read on a regular basis (and yes, my blogroll is also my reading list; I'm not an aggregator kind of a girl), Joey's is probably the most story-like in its presentation. From the title of the blog ("The Adventures of Accordion Guy in the 21st Century") to the self-as-narrator voice he regularly employs:

This was end-of-a-John-Hughes-movie moment, the sort of thing airline pilots would call a "textbook landing". It was time to close the deal. I put an arm around her waist and drew her closer. Our faces were closing, maybe only an inch apart now...

...when I felt a hand on my shoulder, pulling me back. What the hell?

I turned around to see who was trying to ruin the best date ever. (more...

Joey brings you into his story, with detail and--as KF put it--emotional authenticity. You know that it's real, you understand that this is autobiographical, but it's still a damn good story, not "just" a journal entry.

So meeting Joey on Friday night, sitting in the Tequila Bookworm, was a mind-altering experience for me. A through-the-looking-glass kind of thing. All of a sudden, I was in the story, sitting with my favorite character in his favorite watering hole. There are plenty of children's stories based on just this kind of fantasy--even TV shows based heavily on the premise (from Gumby and Poky to Steve and Blue's "blue skidoos" in Blue's Clues). But I have to say it's the first time I've ever had such an experience unmediated by a book or screen.

Happily, by Saturday night I'd gotten over that initial sense of disconnect, and was able to genuinely enjoy spending an evening with Joey and his friends.

Looking back at it, I'm still struck by the worlds-collide feeling that I had. It speaks to something being very different about blogs versus other computer-mediated communication. Email, newsgroups, bbs systems--they don't make it possible to create the kind of personal narrative and sense of place (note to self: go back and re-read Meyrowitz's No Sense of Place) that blogs seem to facilitate.

There are visual presentation issues with this, as well. I think reading Joey's posts in an aggregator would have changed my sense of him and his environment. That's an area I've not seen much work in--the extent to which the visual presentation of the blog affects the perception and representation of the writer.

But I'm out of time to explore this, so I'm going to hit post and go back to my crazy daily schedule.

recalcitrant re-entry into reality


I'm home. And while I'm really happy to be with my family again, this Monday-morning-going-to-work thing really is not making me feel good about life.

Even the big cup of coffee and Little Feat background music isn't bringing me out of the funk.

So, in a probably pointless attempt to improve my attitude, here's a list for myself of reasons to like my job.

  1. sunset.jpgI have a big office with a nice view out my window. (That sunset picture was taken during one of the nights when I was working on my AoIR paper...)
  2. I have some great colleagues, including my best friend.
  3. I finally have a reasonable teaching load.
  4. I have a lot of fun, smart, talented students whose company I enjoy.
  5. I have a 17" powerbook and a 23" cinema monitor in my office.
  6. I have free access to a good gym, which, with the opening of the new fieldhouse in the spring, will be a great gym.
  7. I have excellent benefits, including good health care, good retirement plan, and full tuition for my kids.
  8. I'm tenured, which means that my job is pretty safe (not 100% guaranteed, but very close)

Okay. Writing that down was good. I feel slightly less petulant and cranky now. There are no jobs that are completely free of politics and frustration, there's no place I could be where I wouldn't occasionally have to pull out the voodoo doll and give it a new name. (Got that from another favorite colleague, who's on sabbatical this year, so I seldom see him. :/ )

And yes, I know, I've got it so much better than so many people. I really do know that, and I really am grateful. I'm just having a bad day. As my father says (all the time, which used to drive me totally crazy when I was a teen), "this too shall pass."

partying in accordion city

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Yes, the conference is great, and I'm learning a lot, and it's good to be back in the academic swing of things. But I have to say that the highlight of the conference thus far was going out on the town with Kathleen Fitzpatrick of Planned Obsolescence, and Joey deVilla, Toronto's infamous "Accordion Guy."

We dined at Smokeless Joe's, on chowder for them (and when they say a big bowl of chowder, the mean a big bowl of chowder) and pesto pasta for me--with beer to wash it all down, natch. Then we embarked on a tour of Accordion City. (Kathleen has a great post about the tour, and Joey is promising more details soon on "lizapalooza".)

We wandered past the Rivoli, home of Sunday Night Kickass Karaoke, and setting for Joey's recent "ground rules" post. Then we stopped for drinks and conversation at the infamous Tequila Sunrise (which will be recognized immediately by regular readers of Joey's as the spot where Joey met "The Waitress," his co-star in the Worst Date Ever series of posts). Kathleen headed back to her hotel at that point, and Joey and I headed to the Bovine Sex Club. (Yes, that's really its name. Joey says the back of their t-shirts reads: "Pet me, milk me, kill me, eat me.") Happily, I had worn black clothes, so I didn't stand out too much--it's a pretty goth sort of place. And loud. Very loud.

We sat and talked there for quite some time. Much of the time I was trying to avoid looking at the video monitors behind the bar, which were showing a variety of disturbing images, featuring plenty of blood-caked clothing and cruel and unusual mistreatment of characters. It was like an ongoing visual trainwreck--I didn't want to watch, but kept finding my eyes pulled towards the images.) Despite the distractions (did I mention that it was loud?), we had a nice chat. We walked back to my hotel (quite a distance, but it was a nice night for a walk, particularly given the amount of anti-freeze I'd poured into my system at that point), and said good night.

You will notice, however, that there was no accordion playing whatsoever during the evening. <sigh> That means, of course, that I will have to kidnap Weez one weekend soon (maybe November?) and come back up for an encore, this time with accompaniment.

Tonight I'm going to have a quieter night. I opted not to pay the $50 for the conference dinner, and instead will get takout food, bring it back to my hotel, and spend a few hours working on the powerpoint-for-pay that's going to pay my way to Tokyo in February.

Update, 10:20pm
Okay, I lied. I went to the conference dinner, because somebody gave me a free ticket. The food was good, but the company (Jason, Kathleen, D., and Irina) was better.

aoir: "digital divide: opportunities and challenges"

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Dianne Looker (Dalhousie): The Internet And The Gender Digital Divide

Canadian study on Internet use. They looked at 15-year-old boys and girls enrolled in school.

Findings from YITS/PISA

  • Males slightly more likely to have a computer in their home.
  • Males more likely to use computers in every context
  • Males more likely to use the 'net for almost all tasks. (only possible exceptions were word processing and educational software) "Males use computers more and use them for more and different tasks."
  • Boys feel more positively about computers. See it as more fun, more important, more absorbing.
  • Boys rate their skills higher!!! (Twice as many males as females report that they have high skills.)

90% of boys and girls have any access. Slightly more boys have computer at home, slightly more boys have internet connections at home.

Types of use of computer is related to home access. For those with no home access, boy and girl patterns are more similar. For those with homea ccess, there is more divergence, with boys using the computer more and for a wider variety of activities.

Males much more likely to say they use the computer out o personal interest; girls much more likely to say they use it for school/study needs.


  • Gender has an effeect, but at-home access seems to have more of an effect. Questions about causal direction. Data suggests that interest-->access, rather than the reverse. Because boys are interested, they create access for themselves.
  • Need more details on why and how males and females use computer and the Internet differently. Need qualitative research to fill in the stories.

Found that it's not that high achievers use IT more...access isn't correlated with school success or involvement.

(In a response to a questioner, the Pew researcher noted that girls are using IM more than boys, but most other activities are more boys than girls. It is in the teenage life online report on the Pew web site.)

Jason Rhody, a talk called: /Em Speaks, Or Textual Practices, Online Communication, And Asheron's Call

Game studies is going through a legitimization process, including a controlling vocabulary (other things, too, which I missed).

How have games established a sense of agency within the virtual world, while maintaining a controlled environment. Persistence is a key component, a sense of history.

How have players taken an active role in shaping Asherons Call?

Games are social practices; online games operate within a physical and computational environment as well.

Shows screen shot from Asheron's Call. Notes the amount of textual information still provided. Expandable chat window at the bottom, which shows status and activity as well. "Emote" function, some of which are programmed-- eg surrender, teapot. Also simple text-based emotes (which appear to work much like the /me command in IRC).

"I can want to jump, but desire and action only meet when programmed."

Non-programmed emotes demonstrate for players the limits of their control.

Lots of discussion of interface components, focusing on user-developed tools (plug-ins) for visual display. Various pop-up windows, navigational tools. Can "hack" the data flow, reinterpret and enhance it.

Players have been able to "penetrate the narrative" in this way.

In game studies, "narrative" is a touchy concept. One side is more traditional (narratologist), draws from other media types. Ludologists argue that games are not narratives, that they are unlike other narrative forms. e.g. "Tetris can't be compared to War and Peace"

Historical context for gaming is important. While games may not be narratives per se, but they can contain narratives. So Tetris may not be a narrative, but Asheron's Call certainly contains narrative.

aoir: interesting audience comment

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From a questioner, who teaches at a somewhat conservative school. She showed her class the Homeless Blogger's site, and it made them angry -- they felt that it should be illegal for him to solicit for funds online, and that if he had a blog, he ought to have a job, and a home.

Fascinating stuff. No time to think about it...another interesting speaker now.

My notes from the Saturday Friday afternoon session. This was a great session, with interesting stuff on metaphors for the Internet. (Paging Dr. Weinberger...)

privacy and power

This morning I'm taking a few hours off from being a responsible grownup, and instead slept late, caught up on email, worked out in the hotel gym, and now am catching up on blogs.

A line in AKMA's post this morning from the DigID caught my eye, though, and dragged me back to the things that have been weighing me down in the real world.

He quoted Cory Doctorow as saying "Privacy never exists apart from power relationships. Privacy is all about power."

Now, this isn't really a groundbreaking concept. (And I've certainly been on the receiving end of criticism on exactly this front, as those who are regular readers and participants on the Happy Tutor's site are well aware.) But seeing the words like that, in the context of recent departmental debates about things like promotion in rank, and internal governance, really hit a nerve for me.

This week had an almost surreal feel to it for me, in fact, because I was re-reading Pierre Bourdieu's book Homo Academicus, in preparation for my presentation at AoIR. The book is Bourdieu's "self-reflexive" sociological analysis of power and class struggles in French higher education, and his discussion of the "symbolic violence" that results from imbalances of capital and power.

On Tuesday, while I was in the midst of this reading and thinking, we had an extraordinarily divisive meeting of our faculty. Some context, first. We've got 51 tenure-track faculty members in our department (and a handful of visiting professors, and a smattering--a small smattering--of adjuncts). Of the 51, 20 are tenured. Of those 20, two (including me) are still at the assistant professor rank, because our departmental policy does not allow faculty to go up for tenure and promotion in the same year. It turns out that we're just about the only department on campus to have that restriction, so a number of "junior" faculty asked in the faculty meeting that our departmental policy be changed in this regard.

The details of the meeting are not particularly important, but the outcomes certainly were. The "junior" faculty (myself included) are unlikely to forget the statement by one of our most senior professors that the "peer group" (those at or above the rank aspired to) was under no obligation to even consider an application from a faculty member for promotion, even if that person met the university's criteria. Nor are the senior facuulty likely to forget my angry response to that, and to a highly charged and divisive vote that occurred at the end of the meeting.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut, considering that I'm up for promotion this year. After the meeting, one of the less belligerent senior faculty told me that "confrontational approaches never have good endings." I refrained from pointing out that seldom are power imbalances corrected by gentle suggestions by the underclass. Yes, I know, I could have waited a year. But I squelched my anger at how things are done in our department for two years (between midtenure and tenure) in order to keep my job, and I guess I just didn't have it in me to keep quiet one more time.

The response of the senior faculty to what happened on Tuesday was two-fold. First, they made it clear that any changes to policy would happen behind closed doors, without the input of those most affected, and without the process being made visible. Second, at least two of them have contacted me to say that because they were offended by my challenging their votes, they're going to request that all future full faculty votes be conducted by secret ballot.

I don't want to break down all the structures, hierarchical or not. As Cathy Irving pointed out in a comment to an early post of mine, "Walls are good. They hold up the roof." But I think that privacy must be balanced with trust. Do I want to be private sometimes? Sure. Are there times when the use of power is appropriate and effective? Yes. But the breakdown occurs when trust is gone, and I think our department is well past that point. Maybe it's a function of scale. Maybe it happens everywhere. I don't know. But I'm saddened by it, and increasingly weary of fighting the battles.

For now, though, I'm going to wander over to the AoIR presentations, and soak up a little more of what I love about academia--the exchange of ideas, the enthusiasm about research, the conversations with smart people that make you really think. And then I'm going out on the town with no other than Joey deVilla (aka Accordion Guy). If you're at AoIR and want to join us, come find me during or after the 2pm session today on "Access Denied: Critical Considerations of Internet Space and the Digital Divide." I'll be the one with the 17" powerbook, live blogging the panel (assuming WiFi is live).

aoir: "broadening the blog panel, part 1"

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The blog panel I was on was so big that it got split into two time slots, and the first one was from 8:30-9:45am. I took notes for that one (no WiFi at that time), but then my computer got pressed into use for projection during my panel (for Jason Nolan and for me), and I didn't really take notes much after that.

So, here are my belated notes from session 1, featuring Cameron Marlow (of Blogdex fame), Alex Halavais, Matthew Rothenberg, and Thomas Burg.

aoir: "blogging: authors and consequences"

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Elijah Wright (presenting with Lois Scheidt and Susan Herring) on the weblog genre. There's a popular view, but it represents an unrepresentative elite. Most of the bloggers mentioned in mainstream media reports of blogging are male. "Blog Research on Genre" project (BROG), with a goal of empirically characterize the "typical blog."

[Ack! Isn't this like trying to characterize the "typical person"? Or the "typical woman"? Is there any value in an "average" representation? Why do we need to see blogging as an undifferentiated label??]

Defined blogs as "HTML document with entries in reverse chronological order." (No mention of authorial voice here...so would a software revision list be a blog, under this definition??)

Used a random sample from blo.gs for their analysis. Used web content analysis,through lens of web genre characterics. Coded features of blogs, quantified results.

Hypotheses: (1) Blog content tends to be external to the author (news, links); (2) authors are typically well-educated adult males, (3) blogs are interactive, actively soliciting comments, and (4) blogs are heavily interlinked.

  • Of sample, 70% were personal journals. (Numbers gone too fast to see the range for other types.)
  • 91% are 1 author, 54 male, 60 adult, 57% students.
  • Gender and age of blog author varies according to blog content. (Shouldn't variables be reversed there?) Second most frequent profession mentioned was "unemployed."
  • of blogs allowing comments: 43. seems to be related to the default settings in blogging software.
  • 70% include external links (excluding "badges" for software developers, e.g. MT or blogger). This means 1/3 of all weblogs have no links !

Blog content is mostly personal, and often intimate. authors are roughly eqully split between male and female, adult and teen. Adult males create more filters and k-logs (in fact almost all are created by males), females and teens create more personal journals.

Conclusion: Blogs featured in contemporary public representation are not representative.

They acknowledge that sample size is small, and is English-only. However, more recent samples seem to reinforce conclusions. Present several interpretations, but I find these overly speculative. You don't know why people do things until you ask them, or at the very least do more qualitative inquiry into the phenomenon.

Jump right to predictions:

  • Increasing mundane use.
  • Increasing contentiousness
  • Increasing commercialization
  • Increasing non-blog use of blog software

I am reminded of a line I heard from Pat Cadigan (a sci-fi author) at an ALA conference, when she warned against "the danger of predicting the future in a straight line."

So, they ask, what then is "new about blogs?"

  • Ease of update means more interactive webpages
  • Creators can be itneractive yet maintain control
  • Blurs distinction between traditional HTML documents and text-based CMC

That last one is where my interest lies. Blurring of boundaries (just search my archives for "boundaries" to see previous references to that theme). Susan Herring puts up a graphic showing a continuum of web pages to CMC.

More conclusions:
* blogs may ultimately be transformative, but not in favoring a specific content, audience, or quality
* rather they create new affordances that will be open to a variety of uses (cf email)
* important to look at "typical" blogs as well as intersting unusual ones
* look at socio-political, social-psychological, and technical implications

I asked if they had concerns about creating a "typical" profile of a diverse population--response was that they realize they need to break it down more.

Also asked if they might consider longitudinal studies--does content change over time? Go from externally focused to internally, or the reverse?

(Update: Cameron Marlow has a wiki page with his notes on this session.)

(Another update: Elijah Wright has posted the PPT presentation from this session, so you can check my #s and find the ones that I missed!)

aoir: "hacking women"

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Sarah Stein, NCSU
"Hacking women: media representations of the technically proficient woman"

The Net and VR5 both cast women as hackers. Surprising, because women are almost absent from the real world of hackers.

What is the effect of media representations of women "transgressing" into internet and gaming culture?

Hacking is one way in which men enter and advance themselves in software development. Joy, passion, creativity are typically associated with the media image of the hacker.

Why are there no female hackers? Perhaps because men are more able to find relief from fixed time schedules and daily tasks (much of the daily caretaking and routine drudgery of life falls to women).

Shows a series of clips from both The Net and VR5. Interesting stuff. Will need to go back and watch The Net again. Have never seen VR5. Is it available on DVD or reruns at all?

The women are skillful and competent with technology, but socially inept. There's teh big question: Does technological skill mean deficiency in "womanliness"?

In both of the narratives analyzed, the women go from asexual figures, clothed in baggy garments, to more feminine and stylish apperances.

Not sure I buy the argument that portrayals of geek guys don't lessen their sense of masuclinity...or that the portrayals of female geeks necessarily makes them less "womanly"--unless we want to buy into stereotypical definitions of what constitutes femininity.

In both of these narratives, mothers are physically present but mentally incompetent (comatose, etc). What message does this sound? Women can go into the technical domain when they are freed from family demands--but they can only reclaim their femininity by "rescuing" their mothers, and taking on the caretaker role.

[Will follow up with her to see if the paper is being published, or will be. Can't find a web site for her at NCSU, at least not via Google.]

Audience member notes on the extent to which gender norms are being "policed" and reified in current online environments and media messages surrounding these environments. Is there any reason for optimism?

Sarah Stein replies that the hope lies in "activist feminist" work. There's no open door inviting revisions; we have to breach the barricade and take it on.

She references Mary Flanagan...need to find out about her work. Creating new representations of online environments.

Audience member suggests that the Internet allows us to "escape binary gender" (updated version of "on the Internet nobody knows you're a dog"?). Can we put gender behind us?

The problem is that nobody exists solely online--nor do they want to.

(Note to self: Interesting to think about the representation of maternal figures in Sarah Stein's examples. Many of the women I've interviewed for the grant have described their mothers as "computer illiterate.")

open wifi in queen street cafe!

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I finished my presentation, and escaped in search of lunch. Wandered down Queen Street, and into the Bishop and the Belcher, a pub that had enough people inside to indicate edible food, but not so many as to make for a wait.

And miracle-of-miracles, there's an open WiFi network here. w00t!

As to the presentation, it went fine. Thanks for all the good wishes, and suggestions--slightly revised version of the presentation is now up. I took lots of notes about the two blog panels, and will post them later today once I've cleaned 'em up a little bit. No networking at the conference (yet...Apple seems to be working on it, and we had 15-20 minutes of connectivity before it disappeared again), so no live blogging. If they get the wireless working later, I'll see what I can do. Jason Nolan ("and his team," he said) are doing a conference blog, too.

aoir presentation site


I've created a website for tomorrow's presentation (part of my Tufte-inspired "renounce powerpoint" efforts).

Once the paper is a little more polished (the ending is still pretty rough), I'll post it on that site.

And now to sleep. Wakeup call in six hours. Room service breakfast (it's free!) in seven hours. Blog panels begin in eight hours.

(And yes, I have a copy of the presentation running on my local web server. I'm making no assumptions about conference connectivity.)

freedom to blog

I'm sitting on the couch of my 21st floor suite in Toronto's Cambridge Suites hotel. I chose this hotel because the "Cityscape" suites had free broadband access--and happily, everything works as advertised. The ethernet cable is a little short, but that's easily remedied tomorrow. (In retrospect, I should have brough my Airport with me...)

I'll spend the next few hours (a) enjoying the peace and quiet, and (b) putting the finishing touches on my paper--which I'll post tomorrow, after I present. The blog panels are at 8:30 and 10 tomorrow morning (I'm in the second, happily, but will attend the first as well).

Once that's out of the way, all the blog posts that have been pent up for the past week or two may finally have a chance to work their way out. I'm here 'til Sunday, with no co-workers and no family along--so except for the night out on the town that Accordion Guy and his Boss Ross promised me, I'm free to blog into the night!

stopping spam with transaction costs

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One of the ideas that seems to have reached some level of "escape velocity" out of O'Reillys "FooCamp" this weekend is the email transaction cost approach to stopping spam.

Don Park (who proposed his own "Trsted Email Network" solution a few days ago) points to Tim Bray's description of the idea.

I've heard this tiny-cost-per-message proposal before, and while I appreciate its advantages, it raises some concerns for me.

There would need to be a way, at the minimum, to provide no-charge email within an organization (so I wouldn't be charged for mail sent from my RIT account to students with RIT accounts notifying them of exam grades, for example).

I'm also worried about the "digital divide" impact--what does this do to people who don't have credit cards, for example? Do they stop being able to send and recieve email? Will there be email vending machines, or prepaid email cards?

The idea works really well for the technological elite, those of us for whom a few extra dollars a month for email would be a trivial expense, and for whom adding a level of complexity would have minimal impact. I'm not sure if it holds up when you get outside of the inner circle of privilege and skill. Will my grandmother pay an additional cost for email? Probably not. She'll stop using it. Will most parents give their kids extra allowance for sending email? Only if they're pretty technologically sophisticated, I suspect.

coming up for air


Haven't been blogging, but I have been working. Finishing up the paper for AoIR, and putting up an MT-driven web site for my grant research.

I leave for Toronto Wednesday night, and once I get through the Thursday morningn presentation I'll get to relax and enjoy both the conference and the city.

There are two restaurants I ate at when I was in Toronto in July that I'm hoping to visit again while I'm there. One is the Epicure Cafe on Queen Street W, where I had an excellent and surprisingly inexpensive dinner the night I arrived for ALA. The other was a wonderful Mauritian restaurant called Blue Bay Cafe at the corner of Dundas and Roncesvalles. (I'm blogging this because I'd forgotten the names of both, and needed to have a friend remind me. Now I'll have the names and links easily available as needed.)

conference scheduling woes


Aaaaargh! I just realize that Tim Berners-Lee is speaking at AoIR. Which would be great if it weren't at exactly the same time as my panel.

That is so completely and utterly unfair.

choosing a toronto hotel

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I finally got official $ approval for my "international" travel to Toronto next week (for AoIR 2003), so I'm looking at hotel options. I've narrowed it down to two choices (neither or which is the conference hotel, the Hilton--too expensive, since I missed the cutoff for the conference rate).

It looks like a choice between The Metropolitan (looks more luxurious, and has wifi throughout the public areas, as well as broadband in all the rooms) and Cambridge Suites (appears to be closer to the conference hotel, has roomy suites and free breakfasts).

I think I'll have to call tomorrow to see (1) if the Metropolitan charges for in-room broadband, (2) if Cambridge has broadband in all their rooms (may only be the pricier ones), and (3) what each charges for parking (which, as I recall, is a highly lucrative side business for Toronto hotels).

Anybody have experience staying in either of those hotels?

(And no, the paper's not done. But it will be before I get there Wednesday night!)

happy dance!


Received a few minutes ago:

Dear Elizabeth,


You have been accepted as a presenter at the
O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference 2004
at the Westin Horton Plaza, San Diego, California,
February 09, 2004 - February 12, 2004.

The following proposal has been accepted as a 45 minute
session for the event:

"Breaking Into the Boys' Club: How Diversifying Your Team Can Expand Your Market"

Y'all come, y'hear?

you are likely to be eaten by a grue


Last night on the way home from dinner at Weez's house, Lane and I got into a conversation about early computer games, like Adventure and Zork. My first introduction to computer games was Hunt the Wumpus, which I carefully typed into my father's TRS-80 computer back in the late 1970s, and saved onto our state-of-the-art cassette tape drive, but Zork was the first game I really loved. I bought pads of graph paper, and laboriously mapped out all of the various tunnels, paths, and twisty passages. I told Lane about Zork, and how it was like being part of a story--he's so much like me that I knew that would appeal to him immediately.

I got so caught up in talking to him about it that I missed our exit on the highway. "Uh-oh," I said. "That was our exit." His reply? "It is dark. There might be grues." I laughed so hard we nearly missed the next exit, too.

So tonight we set out to try to find a copy of Zork to play on our computers--and we were successful. It's not OS X native, but it works. And it was truly wonderful to sit on the couch, one child on each side, re-exploring the world I'd spent so much time in twenty years ago. They shrieked with delight in the Loud Room, when each command was repeated back to me as an echo. "Pick up the platinum bar." "Bar...bar..."

After we'd played for a while, Lane asked whether it would be possible to find a copy of Adventure to play, too. I wasn't sure that would be as easy to find...after all, "adventure" is a pretty common word. But Google came through for us, and we quickly found Rick Adam's wonderful site, "A history of 'Adventure'", complete with downloadable versions.

It's a testimony to the power of these text-based games that they held the interest of my media-saturated six and nine-year-old sons for forty-five straight minutes--and would have for much longer if I hadn't realized it was getting late and sent them off to bed. Tomorrow I'll install Zork on their Macs, and buy them some graph paper.

I feel like a kid again. :)

slow but steady progress on paper


I clearly won't make the deadline of having it done today, but I've made a lot of progress on the paper, and am confident that I'll have a reasonably well-thought-out version to post online by the time I get to the conference (11 days).

Here's the quote from Bourdieu's book Homo Academicus that I'm using to begin the paper:

There are surely few social worlds where power depends so strongly on belief, where it is so true that, in the words of Hobbes, "Reputation of power is power."

Not hard to see the connection to the blogosphere, is it?

alex in the paper, and on the web


alexphoto.jpgIt seems our local newspaper, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, sent a photographer and a tape recorder to my kids' school during school picture day last month. My younger son, Alex, is quite a clothes horse, and had demanded to wear his "wedding suit" (from my sister's June wedding) that day--which made him an excellent subject for the newspaper cameras.

We didn't know any of this, of course ("Anything interesting happen today?" "Nah."). Until this morning, when we found Alex's picture in the paper. Turns out it's also on the web as a multimedia presentation (requires Flash).

desiderata and despair

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I know that Desiderata is a fake. Nonetheless, this segment has always stuck with me.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater
and lesser persons than yourself.

As I sit here today trying to put together my paper for AoIR, I've been slipping further and further into bitterness. There are so many people out there who have said what I want to say better than I can say it myself. And I'm by turns left appreciative, envious, grateful, bitter, and enriched by what they say.

I've added two new ("new to me," as the used car sellers would say) blogs to my blogroll as a result of today's research, reading, and futile attempts at writing. One is Jeff Ward, who has written some wonderful pieces on the Bourdieu/blog connection here and here. His posts led me to Alex Golub, whose posts on People as Filters and Blog: Genre, Text, Technology were equally wonderful.

But the problem with reading wonderful things, for me, is that they often don't inspire me to greatness. Instead they leave me wanting to get down on the floor and cry out "I'm not worthy!" Which probably isn't a terribly healthy response.

I think that means it's time to give up on this (for now), and go home. Maybe tomorrow I'll feel smarter.

(I feel particularly foolish for having taken this long to realize how good Jeff's stuff is, really, since he's tracked back to me on several occasions.)


Update (5:38pm)
Gerald has convinced me to stay the course. He points out that if I'm having a difficult time explaining to him what the smart people I've read have to say (which I was), that means there's still a need to bridge a gap, to write about what they say, and about what Bourdieu says, and connect the dots rather than drawing new dots. (Not his words, exactly, but that was the gist of it.) He rocks. He also points out that my complaints about not being able to do this sound a lot like my complaints when I go back to working out at the gym after a long hiatus. In this case, it's been nearly six years since I've had to exercise my "mental muscles," and it's showing. But that's not a good excuse for giving up. Must...work...through...the...pain!

ICANN to Verisign: cease and desist!

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Wow. Check out this letter from ICANN president Paul Twomey to Verisign EVP Russell Lewis, dated today:

Given the magnitude of the issues that have been raised, and their potential impact on the security and stability of the Internet, the DNS and the .com and .net top level domains, VeriSign must suspend the changes to the .com and .net top-level domains introduced on 15 September 2003 by 6:00 PM PDT on 4 October 2003. Failure to comply with this demand by that time will leave ICANN with no choice but to seek promptly to enforce VeriSign's contractual obligations.

You go, ICANN.

the end of the email story


It's not good, but it could be worse.

I was unable to restore anything from the hard drive. However, it turns out that (a) mail from before I switched to OS X was unaffected (it wasn't associated with an "account"), and (b) my husband did not overwrite my external firewire drive, so I was able to import the inbox and sent mail from 12/02 through 6/20/03.

That means I lost more than three month's worth of mail, including a lot of stuff related to our grant (administrative, not data), and all the mail related to my three upcoming trips. I'll spend most of today trying to figure out how to reconstruct the most critical components--flight itineraries, hotel information, etc.

So, if you sent me mail that had critical information, or needed a reply in the past 3 months, it might be wise to resend it, or to at least check with me about whether I need another copy.

To prevent another such disaster, I've installed Norton Utilities (to allow for better recovery of erased files in the future), and will be regularly backing up my data to my external hard drive. I think that will be a weekly ritual now.

i *hate* os x mail


Here's why...

There's no way to tell mail.app on OS X that you don't want it to check mail on one of your accounts. (Update: Well, no obvious way. Turns out the "advanced" tab in account preferences lets you deactivate it.) My main account was freezing, so to get it to stop trying to check it, I deleted the account in mail.app, figuring I'd add it back in later when the server problem was fixed. It flashed up the predictable "are you sure" message, and I automatically clicked yes. Much too fast, alas.

It turns out that if you delete an account in mail.app, it deletes every piece of mail sent or received under that account at the same time. In this case, nearly 2000 pieces of mail, going back several years. And it really deletes them, as in rm -rf, not as in "moved to the trash."

I want to cry.

To compound that problem, my husband recently overwrote my Firewire hard drive (which I use for backups), so I have no backup of this information. None. And this is POP mail, not IMAP, so it's not on the server. It is well and truly gone forever.

Did I mention that I want to cry?

I'm going home now.

reputation and scholarship

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RIT is in the process of a major shift in institutional culture, moving towards a stronger emphasis on scholarship rather than a nearly exclusive focus on teaching. While scholarship has always been mentioned in our tenure policies (see #3), the reality has been that it was the least critical piece. We have full professors in this department who have never published a peer-reviewed article or book, and associate professors who would be hard-pressed to tell you the name of an academic journal or conference in their field of study. The primary criteria for tenure and promotion have traditionally been teaching (with student evaluations weighted very heavily, along with breadth and depth of teaching topics), teaching-related activities such as curriculum development, and service--committee work, academic advising, and activities (like consulting, or pro bono provision of services) outside of the institute.

Over the past several years, our president has been working to change the culture of RIT from a single-minded focus on teaching to a greater blend of teaching and scholarship. On many levels, I've felt that this is a good thing. I believe that research and scholarship are critical to keeping the professoriate intellectually alive, and that without it our teaching creeps dangerously close to training. It's hard to convince students that they should take scholarship seriously if we don't model that behavior for them.

But while in theory this new approach has great value to all members of the university community, in practice it's never that straightforward. RIT's revenue is almost completely tuition-driven. No tax revenues (except for NTID), and not a large enough endowment to provide much breathing room. So every hour that a faculty member doesn't spend teaching is that much less revenue. And IA will be pleased to know that RIT has really held the line on adjunctification, with a very low adjunct rate and a policy to create non-tenure-track lecturer positions (with decent salaries and benefits) rather than increating the adjunct rate.

As a result, until this year, everyone in my department has taught a 9-course load--three courses per quarter, three quarters per year, most classes with 30 or more students. That doesn't leave any time at all for scholarship, so to move towards increased scholarship means something had to give.

When the institute passed new scholarship guidelines last year (here, in section 5), based in large part on Ernest Boyer's reformulated scholarship definitions from Scholarship Reconsidered, it opened up an opportunity for our faculty to renegotiate teaching expectations. As a result, we're about to implement a new "portfolio" approach that will require untenured faculty to take a "blended" approach--teaching 7 courses per year, and in exchange doing a specified amount of scholarship.

But in that "specification" lies the problem. It's difficult to specify scholarship in discrete quantities, and to operationalize those specifications effectively. It's particularly difficult for faculty hired before this shift began, but who are not yet tenured--and there are a lot of them. Between 1988 and this year our department grew from 18 to 51 faculty, and only 20 of us are tenured. Many recent hires were brought on because of their teaching skills, or their experience in the IT industry. Only nine of them have PhDs. Fifteen of them received their master's degrees from RIT, where our focus is on preparation for industry careers, not academic careers.

Now we're saying to these folks that the rules have changed. When we hired them, we said teaching and service were really all that mattered. Now we're saying they have to be scholars, as well. And while we're providing fairly broad guidelines for what constitutes scholarship (it's not just academic journals and conferences), we are expecting them to be able to figure out what scholarship is.

What's happening, alas, is that most of them are seeing the scholarship emphasis only as a bean-counting exercise for tenure and promotion, rather than as an opportunity (facilitated through lower course loads) to expand their intellectual and creative abilities. And as a result, the focus seems to be on process rather than product, quantity rather than quality. To someone who's not familiar with scholarship, there's no difference between Academic Exchange Quarterly and Harvard Educational Review. Both are peer-reviewed, therefore both are "beans" to be counted and put into the tenure jar.

As I was driving home today, I was trying to think about how to explain the difference between these to someone putting together their plan of work for the upcoming year. The key concept that's missing from our scholarship documents and implementation plans is reputation. It's not just that something is peer-reviewed. There's more value to the faculty member, and the institute, and to our students, in my being asked to be a speaker at SuperNova than in my being asked to speak to the local PTA. There's more value in my publishing an article in Wired than in publishing one in the local free-at-the-grocery-store computer rag. There's more value in exhibiting my work at SIGGRAPH than in putting it up on the college web site. It's not that there's no value in those secondary options, but if I have to focus my energy on one or the other, the choice is clear.

Reputation is hard to quantify, and it's particularly difficult in a field like IT, which spans so many traditional disciplines. And it's even more difficult when you (quite appropriately, I think) expand the boundaries of "scholarship" to encompass a broader range of activities. But at the end of the day, scholarship really is about reputation. In a professional field, your "peers" may not be editors of academic journals--they may be other programmers, artists, or even bloggers.

I don't know how we'll solve this. I hope that we'll eventually come through this transition period and get to a point where our faculty see scholarship as an opportunity rather than a burden. I wish I could convey to more of them how much joy I take in the research I'm doing, or how good it feels to get an invitation to speak at a conference. But I don't know how to bridge the cultural gap, to help them make that difficult shift from teachers to scholars. And I fear that if they don't bridge that gap--and quickly--there will be trouble aplenty when our "bubble" hits the needle of the tenure process in two years.

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