Spent part of the evening working in Flash. Keyframes and layers: this is our neo-Kantian matrix.
Anyone who took note of Mark Bernstein's very public withdrawal from the board of the Electronic Literature Organization over the issue of its electronic preservation initiative ("PAD") should please now read the ELO's reply, which goes a long way towards setting the record straight. It's really difficult to see how any reasonable person could take the collective technical and scholarly expertise of the individuals invested in PAD, coupled with the ELO's constant outreach to the writing community, as the "active impediment and continuing embarrassment" Bernstein makes it out to be.
One wonders what other motives might be underfoot.
The Chronicle's article on scholarly blogging is now out. It's certainly worth reading but I can't say I'm overwhelmed: much of the emphasis is on the political science of the blogosphere, along with predictable hangwringing about whether it's okay to blog on topics outside your field of expertise or whether blogging will impede a junior scholar's progress toward tenure. I would have liked to have seen more emphasis on the social software side of things, i.e. the way blogs are reconfiguring the Web as a self-organizing discourse space. Anyway.
ACH/ALLC 2003 (dubbed "Web X" this year) is getting underway at the University of Georgia, in Athens. ACH/ALLC is the joint annual meeting of the Association for Computers and the Humanities and the Association for Literary and Linguistic Computing. The first of the joint meetings was in Toronto in 1989 and since then ACH/ALLC may have the distinction of being the oldest annual academic meeting on the general subject of technology and the humanities. I've been a regular since 1997, and have attended the conference when it was in Kingston (Ontario), Charlottesville (I was on the local organizing team then, finishing my PhD at the University of Virginia), Glasgow, and NYU. Alas, I will be sitting out this year's conference as I am effectively grounded by a publisher's deadline.
Historically the conference has had an emphasis on linguistic computing, text analysis, and text encoding; that's changed in recent years, however, with more and more "theory" and "new media" on the program. This year, for example, the Electronic Literature Organization is sending a delegation, and the conference will include a reading/performance of creative pieces; Marie-Laure Ryan and John Maeda are keynoting, further indication of a shift towards new media (and the spectacular NYU keynotes were from Johanna Drucker and Alan Liu). In any case, ACH/ALLC is a fabulous mix of topics and ideas, is truly international, and what may be even harder these days, truly interdisciplinary, with people from various humanities fields, library and information science, and computer science. A long-distance wave to anyone reading this who I won't get to see in Athens.
Like any number of others around the blogosphere, I'm done for the semester. Exam booklets are sorted and rubber-banded, grades are in, these and those reports are submitted, and I'm on my own. Incidentally, contrary to what a snotty piece of spam from academicsatire.com (I won't link to spammers) suggested, I will not be enjoying a summer salary while I lounge in leisure. Like most full-time faculty (at least at the public institutions with which I am acquainted) I'm on a nine-month contract. That means no paycheck for the next three months (and anyone who thinks junior professors in an area like metro DC live high on the hog the rest of the year 'round has another think coming).
I plan to spend the next week organizing files (both physical and virtual) and then it's all about the writing (writing for my book, that is). I'll post some things here as they're ready.
Summer in DC can be pretty sultry, but right now the coming humidity feels like the harbinger of all that's good: days filled with writing, dinners out with Kari, movies up the street at the AFI, backyards (well, we don't have one of our own, but we have friends), fireflies, thunder that half wakes me in the night.
The term is Lev Manovich's, but he hasn't done much to define it, at least not yet. What is software studies then? Or what is software studies to me? Software studies is what media theory becomes after the bubble bursts. Software studies is whiteboards and white papers, business plans and IPOs and penny-stocks. Software studies is PowerPoint vaporware and proofs of concept binaries locked in time-stamped limbo on a server where all the user accounts but root have been disabled and the domain name is eighteen months expired. Software studies is, or can be, the work of fashioning documentary methods for recognizing and recovering digital histories, and the cultivation of the critical discipline to parse those histories against the material matrix of the present. Software studies is understanding that digital objects are sometimes lost, yes, but mostly, and more often, just forgotten. Software studies is about adding more memory.
In other words, digital objects have histories--but it seems to me we're only just beginning to learn what it means to appreciate that. Which is why I was so happy to find How They Got Game: The History of Videogames and Interactive Simulations. Incidentally, this is also precisely the kind of work the Electronic Literature Organization's PAD project is undertaking--to the inexplicable consternation of some. More on that, perhaps, later . . .
Update 5/27/03: See also the Software History Center. And Henry Lowood, one of the people behind How They Got Game, has a couple of very worthwhile talks on "the hard work of software history" linked from his vita.
A software studies reading cluster: Lowood's essays, Martin Campbell Kelly's just-published From Airline Reservations to Sonic the Hedgehog (MIT 2003), Ullman's The Bug, and Freidrich Kittler's classic essay "There is No Software."
Albert Einstein Archives Online. Some 43,000 items in all. A small, good thing to find at the end of the day.
Students in my undergraduate Computer and Text course have completed final projects. Their assignment was to imagine an alternative ending for Mary Shelley's novel Frankenstein in which the creature and his mate escape to South America (as they initially planned) and establish a presence online (as they surely didn't). The projects use various media: a literary MOO, the Web, even a blog. Some of my favorites: Michael Weaker's Flash-work in Fire of Love; Tiffany Chiou's FrankenBlog (done in MT!); Kristen Intelkofer's The Doctor is In; and Kewanna Hayward's Our Story.
Human-computer interaction is going to change radically over the next decade.
The rise of featherweight laptops, tablet computers, PDAs, and wearable devices on the one hand, and wall-sized or room-based projection and display systems on the other is even now wrenching apart the Procrustean setup of the desktop workstation, which has forced users to accept what hindsight will reveal to be an almost unbearably constricted and contorted relationship with our computing machinery (while the ongoing pandemic of carpal tunnel syndrome and other repetitive strain injuries offer more immediate and irrefutable bodily evidence).
My fantasy setup of the future might look and feel something like this: a rectangle of thin plastic, perhaps 3 x 4 feet, which I carry around rolled up under my arm. I can unfurl it on any tabletop or flat surface, even the sidewalk. The plastic sheet is actually an LCD screen, with an embedded wireless uplink to the Web: the desktop browser has become a magic carpet. Applications, both local and remote, appear on the screen, like the tiles of a mosaic. I move them about physically, dragging, shrinking, or enlarging them with my hands, pushing and pulling them through the information space. Text entry is primarily by voice recognition. The keyboard, when needed, is a holographic projection coupled to a motion tracker. Data is stored to a miniature hard drive I keep on my keychain.
Science fiction? Hamlet on the holodeck? My magic carpet is just an extrapolation from real-world research that is happening at places like the Tangible Media Group (and elsewhere) in the Media Lab at MIT, the Metaverse Lab at the University of Kentucky, the GVU Center at Georgia Tech, and the Human-Computer Interaction Lab here at the University of Maryland. Not to mention industry.
(Better hold on tight.)
Update: See also this funky little Shakespearean sonnet toy by Mr. Paley.
Salon (you'll need to wrangle a day-pass cookie) has an interview with Ellen Ullman and an excerpt from her new novel, The Bug. She describes it as a kind of techno whodunnit about a computer bug, most vexing. Looks like a great read.
Update 5/19: Just bought the book. It's teeming with codeblocks, screenshots, flow charts. Yum.
Wishing I had been able to make it all the way to Australia for the Melbourne DAC, just now getting under way. Lots of people I'd like to catch up with there. For what it's worth, I may have the distinction of being the only researcher based at a North American university who has made it to both of the Bergen, Norway DACs, but to neither of the ones that were held stateside.
In any case, DAC has always been good fun and good people, and generally very good work too.
Adrian Miles, meanwhile, has been taking a lot of flak for posting a set of remarks about things he'd do differently as the local organizer. I think folks should cut him some slack. He's been working like a madman for about a year to make this thing happen, and if his public comments were ill-timed then it's probably also high-time to give the backlash a rest already too.
Bonus: What I Look Like.
Live, fri\om the MITH conference table . . .
Update: Slides here. I'm going to leave the flutzed keystrokes above, a nod toward the, um, materiality of the moment. Anyway, the talk was fun. Great turnout (25-30, standing room only). Tanya, thanks for the good feedback--I really look forward to the blog. George, thanks for the realtime reply--sorry I didn't see it while we were at the table.
Yup, it's been a little while since I've posted. Mostly because of end-of-the-semester grading and administrivia. Do I have to worry about people dropping me from their blogrolls for lack of productivity? Yuck, that sounds too much like tenure.
In any case, here's what I've been up to, more or less:
I'm giving a talk at MITH tomorrow called "To Blog or Not to Blog?" The abstract:
A "blog" is short for "Web log"--a continually updated online journal. Once dismissed as a fad, blogs are remaking the Web in some surprising ways. Blogger, blogdex, the blogosphere, blogrolls, blogshares . . . what does it all mean? What's a trackback? What's an RSS feed? Who is Salam Pax? How do you start a blog?
Assistant Professor of English Matthew Kirschenbaum will discuss his involvement in the blogging community, delivering an overview of blogging for beginners by first going behind the scenes in his own blogs and then discussing the potential of blogs for teaching, their unprecedented role in covering the war in Iraq, and suggesting why blogs just might give us a glimpse into the future of digital discourse.
Incidentally, one of my students (Tiffany Chiou) sent me this on the difference between blogs and online journals. Not sure I really buy it, though--the distinction seems pretty arbitrary.
Like everyone else, I've been reading Steven Johnson's Emergence, and, inspired by that and other forays into systems theory, have downloaded the StarLogo software Steven discusses. So I too can now grow simulated slime mold colonies on my screen.
I'm working on final revisions for my chapter on "Interface, Aesthetics, and Usability" in the forthcoming Blackwell's Companion to Digital Humanities, edited by Susan Schreibman, Ray Siemens, and John Unsworth. The middle term, aesthetics, is proving the hardest to wrestle with. I'm less interested in how beauty enhances usability than I am in the idea that beauty thickens the interface, creates a kind of generative opacity we can productively set against the mantra of transparency one finds in typical usability and design discussions.
The volume should be out early next year.
Also finished a novel, Blake Morrison's The Justification of Johann Gutenberg, a fictionalized account of the life (relatively little is known about Gutenberg's actual biography). One thing I learned, which is based on fact (as reflected in surviving court documents) is that Gutenberg was diddled out of the profits from his invention by his business partner and financier, Johann Fust. So, an early IP dispute. Which reminds me too that there has recently been some important new computer-aided research on exactly what Gutenberg may have invented. Anyone know more about this, where to go for published results?
Finally, Kari suggests that my Virtual Lightbox, which is essentially an image-based whiteboard (all users can move and manipulate a shared image set in realtime) might come close to being a visual wiki, which ties the project--perhaps?--into current discussions of social software.