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December 28, 2006

Gendered Text

The Gender Genie (sounds like a lost Bowie tune) analyzes passages of text and categorizes them according to whether the algorithm thinks the author is male or female. Looks to be a simple count of gendered words ("with" is tagged feminine, "around" as masculine), and Gizmodo writers reported mixed results.

Similar analyses have been around awhile (we used Walker Gibson's Tough, Sweet, and Stuffy in grad school). Gender Genie isn't any more controversial than other theories of gender and surface-level behavior; whether or not there's a strict biological basis, our culture tags certain behaviors as masculine and others as feminine, so it makes sense that certain patterns of writing and word choice would fall into those rough categories (and, at the same time, be open to border crossing by some writers). If nothing else, it's an interesting conversation starter or writing class activity.

[via Gizmodo]

December 27, 2006

What eCommerce Really Looks Like

The Web seems, to most of us, like a substance-less space, bits rather than bricks. But in large part, when you come down to it, it's bricks (and books and CDs and PlayStations) landing with a substantial thud on the bottom line.

Here's an Amazon UK facility during the Christmas rush.


[via Gizmodo]

Not You

Well, maybe some of you. The first minute or so of this Amanda Congdon report illustrates why the "you" of Time's "Person of the Year" is a relatively small subset.

Simulations and Education

Phillip Scuderi at the escapist posts "Maxis: Reflections on the Early Years." Maxis, if you're not old like me, is the company that released Will Wright's SimEarth in 1990. Simulations were relatively rare in gaming at that point, and Maxis had this to say in the manual for SimEarth:

SimCity is the first of a new type of entertainment/education software, called system simulations. We provide you with a set of rules and tools that describe, create, and control a system.

Maxis' manuals were only somewhat functional (the basics of the games were easy to figure out from the interface). As Scuderi points out, the manuals presented sweeping backstories, complex (and incomplete) theories that helped drive gameplay. The manuals included essays about Lovelock's Gaia Hypothesis (nearly fifty pages in the manual, including a brief essay by Lovelock himself) or information about ant communication and myth in the SimAnt manual.

December 26, 2006

Tracking Influences

I caught this old Nine Inch Nail's video for "March of the Pigs" on YouTube earlier this evening, and I was struck by the subtext of artist-falling-apart toward the end of the video, and how much it reminded me of James Brown's famously theatrical collapses at the end of live shows, with MCs and assistants running out to lift him up and set him back in front of the mic. Not someplace I would have looked to see influences from James Brown, but there it is. (And clearly, the exhausted artiste/creative energy --> collapse performer is an archetype. But few did it better.)

December 25, 2006

Water & Ice

liquid solid

More in the Saint Regis Falls set at Flickr.

Now The Hardest Working Man in the Afterlife


Although I was under the impression he was invincible, James Brown died today [NYT link]. Bummer.

[image from ABC/AU].

December 22, 2006

Malone School for the Deaf

Malone School for the Deaf 3

Like a lot of people, I'm fascinated by abandoned buildings. Yesterday I took my dad up to look at the (long-since closed) Malone School for the Deaf. There are seven or eight large buildings, tucked away in a relatively residential section of town, on a large hill, between a school bus garage and a shiny, glass-covered new high school. It's creepy, in that abandoned sort of way: boarded up, washed out, and slowly decaying. (Here's a link to the full Flickr set.)

According to one report, after WWII (several decades after the School for the Deaf was closed), Clarkson University students were shipped up to this location, 40 miles from the main campus, to complete their first two years of their education.

Following World War II, Clarkson admitted hundreds of returning veterans to its student ranks - so many, in fact, that they had to rent space in the New York State School for the Deaf in Malone, NY. For the next five years, Clarkson underclassmen spent their first two years studying in Malone before moving to the Potsdam campus for the remainder of their education.

December 21, 2006

Grading Tips


Daniel J. Solove at Concurring Opinions has a detailed guide to grading exams (which could also be applied to any printed assignment such as essays or reports). I've long used this method and can attest to its value for making the grading process extremely efficient and streamlined. Solove's instructions provide both extensive illustrations (such as the one above) and useful tips on borderline cases (such as a paper on the edge of the step between A- and B+).

The comments section of Solove's post has a plethora of additional advice, refinements to the techniques, and alternate approaches.

Collaboratively Annotating the Iraq Study Group Report

Lapham's Quarterly and the Institute for the Future of the Book are hosting an (ongoing) collaboratively annotated version of the Iraq Study Group Report online. The just-launched project only has a handful of annotations at this point, but the design and process of the Website seem very well done for this sort of work. The first round of annotations are being provided by a long list of (mostly leftist/liberal) social critics (Barbara Ehrenreich, Daniel Ellsburg, Stanley Fish, Ralph Nader, etc.), but a second round in January will open the process to everyone.

My Workspace


Since I've been asking people to provide me with info and pictures of their own workspaces, I thought it only fair that I posted some pictures of my own. In addition to the one above, you can see other images at Flickr (many of which were posted earlier at Datacloud), including my campus office; some hard drives; a tangle of cables; writing that escaped the bounds of my whiteboard; a hotel room in Saranac Lake and one in Sault Ste. Marie; a bulletin board over my desk; and one of many, many sets of bookshelves.

The Street Finds Its Own Uses for Things

Mike Rhohde's four-year-old son rearticulates Google Earth. You should read the full (short) post at his website, but here's my favorite line:

'Weeeyeeoo weeeyeeoo weeeyeeoo weeeyeeoo weeeyeeoo!'

[via Rohdesign Weblog]

December 19, 2006

Survey (still)

Thanks to everyone who has responded to the Workspace survey. The data so far is fascinating and wide ranging. I'll keep the survey online for the next several weeks in case anyone else wants to participate.

In early January, I'll revise and re-launch the survey to reflect any interesting issues that emerge from early analysis of the data. It struck me that the survey might be a useful start-of-semester exercise for writing/design classes, as a way to get your students to talk about the diversity of ways they structure their work, and about how writing/design might fit into those structures. (I'm planning on including this exercise in the first-year comp textbook I'm currently working on.

Although I'd be glad for more student input on the survey, If you don't want to require your students to participate in the research feel free to download the questions and just distribute/discuss them locally with your class rather than ask them to submit their results to me. I can also email you the questions in a Word or PDF document if you like.

The Replacements

Another music/YouTube post (so I'll skip the keyframe image): An interview with The Replacements.


Sonic Youth: Schizophrenia

A group of senior citizens bravely perform Sonic Youth's Schizophrenia [YouTube].


December 18, 2006

Joe Barbera, RIP


Joe Barbera, half of Hanna-Barbera, died earlier this week. The Flintstones (including the occasional, completely inexplicable character, The Great Gazoo [shown above in his martian-crashing-the-stone-age getup], Huckleberry Hound, Top Cat, Yogi Bear, etc. A major part of my formative years just slipped away. (Luckily, most of the Monty Python crew is still alive.)

[via, & easily 10% of the 250 blogs I scan RSS on every day]

Art Basel Audio from Paul Miller's Talk on Rhythm Science

I think I exhausted about all crucial information in the title to this post, so here's just a link to the mp3 [28.25m]. If you want more links, hit the artcast page I grabbed this from.

[via art cast]

December 17, 2006

Designer Interview: Milton Glaser

Extremely influential graphic designer Milton Glaser is interviewed on Studio 360 this week [mp3 available onsite]. Glaser's work includes the iconic and much-imitated I Love NY logotype, that psychedelic Bob Dylan poster, and much more (see this designboom interview for samples).

Glaser's latest book, co-written with Mirko Ilic and Tony Kushner, explores the design of dissent in many cultures. See a random page from Amazon.

December 13, 2006

Workspace Survey, Again

[Update: Just to clarify, you can forward this other people if you like. I forgot to edit out some text when I posted it this morning, so the earlier version contradicted itself.]

Thanks to the assistance of several people who helped me pilot-test the Workspace Survey last week, I think I've worked out all of the major bugs. If you're interested in participating and haven't taken the survey yet, it's now open again. Feel free to pass this request on to other people who you think may be willing to participate. For this phase of my research, I'm looking for people whose work frequently includes computer use (as will be obvious by the questions). I'm not focusing on any specific job description, so this could include professors, new media artists, web designers, information architects, managers, students, etc.

I'm looking for participants to provide me with information about how they interact with and construct the spaces they work within. The survey includes (a) an anonymous three-part section with open-ended and multiple-choice questions about your computer setup and the physical spaces around it as well as (b) a non-anonymous portion that asks you to send me screenshots and/or digital pictures of your workspace (and opportunities for followup questions via email later). You can fill out either section, or both, depending on how much time you have to put into this.

If you have feedback on the survey itself (things you like/hate/etc.), you can either email them to me directly at or by posting comments here on the weblog.


December 10, 2006

Spring 2007 Courses

Students: I don't have syllabi for COMM341 or COMM394 online yet, but if you want to order textbooks, I've put that info online.

December 09, 2006

Invitation (Favor): Workspace Survey

Update: Hold off on completing the survey for now. I've gathered a handful of responses, and there's what appears to be a minor bug in how one section of the data is written. I'll try to chase the specifics down and fix it in the next day or so. If you've already completed the survey, thanks much. I can still use the data you submitted, but it involves moving cells in Excel around by hand to compensate for the bug, so I want to avoid having too much additional data written until I fix it.

After I address the glitch, I'll re-post the survey and open it to wider participation.

I'm beta testing a survey on workspaces that asks participants to provide me with information about how they interact with and construct the spaces they work within. This isn't ready for broad dissemination yet—so don't post the URL to lists or discussion boards or ask classes full of your students to fill it out—but if you're interested in helping me out and have 15 minutes or so to spare, you can take the survey between now and early next week. (You can spend more than 15 minutes answering the questions if you like, but 15 minutes should be enough to get you through the main survey.)

The survey includes (a) an anonymous three-part section with open-ended and multiple-choice questions about your computer setup and the physical spaces around it as well as (b) a non-anonymous portion that asks you to send me screenshots and/or digital pictures of your workspace (and opportunities for followup questions via email later). You can fill out either section, or both, depending on how much time you have to put into this.

If you have feedback on the survey itself (things you like/hate/etc.), you can either email them to me directly at or by posting comments here on the weblog.

Once I've beta-tested the survey, I'll make any adjustments necessary and then post a message here to announce it's wider availability, if you'd like to pass my request for input on to a wider audience.


The Architecture of Disorientation

There's a frequent—and often mistaken—public opinion that architecture (like writing) should always strive for clarity and neutrality. Things Magazine takes on criticisms of Daniel Libeskind's design of the Denver Art Museum, which has provoked a growing outcry due to its disorienting nature. See this Denver Post article, for example, which TM uses as a launching point. As TM points out, Libeskind has frequently designed buildings that challenge assumptions about architecture, and what it means to see, move, and interact with spatial forms. So while the museum's Communication Director asserts that, "There was never an intent on the part of the museum to create a perceptual challenge," [qtd. in the Denver Post piece], (The Communications Director backs down slightly later in the piece, saying that museum was glad for the conversation generated.) Libeskind isn't exactly the superstar designer one would pick for a neutral, traditional approach. Even his webpage plays with the conventions of genre—not merely traditional corporate website genre, but architectural websites as well (there are no images on the main pages, only oddly formatted text).

One has to wonder if Libeskind was given the commission based only on the criteria of buzzworthiness, or if the Denver Art Museum is attempting to backtrack on what they now realize is a problematic design for some patrons. The apparently disorienting nature of the building seems like an obvious, recursive artistic statement rather than relegating this tendency, as the Denver Post article does, to accident: "[W]ith the reports of vertigo, the museum ... joins a list of buildings with high-profile architecture and unintended consequences."

[via Things Magazine]

December 06, 2006

Ikea Flat-Pack Houses & Shop Rage

Ikea is apparently selling flat-pack/pre-fab houses, at least on a limited scale. No word on whether or not they come with four-foot-long allen wrenches, or how I'm going to fit a box that size onto my cart in the warehouse section of the store.

On the other hand, my biggest problem at Ikea is getting the arguing newlyweds blocking the aisle to move, or the mother and father plus four children and seventeen of their children's friends to stop blocking a display of desk accessories they're not even freaking looking at. Just imagine how fast they'll move when I wheel a box containing a house around the corner.

I'm not sure I even really need the house, but I'd pay $20 to push the box around the store.


DJ's Living Rooms


The Last Beat has the photo essay, DJ's and Their Living Rooms, which, despite the English title, is written in German, so the "essay" part of "photo essay" is only of interest if you read German. But the photos are totally worth a visit.

I grabbed this from an eclectic Things Magazine post, which has about forty links worth checking out in it. Japanese urban ruins and amusement parks, Case Study homes, the NYT review of Will Self's The Book of Dave. There were so many varied parts to the weblog post that I wasn't quite sure what the topic was. Not that I'm complaining.

[via things magazine]

Design as Disease


Noisy Decent Graphics offers a long post on design as a disease, a condition that forces you to stop in everyday situations and deconstruct a graphic design issue. (I'm glad I'm not the only one annoyed by bad kerning on signage [demonstrated in the image from NDG's post, above].)

This impulse is similar, I guess, to the grammar nazi phase that some budding writers exhibit, where they correct people's casual conversational exchanges in stores and coffeehouses. Eventually, you get to the point where you stop calling people out in public, or at least not as frequently, even though those misuses still catch your attention.

December 05, 2006

Design for Use


Bethan Laura Wood's Stain Teacup is designed to discolor, in a patterned way, over time as it's filled and re-filled with tea.

Stain is a set of a teacups designed to improve through use. This project examines the assumption that use is damaging to a product (For example, scratches on an iPod).

The interior surface of the cup is treated so as to stain more in predetermined places. The more the cups are used, the more the pattern is revealed. Over time they will build up an individual pattern dependent on the users personal way of drinking tea.

Only rarely do our ideal objects advertise, publicly, their ages. But—and maybe this was because the only fashion era where I fit in was grunge—we almost never see used/abused objects (notably, "grunge" isn't even in the spellchecker for my Weblog-posting software, and is flagged as a mistake). Part of this is the culture of consumerism: If you car starts to look like you've actually used it for several years, if the seats are slightly torn, the dashboard is fading, and there's a wrinkle in the right-front fender where you slid into a ditch two winter's back, you need to upgrade your ride. "Scratches on an iPod"? I can see gouges on the display, since they interfere with usage, but scratches on the body? It means I use it. And that's why I like it.

via The Morning News

Future of Music Policy Summit: Audio

A month or so back, I went up to Montreal for the Future of Music Policy Summit, held by the Future of Music Coalition to discuss intellectual property, business models, and music preservation. McGill U (which hosted the summit) has put audio from the sessions online. (The site's pretty slow right now, probably because Boingboing just posted a link to it....)

At Summit, my friend Geoff Farina was part of a panel ("Losing Music: Preservation and Storage") where he gave a brief overview of an NEA-funded project he's working on with me, Steve Doheny-Farina, and Juma Sultan. We're digitizing and archiving live audio recordings Juma made when he was part of the avant garde jazz scene in New York City and Woodstock in the late 1960s and 1970s. (This is probably the coolest academic research I've been involved in.) We got lots of great advice from other panelists on music preservation techniques, IP issues, and more.

[via Boing Boing]

Creative Environments R&D

Creative Environments, run by the Arts and Communication program at Malmo University, has links to projects by grad students and faculty on augmented realities, design studies, and gaming studies.

The Creative Environments Research Studio aims to study technology-augmented creative environments for learning. Focusing specifically on co-operative practices, we aim to extend design-oriented experience and competence concerning such environments. They may be environments for design-as-learning or learning-as-design: for example, design studios, ateliers, and workshops where the requirements of innovation and creativity are high. These design-oriented studies take as their starting point the interplay between interactive media technologies, space/place and creative practices, and include a technological orientation that moves away from the individual-oriented computer supported learning tradition.

For example, here's a portion from the Atelier project:

The project will:

- Develop, experiment with, and evaluate a design-oriented approach to inspirational learning, based on ethnographic research on creative design work in an architectural master class and an interaction design studio,

- Design, assemble and test architecture and technical components for such mixed media environments, based on ethnographic work on how learners interact with space, artifacts (tangible and digital, present and distant) and materials of mixed media origin and with co-present and distant people. ATELIER is a EU-project within the programs for Future and Emerging Technologies and the Disappearing Computer.


December 04, 2006

More PARK(ing)


Live Without Buildings has images from another round of the growing PARK(ing) movement in SF: People rehabbing parking spots by turning them into temporary living spaces. (More about Park(ing) Day in SF.)

[via Life Without Buildings]


As part of a new research project, I'm going to restart the weblog. (Datacloud, the earlier weblog, was intended to support an earlier research project; if you want to view the archives, I've kept that weblog online, though inactive.) This iteration will deal primarily (and eclectically) with how people structure and use workspaces: architecture, information flow, knowledge work, etc. And whatever else I happen to be thinking about or looking at. At some point next week, I'll be posting a survey that you can take if you want to contribute to the project.

December 03, 2006

Almost There

Seems to be ok now. Have to add in links to other portions of the website (classes, publications, etc.)


Working on color and layout issues.

December 02, 2006

this on?

check .... check ... test one two ... check