Category Archives: Media Space

Health Care and Narrative

This is a typical (real) story. S goes to the PCP for Ailment A and Ailment A proves too much for the PCP (Primary Care Physician). So the PCP refers S to a Specialist. Maybe it’s a hernia, maybe some strange growth inside or out. S goes to the Specialist and must tell the story from start to finish, with all the inaccuracies and hearsay (I say what I heard) this portends, as what’s really being conveyed (and this is the important part) are the observations of the PCP through the medium of the patient.

S wonders (not, where are the hypertexts) but where are the records and why weren’t they provided to all the people who need to know or should know.

The PCP’s Observations
The PCP knows the story and the narrative. The PCP has seen the evidence and has worked through a diagnosis. Diagnosis (Greek) means to discern, distinguish, and, more specifically, to take something apart for the purposes of knowing (gnosis). It implies, in medical application, lots of work and responsibility in the form of a narrative. It’s not conjecture, which is a toss, or interpretation, which is a specific kind of structured utterance, which is what patient’s bring the PCP in the first place, like a driver pushing their auto into the shop and sounding out the problem to the mechanic and the mechanic responding with nods.

The Patient’s Observations
The patient doesn’t really observe anything, as Ailment A is inside and can’t be seen.

The Solution
The PCP clicks a button and shoots “the narrative” to the Specialist with “backstory” in tow, so that simple questions, such as “what are you allergic to,” are ready at hand on the reading machine.

We don’t need to strive for efficiency. We just need to think with a healthy dose of theory, practicality, and humanism, and use the tools we have.


SciFi Media Making

Stories set in the future have the tendency to envision innovations in media (so does CSI, which is very much SciFi). Nell’s interactive book in Stephenson’s The Diamond Age is an example, using most technology we know now in interesting ways (speculative applications), such as real-time production content. Minority Reports gesture media, of course, is another speculative performance of media use but really of content making. I mentioned that my son and I were watching Spock’s Brain on Twitter the other day and Dennis Jerz made this comment in the Twitter/Facebook comment space:

I love this show for Chekhov’s technology-assisted “Which planet do we search?” presentation on the bridge. Yes, this episode was silly, but the bridge viewscreen does quite a bit in this show. We see some long shots of an alien spaceship, there’s a close-up of Kirk with stars moving behind his head, and thankfully there are no bullet lists in the 23rd century!

I mentioned back:

You’re right. We can only imagine from what we have. I was thinking about this in another episode when a piece of static text went up on the screen above Spock’s console a la pdf and thought, that would have been better as a video or hypertext. It might have been the M-5 episode, but I can’t remember.

The “no bullet list” item Dennis identified got me thinking about other stories where characters make, save, or interact with media not necessarily with devices. Babylon 5’s crystals (I can’t remember others at the moment other than the news broadcasts). I had noted the orange orbit/planet graphic Dennis remarked on and many others as my son and I have been watching the three season Classic Star Trek, already mentioning the near 16:9 main view screen of the Bridge on Twitter a few months back.

I had thought two things about the episode graphic: that’s really about background interest and not really effective as a display as the subject under discussion is fairly complex: Spock’s brain must be on one of three planets and what’s the evidence for the best answer. A graphic of the Sigma Draconis planets in a row doesn’t really provide significant assistance. But it is evidence of production value and thinking about how the Bridge view screen may be used as a static media display.

On FB Dennis mentions many other examples of media making and interaction, including DS9‘s writing PADD and the holonovel of Voyager. Dennis writes:

do you remember the alien abduction episode of TNG that had a bunch of people using the holodeck to reconstruct a recurring dream?

My wife and I make fun of that specific scene as the holodeck seems to know exactly what’s on Riker and Co’s mind: “make a flat table” and the deck makes a dentist chair.


I’m not sure why but trips to the large bookstore are depressing; I much prefer small book stores where the air smells of paper. Is it a relentless and banal repetition pile to pile and station to station? Every mystical title I see cries that’s it’s the last book I need to read and magnifies or recalls some other clever title and the fact that publishers don’t even try to hide copy-cat narrative concepts is, well, tiresome.

Most of the books I’ve read in the last few years have come my way by word of mouth. As most novels and collections are an investment of time and thinking, this reader has to be careful what to chose to spend time with. More than word-of-mouth, the majority of my reading time is taken by digital works and those works I teach or want to investigate further. I’ll typically stay with an author for a while, which is an outgrowth of the teaching habit.

When I read The Iliad, I always find new things and new things to say about the work. I’m nearly done with 2666, and when I am, I’ll go to more works by Roberto Bolaño. Because this author demands time.

Tree of Life Web Project

Picture 2.pngI find this kind of project incredibly interesting, as the underlying hypermedia structure makes for a fine cognitive simulacrum. Thanks to Tiltfactor for the link.

The Tree of Life Web Project

. . . is a collaborative effort of biologists and nature enthusiasts from around the world. On more than 10,000 World Wide Web pages, the project provides information about biodiversity, the characteristics of different groups of organisms, and their evolutionary history (phylogeny).

Rainey on Health Care

LAT’s James Rainey takes the media to task on critical elements on the health care debate:

Rather than try to explain to its viewers how such a commission might control Medicare costs, CNN cut away to an all-important update on . . . Alberto Contador’s ongoing war of words with fellow cyclist Lance Armstrong.

By all means, let’s recap the story of two big-name jocks man-slapping each other, rather than help Americans sort out the central domestic issue (Snore!) of the moment.

America has a healthcare crisis, yes, and so do broad segments of the media, particularly television news. They have transformed the story of how to fix an overpriced and inadequate care system into an overheated political scrum, with endless chatter about deadlines and combatants and very little about the kind of medical care people get and how it might change.

And Dean Baker provides perspective on costs:

The program’s huge price tag is equal to about 0.5 percent of projected GDP over the next decade. The Iraq war at its peak cost more than 1.0 percent of GDP. NPR and other news outlets rarely, if ever, referred to the “huge” cost of this war, which was twice the “huge” cost of President Obama’s health care program. Perhaps the decision of supposedly neutral media sources to constantly warn that the costs of the program are “huge” has something to do with its dwindling public support.

Day 25 Reflection

We’ve hit the 25th day of 100 Days, which has been relentless work. I’m curious to know how other people are working, what they’re working with, how they’re working through problems, and what their “workbenches” look like.

Day 25 for me saw a return to Computer Leon, who persists for me as a fun and comedic character. He could get into all kinds of interesting problems. One of the items I’ve realized is that I don’t want to leave Pelgram and The Rabbit stories alone for long. But returning to these characters and their narrative implications requires distance as they really don’t taste of serialization.

I still have a lot to think about with experiments. But a major insight I’ve had about my own writing is that 1) I work with internal voices in two ways: I listen for narrators and for how characters sound and 2) following 1) I listen for how structure and plot emerges from the language and 3) I try to feel out action and event from the ideas I’m interested in.

Stylistically, I’m aiming for story language that conveys as much with as little as possible but, hopefully, doesn’t restrict for restrictions own sake, a language that keeps cutting away at the slab, the stone, or digging at the dirt for that unlikely or unknown nugget. That might be key, and is something I look for in my colleagues’ work. I’ve discovered a number of things: Leon, Pelgram, and all the other hes and shes that have emerged, and would never have emerged, without these stories. This is significant: withal, I’ve uncovered new voices, new places, new people, more ideas to consider.

For example, Cruz in The Mirror was a nice find for me, but he didn’t become a find until Maricela ends the story with a statement about Cruz: “The Cruz that not even I, and you, can escape.” The story progressed in fairly linear fashion. Cruz gets an idea about mirrors, Maricela just happens to be his girlfriend, and he follows his line to a point and the notion is closed by Maricela. But she throws an idea into the mix that made me think about future issues with Cruz, who sounds somewhat focused/obsessed and interested in mysteries. Maricela, who is the same Maricela of Weeping Bird, can’t escape Cruz. What does this mean? And how did Maricela get from an island in danger of attack, and out of a TV program, to Cruz? Cruz must be pretty interesting to attract an ex-special forces, bisexual bird-woman.

I could spend the next 75 days following each of the characters in these stories. I could also write the next 75 stories in one of several rooms or with a hat on or with a ribbon tied around my pinky finger. The point is not to plan on anything. For example, at this moment, I’m thinking about the Oedipus myth and how that might be fun to play with. And what if Computer Leon decides to reprogram his mobile phone? Is Pelgram in Shantou? Or is he that smoker smoking in the dark near a coffee shop on Carlisle?

Moral Machines, Part 1

I’m now digging into Moral Machines by Wendell Wallach and Colin Allen. It’s a thought provoking examination of machine ethics.

Early on, Wallach and Allen ask an interesting question: do we want ethical machines? It’s a foundational question, as people normally don’t build tools without a specific intention. The question provides room for related questions: if we want a bot that cares for the sick or walks the dog, then should we come at that design with with an ethical framework in mind.

In this context I think of an obvious example, such as answering machines, which are pretty much casual robots people have around the house and with which we interact in interesting ways. And then a scenario: an answering machine is programmed to allow certain calls but disallow others, such as those from other robots because we come to the scenario with the assumption that Mother calling is an acceptable use of a communication devise. The conditions are as follows: the answering machine must be able to distinguish machine from human calls and than act “accordingly.”

My interests in this scenario have to do with technological capacity. Is such a technology possible? The notions behind Strong AI say should be, the Strong framework asserting that all human capacities should be programmable in machine contexts. The assumption behind Strong AI is that we have a reasonable understanding of the human from which to make interpretations: we understand planning and learning pretty well. While consciousness is a toughy, it’s not necessarily clear in a machine context whether consciousness or self-awareness is necessarily required for learning, as the above case would suggest. Or does it?

On Jazz

I’m driving full force into Alyn Shipton’s A New History of Jazz, although it is tough to read in bed due to size. But the size is worth the trouble. John Timmons and I have been doing more than a semester’s worth of work on the history and listening to lots of music and we’re planning some podcast discussions.

I first got into the music in high school when I played jazz band. I was a trumpeter and not half bad, earning first chair player as a freshman. I lost interest after graduating (turning to computer science and engineering) but my love of the music stayed. And we’re seeing lots of new media connections. The connections have a lot to do with cultural movement, transitions, and change. The transitions of jazz, relatively speaking, are swift. Ma Rainey to Miles Davis is not a lot of time difference.

Generally speaking, the music’s morphogenesis is mysterious and alluring. But it’s also palpably evident in its retentions–it has a persistent core set of ideas. Some historical questions seem obvious: jazz follows technological change both in instrumentation, writing (Jelly Roll Morton, for example), and recording device. But how? What are the details? What did the people on the street see? Shipton probes these areas to detail. I like it.