Category Archives: Media Space

Reading Ecologies and Information Architecture

I caught Andy Fitzgerald’s last post titled Architecting the Connected World this morning. He writes:

Here (the model of down-scrolling) we can see different modes at play. The trackpad isn’t strictly symbolic, nor is it iconic. Its relationship to the action it accomplishes is inferred by our embodied understanding of the physical world. This is signification in the indexical mode.

“Embodied understanding” is the language I’ve been looking for in the context of thinking across or against digital and analogue objects. Translation: reading a NYT article in a database vs the paper NYT vs the digital NYT. Fitzgerald’s analysis has to have something to do with how teachers approach research and reading with their students. Objects can be out of their original context. Sure, a rattle snake in a boot is still dangerous. But the serpent is “out of context.”

I’ve always thought scrolling was a bad idea. Such a text is fundamentally different than a page turn or swipe text. As the scrolling habit has evolved, I’ve begun to rethink how reading on the screen and scrolling through hidden abundance just adds to more hidden abundance. The prior paragraphs slide out of field. There’s only so much one can see in the traversal, and then there’s the swipe. In Tinderbox, the writer can side-by-side the draft. He or she can write against the scroll.

It’s a different leverage to craft.

The Concept of Privacy

In all the hair-splitting going on about the US government intelligence apparatus having access to citizen activity metadata, I have yet to see a lot of crunching going on about what privacy means. It seems to me that privacy constitutes a relationship first between “I” and “me,” that is my cerebral activity, and how much of it leaks out and captured by another agent. Imagine Basho on his rounds, leaving poems on the side of the road for others to read and, in future, to be recorded in other forms. It’s hard to say whether another traveler is wandering by with a poem by Basho in their head. The observer can’t know what is in a person’s head. If I read a tweet, I don’t necessarily know if the “thought” is actually authentic. I simply take it as a “factual” grain.

This is a cut and paste of part of Twitter’s Collection clause:

Our Services are primarily designed to help you share information with the world. Most of the information you provide us is information you are asking us to make public. This includes not only the messages you Tweet and the metadata provided with Tweets, such as when you Tweeted, but also the lists you create, the people you follow, the Tweets you mark as favorites or Retweet, and many other bits of information that result from your use of the Services. Our default is almost always to make the information you provide public for as long as you do not delete it from Twitter, but we generally give you settings to make the information more private if you want.

The implication here falls on the idea of “choice,” that Twitter makes available “information you are asking us to make public.” Agreeing to the services by provided is something the user “asks” for and therefore the service complies with software. This seems fair, as it’s observed that people freely chose the service and that they understand that “you asked for it.” It would seem fair that the NSA could use this metadata, just like any one else who understand the API.

Here’s the Log clause:

Our servers automatically record information (“Log Data“) created by your use of the Services. Log Data may include information such as your IP address, browser type, operating system, the referring web page, pages visited, location, your mobile carrier, device and application IDs, search terms, and cookie information. We receive Log Data when you interact with our Services, for example, when you visit our websites, sign into our Services, interact with our email notifications, use your Twitter account to authenticate to a third-party website or application, or visit a third-party website that includes a Twitter button or widget. Twitter uses Log Data to provide our Services and to measure, customize, and improve them. If not already done earlier, for example, as provided below for Widget Data, we will either delete Log Data or remove any common account identifiers, such as your username, full IP address, or email address, after 18 months.

This is the sort of metadata any run of the mill database will have spaces for, IP, time stamps, whatever. People agree to this sort of backend storage, assuming they know what a device ID is. If they don’t, they might agree to use and basically lie to the service. Meaning: I agree but I really don’t know what I’m agreeing to because I don’t know what a device ID is. I would assume this data would be interesting to law enforcement. But my authentic question is: is log data private or public information?

In this, I think about passwords and the encryption tools, such as SALT, that make them work. Again, I am assuming that a password is related to a “thought” I might want to keep private, “to myself,” as there’s risk in making it “public.” We know, though, that passwords are stored all over the place. They are also persistently entered, altered, and key-logged by at least two listening systems, else the system wont open. In any event, everyone who uses Twitter possesses a password but it’s strange to think of a password as “private” as it is “shared” in a sort of “middle place,” a limbo, let’s say between private and public, or, as we say in modern terms, a database, which is sort of also like the modern rendering of a nature deity.

None of this, however, gets to a definition of privacy in the context of digital tools. Part of the legal stroke here has to do with “presumptions” of privacy. We have a reasonable presumption that our in-door conversations are none of the government’s business, therefore the government has no “interest” in peeping at us through the window: presumption and interest. Of added complexity is the notion of privacy itself in the linguistic storehouse. We know that digital culture has provided spaces for dispute about the meaning of choice and sharing. It may be that in the future people drop out of the culture and chose to live more selectively. Or people will sanitize their participation, so that all we get on Twitter are links to frog images. But metadata will still grow and accumulate, as data in and of itself is neither this or that until it’s related to something else. Jaron Lanier has an interesting opinion piece in the NYT on the nature of data gathering and manipulation that’s well worth plowing through in this regard.

In literature courses, we can trace how people have viewed the line between private and public ideas. People have probably always known that they can get into a lot of trouble by speaking their minds. The image of the secret police has made vigilance the protagonist to the lordly “eye’s” antagonist. When one signs onto the Verizon contract, one should also know that something physical needs to be stored. If it is a 1, then we can always read the 1, then scramble the 1 to hide its identity. But does this constitute privacy?

Why New Media IPOs Bug Me

When Facebook went through its IPO, I couldn’t quite pin down what bothered me about it. I’m a semi-Facebook user. I dabble in Google+. I use and enjoy small company software for my professional work, like Tinderbox. I pay for as many things as I’m able on my professor’s salary. In my quiet time, I think Facebook should charge a subscription for various levels of use, like a buck a month, so that people have a stake in the features they like or depend on. I ask my students if they would pay and they say they wouldn’t. But then I compare the $1 a month cost to their cell phone charges. Most are on their parents plan, so they don’t even know how much they pay for services like cable. When I tell them, they typically shrug and half-heartedly change their minds or reconsider to the extend that they’re willing to forecast their future behaviors around things they don’t have a lot of control.

If we think about investment as a long term commitment, the IPO takes on a different cast. What did people buy long term for Facebook? What did the big money purchase? Will Facebook exist in ten years? Or will it go into hardware, sell a Facebook phone? Is this any different than, say, the next new thing in refrigerators or automobiles?

I have no idea. But I do worry about the long haul.

It would seem to me that Twitter also has this problem. A lot of people depend on the service and have an investment in its core features. Note how the tweet, however, is not really a tweet anymore but a load of interpretables. The core metaphor is changing. And RSS would seem to be wobbling. Don’t people have more control over or with RSS? Perhaps I’m wrong about that.

Simple things tend toward complexity. For me the nostalgia window is getting shorter.

More on Ecological Buildings

There’s a wonderful connection between ecological thinking, new media, and design. We can use space in and energy in better ways. Ingels‘ hedonistic sustainability is interesting because it’s practical, exciting, and begs collaboration between disciplines. Poet/architect. Programmer/waste manager. Geologist/economist. Et cetera.

Tone, Discourse, and that Dreaded Rhetoric

I’ve read lots of “tone” in today’s papers. Civility, responsibility, guns, blame, and civil discourse have been the themes of the last week or so. Consider David Brooks in his essay titled Tree of Failure. In the column, Brooks’s tone can be considered civil and thoughtful. Here’s how he begins

President Obama gave a wonderful speech in Tucson on Wednesday night. He didn’t try to explain the rampage that occurred there. Instead, he used the occasion as a national Sabbath — as a chance to step out of the torrent of events and reflect. He did it with an uplifting spirit. He not only expressed the country’s sense of loss but also celebrated the lives of the victims and the possibility for renewal.

He calls Barack Obama’s memorial speech “wonderful” and “uplifting.” He characterizes Obama’s approach as “an occasion as a national Sabbath.” The subject of the essay is his take on the “roots” of civility. He writes

Civility is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can’t last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance.

Brooks ties these ideas to “modesty” and a need to re-carve it into our relationships: “Most of all, there will have to be a return to modesty,” he writes. He places “modesty” in contrast to “narcissism.” The frame for this “modesty” is wrapped in the language of Genesis: “But over the past few decades, people have lost a sense of their own sinfulness.” Finally, Brooks calls on the words of Reinhold Niebuhr to make his final appeal, which is an interesting choice.

In addition to Brooks, I took a look at Paul Krugman piece entitled A Tale of Two Moralities. I did this because I also read Charles Krauthammer’s piece Rabid Partisans Hallucinated Shooter’s Reasons and I wanted to see why he comes down so hard on Krugman, which, of course, simply led to the reading of the essays.

Krugman begins his piece this way

On Wednesday, President Obama called on Americans to “expand our moral imaginations, to listen to each other more carefully, to sharpen our instincts for empathy, and remind ourselves of all the ways our hopes and dreams are bound together.” Those were beautiful words; they spoke to our desire for reconciliation.

Krugman’s thesis has to do with his difficult reconciliation might be given divisiveness. He writes,

But the truth is that we are a deeply divided nation and are likely to remain one for a long time. . . . For the great divide in our politics isn’t really about pragmatic issues, about which policies work best; it’s about differences in those very moral imaginations Mr. Obama urges us to expand, about divergent beliefs over what constitutes justice.

The nature of this division, according to Krugman, has to do with points of view that can’t be squared. Here’s how he characterizes the differing views:

One side of American politics considers the modern welfare state — a private-enterprise economy, but one in which society’s winners are taxed to pay for a social safety net — morally superior to the capitalism red in tooth and claw we had before the New Deal. It’s only right, this side believes, for the affluent to help the less fortunate.

The other side believes that people have a right to keep what they earn, and that taxing them to support others, no matter how needy, amounts to theft. That’s what lies behind the modern right’s fondness for violent rhetoric: many activists on the right really do see taxes and regulation as tyrannical impositions on their liberty.

These “characterizations” are generalized and I don’t necessarily agree with their implications. Having “a right to keep what they earn” doesn’t necessarily lead to charges of “tyranny.” In the first, “liberal” characterization, one doesn’t necessarily need to view a “progressive tax code” in context with “welfare state.” To place them back into Brooks’s scheme, we would need to ask “Who’s the narcissist?” which doesn’t seem like an appropriate question. In any event, it is possible to not to react with spleen to Krugman but to build an argument in disagreement. He ends the piece with this:

It’s not enough to appeal to the better angels of our nature. We need to have leaders of both parties — or Mr. Obama alone if necessary — declare that both violence and any language hinting at the acceptability of violence are out of bounds. We all want reconciliation, but the road to that goal begins with an agreement that our differences will be settled by the rule of law.

Here’s my disagreement. Developing the two sides and their points of disagreement would have been more helpful, especially on the technical nature of the issues, to Krugman’s thesis. Is it naive to say that we don’t spend enough time examining and debating whether this is that bolt size will do the job better? I think this Krugman’s point.

Charles Krauthammer’s Rabid Partisans Hallucinated Shooter’s Reasons attempts to make the case that blaming Sarah Palin and the Tea Party for the Arizona tragedy is unsupported by evidence and that those who do so are evincing their own style of “hallucination.” He begins the essay in a legal frame:

The charge: The Tucson massacre is a consequence of the “climate of hate” created by Sarah Palin, the tea party, Glenn Beck, Obamacare opponents and sundry other liberal betes noires.

The verdict: Rarely in American political discourse has there been a charge so reckless, so scurrilous, and so unsupported by evidence.

To bring the point home, Krauthammer identifies those he believes have made the “charge” and then rounds things off with a repetition of the thesis

Not only is there no evidence that Loughner was impelled to violence by any of those upon whom Paul Krugman, Keith Olbermann, The New York Times, the Tucson sheriff and other rabid partisans are fixated. There is no evidence that he was responding to anything, political or otherwise, outside of his own head.

Krauthammer goes on to explore the apparent issue with the shooter, Loughner, and his mental health problems and then places martial metaphors in their context. He writes

Finally, the charge that the metaphors used by Palin and others were inciting violence is ridiculous. Everyone uses warlike metaphors in describing politics. When Barack Obama said at a 2008 fundraiser in Philadelphia, “If they bring a knife to the fight, we bring a gun,” he was hardly inciting violence.

Why? Because fighting and warfare are the most routine of political metaphors. And for obvious reasons. Historically speaking, all democratic politics is a sublimation of the ancient route to power — military conquest.

When profiles of Obama’s first chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, noted that he once sent a dead fish to a pollster who displeased him, a characteristically subtle statement carrying more than a whiff of malice and murder, it was considered a charming example of excessive — and creative — political enthusiasm. When Senate candidate Joe Manchin dispensed with metaphor and simply fired a bullet through the cap-and-trade bill — while intoning, “I’ll take dead aim at (it)” — he was hardly assailed with complaints about violations of civil discourse or invitations to murder.

The above is a long quote, as I want to illustrate Krauthammer’s method. He ends the piece with a pointed expression at Krugman: “The origins of Loughner’s delusions are clear: mental illness. What are the origins of Krugman’s?”

I would make the case that Krauthammer’s fundamental point may be correct: that Loughner’s motivations might have been spurred by mental illness rather than by “politics.” I write “might” because the facts are actually not in as of yet. Krauthammer’s method, however, falls flat and makes his conclusion, which may indeed be hasty, very difficult to take as serious polemic. It would’ve been entirely agreeable to simply disagree with Krugman (or The New York Times, with what exactly about it’s reportage?) straight down the line instead of accusing the opposition of being delusional and “rabid” which draws in the specter of unnecessary ad hominem and a reflective charge of being “rabid” also. Why? Because it is possible to be incorrect without being delusional. Indeed, the approach should have been to establish exactly where the disagreement is because in Krauthammer’s case, as in Brooks’s and Krugman’s, it’s difficult to agree on the precise issue at hand.

The Uses and Misuses of the term Rhetoric

I don’t usually watch cable news. I tend more toward radio these days. But I happened to catch Rachel Maddow’s show on January 10th. I thought she was very good, examining a number of issues relevant to the current tragedy in Arizona sanely and coherently. However, I was struck by a moment when she entered into an analysis of language issues as they relate to speech, description, and meta-analysis.

Sarah Palin’s speech today illustrates the problem of language in context. While Palin’s intention with this video was probably meant to deflect “attention,” she, instead, garnered more with her use of the term blood libel. It’s perfectly fine for Palin to defend herself in the public sphere. But before this is done, some reasonable framing of the problem should be made, and a reasonable amount of research, also, as words themselves require study. Rhetorical frames help to put an intention into context.

But back to the question of rhetoric. Rhetoric can be defined in may ways.

Rhetoric is:

1. An art of expression or persuasion
2. The study of a variety of communication forms and their nature; the study of discourse
3. The methods and techniques of numerous forms of communication, including the use of the variety of Figures of Speech and much more in this context
4. A work by Aristotle

But rhetoric isn’t speech or writing that is intended to be misleading or bits and pieces of talk meant as such. Nor is rhetoric a specific technical device: this, for example, is rhetoric, and that is a hen laying an egg. I often hear the word rhetoric in relation to political speech or advertising. Political rhetoric or “campaign rhetoric.” The term will be used in a pejorative sense: “Oh, that’s just rhetoric.” Or, “We should stop the rhetoric.” Or, “If we could just get away from the rhetoric.” I suggest that this is a misuse of the term and clouds a more significant problem in expression: the need for precision. Which is why I found Dr. Maddow’s (I believe she has a Ph.D from Oxford) use of the term rhetoric odd, as her program was very much concerned with precision. But what was the context?

In a reference to Sharron Angles’s expression “Second Amendment” remedies, Maddow urged the audience not to describe this term as rhetoric or as rhetorical. She was meaning to differentiate rhetoric from figurative and literal expression or from outright misleading analysis. I quote from the transcript lengthily:

Also, while we are clearing stuff up in the increasingly nasty discussion about whether or not over-hyped or violent political rhetoric is relevant at all to this crime, Nevada Senate candidate Sharron Angle’s frequent references to Second Amendment remedies that has repeatedly been [sic] described as rhetoric. To be clear, that should not be described as rhetoric. Campaign rhetoric is stuff like Arizona’s Ben Quayle, Dan Quayle’s son promising in that campaign ad to kick the hell out of Washington. He’s not going to literally kick the hell out of anything. That’s metaphor. That’s rhetoric, right? Sharron Angle spoke of Second Amendment remedies literally. Here is her comment in context, as reported by “The Reno Gazette Journal” in May, quote, “What is a little disconcerting and concerning is the inability for sporting goods stores to keep ammunition in stock. That tells me the nation is arming.” “What are they arming for if it isn’t that they are distrustful for their government? They are afraid they will have to fight for their liberty in more Second Amendment kinds of ways.” Take it from the context in which she spoke. The Second Amendment remedies thing was not a metaphor. It was not rhetorical. It was Sharron Angle’s analysis suggesting that people are going to shoot their way out of their current political situation. She was literally talking about actual guns and ammunition being purchased from sporting goods stores. She meant it literally, that people will turn to guns. That is a lot of things. It may not be relevant to this. But if you’re arguing about whether or not it is relevant to this, you should not describe it as rhetoric.

The question at hand seems to be: should this or that speech be taken metaphorically or literally. Strictly speaking, this really has nothing to do with whether something is “rhetoric” or “rhetorical.” More to the point, “second amendment remedy” is metonymy, the replacement of a related term or idea for something else, like saying to the police with the thief dead in the kitchen: “Well, he slid through the widow. I took out my pistol. And boy did I give that fucker his second amendment remedy.” If the police know the Second Amendment, they might grasp the figure. If they’re aware of Second Amendment debates, they might respond: “Which militia did the dead guy belong to?”

I understand Maddow’s point and grant her the authority she’s due. But the question of the tragedy in Arizona is about health care, the easy availability of weaponry, and irresponsibility and irrational priorities in this country. I really don’t think Palin or Angle grasp the complexity of these issues and the language and importance of rhetorical frames, however, and this should have been the point.

As to the use of the term “blood libel.” All Palin had to do was look it up and do a little rhetorical analysis. Alas.

On State Rights

This from McClatchy but linked to the original source:

Lawmakers are pushing three identical bills to exempt Kentucky-made guns and ammunition from federal background checks, dealer licenses and other national regulations if the items remain in the state.

If this is so, there must be some sort of special quality to the metal in Kentucky guns, just as there might be a special quality to the fruit in Florida Orange juice. They will be able to speak, too, and understand: “You, there, stay in the state.”

Coming Up From Under My Rock

I’ve come up from under my rock to check things out for a moment before squirming back under. That’s where I work.

But what’s up in the open air? Saw a commercial for a company that can’t hire a song writer and so it steals Harry Warren’s That’s Amore’. And there’s something called the Values Voters Summit but no one invited me. It’s a wonderful of example of argument by name or title. The Values Voters Summit. It’s a Summit, a Summit for Values Voters. I took a look and listened to some things I don’t think the speakers really believe. It’s an interesting thing to hear speaker after speaker speak their mind. It’s illuminating. Especially as we head into the deeps of Sir Gawain, where I’d much rather stay.

What was it that Twain wrote:

Satan was accustomed to say that our race lived a life of continuous and uninterrupted self-deception. It duped itself from cradle to grave with shams and delusions which it mistook for realities, and this made its entire life a sham. Of the score of fine qualities which it imagined it had and was vain of, it really possessed hardly one. It regarded itself as gold, and was only brass.


For your race, in its poverty, has unquestionably one really effective weapon – laughter. Power, money, persuasion, supplication,
persecution – these can lift at a colossal humbug – push it a little –
weaken it a little, century by century; but only laughter can blow it to
rags and atoms at a blast.

And so back under the rock I go.

On Why I Suck and Don’t Suck at 24 Hr Marathons

The first reason I suck at 24 hr Marathons is because I get 7 hours of sleep a day. I go to sleep about 11PM and wake every morning at 6am. If I don’t do this, my eating and work schedule is thrown out of narrative and I get cranky.

The second reason is that I write in seclusion and have built a space for this writing. It doesn’t mean the writing is any good, but it is an issue of comfort zones. Point: I can’t write in hotel rooms, conference halls, or outside.

The third reason is that my diet is heavily controlled. Not because I might die because I eat a slice of pizza but because I like routines and don’t like to think about what to eat. I don;t like to drag around hummus jars.

The fourth reason I suck at marathons is that I hate people. Just kidding.

The first reason I really don’t suck at marathons is that I generated crap out of it which isn’t such a bad thing, but now that I think about it, I can reflect upon what I did do, work on it some more and keep working on it, as I solved some real problems and had the time to work on them at the marathon. 24 hours of work doesn’t translate into 24 hours of work as the eyes begin to flame out after 14 hours of screen time. I really had to squint, but, interestingly, I didn’t solve the real problems until 3:30 AM, when I started to drag and say, “Oh my god it’s only 3:30.” It was at this time that I should have gone into the new media lab and cranked up HL2 on the PS3 system and chilled some. Next year I’ll be better prepared.

I know now how Wally’s wife dies. I now know the structure of the novel’s narrative. Call and response. But what I still don’t know what really gets Wally running across the country, as this is a nuanced question, not really a brute force problem, although . . . now that I think about it, he could do something that forces the question, but . . .

I really respect all the students and other participants for toughing things out and generating very interesting work. Susan Gibb is a great writing companion. Abbot’s intellectual energy is quite a thing to behold. I still think he’s a genius at improve. And I hope Trent solved his issues with character, POV, and narrative.

PS: I’ve gotten into the habit of hitting the ; key instead of the ‘ key.