Three Triptychs

From an email I recently sent to the videoblogging list: I have just made three triptych templates for those interested in ex

Virtual Actual: Hypertext as Material Writing

A group of us (pretty much the contributors to this volume and Terry Rosenberg one of the editors) got together in Melbourne

Some Good Things

Today the federal government announced changes to the process of detaining asylum seekers. Under the previous government (who’s abuse of asylum seekers for short term political gain and xenophobic populism has been well documented in a variety of places – the case of sievx is as good a place as any) apart from its absurd ‘pacific solution‘ in general the assumption was if you sought asylum and arrived uninvited then the onus was on you to prove that you were not a risk, had a genuine claim and so on. Until you proved this you were detained, in what was basically a prison, usually somewhere extraordinarily remote (an island, in the desert). The new changes reverse this. The department now has to prove that you are a risk. This is a very good step, and combined with the Prime Minister’s apology to the Stolen Generation (video via YouTube – it really is worth watching) helps remind us of what a government ought to be doing.

The other intriguing news is that Starbucks is closing down a whole swag of their Australian stores. I live in Melbourne. We are parochial coffee snobs. We have an enormous Italian community and have coffee shops opening everywhere. Good coffee. Real coffee. Dark bitter pungent coffee from real espresso machines. We have a coffee cafe culture here. In Lygon Street, a tourist hot spot and full of Italian restaurants (though these days perhaps not where you’d go to sample the best food – though it does have Brunetti’s) a Starbucks opened. All around it you’d see small cafes full of people having a coffee, while this two storey Starbucks has, maybe a dozen customers. Let’s be blunt. Starbucks coffee tastes like dishwater. It can’t cut the mustard against a decent barista. I think it is a pretty cool day when a coffee multinational can’t make a living selling a legal addictive drug in this city. Up there with the time a major fast food chain packed up and left Acland Street because it couldn’t make money. This is a street that you can’t move in on weekends with the crowds, but people go there for the food (and coffee), not to get a generic burger. I feel like shouting a slogan.

Breadcrumbs

As our lives intertwingle with and within the network breadcrumbs appear. Small link gestures that call out looking forward and back. These have a personal and social history, not just the sort of generic wikipedia link for some background. In this case it is a former student joining up learning to develop a voice via her blog with developing a career as a radio presenter. She of course no longer deserves the epithet of ‘former student’.

Sport as Literacy

On Wednesday morning I was listening to the national news after being up late watching the 16th stage of the tour and the story went something along the lines of “Cadel Evans managed to stay with the leaders during the Tour de France’s sixteenth stage overnight”. Well, that isn’t quite what they said, but the implication was that it hadn’t been a great ride, someone else had won the stage, he was still third overall, and he wasn’t back in yellow. The reporting was better by this evening, back it got me to thinking about sport, or at least reporting and understanding sport, as a sort of literacy.

First of all the report this morning. Evans is third, the sixteenth stage was the second last major mountain stage and CSC have to take time out of Evans because there is a 50K individual time trial and unless Evan’s has a very bad day he will take at least 90 seconds out of the two riders in front of him in the time trial. This is because the current first two are pure climbers, skinny, light, scary strength to weight ratios, so when the road goes up they can really fly. Evan’s can keep with them, more or less, but he’s also got more power so that in a time trial he can be faster. So all Evan’s has to do in the mountains is keep with the major threats, and as he keeps saying, being wary of Menchov who can also climb well and time trial. This means in terms of tactics it is up to CSC to try and ride away from Evan’s, and while they clearly have the über team they can’t just drop Evan’s but need to pull at least 90 seconds out of him. Which is all to say that by keeping with them last night and then driving the descent to the finish and putting over 30 seconds into Menchov Evan’s rode a brilliant race. Depending on what happens tonight, in the last and probably biggest of the mountain stages, it could even have been the ride that guarantees yellow for Paris.

So the report was written by someone who doesn’t understand cycling. Nothing new in that in a country like Australia. But shortly we’ll have the Olympics splashed over our TV screens and the same sorts of things will happen as the TV directors and crews try to cover sports they simply don’t understand. This is what I mean by sporting literacy.

Any game approaches chaos from the point of view of someone who doesn’t understand it. Doesn’t understand what the rules are, what the intent is (how do you win?), what then is important in any individual event and finally what constitutes excellence. What happens in TV broadcasting, including live coverage, is that when the sport is not understood the wrong bits get discussed or end up in the highlights package. For example in track sprint cycling they will always show the rider crossing the line, and if it is live then the action replay will be the finish. However, in track sprint cycling it is when one of the riders jumps that is usually the most important point. Yes, crossing the line ends the race, and determines the winner, but the winning action was when, and why, the rider jumped. In something like the tour it is when and how someone, or a team, attacks during the stage, even sometimes how the sprint is set up from possibly five kilometres out that matters, not crossing the line.

Compare this to the coverage of the sports that everyone understands, for instance your own national sports. Here it might be Australian Rules Football. Now imagine the news story on the TV only showing when the final siren goes as if that is the best vision for what happened in the game. Yes, one team was in front then so they won, but the story will actually show a key moment in perhaps the second quarter, an outstanding passage of play from anywhere in the game that defines the match, or simply as a case of excellence. If it is football then you’ll see the goals as there are not many and they are significant, but it will not just be the goal but will include the build up as this is what has made the goal happen. We know it is often the pass before the scorer scores that is as important as the goal itself. For baseball it would be showing the last pitch at the end of the match rather than that base hit at the bottom of the third and those three pitches at the top of the fourth.

So as the Olympics roll around again I’ll watch less less as the main local broadcaster jumps from event to event (largely chasing Australians) breaking any drama and structure to each event, and then replays the wrong bits of all those sports that aren’t mainstream – which at the Olympics is pretty much most of them. All sport has drama, but it has to be allowed to unfold for, as in all narrative and drama, it has to unfold. The tour is worth watching because it is that effort over the 25 kilometres of the climb that makes an attack in the last kilometre meaningful. During the Sydney Olympics I remember watching live some sort of trap shooting final. An Australian (which was why it got air time) and I don’t even remember who else. They had shot some stupid number of traps and were equal and then, from memory, it went to sudden death. I have never seen or experienced such tension (and golfers reckon putting is hard), trap after trap was successfully hit, each shooter taking a turn. Compelling, adrenaline edging through me, but it only had this authority because I had sat and watched the entire event. The news that night of course showed the last shot. Meaningless and trivial. When you spend tens or even hundreds of millions for the rights to events like this I don’t understand why you then devalue the broadcast so much. And don’t even try to get me started on what the Australian broadcast of the winter Olympics looks like as every winter discipline is completely unknown to most Australians so we end up with the TV candy disciplines only. Now, it’s another late night as I return to watching the seventeenth stage which, after 185 kilometres will be distilled into the 21 hairpin bends of L’Alpe d’Huez.

A Camera?

I might been the fortunate recipient of some money shortly, and so I am wondering about getting a new video camera. My existing video camera is very old and now pretty much not used – it has/had a LCD screen (no viewfinder) and it has degraded to the point where you’re pretty much shooting blind. The local AV staff, who know their stuff very very well, have put me on to VideoCraft and suggesting I check out the Sony HVRV1P and get a kit. It’s a lot of money, and probably way more than I actually need. What I need is a 3 chip camera, I want luscious images, but the work is primarily going to end up online so I’m not really trying to be a no-budget film maker here. I have plenty of things that shoot low rez for me – my phone, my domestic still camera, but I want something that can shoot much much better looking stuff too.

Redesigns

After a lot of the usual university style debate the University of Technology Sydney have made changes to their BA in Communication. Various staff from our RMIT Media program have been involved, and they have adopted some of our ideas. This is obvious on their new home page, which is good for our reputation in a round about way.

At the same time they have the Centre for Media Arts Innovation, which I think is also a rebranding come redefining. Got the key words in there, Media Arts (at the moment media studies and media arts cross over but are also in disciplinary definitional battles) and innovation which neatly side steps but alludes to QUT’s very successful creative industries juggernaut.

Blog Fatigue

Yesterday in one of our biannual curriculum meetings the issue of “blog fatigue” was raised. This is where students, in their third year, apparently ask questions like “why are we still using blogs?”, and “I can’t believe we’re still blogging in third year!” or “why do we have to blog again?”. My responses to these things (I don’t teach third year so don’t have to deal with the pointy end of this conversation) revolve around two key points. The first is how students don’t respond like this to other tasks, and the second is that by third year it is not about blogs but other things.

The first one. I always point out to students (yes, my responses are rote) that they don’t seem to say this when invited to write another essay, or exam, for assessment. No one seems to say “what, another essay? I can’t believe we’re still writing essays in third year.” Why don’t they ask this? They don’t really have an answer, nothing that survives scrutiny. Yes, essays are important, but so are their blogs. The crunch usually comes when I ask how many think they will be writing essays in the future or at some point in their careers, and how many think they may be writing blogs. Given the usual answer is zero and a majority, I return to the question of why they accept essays unproblematically, yet feel that blogs need to be questioned. At this point I might point out how highly acculturated and interpellated they have been by print culture, and the academic system, how the essay is our privileged form for knowledge production and testing, and that they’ve all been socialised in this through their secondary schooling (which gained them the right to then enter the university) so it is just part of their day to day fabric. It doesn’t make writing essays right or wrong (though by third year it might raise questions about relevance to their real and imagined future practices) but it certainly doesn’t suggest that writing in a blog is simply a developmental activity involving technical problem solving!

The second one. We use blogs not because they’re blogs (well we do but that is more important in second year when things around network literacy and social media are examined) but because we would like students to be able to:

  • document their activities (ideas, practices, actions)
  • have an archive of their experience as learners and creators
  • to contribute to each other’s learning
  • easily distribute any media they create
  • be able to reflect on what they do, this means being able to access a record so that they can find, discover, identify and discuss change
  • have a major or primary identity space online (facebook et al are not places in which I design and create my online identity, they’re participatory places, its the difference between my bedroom as the place in which I define myself through books, posters, and so on, versus hanging out with others in the mall) which they control and manage
  • to do this publicly as they are all enrolled in a program to teach them to be media professionals – by definition virtually all of what they make will be either public, or for specific other audiences, so they need to learn what this involves and feels like now, not later
  • have a language for their own practice, this is so that what they do is no longer a black box (“why do yo like that?” “because it works”, “what does that mean?”, “umm, ummm”) but they have a vocabulary to describe their collaborative, critical and creative practices – it is very hard to do this if you don’t document, reflect, and reread

Rather than read this, or a similar list, to the students it usually works much better if they figure it out for themselves. In which case you might have a conversation with leading questions, the aim of these is for the students to work out why it might be good, even better, that they can read each other’s ideas and work in progress (even what it might mean to have access to work in progress!), and so on.

There could be issues in third year if students feel like their blogs are being used for assessment, as for most students blogs are quite ingrained by the end of second year and so get used informally anyway. So in general it is good for students to be able to recognise the differences between their day to day use of their blogs and those tasks that may or may not be required for assessment. Ideally these should align, so that rather than having to write a post this week because I have to for assessment, the assessment is structured so that the student can identify relevant posts over the course of the assessment period from within their blog (or even other places – images in flickr perhaps, comments on someone else’s blog, collaboration activities utilising Google docs an email list, or even Facebook). One way I have done this in the past is to have a conversation with students about what activities might make up an assessment task (for example participation) and then once that is reasonably defined to them think about where this might be documented and evidenced. They pretty quickly realise that the blogs would be the best place, and then the role of the blog makes sense as an integral part of what they are doing, rather than just the place to write required, assessable posts.

Pim and Preening

July in Melbourne. Some days where the wind seems to be from Antarctica with sleezy mizzle. Others where it is all gloriously crispy blue. And days with both. Together.

This morning I shared a panel with several of my colleagues describing our Post Industrial Media project. The slides are in the pim wiki, and it didn’t go too badly, though in retrospect we should have shown the bloody wiki as that is the major outcome of the project to date. Next week semester kicks back in again, so it has been the time for conferences – feels like I’ve had something on each week which has required something to be done. In between most of that there’s been school holidays, my youngest has hit the big two (“how old are you Cleo?” “two!), and I finally sent off a six thousand word essay on teaching hypertext to Mark for possible publication.

Someone has been in touch asking about the rhizome movies which has encouraged me to return to them and start making some new ones. Coming real soon now will be triptychs, and then I’m hoping to make a randomising one (I think). Which leads to the other surprising news, LiveStage Pro. Even though I’ve moved to a new laptop my copy of Livestage continues to run. Last time I tried this it wouldn’t, I thought because the server that it has to authenticate against has gone, but I was able to update it and I’ve definitely been running it more than a month and I seem to be able to export, save, and so on. This is seriously good news. Am getting inspired to make some more video material.

Finally, while I didn’t attend the ASPERA conference I did get to hear Chris Caine’s presentation on locative media. He discussed some of his (extensive) projects and how there appear to be two major forms at the moment. One is where fictional stories or fragments are overlayed on place, and the other is where it is used for game play in that augmented world sort of model – the sort of work that Christy Dena theorises well. I think I’ll have to try to get Chris back to Melbourne to contribute to the Affective Atlas project.

X|Media|Lab

The xmedia lab crew have a large event in Melbourne shortly, DIY TV. For those who want their TV online be well worth a visit,and if you’ve got a project, a pitch.

horizon report (part one)

To the point, a clear structure, intervention when needed and enough experience with how they do this to know that what matter

ASPERA Program

The program for the Australian Screen Production Education and Research Association annual conference is up. I’m a participant in session 6 on the Wednesday where the PIM team are pimping their stuff. Yes, we have a lot of jokes about how Post Industrial Media could be the Post Industrial Media Project, or the Post Industrial Media Program, and so on. Too many boys in the team me thinks.