Friday, 22 February 2008

Infoscape Lab Covers the Alberta Election 2008

For those out in Alberta, the Infoscape lab has started tracking Politics 2.0 for the Alberta Election:

There's not much of a story yet, but the election isn't over yet.

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

123 Meme: Archaeologies of the Future

My first blog meme, coming from Joris van Hoboken in the Netherlands, then from Michael Zimmer in New Haven, and originating at Wired.

Here are the instructions:
We have been instructed to open the nearest book to page 123, go down to the 5th sentence and type up the 3 following sentences. Or else. The note also demands that we forward this stupidity onto five others.
So the book I have is Fredric Jameson's Archaeologies of the Future: The desire called utopia and other science fictions (2005), which is a primary work that I'm using for my dissertation. Perhaps, the blog memes will be discovered in some future archaeology. However, this section has very little to do with my work, other than questioning grand narratives. The section reads:
The society in question may in other words be in the condition of a biological sport, of a malformed organism, of a tetralogical formation of some kind which can scarcely yield any clues as to the healthy organism it replaces. The discipline of anthropology is in other words necessarily normative, and reestablishes the model of a norm even there where it is unthinkable: only Colin Turnbull, in The Mountain People, and Levi-Straus himself, in Tristes tropiques, have reflected on the frustration involved in coming upon a society not merely in decline but in utter collapse. Still, anthropology (and SF itself) have a conventional context with which to domesticate such phenomena, and it is that projected by the Second Law of Thermodynamics and indeed by Wells' Time Machine (if not by Spengler): namely the grand narrative of entropy and devolution.
Okay, I hope I don't annoy anyone I'm sending this meme to, but we're in good company for people who have potentially been annoyed if you see the names above. I'll send the meme overseas to Jaz in Australia, to Ireland to get some luck from Daithi, to California to get some sun from Cuihua Shen (please send some sun our way in snowy Toronto), to somewhere local to share that sun Greg Elmer, and last, to the bookish librarians. Happy meming on Valentine's Day!

Perhaps, the meme is waiting to see how long it takes for the same book passage to come up. A potential experiment: copy my passage and see if anything happens, if you like to end memes and dreams.

Monday, 11 February 2008

Communication and Culture Graduate Conference: Intersections 2008

The new website is up for the current iteration of the York/Ryerson Communication and Culture Graduate Programme's Intersection Conference 2008, March 14-16 in Toronto:

The conference is always a good time, and this year the conference received a record number of submissions. I'm biased, of course, from helping out at the conference over the past few years. However, the conference stands on its own merits without my bias, because it continues to grow each year. It is a great venue for seeing the interesting work that graduate students are doing in Communication and Culture research from around North America, and this year, the conference has gone global in the submissions it has received. I hope to see you there!

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Ryan Bigge’s “Road-testing the $100 laptop's 'appropriate technology'”

Ryan Bigge continues to write thought provoking and insightful inquiries into our current technological situation. His most recent piece in the Ideas section of The Toronto Star (January 20, 2008) is unique for his interesting use of journalism across media. See:

1. Bigge’s original article in The Star (with an extra movie clip on how to use the laptop):

2. Bigge’s Blogge (Yes, that’s humour) -- Extra excerpts from his article which were not included in the print piece are included on his blog:

Bigge’s story is about the One Laptop Per Child Project (OLPC). The charitable act of being able to purchase a laptop for $400, also provides a laptop for a child in a developing country. Despite the feel good nature of the project, I feel there are two further conversations that need to be opened up here:

1) About media use in general.
2) About the $100 laptop as a solution to the digital divide.

I’ll tackle the first item as follows: In the print version of his article, Bigge wasn’t able to fit his entire story, and so he includes extra excerpts on his Blog which add a more balanced tone to what originally read more like a McLuhanesque, techno-humanist piece in favour of the technology. The Blog remarks offer more of critical perspective to the piece with discussion of some of the issues the project has created and faced.

Another interesting point in terms of media is that the print format couldn’t offer a complete tutorial on how the laptop works, so the article provided a hyperlink to the digital video explanation starring Bigge himself (as seen at the link above). This coordination of media may in fact entice some of the techno-phobic into spending more time on-line because of the limitations and technical constraints of the print product. I know it worked for me.

This extra mediated experience only increases the use of our limited resources in terms of time and the resources of the natural environment, but offers a moment on which to comment during our current in-between media period, where we straddle several media options at once in the West. These coordinated media strategies are becoming more prevalent, and offer many narrative threads to trace for the interested, while also allowing more points of access to grab the attention of a potential audience.

I’ll develop this thought further as a part of my discussion on the $100 laptop. I was fortunate to get to visit the OLPC headquarters in Boston over the summer. Here’s some pictures from my visit:

1) One of the $100 Laptops (photographed at MIT):

2) Laptop display table at the OLPC HQ:

3) The Testing Lab at OLPC HQ:

When I read Bigge’s article, I had some rare quibbles with his description of the OLPC project based on my experiences during my own OLPC visit. As I said, I usually agree whole heartedly with Bigge, but here's a few things that I didn't find in either his article or Blog:

If one were to read only the print version of his work, Bigge seems to sit on the fence a bit when mentioning the problem of the new cheap laptop market that's formed because of Negroponte’s brainchild. In his piece, he mentions a bias for ‘appropriate technology’ that performs the logical tasks that a device should, without any useless or superfulous features that are currently being marketed. I've become a bit more Naomi Klein-ish about liberal markets since visiting the OLPC though, instead of just hoping technology will change the world. Klein's new book The Shock Doctrine talks about the entrenchment of neo-liberal markets during crises, like wars and natural disasters. Basically the idea is that when a crisis hits, big business moves in (e.g. Iraq and Haliburton).

I think something that could be added to her list is "the digital divide" crisis. Specifically, we can ask do agrarian societies need to be (or want to be) attached to the Internet?

Further, is an abundance of cheap laptops without a cradle to grave waste management solution just another environmental disaster waiting to happen? Like the billion cell phones dying in landfills, these $100 laptops aren't bio-degradable...

NB - Clarification from SJ's comment below: The OLPC Project is trying to make the laptops 100% recyclable and have a minimum impact on the environment, but they are still in the process of accessing how to ensure proper disposal according to the following site:

I know it's all high and mighty of me writing this on my own computer, but when we were down at the OLPC they talked about how kids in the developing world were already using laptops (perhaps, not the OLPC laptops yet) in rare situations to make pornography (to make money), or selling them (for money), or hacking (for money), or being beaten by adults who would then steal the laptops (to again sell for money) – that’s just to name a few issues. Overall, in terms of liberalization, could these laptops just be a way of creating armies of third world call centre employees out of a young, cheaply trained labour force, while also taking time away from children's time learning skills they need to survive in a non-digital society? Think scary, Kittlerian style discourse networks here of the variety that occurred around the creation of the typewriter (and now, of course, the laptop).

During my visit to the OLPC, we had a number of problems on the technical side as well. For example, getting the laptops to work in the mesh network never occurred, and obviously Bigge’s own laptop all alone here in Canada will have problems linking to other mesh-network-ready computers since there are none (until other people purchase them).

Another problem during our visit included the laptop’s operating system freezing on a number of the computers we were testing. To their credit, the OLPC project admitted openly they were working on all of these issues, and the system Bigge demonstrates in his video is definitely a bit different from the one that I remember playing with. Hopefully the bugs have been worked out.

The one thing that I was hopeful about with the OLPC project was their commitment to on-going maintenance of the technology, and their focus on going to places and educating people about use and care of the laptop. However, without sustained money, the laptops do break and the issues listed above develop when there is no money to fix them. Several of my peers during the visit were emphatic about embedding the laptops in an educational environment to create a vital culture of care. Without a care network, if (or when) those developing regions become emblazoned with other problems, which they often do, the child cannot eat the laptop, which most would consider a more pressing need, but the laptop could instead be used by others to download bomb making instructions.

I thought I'd write and see what others thought, especially those who have connections to the OLPC project?

Specifically, I know that some other SDP-ers have blogged about this previously, and one of you has done the same as Ryan Bigge and contributed to the give-one-get-one campaign -- hopefull informed discussion can assuage such fears and issues as those listed above:

- Give-one-get-one:

- Law Professor Wendy Seltzer on the project (A comment in this post talks about Korean Laptop Boot Camps for helping Koreans get over Internet addiction):

- Other links and pictures from people during the summer visit to OLPC:





Monday, 4 February 2008

Brushes with Fame

Charlie Neeson was on The Colbert Report and challenged the Presidential Candidates to a poker match. I was fortunate enough to play poker against him at Harvard in the Summer of 2007 during the Oxford Internet Institute:

Neeson uses poker as a teaching tool, and he is very much an interesting and charismatic professor.

Tariq Amin-Khan is a professor in the Ryerson Politics and Public Administration department, and he was recently on The Hour describing the situation in Pakistan, where he use to be a reporter:

Saturday, 2 February 2008

Jean McNulty Talk: Getting a Job in the Public Service

Veteran Public Servant and Communication Researcher Jean McNulty gave a free talk to Communication and Culture Graduate Students on the topic of ways to become employed in the public service on Tuesday, January 22, at Ryerson (11:00 to 12:30, VIC104). There was a good turnout of about 25 people, and McNulty gave personalized advice to each student present, as well as delivering a prepared talk. James Cairns and the Communication and Culture Graduate Student Association were instrumental in organizing the talk. Barbara Crowe, the York Director of the ComCult Programme, facilitated the discussion.

McNulty’s talk focused on five basic skills required for being employed in the public service:

1) Policy Knowledge: She advised that policy knowledge in a specific area is a good start, but not enough to get the job. Students should have knowledge in an upcoming area of need for the government. For example, a lot of environmental policy is being worked on currently at all levels of government, but if you want to work on telecommunication policy, currently there is only work federally in that area.

2) Industry Knowledge: Along with policy knowledge, students should have working knowledge of, or experience working or volunteering with, the groups that the policy will impact. Policy is written with citizens, interest groups, and industry in mind from all sectors, and knowledge is needed of these groups to write informed policy.

3) Proven Expertise in Applied Knowledge: Ways of demonstrating your applied knowledge include published papers, professional reports, conference presentations, or work consulting on research projects (both quantitative and qualitative analysis skills).

4) Administrative Experience: Administrative experience does not mean just secretarial work; administrative work means managing people, budgets, and organizing groups to work effectively. Any experience doing this in terms of conference organization, journal publication, or being an instructor or teaching assistant and leading tutorials are ways of demonstrating administrative experience. Also, non-partisan experience in administration is definitely important for the public service. Administrative experience will also demonstrate that you know how to work with other people, and can understand your role and place working in a hierarchy or bureaucracy.

5) Writing/Language Skills: Communication skills are one of the most important skills to hone to differentiate candidates within a pool of applicants. Writing demonstrates a person’s attention to design, grammar, and detail. Knowledge of the culture of the public service and an understanding of the jargon are also demonstrated through writing, so writing and communication skills are the dominant skill for presenting the above four required skills. If you desire to work federally, French language skills are also needed.

McNulty advised that these five complementary skills will be needed for most Junior Analyst or Internship positions. She said that the main ways to get a foot in the door are through applying to positions such as:

1) The Ontario Two-year Internship Program (due by Jan. 30th each year):

2) Federal Government Policy Leader Program (posted in September/October each year):

3) Apply for Open Positions: Open positions appear throughout the year at the above websites as well.

4) Term or Contract Positions: Summer internships, short term contracts, and student co-op placements are all ways to get a start in the public service. Once you’re hired you will also have access to internal postings which are not opened to the public.

5) Consulting Firms: Decima, Bearing Point, Price Waterhouse, and other major firms also hire in these areas. Junior level positions can be a place to get a foot in the door. Look for communication positions or junior analyst positions.

6) Foreign Service: For those with an eye to traveling, you might want to learn more about writing the Foreign Service Exam. See:

Remember: Make sure to thoroughly review the websites for any of the above places before applying or going for an interview.

Briefing Notes
In most of these positions, writing a briefing note will be a part of the interview. McNulty’s advice for writing the perfect Briefing Note includes:

1. Key Issue: Identify the Key Issue for the Government, and provide a limited number of options for dealing with the issue.

2. Options for Action: Itemize the options for action in detail, and describe each. Usually three or four options will be required at the most. (e.g.) 1) Immediate action items, 2) items that require more time or money, and 3) radical or extreme solutions that might require more investigation.

NOTE: You should check the "culture" and "format" of the place you are working for the options section of your Briefing Note, because some places will use old stand by options such as 1) Do nothing, 2) Wait and see, 3) Respond when action is required, etc. Other places may not use this language based on the work that is done and for stylization purposes. You can think of this as similar to New Journalism's turn away from the inverted pyramid style of writing news articles and press releases.

3. Recommended Option: Identify and explain the main recommendation.

4. Background: Provide background information on this recommendation, the history that has led to this issue arising, the parties affected by it, and sources where more information can be found on the issue.

These basic requirements should not be considered fixed in stone, and their order and structure can change depending on the issue being researched.

Links to McNulty’s Work

1) Mass Communication in Canada: