PhD complete

Today, an eleven year journey as a PhD student comes to a hard-won, satisfying, successful end. My dissertation (entitled “The Critical Construction of Geolocational Life”) has been submitted to the SFU Library Thesis office, revisions completed and approved. I can breathe – and blog – again.

ubitasking. Taylorism. The horror…

Visualization of over 16,000 Mechanical Turk workers in the United States. Click on the image for the original (much bigger).

I’m always trying to think of silly new buzzwords (“ubitasking”), and I’m also always trying to avoid the hackneyed ones (“crowdsourcing”). Mechanical Turk (ach! 41% of it is SPAM) -type platforms are brushing up against place-sensitive applications, and the results are intriguing, particularly in the coordination of humanitarian aid. In one case, Crowdflower participated in Haitian earthquake relief efforts, in conjunction with the well-known Ushahidi platform and a ‘Turk-like ‘form called Samasource. This is interesting (and relevant to my research) for two reasons:

Firstly, the work sourced through Samasource involved translation of text messages so that aid workers could read them and respond – which is an important general consideration when envisioning the localization of any ICTs to particular cities (and neighborhoods within cities). Vancouver is made up of a number of linguistic communities; reaching out broadly to ensure they are all included requires an awareness of such tactics and a readiness to deploy them in the rollout of any mobile application(s). So, for instance – should the design team prescribe something with a similar “task orientation” (like ubitasking notifications to the City about sick trees or potholes) – translation services can be similarly sourced and organized here. The elderly Korean woman who has a community garden plot next to ours (who is constantly giving us gardening advice, in Korean, as she speaks no English whatsoever) inspires me to demand a community babelfish…

Secondly, and troublingly, all this “task orientation” (should be “tsk. orientation…”) smacks of Taylorism writ even more granular than ever before. If you doubt me, just read Crowdflower’s FAQ page for things such as “By saving the correct answers to a small set of Units prior to running a job, we track the quality of a worker’s performance and reject a worker once his or her accuracy drops below a defined threshold. When no Gold Units are inserted, the quality of work plummets…”. Yep, that’s your name alright, Taylorism. Routinizing work; building human powered Difference Engines; monitoring space and time with cool algorithms. Not your Lefebvre‘s city. More like yr Le Corbusier‘s…

I’m not dis(mis)sing Crowdflower, though, as they clearly have a charitable and progressive ethos going on, by all accounts. Just picking on the FAQ language, noting the exacting character of software, and pointing out where I’ve seen it all before.

So yes, pluses and minuses so far in the prelims, as expected. I’m looking at a few more technical options, and I’m prescribing nothing.

Image credit: sethoscope ( (CC BY-SA 2.0)

MUSE3 BCNET presentation

I had the opportunity last week to present my ongoing research into user-centered technology design (which is what is evolving out of my ethnographic research in the lives of mobile handset users) as part of a panel all about Mobile Muse (where I’m the Program Manager, for those who aren’t aware of this).

A webcast of the proceedings is available here. Here are slides for the full presentation, and here (more for my own concept archiving sanity than for anything else, really) are my slides extracted from that set.

Some of the same ideas from prior talks I’ve given about the mobile divide are revisited here, but in the context of a more proactive problem orientation. Here I’m asking: how is technology developed in ways that are directly informed and influenced by the communities of users most affected by them, and how is this tech disseminated in ways that are socially beneficial?.

MUSE3 is an excellent opportunity, I’m finding, for looking at the processes of intermediation that go on in the building of new things. At the intersection of network engineers, open source and other sorts of coders, mobile handset companies, government agencies, artist-run centres and a cavalcade of people and organizations with an interest in the potential of mobile technology, many complex interactions are going on that contribute, bit by bit, to whatever technological assemblage is going to emerge. Fascinating stuff, really. Here’s hoping my notes are as meticulous as they need to be…

Mobile Media Use & Disuse – Research findings, plus musical odds and sods

Hey. I’m digging my head out from under a tense, transitional semester of research, teaching and baby-raising. I’m working directly in mobile media now, in a new job at Mobile Muse 3 (so expect more posts in this sorter space as we go). On that note, you can see a recent presentation of research findings gleaned from my ongoing mobile research for Nokia here (PDF, 3.7 Mb). A full paper on this research, authored by me and Richard Smith, is forthcoming.

On the music and audio front, I’m about to embark on an ambitious audio archiving project pending the purchase of a USB cassette deck. Not a found sound project, mind you, but more of a personal biographical project. I have a huge box of old tapes, set to expire any minute, that simply must be digitized. I’ve been recording things since I was 9 years old. No word yet on how much has survived, but in the new year I’ll have a good idea. This’ll also be my chance to debut the clicknoise podcast…

I will likely set this bio project to coincide with the release of the newest A Spectre Is Haunting Europe record, too, which will permit much dialectic between past, present, and futurism. This way I’ll have the dual pleasure of digging through the vaults whilst unleashing something that is completely fresh (in the past, ASIHE albums have always combined new and old seamlessly, and with Embers (the next LP), we definitely didn’t want to do that again.

AOIR Music and Sound Panel – Oct 18, 2007

This update is running quite late, but is still valuable, I think, in attempting to sustain the dialogue which was unfortunately given too short an interval at our panel on Music and Sound at the AOIR conference last week. As well, I particularly need to move among the “diaspora” of AOIR (As Nancy Baym phrased it) as, variously, splitting headaches and tons of work – both domestic and non- kept me from schmoozing to my fullest capacity. So much to do I couldn’t even attend presentations or panels that I really really needed to see (especially this one, this one and this one).

In the interest of, as I said, sustaining some dialogue about our panel, I’ll offer a brief summary from my notes, which are mainly comprised of questions that I didn’t get to ask. Where possible I’ll link to the various presenters’ webpages or blogs, and I’ll reiterate the link to my own slides with notes. Here goes:

Marj Kibby presented her paper on Myspace and bands. Having been part of a band on Myspace for several years, I came out of this talk with too many questions for one small panel. I believe her research is an excellent introduction to this sphere for the uninitiated, bringing a textual analysis directly to the live profiles of a number of her research subjects, but for a seasoned Myspace whore such as myself, there was nothing here I hadn’t already guessed. Still, my questions were numerous, as Marj’s work overlaps significantly with mine:

  • what of the myths of “overnight success” (Sandi Thom, Amy Winehouse, et al). how does the ‘gaming’ of these networks by conventional producers change the dynamics of fan-artist relations?
  • what happens when the “influences” and “genres” sections of profiles become oversaturated (as in cases where bands and fans alike list hundreds and hundreds of influences, or inappropriate genre categories)? doesn’t this degrade communication? what do fans make of this? and once certain modes of communicating identity are spent, to where does the communication of identity migrate?
  • how does one sample artists from the thousands on myspace for survey research? what strategies are there for (1) sorting through fakes, side projects, false starts, unofficial profiles, and other artifacts of the myspace ecosystem, and (2) ensuring the sample is representative of a particular slice of time in the life of the site?
  • aren’t the rules of fan/artist interaction mediated by the specificities of artists/genres/subcultures? is it the same to interact with Radiohead as with Tapes and Tapes as with SFIAS? can we make general claims about fandom based on a random sample of myspace bands?
  • how can we be assured of the value of the “long tail” value of the networks of Myspace, given the persistent power of mass chain buyers like WalMart in influencing trends in the music industry? and how can musicians monetize this in ways that subvert/get around the (parasitic or progressive?) intentions/profit of the parent corporations who provide the infrastructure of Myspace?
  • what does News Corp gain from fan/artist networks of Myspace? how are corporate goals consistent with or in contradiction with the goals of artists and fans who use the site for music discovery and sharing?

Next up, Andrew Ó Baoill presented his research into podcasting and community radio. I was intrigued by this talk, and I thought that he deserved more questions at the close of the panel. The engagement of these two worlds – community radio and the podcast community – has far reaching implications, especially for parts of the world where community radio is a primary source of news, information and entertainment for many. I’m curious about how this topic interlaces with mobile media and device adoption in developing countries, in situations where community radio is a vital communication resource, and where the adoption of mobile media outstrips that of tethered ICTs. But insufficient time prevented me from asking Andrew his thoughts on this.

Next, I presented my talk on technical micropolitics and independent music. I don’t have any questions for myself. This is just placeholder. I’m just following the timeline. O SNAP!

The last talk of the panel was by Klaus Bruhn Jensen and Rasmus Helles, tantalizingly entitled “Society Switching“. Their research into the phenomenology of sound is quite fascinating, although the talk itself seemed to be merely the tip of the iceberg. I’m particularly intrigued by the use of the concept of generativity (borrowed from linguistics) and structural-functionalism in developing their theoretical framework. I’d love to read any published work from this research (hint-hint, if you cats are reading this).

Question period followed, which included lively input from the erudite Tarleton Gillespie (who seemingly followed me all the way from 4S), panel moderator Mark Latonero and Hanson scholar Holly Kruse (whose panel I really wished to see but couldn’t due to a headache – hint hint, Holly, I want to see your paper!).

Please do chime in if you were a presenter or in attendance and didn’t get to sound off in the limited F2F session that we had. Otherwise, I’m busy trying to mentally connect all of this with Henry Jenkins’ ideas about the moral economy of Web 2.0…back in a minute or so…

Ex-Perry Mental Geekery

Nice to be back in the swim of things. I just put a final report out the door on a research project that I’d been working on for 14 months. It was a difficult project – one that didn’t always go as planned, that got intermittently sidelined by other events in my life (buying an apartment, having a first baby), and included a whole feeling of responsibility and guilt unlike any other research project I’d ever worked on. More than anything, it was in a research area worlds away from poopular (yes, I mean poopular, it’s not just the baby talking) music, which is my number one research passion.

I’m not going to divulge any more details about that project here (details of it will soon be published elsewhere), but your takeaway from the above blurb should be that now that the project’s done, much more of my time can be devoted to my work in music and my work in mobile – both of which are central themes of this blog.

To wit, I’m TAing a 3rd year course in popular music studies this semester, and the gearing up is invigorating. We’re doing something of an experimental “taste laboratory” of sorts on I’ve invited the 76 students in the class to join so we can have some healthy backchannel in a music-rich environment. We’ll be sticking to the books and lectures in tutorial, but I figured having this optional addon for students who are so inclined can be instructive, and perhaps give some students some concrete experience with which to grapple whilst reading Hebdige, Attali, Adorno, McRobbie, and others (PS – I didn’t design the reading list, so if you have a problem with it, take it up with the Sessional).

The other thing I’m diving into now is a short ethnographic study (yes, the third in a series) of mobile phone use, using the Nokia 95. I’ve been playing with one of them for a couple of days now, and I am quite impressed with its ergonomic design. Something about this phone feels just alright, as Lou Reed would say. However, the phone keeps crashing when using the built in photo gallery app. Looking for a workaround.

Oh, and of course, there’s the upcoming AOIR, which I’m helping out with (and presenting at).

I’ll be keeping you posted.

Beercamp Vancouver

Tonight and tomorrow I’ll be mind-moshing with local geekerati at Barcamp Vancouver. If you’re signed up to be there too, come up and innerdooce yourself (you already know me by sight, or can figure it out via flickr or facebook, can’t you?). I always like to meet readers and fellow bloggers in the flesh. Or so I think.

OK – so maybe there’s only, like, three of you. At any rate, keep in mind for part of the night tonight I’ll be busy behind a camcorder, following Kris Krüg around, turning his seemingly insatiable gaze back on him for a research project I’m working on (for Mobile Muse). But hit me up if you’re around (like I will be) for the free drinks.