July 31, 2003

A Young Matt

Matt has a wonderful photograph of himself on his blog, and for those who know Matt, well, it's a miniMatt! Though, of course given Matt's research interests, it's just as likely some sort of computer generated de-aging algorithm that runs on a Cray.

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R and R

After quite a hard week I'm off skiing tomorrow. Cross country at nearby (well, about 2 hours to the snow) Lake Mountain. The snow here is very marginal, and you only get reasonable skiing August and September, so I'm striking while the iron's hot (or the water's cold?). This snow is always wet and slow, nothing like you get in real mountains.

A couple of years ago I got a few day's skiing on Fløyen in Bergen. Now Fløyen is only about 300 metres above sea level (Lake Mountain is 1440) but being Norway and a long way north snow is the real thing. So on Fløyen (it's the one on the left) the snow was reasonably dry, and stayed that way for days, so each day was blue wax. At Lake Mountain snow falls and since the ambient temperature is pretty much 0 C, it will change immediately, and refreeze overnight. It is the land of klister, which is why nearly everyone in Australia uses waxless skis. To those who know, klister can be hell, to those that have tried to wax for skiing around 0, hell is only half of it. Bergen snow was fast, fun, and fixed. Lake Mountain snow is wet, slow, and mutable. But I love snow, and am rather fonder of skiing!

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Action Research Resources

In a final third year seminar I'm teaching students are undertaking independent research. This is very hard for them to do, as they must frame a research problem, undertake primary research around this, develop a viable and relevant model for presenting this research (and their learning), and in the process learn quite a bit about research, reflection, their learning styles, and so on. In the course of working out what I'm going to do this week with the group I have been doing some research into action research, and found this very useful action research resource, from Souther Cross University (a regional Australian uni). I've printed off some of the screens to distribute in class.

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Neural. It

This is an Italian new media art journal that is now also appearing in English. Worth visiting every now and then for a read.

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July 29, 2003

The Wheel, Reinvented. Again.

Stephen Bell has registered videoblog.net. Good luck. While of course the idea of video blogging seems to be gaining ground, after all I've found three new video bloggers this week (a swallow a summer does not make?), embedding video on a web page just isn't going to cut it. Yes, it will work. Vanity publishing being what it is. Yes it is a good use of the network (potentially). But just think about the things that make a blog a blog. Write out that list. Now, if video is to be a video blog, what on that list of things does your video do?

My list includes things like the quotidian and the personal, and the observational. It also includes things like links, user actions, serialisation, and that the sphere of 'interactivity' in a blog are the link structures within the posts. A video blog has to work out how to do this too. A video blog is not just a blog with video posts. Unless you want a blog to be a blog with text posts and no link architectures or interweaving.

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Book on Video Communication

A reference to find:

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July 28, 2003

Italian Vogging

Videoblog portale is a new Italian vog, since I don't read Italian I'm speculating, but I'm assuming it is a portal and about experimental networked video practice. A range of windows media vogs are available here, all nicely low bit rate, observational, quotidian. Prime vog qualities.

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New Vogger

Dan Winckler is video blogging. He found my stuff, which is flattering, and I'm looking forward to seeing what work is produced, though he ought to learn about poster movies for this page, otherwise it's a huge download!

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Sound Economies

QuickTime supports childtracks, which are movies (of any track that QuickTime supports) that a parent or container movie only "calls" to play when required. This means the child movie physically resides outside of the parent movie, it is a separate file somewhere else on the network, and so operates independently of the parent movie. When it is "called" is up to the author of the QuickTime movie, so could be based on user action, something the movie has done (reached a certain point, not reached a certain point, particular day of the week, and so on), or even on something that another movie or user has done.

Because a child movie is independent of the parent movie it means it can be of a different duration to the parent movie. A simple use of this is to embed a short atmosphere soundtrack as a child movie and set it to loop. This means you get your atmos (that's film sound argot) as a bargain in terms of bandwidth and file size. For example I'm working on a new vog at the moment that has a beach atmos track. I could run the atmos as a continuous soundtrack that runs for the duration of the movie, more or less as you traditionally would. So that would be two minutes or so of sound. But using a child movie I can make a ten second soundtrack that is loaded automatically as a childmovie, with a duration that is slaved to the parent but with the childmovie looped. This means the ten second sound file is loaded and looped for as long as parent movie plays, whether the parent is two or twenty minutes. I could also keep the atmos playing if the parent movie were paused by the user. This doesn't preclude other soundtracks of course, and just frees up some bandwidth.

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July 25, 2003


Pia Ednie-Brown here at RMIT has put together a great program and series of events around the theme of intimate distance. Details should be available.

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I've taught hypertext theory and practice since 1995, which I guess is a while now, though it doesn't seem like it. Well it does actually, and I've not kept up with the times...

Where was I? mmm. So, I'm struggling along writing an essay at the moment on softvideography and pedagogy, and I'm reminded of what I have always thought of as the 'ah' moment when I'm teaching hypertext. In 1995, and probably up to about 1997, it happened in the first class, when students made their first links in Storyspace and followed the link. Students would literally gasp "Ahh" as it worked and they realised they'd made and followed a link.

From 1998 to about 2001 this didn't much happen in Storyspace, they'd all followed links on the Web so clicking and having a window just open didn't do much for them. But here the "Ahh" moment was when they wrote their first web page (using SimpleText) and published it to a real web server and viewed it via a web browser with a real URL.

Now, most of them have played with some mediocre autocoding wysiwyg sort of system so publishing to the web isn't what it used to be (though there is sometimes an "Ahh" when they get that they can use SimpleText to write pages). But now it is when their content appears in Google with a decent page rank.

This is an interesting history of the changes in what we think literacy, computing, and the network is. First of all it was a network of links - a networked document. Then it was a document networked. Finally, it is themselves inserted into a network. This is what I think of as network literacy.

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July 24, 2003

Nice Collection

At eleanorrigby.net michael w has made a useful collection of links to net.art and new media sites, projects, and so forth.

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Ken Burns et al

Photo to Movie is a nice shareware application that does what iMovie 3 likes to call the "Ken Burns effect". Apart from the fact that Ken Burns was not the first to do this, nor the first to base a major aesthetic on panning and zooming across still images, this is a really useful device to use, and something I'm about to start using in some vogs I'm hoping to find time to make soon. Photo to Movie does a better job than iMovie at doing this since it provides more control and does better sampling.

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July 23, 2003

Learning Lines

An exercise I do in a course's first class is to get students to draw a graph. The first point they draw on it is how much they know about the topic/task/field/project now. They then make a second point at the end of the scale which is to indicate how much they think they will know by the end of the course. I then simply ask if anyone has a line that descends or is flat. (So far no one has thought they'd know less.) Unsurprisingly everyone has a line that rises (though the variation in amount of rise and its shape is surprising amongst students) and I simply use that to indicate to students that in drawing that graph they have made a simple commitment to learn something. This is their commitment, and has nothing to do with me as their teacher but is their contract to the course and themselves that they are intending to learn.

What I then do is to get everyone to make a list of all the things that they think they will have to do during the semester to make that line actually go up. Sometimes I do this in small groups, sometimes individually, varies on class size and the sort of material the class covers. Everyone then presents their list of things that are needed to make the line go up. We collate this as a class, work out what relates to what, and then this list becomes the basis for how participation is defined for that course.

This means that students learn, immediately, that participation is not attendance at the lecture or tutorial, but actually requires action across a much wider range of activities, including reading, research, using the library, keeping good notes, providing peer review, and so on (they always make very thorough lists!).

I then take this list, write it up as a document with an assessment scale of 1 to 5 for each item, and compile this into an assessment diary with a page for each week of the course. Each student then receives this and assesses themselves against these criteria each week. At the end of semester they review their self assessment participation diary, and then give themselves an overall result for participation. They have to present their result to the group, and point out what they did well, what they learnt do do better, and what they could have done better, through the course. This provides a chance for peer feedback if someone over or under marks themselves, but it also focusses on the things that have changed through the course for the student, which is where the learning actually has happened.

Sometimes students distrust this because it could be abused, for instance a student could give themselves top marks each week. If this is an anxiety then I suggest that each week two other students must sign the self assessment form, in effect endorsing the individual student's self assigned mark, and that if this still isn't enough I offer to randomly audit these through the semester. To date (I've been doing this for two years now) no class has ever needed or wanted an audit, and only one student has blatantly abused the process - and they were a mature age media professional!

The advantages of this are many, in my experience. First of all it helps students learn how to assess their own learning and activities, as well as foregrounding and concretising for them what actions they need to do regularly to do well in the subject. It gives them some responsibility for their own assessment outcomes, and also helps them identify what their patterns and strengths and weaknesses are, for example by reviewing their participation diary they can see that they do a lot of research but very little writing. It also frees up me from having to assess what I think is the vaguest of assessment activities, participation. Certainly my experience as a student is that participation was only ever equated to attendance, and possibly asking a lot of questions, which are only two forms of participations, and potentially minor.

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July 22, 2003

A Research Bibliography

David Wolf has compiled a useful preliminary bibliography. David is doing an MA on interactive video, narrative, and what I think might become character and interface, but it is still very much being developed.
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July 17, 2003

New Exhibition

The videoblog::vog project has earned a jersey in the Fibreculture Gallery! This year's Fibreculture Forum - Fibrepower has just been held in Brisbane, and unfortunately again I could not attend (there have been three now and I haven't been able to get to any of them with one thing and another). The schedule looked exciting, and it is one of the best collections of people working on new technologies and its implications in Australia.
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July 14, 2003

Professional Communication

Well, been a strange three weeks. School holidays with the kids at home, layed up in bed for 3 days with a ghastly stomach bug, and now semester has started once again. I'm teaching a project based subject in the Professional Communication program, which will be largely process and problem based. These are students who have never experienced anything remotely like this, so will be extremely resistant to the idea, and the project. So I will need to go slowly and encourage a lot of discussion.

The subject guide is available as a Word document.

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