Helpful synchronicities

July 24, 2006 at 7:04 pm | In social_networking | 4 Comments

Yesterday I came across an MIT Technology Review article, The Internet Is Your Next Hard Drive by Wade Roush. Its subtitle is, “New Web-based services don’t just store your data online — they keep it synchronized across your laptop, desktop, and mobile phone.” Given how many bits of me are threatening to walk off my brain to take up permanent residency somewhere else, this naturally caught my attention.

Roush always does an excellent job pulling useful bits of information together, and so I found myself clicking through on his links. I signed up on SharpCast as a result, but haven’t yet done the download/install, nor even begun to think about how I might get my camera, which still thinks it’s married to my iBook, to “talk” to the old Windows laptop I currently use… Well, that light, too, will dawn.

But Roush’s blog actually pointed me to some other issues, which were quite rivetting. First, I read Roush’s link to Thomas Vander Wal, who wrote something about personal infoclouds, which in turn led me to read Edward Vielmetti’s blog entry, neighborhoods, networks, communities, online+offline. Both of these bloggers are talking about web-2.0 apps that probably don’t quite exist yet, but which would clearly be useful: social networking or “community” applications that combine the power of virtual contact with the specificity of local interests.

As Vielmetti puts it:

There’s a whole range of books and thinking about virtual communities, focusing on how you construct a system online to build community, strengthen ties between people, welcome newcomers and recognize leaders, etc. I’ve most recently been reading Amy Jo Kim’s book on the topic, but there’s a lot of others, and you can’t help but seeing the word “community” in any book about online conversation software.

In some parallel universe, there are books and thinking and writing about neighborhoods, new urbanism, the power of being local, and other ways to connect up with people who are within a few hundred feet or a few miles of you. I have Superbia! (on “new suburbanism”) on hold at the library now, for instance, which talks about tearing down fences in your neighborhood and holding potlucks.

In personal experience there is a lot more of a tie between these two topics than has been satisfactorily explored, and I’m casting about for someone who has done a good job. A lot of the older online community books never even acknowledge that people might see each other in person, let alone organize their days and years around periodic meetings. The local community stuff generally doesn’t get much farther than suggesting a mailing list and doesn’t tend to incorporate much in the way of nuance in mixed online/offline community.

What’s so fascinating (for me, right now) is that to an extent, a mixed online/offline community (as Vielmetti calls it) is already happening in Victoria, through a forum focussed on new development projects in the city. It has allowed people to get informed and keep informed virtually, bypassing the filter that lets parsed bits by the local media through. The internet has let people get involved in real life, in other words. Even my lowly wiki has generated some participation by local people (who I haven’t knowingly met, too).
But there’s so much to absorb, to read… The InfoCloud post includes a sidebar, with recommended reading. So I click through to Amazon to learn more about Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing, which is described thus:

Digital Ground is an architect’s response to the design challenge posed by pervasive computing. One century into the electronic age, people have become accustomed to interacting indirectly, mediated through networks. But now as digital technology becomes invisibly embedded in everyday things, even more activities become mediated, and networks extend rather than replace architecture. The young field of interaction design reflects not only how people deal with machine interfaces but also how people deal with each other in situations where interactivity has become ambient. It shifts previously utilitarian digital design concerns to a cultural level, adding notions of premise, appropriateness, and appreciation.

So much knowledge, so many insights to absorb… Naturally, Amazon in turn recommends other books of related interest, and so on and so forth.

Meanwhile, as per a comment on Vielmetti’s blog, you can check out the work of Toronto’s NetLab, or read their paper (a PDF), Neighboring in Netville, which asks “what is the internet doing to local community?” Their findings? “Survey and ethnographic data from a ‘wired suburb’ near Toronto shows that high-speed, always-on access to the Internet, coupled with a local online discussion group, transforms and enhances neighboring. The Internet especially supports increased contact with weaker ties. (…) Not only did the Internet support neighboring, it also facilitated discussion and mobilization around local issues.” Ok, I didn’t know that “neighboring” was now an acceptable verb (“Hi, wanna neighbour?” …hmmmm), but personal experience has certainly borne out UofT’s conclusions.

Clearly, though, the complexities of online life (everytime I think I can close one of my browser’s tabs, I find something else I want to follow, and so stay enwebbed, unable to clear the clutter from my screen) mandate that some savvy new tools come along to “manage” the added complexity of mixed online/offline life.

I know I can’t continue to leave this task to my dog, who, in deciding which route we take for our “walkies,” determines whether or not we may or may not run into someone, offline, from the online world. And if we don’t see anyone offline, there’s always the “dogs offleash” park, before the soft glow of the computer screen calls me back home, to the online neighbourhoods…

…Something about not blogging anymore?

July 20, 2006 at 12:44 am | In media | 8 Comments

All the way back in April 2003, I blogged an entry called I hope nomen est omen not, which described how I learned that my surname is a Yiddish Dutch word derived from the Hebrew word hewel, “a vain cause,” translating colloquially into “trouble.” The word is listed on this site, Hebrew Words in Dutch (via Yiddish). Reading the webmaster’s disclaimer, “Most of the words from the following lists are slang terms, not meant for polite conversation,” didn’t exactly make me feel higher up on any heraldric totem pole, thank-you very much: mud-wrestling seemed more apt.

It has given my atheistic nature pause to consider that a perpetual penchant for getting into trouble is somehow …well, pre-ordained, and there have indeed been times when I wondered whether blogging (or building a crazy wiki) was the equivalent of entering a field filled with the bulls of civility, good manners, and status quo-ness, all the while dressed with a swooping red cape tied around the neck. And yet, to paraphrase every heibelmaker who has gone before me: what the hell? Why not pursue a vain cause?

So: here’s something troubling, taking me back to blogging …

On July 7, Sean Holman of Public Eye Online, a BC-oriented blog /slash/ political_reportage site, reported in his July 7 column, Writing coach written out, that Vivian Smith, a biweekly newspaper columnist for local (but CanWest-owned) daily paper Times-Colonist, was fired.

Clearly, she was fired for exactly the reasons Holman so lucidly lays out: she offended the paternalistic power brokers of Victoria’s allegedly prime industry, tourism. Here’s what happened: Just in time for the lucrative highpoint of Canada Day (July 1) weekend, Vivian Smith wrote a Sunday July 2 column called, “In dear Victoria, the best is often free” (see Holman’s July 7 entry for a full reprint). The column, which had the lightly snarky tone of a blog post, satirised not only her out-of-town visitors (“droolers” from Toronto), but also took on the Big Daddies of Victoria’s tourism industry, viz., the Empress Hotel, the Butchart Gardens, and the newly opened so-called BC Experience. She pointed out how expensive it is to get here (“a C-note” just for the ferry — that’s $100, for a car with mom, dad, and 2 kids), and how expensive it is once you are here. She wrote not a single lie or exaggeration: it was the honest truth. She added:

You may be bunking with relatives (cheap, but strings attached) or in a $200-a-night hotel.

Let’s say you’ve been seduced by the premier’s talk of provincial pride, and want to have a B.C. Experience in the morning. Next, you’d like tea at The Empress, and then spend the later part of the day at the Butchart Gardens.

For a family of four, with two kids over 12, you’d be dropping nearly $350, and that is without breakfast or snacks or souvenirs or transportation or supper. The Empress tea was $48 until yesterday, when it went to FIFTY-FOUR DOLLARS per person for the summer.

After this (and a few more jabs at Tourism, Inc.’s general fleecing of the rubes), she elaborated on all the wonderful things you can do here for free — and believe me, they are plentiful.

Well, on Wednesday July 5, after the weekend, she was fired. Co-incidentally, the day before (Tuesday July 4), the executives of the lampooned tourist traps (all of whom are big-dollar advertisers in the Times-Colonist) had met with the newspaper executives, where they complained to the newspaper about Ms. Smith’s column. Draw your own conclusions, and if you need a hint, see a doctor…

Sean Holman has followed this story up, with several columns:

Tourism slump results in more lost business? on July 11
Flower Power on July 12
Pohle-axed, also on July 12, which refers to the name of the UBC media ethics specialist, Klaus Pohle
The British are coming! on July 17 (which notes that Roy Greenslade (a Guardian UK blogger) had taken up the issue
and Talk of the town, also on July 17, which notes that otherwise, Smith’s firing has hardly made a stir.

That’s what’s so weird about this whole thing. Local journalists have been quiet as mice, except for today’s column in local weekly Monday Magazine by “Dee Penner,” a nom-de-plume, who wrote Composting a columnist.

(Dee Penner reminds me of the quixotic “lily of the valley,” Mr. DePinna, in Frank Capra’s You Can’t Take It With You…)
Notes from a teacher reported the affair on July 13; Canadian Journalist blog on July 14, but in general, it has been awfully quiet around the whole business.

Is this ok?

Not really. The Vivian Smith firing raises all the obvious questions around freedom of the press (and answers them very very depressingly), but it also says a lot about Victoria’s immature economy, and the paternalistic mindset of its entrenched classes who expect to be sheltered from criticism, whether the kind emanating from a free press or the kind coming from the market. I think this story fails to have traction in the press or amongst other (American?) bloggers because our Canadian (dare I say, “Victorian”?) climate of controlled capitalism, which seems “natural” enough to Canadian “entrepreneurs,” is in the final analysis utterly illegible to anyone beyond our shores.
It’s the sort of business-as-usual modus operandus I associate with the cradle-to-grave paternalistic capitalism of early 20th century corporations in, say, …Beverly, Massachusetts: take the United Shoe Machinery Corporation, for example, which ran a whole city according to its mandates. What was good for “The Shoe” (as the USMC was known), was good for Beverly. It hired (and fired) the bulk of the city’s working population, gave them decent jobs, provided amenities, and if you didn’t like it, you did what Puritans had always done since the early 1600s: you left, went somewhere else, and started over. It was paternalistic in the extreme. Worked reasonably well as long as paternalism was in fashion, but somehow things went haywire for it down the road.

Victoria’s tourism industry, too, is like a giant “Shoe”: paternalistic and allergic to criticism. “If you don’t like it, leave” is its mantra.

I’d like to think that this could, that it will change. As my old UBC prof used to say, “You have to learn to take criticism!” Only the immature and the paternalistic think criticism doesn’t apply to them. The former can’t deal with it, and the latter think they should be exempt.

That, in my opinion, is the subtext of this non-conversation happening in Victoria around the firing of Vivian Smith. Old guys in suits run this town — who the heck does Vivian Smith — a woman — think she is, challenging them?
“Baby, you’ve come a long way,” but in Victoria it seems you’re still Daddy’s Girl.

Updates galorific

July 19, 2006 at 2:12 pm | In wiki_victoria | Comments Off on Updates galorific

I have a number of updates on my wiki to report.

I sent two additional emails to the consultant at Stantec, and posted them under the Greens promote link as subpages here and here.

In each case, I’m happy to report, I received a friendly email confirming my input, which did put a human face (or name) on the interaction.

I added a subpage in the same “Greens…” category, called Majora Carter – “Green is the new black”. This page points to TedBlog, which in its right-hand sidebar includes links to a number of TED Conference presenters. Majora Carter is a house on fire, and what an example!

From the same TedBlog, I made a page on the wiki called Visionaries, which points to the TedBlog page featuring the architect Joshua Prince-Ramus. I need to re-watch this presentation a couple of times: it’s quite amazing.

Incidentally, there are other videotaped presentations on TedBlog that are “must-sees,” including Ken Robinson (on creativity & education: watch this and think of John Taylor Gatto); and Al Gore (I had no idea he had such comedic skills!).

In addition, I created a Linkiography/ Bibliography: resources page. It’s incredibly higgledy-piggledy and reminds me of Donald Norman’s story in (I believe) Things That Make Us Smart, wherein he describes filing systems, including his and a colleague’s version of what he calls “piling cabinets.” That is, the venerable “pile of papers on the floor,” simply stacked, …er, piled, into an open frame bookcase…

Yes, my “resources” page is more like a pile right now, and may well stay that way. But even so, the items do include annotations, and the annotations made me think, when I watched Prince-Ramus, about: evolutionary psychology and the problem of attention (i.e., what do we give attention to, in our built environment, and why, and how does Prince-Ramus’s “hyper-rational” architectural strategy support or interfere with that? — see R. DeYoung’s article); and “irrational” aesthetic preferences (say, for refuge you don’t actually need, or peril or enticement, or prospect, or complexity — see William Saunders’s article): how do you deal with or account for them?

Also useful, at least for me, was the process of reading Elizabeth MacDonald’s paper, “Street-facing dwelling units and liveability,” very thoroughly and annotating it with an eye toward the implications of its Vancouver-based analyses with regard to Victoria. I have to conclude that for the most part, people in Victoria don’t know what they’re talking about when they worry and fret about supposedly accelerating development here.

I’m planning a “close reading” (sort of) of a particular building here in Victoria called The Corazon, which is probably my favourite new construction in town. I have an email from last weekend lying around in some …(virtual) pile wherein I started to lay out my reading of the building. Will expand later, but it was great to see “KidB” on SkyscraperPage Forum enthusiastically agree that it’s a gorgeous building, and he cites most of the same reasons, too. (No, I’m not a forum member, just a regular reader….)

My “Victoria City Style Council” wiki

July 17, 2006 at 1:45 pm | In wiki_victoria | Comments Off on My “Victoria City Style Council” wiki

As I already mentioned on this blog, some time ago I started a wiki about Victoria, BC, called Victoria City Style Council. A small number of people have made a contribution or two, but to date it’s still very much my little project.

The other day it occured to me that I could use this blog, sadly dormant since February (the small awakening during the transfer from Manila to WordPress notwithstanding), to keep track of when I update the wiki and to help me manage the ball of wax I’m creating over there.

Those of you who used to read my blog know that I can jump all over the place — and Victoria City Style Council is becoming similarly rangy. The wiki also has a nested structure, which means that articles appear as sub-pages of main headings, and therefore aren’t visible on the main navigation sidebar. Yes, I’ve tagged them, but I still have a sense of impending doom over a lack of oversight as to how things are organised over there…
Hence, what follows is a list of key pieces thus far, and as I add more, I’ll add links to same on this blog.

Buildings is a useful page, since I added links to all my “BC Archives” research bookmarked on my diigo account. (I still have invitations to diigo to give out, and if anyone wants one, let me know and I’ll send it your way…

Sex in the City (oh yeah!) is one of those typical Yule Heibel specials… It is nested under the Opinion/ Essays section, which also includes Natural Capitalism and Cities, Style v. Substance, Sustain and Retain – A Short History of the Upper Harbour (by “Aurelian”), and The Urban Cliff Revolution is happening in our western suburbs.

Most of the above links (except for “Sex in the City” and the BC Archives links on “Buildings”) are older. The following are some other newer links, representative perhaps of how this wiki is starting to get rangy:

Greens promote “denser” communities, call for expansion of public transit via LRT gets into highway expansion issues, and appended as a subpage is the email I wrote on July 15 in support of rail expansion. And speaking of “letters,” I also used the wiki to publish a Letter to the Editor of our local paper, because I’m 100% certain that the paper won’t publish the letter. The “Letter(s) to the editor” subpage set-up will probably change over time since I will need to add additional letters eventually.

Future updates:

As long-time readers of my blog might remember, my iBook broke some months ago and since then my camera and computer communication has been non-existent. It’s a problem I need to fix since I would like to post photos of current buildings/ streetscenes on the wiki. It’s because of this technical glitch that I also didn’t see the point in renewing my flickr account, and I was mortified to see that because of this, all of my older photos (i.e., beyond the 200 allowed on a free account) were deleted. I had many, many photos of construction sites around town — all gone. Thanks (NOT!), flickreenos…
Back to the wiki: I also added an interesting and useful links section that will probably see expansion over time, and there is also a page with Victoria MainStreamMedia links.

Under construction: a bibliography/ resources page that links to great articles, books, etc., some of which I’ll annotate.

All future “Victoria City Style Council” blog entries will be tagged wiki_victoria. Stay tuned for more as it comes online…

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