Monthly Archive for November, 2004

The Digital Future (Live Discussions)

This is an interesting series which will appeal to folks who read my blog. I’ll be waiting for Lessig and his creative commons bit. Programs that we missed are now available online as Realvideo streams. For the details and video streams, check out C-Span’s page on “The Digital Future”.

A Library of Congress Series
Monday, Nov. 15th
6:30pm-8:00pm ET on C-SPAN (each program in the series will air during
these hours) Beginning this Monday, November 15th, and ending in March
2005, C-SPAN will broadcast live a series of discussions hosted by the
Library of Congress. The series is called “Digital Future” and will examine
how the digital age is changing the most basic ways information is
organized and classified. Each event will feature a keynote speaker as well
as a panel discussion. “Digital Future” Series

Schedule includes:

Monday, November 15 – DAVID WEINBERGER, who served as a senior internet
adviser to the 2004 Howard Dean presidential campaign. He will discuss how
Web logs (or “blogs”) work, and how they are valuable in children’s

Monday, December 13 – BREWSTER KAHLE, a digital librarian & director and
co-founder of the Internet Archive. He will explain how and why capturing
material on the Web is important, and discuss the challenges of selecting
pertinent content.

Monday, January 31 – BRIAN CANTWELL SMITH, dean of the Faculty of
Information Studies at the University of Toronto. The title of his talk is
“And Is All This Stuff Really Digital After All?”

Monday, February 14 – DAVID LEVY, professor at the Information School of
the University of Washington. He will discuss the shift of the experience
of reading from the fixed page to digital, and the effect that has had on

Thursday, March 3 – LAWRENCE LESSIG, professor at Stanford Law School &
founder of the Stanford Center for Internet and Society. He will discuss
digital copyright issues.

Monday, March 14 – EDWARD AYERS, dean of the College and Graduate School of
Arts & Sciences at the University of Virginia. He will address the
implications of creating and distributing knowledge in today’s digital

Monday, March 28 – NEIL GERSHENFELD, director for the Center of Bits and
Atoms at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His talk is titled
“From the Library of Information to the Library of Things.”

To find more details about the series, please visit

This is online in Real streaming format @:

If you have any questions about the Library of Congress series,
please call the C-SPAN Educators’ Hotline at 1-800-523-7586 or email

All C-SPAN-produced programs are copyright clear for
educators to videotape and use in the classroom.

E-mail with questions or comments about teaching
with C-SPAN.

Karim Rashid : Democratic Design

Karim Rashid at Albright Knox

On a rainy evening at the Albright Knox Art Gallery (Buffalo, NY), an internationally reknown designer gave a free lecture on democratic design. Enter Karim Rashid: A popular Industrial Designer and self-acclaimed cultural provocateur. Born in Cairo in 1960, Karim is half Egyptian, half English, and was raised in Canada while he now practices in New York. His perspective and clients are global and his projects range from products, interiors, fashion, furniture, lighting, art and music to installations. You’ve probably seen his work in everyday products such as method’s line of cleaning agents as well as home goods at Target.

Karim talked about democratic design. By democractic design, Karim means design that is made accessible to the people. He talks about the convergence of smart design that is within the constraints of the same amount of resources required for the production of an object’s present form. Think of it as high end design for mass market. He believed that if freedom were a form, it would be a fluid transportable organic thing. Artists that work within reality are the ones who create demographic design, which is important in terms of affordance and accessibility. In industrial design, the goal should really be to humanize objects by re-making them relevant to our times, instead of remaining iconic (e.g. why do the chair, table, bicycle remain the way they were since their earliest existence). A good example is our mobile phones. Our telephone did not change in its form yet it was the mobile phone woke us up with new possibilities such as customizable ring tones and cover designs.

He defines design as working in the first order. Design is involved directly with the key issue. Style comes through as an artifact of this design process. For example, during the 16th century, the making of tartan fabric requires carding and combing the wool to smooth out the tangled fibres, spinning and colouring the yarn which then goes on a winding machine which winds the threads onto a bobbin and a creel and warp wheel as it sets out the thread in the correct order for the tartan pattern. This pattern was in the making of the clothing because of the technology of that time. Karim believe there is a social need to update forms to reflect our movement through time. He suggests that the present day technology inspires infostatics, where beautiful styles lie in information. By letting new technology inspire the style, our information age can be reflected through our everyday things. For example, he created a home where the bathroom had sensors on the floor to pick up an individual’s biometric data, and then displays a readout of the individual’s weight and blood pressure on the bathroom mirror. The toilet bowl even has a laser which analyzes the person’s faeces in order to determine the health of a person. Such was infostatics. This inspiration stems from how the virtual world and its possibility influence us to reassess the real world, which eventually makes us more aware of our physical objects. You would get this feeling after watching a cool movie. As you walk out of the cinema, you suddenly realize that you are back in a boring world.

Another reflection of our information age is how the world is becoming more casual (traditional formal design were not comfortable). In fact, there has been a worldwide decline in the dry cleaning industry. The decline in demand for dry-cleaning services is directly related to changes in fashion and lifestyles. There has been a growth in cheap, easy-care fabrics and casual clothing and a move away from expensive wool, cotton and silk garments, which require specialised care. The trend towards casual standards of dress in the workplace and for social occasions has also had a negative impact on the demand for dry-cleaning services. Men are no longer wearing ties (tie making industry lost millions in sales over time), and all this is ultimately an expression of human freedom.

SemiramisA complaint on why we need change can be better understood if we recall that it us as humans who created the straight line, and so we render ourselves to live in the cartesian grid. The design of a chair is a great example of this point. Given the earlier engineering of joints, we have lived with the way a chair has right angled corners. Our backs are not naturally in that right angle, thus it would not be right for us to sit in it. We are organic and so to reconsider the chair in our life, there is a need to have a more fluid flow to accomodate the human being. He suggests using pressure molding as a means to produce furniture that removes the need for right angled joints. In this way, the design would then fulfill its true need.

The information age informs us so much that the retail industry cannot survive if they stick with traditional way of selling goods. In his travels, Karim sees the push to personalization through customization (something we noted as one of the Information Edges). He suggested that cheap LEDs be embedded on plane seats with passengers’ names on them. In the same notion, he designed the
Semiramis Hotel Athens (Greece) which features personal LEDs on the floor, just in front of your door. For the LEDs, you could type anything creative from your room’s QWERTY keyboard such as “Do not disturb”, “Please tidy room” or “Sexy & Single… Please Knock”. He tells us to think beyond the given and to allow for human experiences such as “humor” to be inbuned in technology. Such things can positively affect our human behavior.

In a similar way, we now have personalized fit and design on clothing such as Nike shoes, Levi’s Jeans and so on. Given our new technology, there is nothing to stop the non-serialized production of goods. This allows for variation, which I see as fitting to how no two people are exactly the same. In a more extreme sense, Karim said he saw how kids in tokyo now have a toy that allows them to fabricate their own cars using their home computer. Rapid prototyping is doing for us what desktop publishing did for us versus the printing press. Instead of merely producing two-dimensional works in desktop publishing, we are now able to express our ideas in three-dimensions. This is what Karim terms as Desktop Manufacturing.

In terms of economics and the human condition, this shift towards rapid customizable robotic-based production allows for blue collar workers to move into white collar positions (See Alvin Toffler’s The Third Wave), which is more natural since humans should be doing what they do best, that is to think and behave creatively, rather than to act in a routine mechanized manner.

Such innovation in convergence can manifest in ways beyond objects. Google is an excellent case of fluidity in technology and education. He see the educator’s key role as imbuning passion of the subject in students, and letting technology such as the Internet supplement that role.

To summarize his overall notion of being relevant to our times, Karim said that nothing should be owned. In Japan, building are torn down every 15 years and rebuilt. In Amsterdam, you can ride a bike and leave it somewhere for someone else to ride elsewhere (known as city bicycles). In American, 50% of people no longer own cars but instead leased them. This idea that nothing is forever should be reflected in how everything is temporary.

The world after HALO 2

Halo 2 Box Just a quick roundup on all things HALO today…

Apparently Clive Thompson believes that Halo 2 teaches people about war and how things are never in black and white; there’s always that grey mushy stuff in between that people don’t like looking into. By this teaching, he refers the twist in the game’s storyline where you play from the enemy’s perspective, thus showing you what motivates the Covernant from behaving the way they do. I believe Bungie producers when they denied making any reference to the War in Iraq, even though some levels in the game do appear to resemble war torn cities. Wars tends to have certain similar patterns.

On a technical note, Davextreme wrote about how Bungie let you track your HALO2 statistics via RSS feeds. Bungie tracks your every kill in every single multiplayer game, along with who did it, how it was done, and where it was done! They put all this data into a feed you can subscribe to so you can revel in your human superiority, or swim in your sea of depression. Bungie’s help page explains how to set yourself up.

Finally, if you think you’re done with HALO2 (like me), think again. Bungie revealed that there’s a hidden multiplayer level called “Foundation” in the game. published a guide on the easter eggs hidden throughout the game and has a how to on unlocking that level. There might be a glitch in the game which prevented some people from unlocking the map as it was originally intended. The way it has been done successfully is as follows:

  1. Complete single-player on any difficulty.
  2. Create a new profile.
  3. Begin a co-op game on the last level with the newly-created profile as the second player.
  4. When you reach a section where you fly a Banshee, the new profile must perform a barrel roll and a loop-the-loop.
  5. Finish the campaign and the new profile can access the Foundation map when hosting split-screen, System Link, or Xbox Live games.

Which file extension are you?

This is suppose to be me…
You are .pdf  No matter where you go you look the same.  You are an acrobat.  Nothing is more important to you than the printed word.
Which File Extension are You?

The media does not own us!

“It is they [children] who use television rather than television that uses them”
– Schramm, Lyle & Parker (1961) on Uses & Gratification

It’s interesting how over the course of the semester, we’ve moved from the magic bullet theory of communication, to the two-step theory (i.e. opinion leaders), to agenda setting, and now to the inverse theory of Uses & Gratification. Blumler and Katz offer a historical tour of communication theory and explain the early existence of uses and gratification theory (1974) based on the works from early researchers to recent ones. Uses and gratification theory suggests that media users play an active role in choosing and using the media. Unlike popular communition theories which talk about media effects as a direct/indirect effect directed from media to audience behaviors, this theory respects the decisions made by the user and realizes the user as the starting point of the communication process. Users are goal oriented in their media use in that they would choose what they wish to be exposed to based on the perceived ability of the media to fulfill their needs and wants. Uses and gratifications assume that the user has alternate choices to satisfy their need and a simple example of this can be seen in how people choose what music cds to buy, or what movies to loan from their local Blockbuster. I see this as a humanistic approach to understanding media effects, since it is less deterministic and allows for free will.

Ang, I. (1995). The nature of the audience. In J. Downing, A. Mohammadi, & A. Sreverny-Mohammadi (Eds.), Questioning the media: A critical introduction. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Katz, E., Blumler, J., & Furevitch, M. (1974). Uses of mass communication by the individual. In W.P. Davison, & F.T.C. Yu (Eds.), Mass communication research: Major issues and future directions (pp.11-35). New York: Praeger.

Livingstone, S. (1998). The social psychology of the television viewer. Making sense of television: The psychology of audience interpretation. Routledge.

Free Download: COM515 Complete Class Notes

As promised, here is a compilation of the COM515 class notes I’ve been taking throughout the semester. I actually have audio recordings that sync with the notes, but it only works on Microsoft Office 2004 for Mac (i.e. Get a Life, Get a Mac!). All I ask for in return for downloading is for you to leave me a comment in this post. Good luck for your exam!

Download: COM515 Complete Class Notes (.doc)

Update: Now available as a Wiki under TheoryClassNotes

Communication Theory Final Exam

As Dr. Halavais has posted his expectations for our final exam, I will be posting my comm theory class notes here soon. Here is his class-wide email for all to see. I’d like to suggest that we try to post answers to his questions by editing the wiki page entitled TheoryExamQuestions.

As seen in Dr. Alex Halavais’ recent email…

MA Group: Chris, Stephanie, Chheng-Hong, Sarah

PhD Group: Sungjoon, Yon Soo, Kevin, Elizabeth, Alex

Here is one of the sets of questions from last year. Note that since
we’ll have more people in each group, we’ll probably go at least the
full hour, and several more questions. Some of these are relatively
quick and simple answers, for others, clearly, I am expecting you to
be able to give a 3 or 5 minute mini-exposition. Finally, the readings
we discussed last semester are different at many points than those we
have read this semester, so some of these will be non-relevant.

1. What is communication theory?
2. What is meant by the “heuristic function” of a theory?
3. What is falsification?
4. Explain, over the next few minutes, the history of mass
communication theory.
5. What is ELM?
6. At present, there is a problem with the image of the
United States in Iraq and other parts of the Mid-East.
Each of you choose one theory and explain how you
would test or apply that theory to understanding the
attitudes toward the US.
7a. What is cybernetics?
7b. Why is cybernetics flawed, or where is its weak point?
7c. What is autopoeisis?
8a. What is Lasswell’s dictum that describes what the
study of communication is concerned with?
8b. Can you give me an example (either specific or general)
of each of those categories of study?
8c. What is missing from this list?
8d. Would you classify this taxonomy under the general
rubric of transmission model or of ritual model?
9. What effect do you think violent movies have on children?
Give theoretical, testable (or tested) explanations. Take
a few minutes.
10. What general changes in society brought about the
rise of communication theory?
11. Explain what is meant by “structural” and “structural-
functional” social theory. Do you think the structural
approach is a valid one? What are the alternative?
Explain both sides of the issue, then choose and argue
12. Thinking about the concept of “time”–how does this
concept play through the theories we have discussed
this semester.
13. Pick a research question, any research question,
apply one of the theories from the semester, and explain
what the major concepts are, and how you might
operationalize them.
14. Webster discusses several ways of gauging the
information revolution. What are these, what are the
problems with it, and which one is “best”?
15. Which of the theories we have studied this semester
would be particularly apt for studying ICTs, and
16. Explain information theory.
17. How is information theory related to URT?
18. What is a covering law, and what is the alternative to
covering laws?
19. What was the last movie you saw (alt. book)? Describe
it briefly. How would a post-modernist explain the themes
in the book. Name theorists if you can, and explain why.
20. You have just purchased a new laptop computer. You
end up with a Dell (which is recommended by the UB).
After your purchase, one of the first things you do is
look at different ads online for similar computers and
ask your friends what they think. Who has a theory for
this and how does he or she explain it.
21. You are absolutely certain that Schwarzenegger is the
best candidate for president. Assuming that he *is* the
most qualified, why wouldn’t people come out and
support him publicly?

// Alexander Halavais
// Graduate Director of Informatics
// University at Buffalo School of Informatics
// contact info:

Internet Edges Worth Investing In

As seen in Alex Halavais’ COM634 Media Info Age class today, he talked about the edges of the Internet which should be worth investing in. These edges include:

    DIY Edges

  • Modification of car
  • Modification of software
  • Fabbing (online fabrication)
    Organizational Edges

  • Howard Dean’s campaign
  • Flickr
  • Meetup
    Marketing Edges

  • Extreme placement (The Restaurant)
  • Brand advocacy / Customer evangelism (Apple)
  • Guerilla marketing (BuzzAgent)
  • Social Networking (Popstick)
    Convergence Edges

  • Bittorrent/Freenets and other P2P
  • NetFlix/Tivo pair-up
  • CameraPhones / Semacode
  • Location awareness
  • Networked robotics, remote actuators (remote dildos, SMS soda payment)
  • Cyborg / Implantables

“Delicious Library” is well, delicious!

Delicious Library

I’ve heard of Delicious Library from an Apple mailing list and didn’t think much of it until it started to appear on web sites everywhere. Once I found it though, I was blown away. This “Delicious” has nothing to do with social bookmarking. Instead, Delicious Library is a gorgeous piece of software that catalogues stuff that you own (books, dvds, music, etc) into a database. While the idea is nothing new, it has very interesting features which might make it the next killer app. Enough talk, check out the sexy product page and a lengthy review. BTW, the author is only 18 years old but his graphics skill is intense!

My copy of Halo 2 at 12.16am

My Halo2
Being a good kid, I can’t try it out though. Got to send my car for repair at 8.30am, work from 9-2pm, theory class from 4-6.30, then info-tech class from 7 to 9.40pm. Literally a whole day has to go by before I can even have a taste of Halo 2!