Monthly Archives: April 2004

offline for the week

Attending computer conferences with no working WiFi is painful (more precisely: limited DHCP). Staying at hotels without Internet (and no working Earthlink accounts) is painful. The combination means that i’m offline this week. Expect no response. Fucking CHI.

mouse embryo made without father

Mouse embryo made without father

This research is going to be absolutely politically problematic. I love it. (The hypothesis that i’ve heard wrt to human research is that it’s probably possible to create embryos with two mothers.) Note how often the researchers try to talk about all of the reasons why people shouldn’t be worried about human research in this vain. This only further convinces me that there are political problems because people can’t handle this possibility.

decrease your erdos number

OK, this ebay auction has me ROFL: Decrease Your Erdos Number! If you’re a social networks geek, or a mathematician, physicist or computer scientist, you must check this out. Too funny. And there are even bids!

Update: Now that i’ve learned a bit more about the history and state of this auction, i thought i’d inform the curious reader of Jonah Peretti’s antics, normally called contagious media. Jonah set off a few memes of his own to see how they would spread – the Nike Sweatshop Email and the Rejection Hotline are my favorites.

state farm: my new therapist

Apparently, the SUV contacted my insurance. As we had left it, i was going to contact theirs to file a complaint, if i wanted to. Exhausted and not wanting to deal, i had decided not to. Well, they contacted my insurance for me. This meant that i had to talk to State Farm all day to clear up what had happened, repeat my story like 15 times, etc. Of course, such conversations always make me flustered, frustrated and utterly upset.

I had to deal with State Farm once before. My car was nearly totalled after getting crushed between an SUV and a cab due to an out of control SUV in the rain only 10 days after getting new insurance. State Farm consisted of angels, angels and more angels. This time, it was less clear as to whose fault it was. But once again, the nice people at State Farm came to my rescue being beyond helpful and clearing up my confusion and calming my frustration. The nice agent even told me not to worry about it – go to Europe, enjoy it, forget about the car and deal when i get back. “Europe is more important than your car.” If i wasn’t on the phone with the guy, i would’ve hugged him. He was so reassuring, so calming, so helpful.

Of course, i was thinking about it… an insurance agent should be a good therapist. They should want to keep you calm, relaxed, unanxious. I’m a better driver when i’m not a ball of nerves. This is probably a good approach for them. State Farm should teach this to Blue Cross. I swear my medical insurance gives me additional ulcers and anxiety-related disorders every time i have to deal with them. This can’t be good business for them. They don’t want me to be ill; that costs them money. But they do a damn good job of creating stress-related disorders in me a few times a year.

Example: today i got a bill from August 2003 from a doctor telling me that my insurance decided not to recoup all of the money (apparently, that’s been in battle for the last n months). Of course, not only is this super annoying on my insurance’s part, but it’s after i filed taxes where i list how much i pay each year in medical. ::shaking head:: Sometimes, i think that they do this just to break me down. I mean, i’d rather pay the extra money then deal with my insurance company because i do believe that there’s a decrease in health whenever i have to deal with them. Insurance is simple… they screw up and they charge you either in time or money – you choose.

This is why i love State Farm. I pay them once a year; they take care of me and they give me free calming words whenever i call.

community awards

The Webby Awards were announced tonight and i know folks are currently in Linz trying to narrow down the Ars Electronica Prix. Both groups have an award for best community and i’ve found this to be exceptionally problematic for my own processing.

– Is the nomination supposed to focus on the site, its design, its intention, etc. or the resultant community?
– Who is being nominated? The creator or the community? What if the community hates the creator?
– What practice is being validated? The expected one or the successful one? What if the successful one is subversive?
– How valuable are communities that transcend the site? Do you count the transcendence?
– How do you address invisible communities whose only proof of existence is their end-result?

Let me couch this in how i feel about the Webby Award nominees for community:

– FictionAlley (a fan fiction site). The site is not particularly innovative, but the practice of fan fiction is and the community that has evolved through that practice and have become situated at that site is mindblowing.

– Friendster. The technology is somewhat innovative, but what is impressive is how much everday communities transcended geography to make a community out of the site and how new communities (ahem, Fakesters) emerged even amidst their presence being despised.

– LiveJournal. The structure of journaling with a community, for a community has been so powerful for different groups, so stunningly powerful. In many ways, this is a true community site – the result of design that is meant to support the community that already exists there and to help that community take things to the next level.

– SuicideGirls. A community has formed amongst these girls that has transcended the site that supposedly brings them together. You see them on Friendster, on LJ, on other sites. There’s a layered community – that of the girls and that of their audience. What’s truly innovative about SG is not its porn component but how a noticeable community can make the site have so much additional sex appeal.

– Wikipedia. Here’s a site where most participants do not know one another at all. The tool is simple. But a ghost community with shared notions of activity and goal works to produce a masterpiece. The masterpiece only hints at the underlying invisible community and its power and motivation.

caricatures are lost in translation

Ever since i came back from Japan, the first question out of everyone’s mouth is: “Is it like Lost in Translation!?!?” I always respond “Well….”

It’s hard to parse what i’m being asked. Perhaps i’m being asked if i was just as lost and overwhelmed in Tokyo as Murray and Johansson are. Or perhaps i’m being asked if the caricatures of the Japanese are true. I tend to assume the former, but perhaps that’s hopeful…

Japan was a totally overwhelming experience for me. Not only was it (New York + London)^2 in terms of intensity, but the subtle differences were so fascinating that i spent my entire trip watching for details. Even in my own glazed-over viewpoint, there is no doubt that the Japanese characters in the film were caricatures.

It’s important to remember how caricatures operate. Ever watch a caricature artist? What they do is take the features that appear fundamentally different to their perceived norm and magnify them. Each caricature artist magnifies different features dependent on their own perspective (although, if you have a large nose, you’re going to have a tremendous nose in the eyes of every caricature artist).

Try as i might to see Tokyo on Tokyo’s level, i was brutally aware of my own caricaturization of the city. Fashion played a prominent role in my own processing. My memory has somehow secured the rush of men in business suits in Shibuya and the absurd commonality of 1980s retro fashion. I know that this doesn’t fit everyone, but it stood out because it was so different from what i normally see. My mind was holding on to magnificent differences only.

The problem with creating caricatures is that it’s only funny when you’ve chosen to expose yourself to that processing, when you want to see what stands out from another’s perspective. We choose to subject ourselves to the caricature artist. It’s not nearly as humorous when it is subjected on us. This is where i recognize the problem with Coppola’s movie. I suspect that she meant well… she wanted to portray a sappy set of characters in what she perceived as the American caricaturization of Tokyo. That said, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that this doesn’t read well in Japan. It’s far more insulting because the joke is not shared.

This goes to the root of humor. When humor operates by making fun of a population, it is only funny to that population if they were the joke tellers. For example, when my ex-girlfriend used to roll her eyes and call something gay, it was funny; when a stranger does the same, it’s homophobic. Context. Audience. Speaker. One of the key problems with LiT is that it is a caricaturization by gaijin.

[Thoughts stemming from the CSM article (thanks Joi) and Mimi’s old post]

[For more on humor, read Jokes and Their Relation to the Unsconscious. References on caricature can be found in “The City and the Body” from Judith Donath’s “Inhabiting the virtual city.”]


I had a great talk with Joi about differentiating portrayals situated in hatred and those situated in stereotypes. The latter are not nearly as visible and can hurt just as much. This is a really good point and i conflated the two in this entry. Humor based on stereotypes doesn’t feel as problematic because the intention is not based on hate. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t hurt.

I also realized that a really good way to consider LiT is to juxtaposition it alongside Kill Bill. Kill Bill (both parts of the full movie) is not nearly as problematic because it is caricaturing every action genre out there, from Chinese martial arts to Japanese sword fighting to Westerns to stupid Americans and their guns. When you laugh, the laughter is only partially at the characters; it is predominantly at Tarantino for incorporating yet-another genre in an off-the-wall way. Additionally, in the Japanese section of Kill Bill, Tarantino goes out of his way to caricature Japanese sword-fighting while simultaneously empowering female fighters to be the most prestigeous. Certainly, everyone in that film dies except two and all of the wrongful deaths are righted, but it’s important to remember that everyone proves their worth in fighting except the stupid dumbfuck American hick with his gun.


United Airlines is showing Lost in Translation for the month of May on two types of flights: to Tokyo/Narita, to Hong Kong / China / Korea. This gives me the distinct impression that people are linking the movie to certain cultures, not simply to the state of being lost in another country. Other movies during the month of May had no clear linkage between location and direction. LiT is not being shown to/from Europe, unlike almost every other movie.

Tim O’Reilly on Gmail

For those who are interested in the Gmail story, reading Tim O’Reilly’s essay is a must. By and large, i agree with him on the privacy issue. The only place where we diverge is that i don’t fully agree with: “No one is going to be forced to use gmail. If you don’t like ads in your mail, don’t use the service. Let the market decide.”

People will use Gmail because the incentives are high, but their participation in Gmail is not because the ads make them feel good or because they like ads in their mail. This goes back to my rants on the ickiness factor. Just because it’s being used doesn’t mean it’s being loved or even the right move…

a book exercise

From Caterina:

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 23.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.

Just as we are afraid of ghosts and of the God of the panopticon insofar as they are imaginary non-entities – that is, because they do not exist – so, according to lacan, we love God precisely because he does not exist.

I had to fudge it. The first two books i picked up didn’t have 5 sentences on page 23. Leave it to Derrida and JL Austin to have rather long sentences that fill the page. Thus, i went with Bentham’s “The Panopticon Writings” (which were out due to a recent debate with my roommate).

Note: catching up on blog reading, but i thought that this exercise was fun!

thoughts on online dating

For one of my classes, we’re discussing online dating. This is particularly timely since i’m about to head off to Vienna to discuss the same topic at CHI. Instead of taking it too seriously, i’m glad that my class decided to find the humor. So i thought i’d share.

First, tales of horror from the online dating world.

There are also various “how to translate personal ads” going around. Inside is one that i thought was funny.

Update: Jonas has some great data on online dating. (thanks Ado!)

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