[NLab comes to a close for 2005-2006]

On Thursday the 29th of June we had the final seminar of a series of four for the Narrative Laboratory Project. Our theme for the day was tourism and heritage, a key concept for creative industries and digital writers, artists, creators. We began the day with a keynote talk on museums and concept of narrative given by Dr. Ross Parry of the University of Leicester. As he spoke we began to understand how vast the idea of "museum" is and the role writers can play its digital era. While questions and discussion continued we squeezed in lunch and then joined the IoCT group for their weekly stroll along the canal. Sue and I ran a workshop in the afternoon for NLab members and so I asked each person to make a digital collection of their walk. We collected "items" with cameras, audio recorders, and the like. Upon our return an hour later we attempted to each create a wiki which combined the items with a narrative thereby embodying our theme of the day. Aside from the expected technical problems (always always always!!!), each group made fascinating projects which we hope to upload to the NLab site in the very near future. The session came to a close by 4:30 and then we were all invited to join Shani Lee at her Frontline Book's bbq. It was a real treat to wander into a proper independent bookstore and browse the tightly packed shelves. We need to try to support our local businesses and forgo the glistening internet aisles of Amazon and the like. All in all the bbq was a wonderfully optimistic note on which to conclude this year's NLab.
The NLab group heading off with members of the IoCT on the canal walk NLab members along the canal in Leicester


[Egypt: The Book of Going Forth by Day]

The post has just arrived and to my delightful surprise I've found a package from Newport Beach. Twinges of jealousy aside (ahhhh, California), I know that means this is a treat from Marjorie Luesebrink. As I carefully open the pale yellow padded envelope out falls a folded sheet of white paper. I am now the priviledged owner of copy number 51 of Margie's latest creation: Egypt: The Book of Going Forth by Day. How cool is that?! Each of the first 100 copies of the digital fiction is hand recorded and unique. I have my own spell to protect me in the Underworld. Even a filelist is named just for me: jesslaccetti.htm. This is so great. Here is a synopsis written by Margie:

The Book of Going Forth by Day is a contemporary/ancient account of Egypt that draws upon legend and myth to tell a story of death and rebirth on the Nile. It explores the interface between image and text - the ways, in hypermedia, that narrative information is not only contained in the text, but also coded into graphics, music, structure, and navigation elements. Going Forth celebrates the natural materiality of both hieroglyphic writing and electronic literature. Egyptian hieroglyphic writing is inherently hypertextual and hypermedial. In ancient times, the surfaces of temples and tombs were covered with a narrative writing/art that was a complex linkage of the literal, metaphorical, and schematic aspects of the culture. The connections between a glyph as an image and between the hieroglyphic word and wall painting, sculpture, or object of the culture reveal a system in which writing and art deeply interpenetrate. The Book of Going Forth by Day is distinguished by a single narrator with multiple forms. A longstanding feature of Egyptian thought was the ability to continually absorb and re-integrate concepts, especially those concerning the persistence of the soul after death. The voices of the narrator are modeled on the akh, ka, and ba concepts. As we follow these manifestations of the narrator in a search for a missing brother, readers familiar with the Isis/Osiris myth will recognize the echoes of the mythological material that informs the passage through the underworld to rebirth. Since the story requires that the reader have access to present and past, three states of consciousness, and the fixed and the moving, I needed to devise a structure that would allow fluid access to each element. Going Forth, then, depends upon a structured choreography of movement--a continually-transforming "hieroglyph" of kinetic symbolism and an evolving syntax of naviagation. To meet this challenge I draw on recent techniques in electronic writing, new software technologies, and the following specific media elements:
*Text: the hypertext is a multilinear narrative. Links are available to the reader through hot words, text selections, menu choices. Readers can also consult glossaries, dictionaries, maps, and timelines. *Hieroglyphs: hieroglyphic writing is used throughout as narrative guide, plot vehicle, and exposition device. The overall structure is organized in the form of hieroglyphic representations, with horizontal and vertical registers that form channels of movement.
*Images: digitized photos, sketches, maps, the grammar of Egyptian design and ornament are part of an extensive visual language.
*Sound: voice narration, percussion, Egyptian instruments, and contemporary music function as part of the text of the work.
*Kinetic effects: Flash animations, JavaScript, Java Applets and video clips emphasize movement; nested windows, status-bar messages, changing backgrounds, transition effects, floating menus, and other web-enabled technologies, assist the reader throughout. Because the web is, itself, a medium in transitory movement, I have made this work available as it evolves. "

I can't wait to get reading. THANKS MARGIE!!


[connective tissue]

Yesterday, 23 of June, was our NLab Workshop day and trAce commemoration. Wow. I think I'm still a little breathless from the whole experience. If I say it was action-packed I feel that is slightly understating it. The day began as any digital media conference must, with technical hitches. It would probably be extremely unprofessional of me to complain about the lack of adequate computers (which couldn't even connect to the internet!!), so I won't. Suffice it to say the keynote speaker, Canadian writer/journalist and visual artist, Randy Adams, was very patient about the whole (expected?) process. It was certainly worth the wait though as his presentation took us through the era that was trAce. Randy began with early works and experiments and summed up with a technicolour dreamcoat-type tour of the multi-media universe which is remix runran. The remainder of the day consisted of workshops and participants were able to choose which ones they wanted to attend. I ran a workshop during the last session of the day. My ideas was to present an introduction to web fiction that is *out there* (free and born online) and show people how it might be read with an academic/analytical slant. I wanted to illustrate that there is "good" stuff out there (work worth taking the time to read), and that here are a few ways we might approach it. I began with a reminder of how we (usually) read art (the elements of art), how we read film, how we read (usually of course, there is always experimental lit., post modern fiction, etc...) print fiction, and how we read games (I used Ernest Adams' idea that "credibility" is the currency of good game narrative). That all seemed to go down well. Then, as soon as I began to talk about web fictions, opened up an example on my computer (which was projected on the wall for everyone to view), and asked the participants to navigate to that url, things seemed to "come undone." I wonder if that means I (or anyone else introducing web fictions in a narratological context, or any context other than straight technological basics) first must give a background to the technology? Just as readers of web fictions need to learn the rules/codes of interacting with the fictions, do presenters of workshops need to learn the new rules/codes of presenting with this kind of technology? I suppose just as we had to learn the technology of the book, so too must we learn the technology of web fiction, develop a repertoire. Here, I'm reminded of what Christy Sheffield Sandford said in a recent interview, "To this day, I’m taken by the dramatic possibilities of coding the page, much as I imagine the first filmmakers were with the close-up, jumpcut, pan, fade. The various cinematic techniques have become a type of language. Something similar has been happening with the web. The formal inventions that further expression and prove flexible pass into the realm of technique. The medium develops a repertoire." Running that workshop was an excellent experience and it has given me a lot to think about, I just hope the participants feel similarly. :)
The day concluded with a talk given by Professor Sue Thomas. As Thomas was artistic director of trAce it seemed fitting that she end the day with a look to the future. Thomas pointed out the myriad of opportunities for writers, available online and in conjunction with the creative industries. During her talk Thomas mentioned two ideas which seemed to resonate with me. She talked about connective tissue in the sense that we can all be connected to each other. As writers, artists, programmers, developers, businesses, academics, we can collaborate and through collaboration a kind of connective tissue evolves, binding together people, ideas, and technology. Developing this idea of connective tissue, Thomas reminded us that as writers, artists, creators, we need to understand what the digital environment wants from us. We were given an example of a screenwriter who was "too linear" and failed to comprehend the need for a intelligent story interface that could provide multi-linear stories on the fly. This clash between linear and multi-linear led Thomas to state that we (as writers, designers, programmers, etc...) shouldn't waste our time educating people who just don't get "it." (It being the online enviroment, understanding how connections are made (and broken!), understanding the technology and its difference from existing technologies). Bascially, if someone doesn't want to see the merits of difference, we should find collaboration elsewhere. This might seem like an obvious notion, something writers, publishers, artists, sculptors, have been doing for centuries, but it seems somewhat extreme in today's context of technology as democratising agent. It isn't really extreme though, is it: it's business sense.


[ta da: eco city]

So, what do you do if your population has grown by millions and instead of 90% of people living in the countryside, they've moved into the cities? Well, you create an eco-island. This is what Shanghai is in the process of doing. Here is an excerpt from the recent article in New Scientist.

"Shanghai is already bursting at the seams. In downtown Shanghai people live at a density of 42,000 people per square kilometre - more than four times that of New York City, which has a similar size population. Shanghai already has more than 4000 buildings taller than 30 storeys. In 15 years of breakneck growth, the city's planners have built a modernist cityscape reminiscent of the film Blade Runner, centred on the Pudong business district.
Around Shanghai, 10 satellite cities are under construction, of which four will have a population of at least half a million. There will be a university city; a "motor city" that will house car manufacturing plants and already hosts an annual Formula 1 Grand Prix event; and a harbour city to service the world's largest deep-sea container port being built on an island 30 kilometres out in the South China Sea and connected to the mainland by a bridge. The fourth will be on Chongming.

Later this year, construction workers will move in to begin building the new city, to be called Dongtan, close to the island's exposed eastern shore. The master plan, drawn up by British engineering firm Arup, envisages a city of 86 square kilometres with a population of half a million people by 2040. Ma promises that Dongtan will be a zero-pollution, largely car-free, renewable-energy powered, sewage-recycling, green-fringed utopia that will give full protection to the millions of birds that congregate in the internationally recognised wetland sanctuary at the island's tip.
China is straining against its ecological limits, and Dongtan is an experiment that is trying to redress that. "We face the challenges of shortages of energy and damage to the environment," Ma says. "We need to reduce our ecological footprint. So Dongtan is very significant for Shanghai and for the nation."
The stakes are high. China is urbanising at record speed. It already has 90 cities with more than a million inhabitants, and expects 400 million people to move from the countryside to cities over the coming 30 years. The ecological implications of this urbanisation are immense. Shanghai's ecological footprint per head of population is already four times the Chinese average.
This is why Dongtan is such an important experiment. If it succeeds, it will demonstrate that even rich cities don't have to have a devastating impact on the environment. Right from the start, environmental scientists have been involved to advise on minimising its ecological footprint before a stone is laid. The plan is to keep Dongtan's footprint to 2.2 hectares per head, less than a third of a typical Shanghai resident's footprint. To achieve this, they are stipulating how to design transport, energy and waste-disposal systems, and how best to spread the population. "Nobody has done anything like it before," says Peter Hall of University College London, who is a planning adviser on the scheme. If Dongtan works, China could find itself with a template for green cities that could change the world.

The city's energy will come entirely from renewable sources. Supplementing the predictable wind farms and solar panels, a waste treatment plant on the fringe of the city will have anaerobic digesters to convert sewage and compost into biogas that will be used for cooking, heating and power generation.
The city's planned half a million inhabitants will live in three compact districts, separated by parks, farms, lakes, pagodas and leisure facilities designed to attract tourists. Unlike most of China's existing frenetic cities, it will be quiet, too. "That will probably be the first thing you'll notice," says Peter Head, head of the Dongtan project at Arup. Dongtan will be dense enough to be walkable, with shops, schools, jobs and services close to housing, but not so dense as to need high-rises or to generate a "heat island", in which the temperature of the whole city is raised.
Most people will live in apartment blocks six to eight storeys high, designed with natural ventilation to minimise the need for air conditioning. Uniquely, they will have two water-supply systems: one with drinking water and another providing "grey water", a mixture of river water from the island's existing canal grid and recycled drainage water, to supply toilets and garden irrigation. That should cut fresh water use by two-thirds.
Deterring the car is also vital, says Dong Shanfeng, the senior architect on the project. "Cars won't be banned, but driving will not be made easy." A single road will meander through the first phase of the city, with traffic lights that automatically switch to give priority to the planned hydrogen-fuelled buses. How successful the anti-car policy will be remains to be seen. Dongtan will be only a couple of kilometres from the end of the road bridge from Shanghai (see Map). The hope is that residents and visitors driving onto the island will park their cars and walk, cycle or use the buses. The streets are being laid out to favour public transport, bikes and pedestrians, and to make it difficult for cars.
The first section of Dongtan, with a population of 25,000, is scheduled to be completed by 2010, in time for the Shanghai International Expo. The first residents will staff hotels and exhibition halls on the mainland. Afterwards, Ma wants leisure industries to move in to attract tourists. The first foreign development deal, a ¬1.2 billion contract signed with Treasury Holdings of Dublin, Ireland, last year, will create a golf course and equestrian centre, and also a yacht marina on the site of what is now a small fishing port."

From issue 2556 of New Scientist magazine, 17 June 2006, page 43


[the web]

I'm trawling the 'net in preparation of Friday's NLab Workshop and trAce Commemmoration and have been searching for other people researching online literacy. I came across Nova Spivack's blog entry on "The Future of the Web." This was actually written in 2003 so interesting that he was already thinking about social software before it became the hit it is today. He's called his new vision of the internet, the "metaweb" which is an amalgamation of the Web, Social Software and the Semantic Web. Here is a diagram from Nova's site:

Note also, in 2003 Nova claimed that "within 5 years almost every Weblog will provide an RSS channel of its content." He wasn't too far off now was he?


[sailing anyone?]

My lucky brother (the one on the right) has just gone and done something I've always wanted to do - learn to sail. Granted, he's just begun, but it looks like such fun. Perhaps somewhere near my new cottage abode there's somewhere to learn...which won't break the bank. Check out the great backdrop:


[NLab Games Seminar]

With the NLab Workshop Day approaching (June 23) and the final NLab Seminar on Tourism and Heritage coming up (June 29), I thought I'd post some images from last month's NLab seminar on Gaming and Narrative. The last seminar, I think, was the best so far. The group has become cohesive and the afternoon workshop which involved writing a story without using any words was a great team effort and fun way to end the day. Our keynote speaker, Ernest Adams, raised some interesting points regarding story experience and gameplay experience. It was reminiscent of Mary Laure Ryan's earlier critique that narrative comes at the expense of immersion. Ernest suggests the "new wave" of games will combine the immersive qualities of gaming with stronger narratives. (the image on granularity is from his ppt presentation).

In the afternoon we were treated to workshop which involved writing a story without using any words was a great team effort and fun way to end the day. In our group we had numerous discussions as to the meaning of each image, this reminded me of the subjectivity involved in any "reading" experience and has made me re-examine the role of images in certain web fictions I'm researching.


Crackberry Blackberry

The 'net rocks. Where else would you find something like this?! Hilarious!


[leicester city centre]

We've finally hit summer. It's great, I've got my shades on and my chill-out tunes blasting as I amble over to the bus stop. Going through town isn't always so picturesque but in summer somehow everything looks alive. So, I'm minding my business and notice this hefty Easter Enders-type geezer coming at me...with a clipboard? He stops me, I can hardly hear with my ear 'phones in and then I think, what the heck, it's summer, I'll take out the ear 'phones. Turns out he's collecting money (shows me his id badge and complains about it being an ugly photo) for kids. Sure, how much does he want...but before I get the amount he's got to make every racial/sexist slur in the book. First he notices my accent (duh!, I know I don't sound local). Where are you from pretty (that irks me!)...I debate in my head...should I walk away (but the poor kids) should I say Italy (but then my accent confuses people)...I'll say Canada...right. Then he starts telling me he thinks I'm from Iran...doesn't believe me, not Canadian. No wait India, that's where I'm from. But, not "them" natives from Canada..."them" who make curry! (can u believe this?). I shook my head, said it's not important where I'm from but that I'm just about still willing to make a donation...then he says he's only been stopping pretty girls today and only with a clipboard in hand can he actually meet women...yada yada yada. I just kept staring at him and asking him how much he actually wanted as a donation and then he started going on about Richard on Big Brother; "he's Canadian don't you know..." Nope, haven't been watching...then this guy collecting for the children starts telling me that Richard wouldn't be interested in me, he's one of "them gay homosexuals..." So, I gave him the £2 and got a receipt for the donation and walked off wondering if the sun had gone to his head...


[difference b/w struggling and rich cities]

So, another difference between struggling and rich cities (there are many): window boxes (if there) are bolted onto windows, wrought iron fences etc... while in cities that have "made it" window boxes are unattached. hrm...


[Felixstowe Scribblers]

I've been mulling over how I should go about the workshop I'm running on the 23rd of June for the NLab Workshop Day/celebration of trAce. A word which keeps swilling about in my head is "connections." The ability to make connections with other sites, with other narratives, with other personas... As I was pondering the importance of connections I found a site which connected to the NLab workshop. Thanks to their connection I have learnt of a new and exciting writing collective of which readers of my blog will probably be interested. Check out the Felixstowe Scribblers Weblog. Aside from the funky blog url, they blog about things of interest to, well, writers. They've blogged about writernet, something akin to NLab but geared towards dramatic writers. Have a look.


[special issue of Leonardo]

Leonardo Special Issue
Pacific Rim New Media Summit Companion
Leonardo Volume 39, No. 4 (August 2006)

Leonardo is pleased to be a co-sponsor of the Pacific Rim New Media Summit (PRNMS), a pre-conference event to ISEA2006. In conjunction with PRNMS, Leonardo will release a special issue of the Leonardo journal to serve as a summit companion. Guest-edited by artist and educator Greg Niemeyer, this special issue of Leonardo follows the Working Group structure of the summit itself, featuring introductory texts by the Working Group chairs and preliminary papers of Working Group members.This special issue of Leonardo will be included in the registration packs of all ISEA2006 early-bird conference registrants (until 15 June 2006), with additional copies available for sale at ISEA2006.Highlights of Leonardo 39:4 include: Surfing the outernet: Where net art presented the medium of the Internet, locative art brings to the fore the media of mobile and wireless systems. Drew Hemment unfolds a taxonomy of locative-art approaches to the gap between the perfect grid and the reality of the mapped world.Cyber-mythologies and portraits of dispossession: Rachel O'Reilly examines how Asian and Pacific understandings of place in recent work by Vernon Ah Kee, Lisa Reihana and Qiu Zhijie expand the frames of contemporary locative art. Cartographies of the future: Annie Lambla discusses the San Francisco Exploratorium's Invisible Dynamics project, which considers the museum's relocation from a perspective integrating art, science and geographic context. Culture, uncontained: Commerce, communication and technology intertwine in the works of the Pacific Rim New Media Summit exhibition Container Culture. Artists from Mumbai to Vancouver use the medium and metaphor of shipping containers to explore regional and global complexities. To register for the ISEA conference and Pacific Rim New Media Summit, visit: <01sj.org>