Archive for the ‘Rococo’ Category

My first computer dream (or you know you’re a nerd when…)

Monday, June 11th, 2007

Last night I had my first computer dream.

We’d had the neighbours over for some general relaxation and jovial imbibing. This while the children ran amok and tore the house apart. It was good times. Around 2 a.m. I awoke in some distress, with the sense of having been tossing and turning, as they say. My dream quickly returned to me:

I was (in my dream) documenting the night’s festivities on a wiki, complete with a table of contents, WikiWords and everything. The cause of my distress was that (in my dream) I was having trouble attaching some video taken during the night of the children and their antics (never really happened). I was having technical difficulties which, for any of you who know me, would be about par for the course (and yes, I’m aware of the irony).

Now, the day prior, I had just given my lecture on Networks, into which I’d miraculously managed to work wikis (thanks Rococo). And I’d been editing and uploading to our own class wiki that very day. So go figure. Dreams are not that subtle, Freud and his hangers-on notwithstanding.

I had to laugh at this dream – my life, my very thought process being mediated by the machine, being funneled and organized by a particular digital interface. This is funny and amazing to me. I’m thinking here (but only halfheartedly and vaguely) of Donna Haraway’s cyborg.

The dream itself I would categorize as a “stress” dream. You’ve had them. For example, a student’s stress dream is missing the exam, or waking up one day to find out you’re enrolled in a required course that you haven’t attended in two months. And it’s grade 13 French and you’re screwed. That’s one kind. Another kind is the “waitressing” dream. I’ve had so many of these in my decade or so of waiting tables. You’re “in the weeds”, having lost control of your section without even realizing it, and every customer wants to kill you. These are bad dreams, and they very nearly approximate real scenarios.

And now I’ve had my first computer dream. It’s not nearly as bad as the other types – not yet, anyhow. But not much is resting on my accumulation of geeky knowledge (who knows, maybe just my career?) Anyhow, Richard Smith would be proud. This is a man who, early on in our frienship said: “We’ll make a geek out of you yet.” To which I scoffed and guffawed. But secretly, I’m pleased…

Schuyler to the rescue

Friday, May 25th, 2007

Schuyler Erle, a mapping hack I met at Rococo, tells me the name of the instrument mentioned in the last post is the kora. So there you have it – Schuyler to the rescue. Incidentally, he is an interesting dude. He is an open software developer and has some exciting projects on the go. Schuyler is one of those really *smart* people I met at Rococo. This is his blog. and the last about my trip

Thursday, May 24th, 2007

The last thing I wanted to say about my trip to Montreal is that it was a kickass time. You might be getting that by now. I met so many interesting, cool people. One of them was He was part of the [CTRL] collective that organized the Politics under Fire symposium on Thursday. He dj’d the interactive arts event that night and also the closing party for Rococo. Nice beats. I’m listening to his site as I type; very down. Now, I know I’m no music afficionado (that would be Jean, perhaps) but I’ve never known of a DJ to have an “ontological statement” before. That rocks my academic sensibilities; seriously. However, I feel I must draw attention to Tobias’ irreverence for my old friend Richie Hawtin. On his site, he and his compatriot Fishead, spoof Hawtin’s groundbreaking release, Decks, EFX and 909, jamming it into “Dicks, Sex and 69″. I’m no prude, but I do reserve a healthy amount of respect for Hawtin and his Plus 8/Minus recording empire. He’s pushed the edge of minimalist techno and turntable technique for years, and is literally the best. But I’ll let it slide… I do have a sense of humour.

On Friday night, Rococo carried on after the sessions at this cool little cafe called L’Utopik. This is a resto-bar and hostel, whose mission is “to promote relations between people who share a common vision on ecology, society, communuty and culture.” Near UQAM, Anne told me it was also a haven for local geeks. The food was veg, mostly organic and the fusion of politics and culture was evident in every aspect of this 2nd floor little gem. Later, this awesome trio played to a packed house – some west African dude on the djembe, a cute college type playing stand-up bass and a woman on some other instrument that I was told the name of but forgot after a few glasses of red wine. It was some of the most beautiful music I’ve ever heard.
And now I think I’ve said all I have to say about Rococo and Montreal…

Rococo and Open Space Techology

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2007

A few more things about Rococo

Thing one: I’ve caught the bug. I always knew there was something to this wiki biz. The next Recent Changes Camp is in San Francisco, another city I love, so it won’t be any hardship to attend. But that’s a ways away. There’s always Vancouver BarCamp. I wasn’t planning on going, b/c I have my last exam at the end of August, but now I’m rethinking….

Thing two: Open Space Technology. This is the “tool”, method or process by which the conference is organized and run. It was created in the mid-80s by an organizational consultant who realized that people attending his conferences seemed to get more out of networking during the coffee breaks than the formal presentations. Open Space conferences have no keynotes, no predetermined schedules of workshops, panels etc. Rather, participants begin the event by sitting in a large circle and collaborativelyd determining the agenda by stating their needs, specialities and interests. A large, blank agenda is posted on a wall – the “marketplace” and people then post the sessions they’d like to lead or “initiate” in various time slots. This agenda is flexible and fluid, and throughout the weekend, it will change as people add, drop, shift and combine sessions.

At such an “unconference” it is typically understood that all attendees will also be participants – they will lead session, take photos of the sessions and post to Flickr, take notes of sessions and post in the wiki, take video and upload it to to YouTube.

The 8th rule of BarCamp is that everyone will be an interactive participant. This freaked me out when I first attended VanBarCamp last year. I was used to attending conferences as a passive listener, or having been vetted by a search committee that has approved my work, sanctioned it with all the authority of the academy. I wasn’t used to the idea that I could judge the worth of my own work. So I made myself present then, and it was well attended. I actually felt like a bit of a rock star, with all the folks who came up to me after, with their questions, their ideas etc. It was fun. I had similar reservations at Rococo but presented anyway, and it was, of course, well worthwhile (and fun).

Despite its chaotic appearance, Open Space is highly organized and, being self-organized, never breaks down. It relies on a fundamental assumption: that everyone attending the conference is passionate about the topic and are willing to take responsibility around translating and channelling that passion into some tangible realities. Sessions begin immediately, and are held in “breakout spaces”, designated areas or separate rooms. Participants are free to move amongst the discussion groups, following the “Law of Two Feet”. The premise is that if you’re not learning or contributing anything, it’s time to move one.

On of the key things about Open Space Technology is that it enables groups varying sizes to address complex issues and achieve meaningful results quickly. There is a facilitator who guides, supports and responds to the group. Now if you know me at all, you know I shy completely away from all things remotely New Agey – I don’t typically go in for the touchy-feely, circle of trust, talking stick and talisman approach. But our facilitator, Deborah Hartmann, was truly amazing. I think she is one of the main reasons Rococo was such a success. Through her facilitation of the event, I could see how Open Space is a philosophy and practice, as much as an organizing technique.

Her job was to explain the process to all participants and keep things flowing. At any time, however, members of the group can redirect or make suggestions, which the facilitator then incorporates and implements. At the end of the event, there is a convergence, where the full group gathers for a final debriefing – comments and reflection, final thoughts etc. This enables participants to catch up on things they might have missed, make final connections and generally re-engage.

Open Space is evidently an efficient method of self-organizing, but more important, I think, are the underlying principles grounded on collaboration, mutual trust, and non-hierarchical social relations. In this way, Open Space is ideal for discussing wikis. Someone (I forget who – it may have been Mark Dilley) said that Rococo was, indeed, the physical manifestion of a wiki. An offline, f2f, real live wiki. Which is exactly the sort of thing I’m thinking of in my academic work.

The core idea of Open Space – taking responsibility for what you love – was clearly manifest community that made this Recent Changes Camp. It was truly an amazing thing.

Rococo: Saving the world one wiki at a time

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007

I am back from Rococo and basking in the afterglow of an amazing weekend. I can’t even believe that so many cool, creative, socially aware, dedicated (and did I say smart?) people would be together in the same space, all wanting to talk about the same thing: wikis (and by extension, social software) and their potential for progressive social change. It was thrilling to be amongst them (corny as that sounds), and absorb their vibe, their enthusiasm and their big ideas.

The two people responsible for me even knowing about Rococo in the first place are Anne Goldenberg, one of the main organizers, and Stephane Couture. They both work in the LabCMO, part of the School of Media at Universite du Quebec a Montreal (UQAM), where they are doctoral students. They are big fans of Feenberg, and the three of us have a stunning amount in common, in terms of our research, our approach to pedagogy, and activism through the academy. It was really good to connect with them, to realize I’m not working in obscurity, on an arcane subject matter.

Anne is an amazing woman. She’s an activist, well traveled, but originally from France (and so would lapse into French while speaking to me and not even realize it). She spent the last year organizing Rococo. She did a fantastic job; as I say, the conference was great. Stephane is intense, passionate about his work, and crazy sharp. Like a typical grad student, he talked all weekend about the paper he had to write, but managed to show up nonetheless. I first met them both at last year’s CCA (I’m not going this year, btw – no funding, no time and Saskatoon?). I had organized a panel on various applications of critical theory of technology (Feenberg, again, of course) and Stephane attended. He stopped me after to offer up a Latourian critique of my presentation (geeks, wikis and IMC etc.), which intrigued me, though I didn’t understand it. I’m still waiting to hash that out with him. According to my friend NinaB, everyone could always use a little moreLatour.

One of the first sessions I attended was “initiated” by Marc Laporte. It was called “TikiWiki: The Wiki way applied to software development.” I was nominated, après le fait, to be note taker (merci, Marc). This is what happens when you’re always clickety-clacking away on your laptop. I did have notes, but they required some work before I would post them in the wiki. Which, incidentally, is one of the great things about these tech unconferences – all the sessions are either liveblogged (Web of Change), or recorded in various media (BarCamp) and/or transcribed and then put in the wiki (Rococo).

This is awesome, because those participating remotely can keep up w/events, and of course, because of the historical record created. By the end of the conference, the wiki has become this rich repository of raw and semi-processed data, complete with all the links and contact info for attendees. This is an invaluable resource from the perspective of a researcher. And noticeably absent from regular academic conferences, where all that is available (if you’re unable to attend for financial or scheduling reasons) is an abstract on a static website. (Not helpful. But I’ll save rant about public intellectuals for another post. At least there’s Public Knowledge Project, which is a start anyhow…)

Marc’s session was cool, but pretty geeky; I mostly just listened, and sometimes required translation (e.g. from geek into English) but it was just the sort of thing I’m interested in. You can check my post on it here.

Another interesting session was led by Mark Dilley. This is a very cool guy; I recognized him right away (by his accent) as a Michigander. Talking to him was familiar, like being home; it transported me back to Windsor and that core of environmental and labour activists that made living in that city bearable. Mark is a labour organizer, who became radicalized almost a decade ago as a rank and file worker. Once he realized that his social justice goals could be pursued through the union, he became an organizer. Now he’s caught the wiki bug and now does wiki evangelism (see the notes from session Sunir Shah and Stuart Mader’s session on this. Incidentally, I saw Stewart talk about the use of wikis in education at Northern Voice 2007), though I don’t think Mark would call it that. But he’s definitely enthusiastic about the potential for radical democratic organizing through wikis.

Liam O’Doherty’s session was right up my alley – on wikis and activism. Liam, besides having grown up a few streets away from me in the Beach, and having gone to the same grade school, is the creator of This is a wiki that exists to inform people about the negative aspects of consumer products – what to avoid and why. The wiki is a marriage of art, design and information; the offspring is subvertising. It’s basically a wiki culture jam (think AdBusters). This kid (he’s only 20!) has big ideas and lots of enthusiasm; he’s getting ready to bust out, I can feel it.

I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised at the number of activists I met at Rococo, including Antoine Beaupre, from Koumbit, who is a cool cat (an anarcat, in fact!). They knew which “movement” I was talking about, and a number had attended the FTAA demo in Quebec City in 2001. This is in contrast to BarCamp where I think there were two – me and one other guy, who used to work with resist!ca.

I need to write about Open Space, which is the concept behind how Rococo was actually run (vs. organized). But I’m not going to do it now. Consider this a footnote, a promise and a reminder to me…

Another aside: I love Montreal; I knew there was a reason I always wanted to live there. On my trip back to Van, the absence of bilingualism was striking. I missed immediately the omnipresence of the French language, floating by in conversation, humming in the background, ever-present in casual encounters – the hello’s, goodbye’s and excuse me’s. At one point, I found myself in a session that switched into French, me being the only English speaker. There was the offer to translate but I declined, content to just listen, to try to understand as best I could. I enjoyed hovering on the edge of French conversations at the bar, over coffee or in between sessions. I felt a bit like an eavesdropper but it was fun. By the end of the weekend, my comprehension had improved markedly, and I was following along much better.

Crikey, this is a long post; enough for now; more later…

Rococo a-go-go and the wiki world

Sunday, May 20th, 2007

Finally, as Recent Changes Camp wraps up (I’m in the “closing circle” right now as I type), I’m blogging it. It’s been pretty fun, I have to say. I was remarking to one fellow camper that I never attend all the sessions at regular conferences. I’m quite a delinquent when it comes to enduring beyond my own panel (selfish, I know). But there’s something so dynamic and organic about these “unconferences” that almost impels one to participate.

What is really the best, I think, is how smart these wiki cats are. That’s the difference b/w Recent Changes and BarCamp – the VanBarCamp I found to be largely industry-centred. Here it’s all about wiki ohana and spreading the wiki love.

Did I say smart? I mean *really* smart. Smart in a way that you don’t typically get in the academy (no offence). So smart. I’m humbled. And humbled into silence (for once). It’s important and refreshing to have your intellectual identity challenged every once in awhile…

I presented my little speil on tech activism and discovered a number of social justice activists. But the cool and inspiring thing about the wiki community is that changing the world for the better is one of the underlying goals of wiki-types, especially the developers. It’s just part of their language, of the way they frame their work. There’s no grand narrative, no plan for reorganizing society, just identifying human problems and figuring out how to fix them, in creative and effective ways. This necessarily shifts how I conceive of social change agents. Self-conscious vs. naturalized. I’ll need to think on that.

More on some sessions later but now, there are more pressing issues, like the closing party…