BlogHer conference coming up!

blogher party
Originally uploaded by Liz Henry

I’m madly excited about the upcoming BlogHer conference – I’m on a couple of panels – Moderating “Does the Blogosphere need an intolerance intervention” with its somewhat ambiguous stance, and filling in at the last minute for Grace Davis on day 2 of the conference in “Blogging: The Voice for Silenced Communities“. I really, really, love a good juicy panel discussion with a ton of participation and ideas exploding everywhere that send you off thinking and inspired. That’s how it will be, the entire conference — with the added torment of knowing that in the next room something else just as interesting is happening and you’re missing it!

BUT THE PARTIES! Oh my god we’re going to have fun.

And the strange pajama parties at midnight in our swanky hotel rooms (fancy yet crammed with 4 of us to a room) with laptops and compromising photos and books and cameras! Our silliness will not be contained and must spill over onto your internets!

And the hallways where I will park myself and geek out and get to meet people I have admired from afar and they turn out to be just regular people with shy smiles who are nice.

I think best of all I like meeting amazingly witty shy people who have gem-like beautiful blogs and are not scrambling after fame and fortune or trying to Optimize for Business. It makes me think of how I love to make little xerox zines and distribute them for free. It is still a culture of DIY and abundance and love.

But on another level all the businessy social capital networky things are also beautiful. The first BlogHer conference gave me a lot of confidence and belief that my weird useless literary hobby was appreciated. I met so many people who continue to be useful to me, not like I call them up and go “Give me a job, and I’d like my own Lear Jet to the conference, cause i am internet famous” but just in that we know we exist, in awareness of each other, and that is comforting and inspiring. Just that I know all the people I met at the first Blogher conference still amazes me. Instead of being a lone wacko in my garage transmitting ham radio waves into outer space (as I felt while blogging solo) I am part of this amazing community and I have professional and literary colleagues.

I looked at my Facebook social timeline and saw how it is basically an explosion of friends stemming from BlogHer 2005. That’s so amazing. And as a feminist I appreciate, especially, the connections with other women, so often disrupted by capitalism, nuclear families, and all the pressures of our lives under patriarchy. BlogHer helps me live my life more the way I have always wanted to, with strong ties to other women.

Actually, Woolfcamp helped that too. And I still hope to see others do some decentralized women-blogging and tech meetups that are small unconferences, just get together with your laptops and start showing each other all your geeky stuff, even just how you blog and what tools you use. And I guarantee that among 3 or 4 people you will all learn something and be fortified and inspired. It is a sort of nucleation and sharing of information that makes everyone involved become bigger.

Back to the practical universe. I will be flying out on Wednesday, will stay with my sister-in-law and her family one night in Oak Park, and then off to the W Hotel. I am rooming with SJ of I, Asshole, one of my earliest blog friends. Actually I was her stalker for a while until she noticed me in her comments (as is so common with these blog friendships!). And with her friend Shauny who I don’t know but who I’m sure will be fun. BLOG PARTY IN MY ROOM and you are all invited.

I will miss Grace Davis a lot and will be thinking of her and extending magic tentacles to her this week and next… and I will save up a lot of fun for her and when she is ready I will go and bring it to her house and pour it in her lap. I was thinking that a Woolfcamp in the park would be awesome. I will find a beautiful place with lots of nature AND wireless and we will all go and have a blogging picnic specially in Grace’s honor.

Meanwhile, I am gearing up to write for BlogHer again. I took a 6 month leave, because I got a full time job and an extra part time job and could not handle so much work. But I am ready to get back to blogging about blogs by women from Latin America (including the Latin America that intersects with the United States, i.e. blogs by Latina/Chicana women). I miss all the blogs I used to read and the fun emails and am looking forward to getting back into it with a weekly post. If you have a favorite blog, in Spanish or English, and I will try Portuguese as well, please send me the URL and a description of the blog and blogger and I’ll add them to my feed!

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Maker faire: Computer sculpture

I saw countless cool things at Maker Faire today. The booth was one of the coolest. The dude there, Andrew Werby, let me sit there and play with a demo for a while. There was a pre-defined 3-D object on the screen, a sort of smooth, soft, spongy blob. With a pen on an articulated arm, like one of those adjustable desk lamps, I could “feel” the object’s surface and by pressing a button, push into it and sculpt it.

This was uncanny! The kinesthetic sense, the resistance in the pen in my hand, was just perfect. It was as if I was feeling and manipulating a real object. It was a bit like punching a blunt tool, a stylus, through thick foamy stuff; I thought of hot wire and foam carving kits.

At some point, I carved through the blob into the center, and the tool fell through into a sort of cave. I could feel around inside the object and visualize it in my head. There were multiple exit holes in the back, where I couldn’t see, that other people doing the demo before me must have made. The sensation reminded me uncannily of the numb feeling of pressure that I have had during surgical procedures. The tool also looked like and behaved like an instrument i held in my hand — except I could pass it through the object. So the tip had all the sensation and the handle was ghostly and non-existent. I had sensation, without having any hands. I could imagine surgeons really doing “Fantastic Voyage” type of operations this way. But it should also be a tool that game designers use for character and world building. I can’t imagine artists not loving this tool!

I have never felt something on a computer, a thing that I couldn’t see. My head exploded with thoughts of designing cool video games for visually impaired people. Mazes and thought puzzles and art pieces.

There was more to Andrew’s set of tools; you could sculpt, and then 3-d print your objects. I was blown away so completely by the kinesthetic 3-d modeling, I didn’t pay attention to the rest.

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Vancouver hackathon tomorrow

I’ve been having a blast with my co-workers from Socialtext in Vancouver for our hackathon week. I’ve worked, had fun, and gone to a zillion meetings, wheeled around a bit of downtown Vancouver. Last night was the Perlmongers meeting, which I’ll blog elsewhere.

On Friday – tomorrow – we’re having a community hackathon at the Bryght offices in downtown Vancouver. 1pm to 1am. Sign up, and come by if you like!

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SuperHappyDevHouse: Serial enthusiasm

I’m at SuperHappyDevHouse cussing up a storm as my wireless connection goes in and out. I’ve been messing with Kayuda, with Pipes a little, writing up notes, and talking with people who are all showing me nifty software. I just tagged about a dozen mindmapping and brainstorming apps in from my conversations with Ben Suter and David Montgomery. Tried a few of them… Ben showed me his Narrator software, which does something mysterious with architecture mapping and has a component that generates diagrams that then can be viewed as 3-D models. But with a mindmap-like interface, drawing and defining links between objects. When I got him into trying Kayuda he squeaked with glee.

Tantek and I talked briefly about wiki gardening. I also got into a conversation in the line for the bathroom (before I discovered the secret bathroom) about it. As more and more people get into wikis, as they have been doing with blogs, we’ll need more and better wiki gardening tools. I need them right now for multiple wiki platforms, and I don’t have them, and I don’t think anyone does. I wonder if there will be interesting visual representations of wikis as networks, and ways to fiddle with that, and better batch editing of wiki pages, and ways to run stats that will hook straight into wiki manipulation and administration tools. This could also have a crucial social and community component; ways of representing stories about the ways people are interacting, patterns and clusters of interaction exposed could give ways to deal with problems of group dynamics that arise on wikis big and small. A bunch of people talked with me tonight about throttling down the speed of web interaction, adding limits to the volume people can contribute, maybe especially toning down “noisy” people, adding “friction” — same stuff Kaliya Hamlin was talking about at SXSWi.

A ton of people are here from startup school. They’re all starry eyed right now so it must have been some super powerful koolaid over there.

Whump and I and Les Orchard were talking about people who are serial enthusiasts. (Us.) We love some nifty new software for a week and talk about it all over the place and blog it and poke it and then run off after something else. I wonder what our actual rate of new-software-adoption to “ooo shiny”. I accused whump of feeding me a constant stream of interesting new things and of knowing everything about new stuff AND actually using a high percentage of it and knowing it in more depth than people who burble about shiny new things usually know. He denies this and feels ashamed of his inability to adopt all nifty software orphans. Les says he is known for being the person to ask if anyone wants to know, “Hey, is there a Web 2.0 company that does X thing?” and he always knows, because for a while he was reading 1000 feeds. That’s what happens if you snap your achilles tendon while getting off the bus. I pointed out that “evangelist” might not stay in vogue forever as a job title, because the oo shiny people who get hired for that, well, if you’re that way, can you possibly sustain that feeling about a single product for years? So we all three were sitting here wishing there was a job for serial enthusiasts, who are maybe an intersection with early adopters. My theory is that there are people who have excellent “nifty filters” and are tormented because they recognize niftiness unusually well, so well that they notice the potential and niftiness of so many things that it’s not humanly possible for them to use all of those things. This might also be seen as (or might be) sluttiness, or a lack of discrimination and ability to recognize what’s truly nifty and useful as well as the lack of going deeply into those things. Perhaps both qualities combine to make the deepest serial enthusiasts. A level of quick insight and holistic grasp of possibility is good, as well as the ability to generate different idea-pathways quickly, like a chess player foreseeing future developments. Whether or not that sort of person is useful in the real world, I value that quality in people.

(Somewhere in here I looked at Rohit’s Angstro thingie, challenged a bit of the “what would be useful” concept of it, marvelled at Plasma Pong’s silliness and beauty, and talked to a dude who’s part of a Linux TV company which I’ve forgotten the name of but he was screaming with delight about Angela (?) something, his CEO, who rocks and is an enormous genius, and how they’re a tiny quiet company that is about to take over the world; and at Eric Tiedemann’s Monome tuning application which he nicely explained to me though he could barely contain being appalled that I didn’t know anything about the mathematics of tuning; and I started installing Planet Venus on my server, and then went on an extended bitter rant to Whump about how and why nowhere ever exports me a decent opml file, or imports it right, and all my effort is lost when I switch platforms or accounts, so I’ve become disheartened about feed readers. Whump had a neat setup that he promised to write up later in his blog, with Planet Venus running every once in a while and then pushing up to a server. Later in the night, I looked at the sort of messy tangle I made on Kayuda and I think that it’s not a good representation, and it might not even be useful, and I wonder how to restructure it so that it would be. Strict limitations on number of nodes to convey a central idea, with baroque flourishes and digressions allowed in a sort of overlay? )

I can’t believe how many people are crammed into this house. It’s nuts. But I have the feeling I don’t want to leave… it’s all cosy… I have a spot on a couch… the network is working again so I’m all happy. I have contradictory impulses to go talk with people and then on the other hand to lurk on the irc channels and “talk” the way normal people do, on the internet, without this weird “moving your mouth” or “looking at people in the face” component to it.

Some dude came up to me and said “This is your house, right?” “No… why do you ask?” “Because… uh… because you’re cool?” I think that was either meant to be several layers of irony more than it came off as, or else he was a bit drunk…

Okay, it *was* all cosy until I read some really gross and annoying posts on Valleywag about SHDH and women. At least there are nice people like whump and cyn and Ben and Tracy. That don’t make a person feel like there’s women who count as human, and other women who don’t, and as if there are only a few slots for the humans and a perpetual struggle to prove oneself worthy, and the perpetual need to represent for one’s entire gender… at all times… It’s a bad way to set up a frame for the universe. I get so pissed off reading stuff like that and want to respond in kind, or at least by regendering it or being “funny” right back by objectifying guys, which doesn’t work anyway because the power dynamics are different. Anyway, grrrrr.

My uncle just got home – he went to the Mermen show at 12 Galaxies and loved it and also loved the Extraordinaires. Maybe I should have cut out early from shdh when I stopped being productive, and gone to the show.

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Why I like LibraryThing

I was trying to explain tonight to Annalee why I like LibraryThing. “What’s it FOR? Is it a book recommender? Or is it data about a book?” No… no… it’s for building a picture of knowledge and of people. When I first walked into Annalee’s house, for example, my head went sideways and I muttered off into all the rooms reading the book titles. I could see evidence of interests past and present, clusters of information, and could extrapolate meta-interests or things like “here are sets of books that indicate grad school classes very similar to ones I took or browsed.” So now I know without having to ask that she has a mental foundation or familiarity with Spivak and Bhabha, Derrida, Sontag, Delouze and Guattari (“Spavin, Babble, Dada, Snotrag, Deloser and Guitar”) and that sort of cultural studies/literary/historical theory way of thinking as well as science books, tech books, monster movies, pulp, tons of good science fiction, and the same sort of 19th and 20th century sex and gender information books that I also collect.

When I was looking at Timmi Duchamp‘s books I wrote that it was like being together with her in a beautiful cathedral. The way she organized them was beautiful, but it was the combinations of ideas and the depths of certain areas of knowledge that were amazing and I felt happy and honored to understand some of that, and what it meant to my knowledge of her as a person and of her work as a writer and critic. Seeing someone’s books, if they are a very booky person, with their brain deeply intertwined with what they have read, very intertextual, then seeing their books gives you some knowledge. It’s not like any two people, reading the same set of books, have the same reactions to them. But because we’re in this post-Golden-Bookshelf age where we have no literary or cultural canon, it is reassuring and interesting to see someone’s (nongolden, or golden only to them) bookshelves. If it was important to have (and to destroy) the golden bookshelf, then it’s important for us that we’re developing ways to make each others’ bookshelf compositions transparent.

Since I have read quite a lot, and in areas I can’t expect someone else at random to have read, I get very happy when I met with people whose bookshelves intersect. Right now the person with the closest books to my books on LibraryThing happens to be one of my best friends. That was a funny feeling, like confirmation of our unusual common areas of deep knowledge. I look at the people I don’t know (and I know many of them from their blogs, mostly from LiveJournal) and figure that, the way my life is going, and with tons of social software stickly spreading around through everyone I know denser & denser, I’ll probably meet them within a year. And when I search on a few of the rare books — anthologies of Latin American poetry from 1910 — and then later am searching on some incredibly hip or trashy science fiction book published last year — Then I swoon a little bit and fall in love with that person who is in the tiny club of the two of us who like those two very different books. (We don’t just own them: we gloat over them and bothered to enter them and tag them up.)

Who has this book? Only 2 other people! I feel a new pleasure; that of snobbery and pride. I look at their tagging of that book and I learn something – and maybe go back and put my tags more in line with theirs, which might make more sense. Or I like mine better and keep them as they are. Together the three of us built something, a small consensus. Then I can look at their personal library tag clouds:

Another pleasure is in the tag clouds. I can follow a few tags of marxist feminism and find strangers, then browse their tag clouds. (Here’s my tag cloud, but that’s only about 2% of my books.) What other tags does a marxist feminist reader tend to gather? Wandering around in that information is fun and I feel like I’m learning a meta-something from it. What, I’m not sure.

I look for the people who have eclectic collections, and who have certain areas of depth of knowledge – who are geeky and expert about a few things, but then whose interests scatter interestingly. It’s not like I am dying to write them messages, I’m busy enough… but I feel less intellectually lonely because I know they exist. And again, odds are in the techno-bohemian world I’ll meet them at some point and then feel instant friendliness.

I start to feel I want to introduce certain readers and LT-ers to each other; and I see gaps that inspire me as a critic, that make me see “Wait. All these people should also have A Certain Glorious Book; they’d love it, based on what they own and tag heavily.” And then I resolve to write a review, give a book as a present, or just give a recommendation out of the blue.

It is not just social and about stalking… it is a method of creating cultural meaning.

But that is not all of it… I’ll have to return to this thought. Meta-information structures laid in place… underpinnings of possible conversations…. people seem more real to me than they ever did… strangers hold more possbilities… It is a general feeling of hope, connection, interest, pleasure, curiosity. I think that when you drink the Web 2.0 Koolaid it’s not about believing in hype – it’s a fundamental shift in how we think about each other as people with depth, with books and feelings about them, with wishes and goals and places we want to go to or that we’ve loved (as on 43places and 43things) and with social ties laid out with at least an attempt at clarity. When novels became popular, it provided an opportunity for people to think about each other as characters in novels, as protagonists even, whose thought processes could be revealed, imagined, chronicled. I think Web 2.0 and blogging and rich social information environments, which will surely develop intertwinings more complicated than we’ve imagined, are in the beginning of a shift in the way it is possible for people to think about each other. There are of course utopian and dystopian results from that shift. But lucky for me I was born in interesting times and will not be bored, ever.

LibraryThing has inspired me several times so far to get rid of books that I think are embarrassing, too embarrassing or dull to add to my public bookshelf. Do I want this on my shelf? I didn’t want it in my brain. Then… throw it out!

Just as certain people are peculiarly charming and witty on Twitter, but dull on their blogs… or vice versa… I think some people’s libraries will function like registers of complicated conversation. Registers of speech or media for speaking can result in very different output from the very same person. So as a mode of self expression, art, and culture, LibraryThing and social media let us see each other saying things we might not have said, or been able to see being said, before. They provide an extra conversational layer.

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