experiments in more-than-human design ethnography

The Bush Olympics

Everyone’s been talking about the London Olympics, but I’m pretty thrilled with Central Australia’s Bush Olympics:

“More than 50 students from cattle stations and remote communities across Central Australia are currently competing in the final rounds of the Alice Springs School of the Air Bush Olympics. The students log in from computers in their schoolrooms hundreds of kilometres apart, to participate in warm-up activities via web cam. They then head outside, into the dustiest of playgrounds to complete half an hour of whatever Olympic sport is on the London schedule that morning. So far that’s included weightlifting, equestrian events (featuring real hobby horses at some stations), athletics, and hockey. Their trainer, Jo Black from the YMCA says there’s some real talent among the School of the Air’s students, who live in an area covering 1.3 million square kilometres.


But it’s not all about exercise: Mrs Pearson says the highlight of the Bush Olympics was the opening ceremony. ‘Student and parents logged in from 62 sites across Central Australia. It was important for us to light the Olympic flame here in the studio. A flickering flame is made from red and yellow and orange, so we had lots of helium balloons, concealed under a veil. And when our student William Weir lit the cauldron, the veil was pulled off and the balloons reached skywards. It was a beautiful representation. Also, every team from each station or community made their own flag [and] mascot’.”

Plus, Alice Springs School of the Air is pretty amazing. It “offers a wide range of educational services and activities to isolated primary children” in the southern half of the Northern Territory, the extreme north of South Australia and the south-east of Western Australia. Originally relying on radio communication, “the first broadcasts were made from the Royal Flying Doctor Base in Alice Springs, Northern Territory (NT), in 1951.” Today they run their own ISP, making “extensive use of satellite technology” because only 5% of the Outback has mobile coverage and their landlines (upgraded in the 90s) cannot support broadband.

Posted: August 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Everyday Life, People & Animals, Science, Technology & Society | No Comments »

From the PLSJ archives: Anne vs. her mobile phone

Wednesday, 12 February, 2003
Anne vs. her mobile phone

As someone who spends so much time addressing the theoretical aspects of wireless communications, I would do well to note my *actual* experiences.

In the Spring of last year, I bought a Motorola Timeport 280. At the time, the only service provider who supported that phone was Fido, and it has since been discontinued. I didn’t need or want a PDA (fed gov’t workers here are decked out with BlackBerries), but I wanted something that could text, connect to the ‘Net and work anywhere in the world. Fine. Or so I thought.

Strike 1: Text-messaging is only available between mobile devices (phones, pagers, PDAs) on the Fido network. (To the best of my knowledge, this is true for each of the Canadian wireless providers.) Since I don’t know anyone (or don’t know if I know anyone) on the network, texting is pretty much useless to me. There’s something weird about community built around technology in this sense: what do I have in common with other Fido users besides using Fido-supported devices?

(Aside – I think one of HipTop Nation’s greater social strengths is connecting Sidekick users with non-Sidekick users in the common space of the Web. At a superficial level, I see very little interaction between the mobile bloggers themselves.)

Strike 2: It turns out that mobile Internet access is way too expensive for me in a cost-benefit sort of way. It insufficiently enriches my daily life, or more specifically, offers me little more than already afforded by the wireless LAN in my house. But then again, I’ve never seen an outside ad-hoc wireless network in action.

Strike 3: Game over. For a number of reasons, I have had no need to use my phone overseas. But today I called Fido to see what’s up with my phone while I’m in the States next month. It turns out that I have to request, in writing, the activation of roaming services 60 days in advance of when I need them. This phone is now officially *fucking useless* for every task I wanted it to perform.

As much as I hate Fido right now, I suspect this is also karmic retribution for my technolust.

Wow. I can’t believe the state of wireless technology (just) ten years ago!

I’d forgotten that I got my first mobile phone just ten years ago. That we had wireless internet in our house for the first time just ten years ago. That in Canada, in 2003, it wasn’t possible to send a text message to someone on another network, let alone another country. That the internet on my phone was just too bloody expensive (and the mobile web too limited) to even contemplate. That mobile service provision was based on such broken notions of social interaction and so difficult to actually use.

And now I’m remembering (probably badly) a conversation with Giles Lane, around the same time, about Proboscis‘ ground-breaking Urban Tapestries project — and how the test users didn’t have access to phones like the ones being used, and some were nervous about using such expensive kit, even worrying that it might make them targets for muggings!


Someone recently reminded me that my PhD dissertation was researched and written before the first iPhone was released.

Then, there were PDAs, urban computing and locative media. Now, there are smartphones, augmented reality, the Internet of Things, and location-based services.

New and old actors. Old and new matters of concern.

Everything changes. Nothing changes.

It’s all still expensive. I just have more money.

Posted: July 31st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Everyday Life, PLSJ Archives, Science, Technology & Society | No Comments »

Remembering Dr Sally Ride (1951-2012)

When I was girl I thought I would grow up to be a scientist — and an astronaut. I built space stations out of cardboard and tinfoil, and made sure that my super awesome science lab was the biggest room.

A is for Astronaut. (A is for Anne!)

I can still remember watching the STS-7 Challenger launch in 1983, and even though I had seen other launches, I remember that one being different — being special — because NASA was sending a woman into space for the first time.

The day after the launch, Gloria Steinem said that “Millions of little girls are going to sit by their television sets and see they can be astronauts, heroes, explorers and scientists.”

I was one of those girls.

Other people told me I could be an astronaut, but Dr Sally Ride showed me. And that made her a real life — real live — hero.

I also remember being a bit jealous of Grundgetta, Oscar’s Grouch girlfriend, when she got to hang out with Sally on Sesame Street in 1984. I figured that she was always smiling because she got to go into space. And true enough, when the shuttle returned to Earth, Dr Ride told reporters, “I’m sure it was the most fun that I’ll ever have in my life.

To be honest, I haven’t thought about Sally Ride in a long time. Maybe even since I gave up my dreams of being an astronaut. But yesterday, when I found out she was dead, I remembered and I cried.

According to the Sally Ride Science website:

“Sally lived her life to the fullest, with boundless energy, curiosity, intelligence, passion, joy, and love. Her integrity was absolute; her spirit was immeasurable; her approach to life was fearless.

In addition to Tam O’Shaughnessy, her partner of 27 years, Sally is survived by her mother, Joyce; her sister, Bear; her niece, Caitlin, and nephew, Whitney; her staff of 40 at Sally Ride Science; and many friends and colleagues around the country.

Donations can be made to the Sally Ride Pancreatic Cancer Initiative.”

As an adult — older now than she was then — I can truly appreciate the kind of calm confidence it must have taken to bear the media attention she received:

“Speaking to reporters before the first shuttle flight, Dr. Ride — chosen in part because she was known for keeping her cool under stress — politely endured a barrage of questions focused on her sex: Would spaceflight affect her reproductive organs? Did she plan to have children? Would she wear a bra or makeup in space? Did she cry on the job? How would she deal with menstruation in space?

The CBS News reporter Diane Sawyer asked her to demonstrate a newly installed privacy curtain around the shuttle’s toilet. On ‘The Tonight Show,’ Johnny Carson joked that the shuttle flight would be delayed because Dr. Ride had to find a purse to match her shoes.

At a NASA news conference, Dr. Ride said: ‘It’s too bad this is such a big deal. It’s too bad our society isn’t further along’.”

When reporters dared to bring up her boobs, Ride very coolly responded “There is no sag in zero G.” My response to any of these questions would have likely excluded me from the astronaut ranks, and definitely precluded any future interviews or public appearances.

But Dr Ride was so much more than the first American woman in space. By all accounts, she was an accomplished physicist, an inspiring teacher and writer of children’s books, and ceaseless advocate for the inclusion of girls and young women in STEM education and careers.

She also served on the panel that investigated the Challenger accident and, in addition to providing her professional expertise, demonstrated extraordinary personal grace and compassion:

“One witness was Roger Boisjoly, an engineer who had worked for the company that made the shuttle’s rocket boosters and who had been shunned by colleagues for revealing that he had warned his bosses and NASA that the boosters’ seals, called O-rings, could fail in cold weather. The Challenger had taken off on a cold morning.

After his testimony, Dr. Ride, who was known to be reserved and reticent, publicly hugged him. She was the only panelist to offer him support. Mr. Boisjoly, who died in January, said her gesture had helped sustain him during a troubled time.”

And although Dr Ride probably wouldn’t have made much of this either, I think the Huffington Post did right by reminding everyone:

“This is what a lesbian looks like: Sally Ride: physicist; author of seven science books for children; member of the space shuttle Challenger crew; member of the President’s Committee of Advisors on Science and Technology; director of the California Science Institute; inductee into the National Women’s Hall of Fame, the California Hall of Fame, the Aviation Hall of Fame, and the Astronaut Hall of Fame; recipient of the Jefferson Award for Public Service, the von Braun Award, the Lindbergh Eagle, the NCAA’s Theodore Roosevelt Award, and the NASA Space Flight Medal (twice).”

Sally Kristen Ride was will always be my hero.

But I’ll leave the last words to Denise Grady in the NYTimes:

“Dr. Ride told interviewers that what drove her was not the desire to become famous or to make history as the first woman in space. All she wanted to do was fly, she said, to soar into space, float around weightless inside the shuttle, look out at the heavens and gaze back at Earth. In photographs of her afloat in the spaceship, she was grinning, as if she had at long last reached the place she was meant to be.”

Posted: July 25th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Everyday Life, Science, Technology & Society | 2 Comments »

Tiny beautiful things…

In 2011, Rumpus advice columnist Sugar (actually Cheryl Strayed) wrote a wonderful and moving letter to her 20 year old self. With the release of her new book, Tiny Beautiful Things, it’s been making the rounds again. You can read the whole letter to find the quote used in the title, and here are a few of my favourite bits:

Dear Seeking Wisdom,

Stop worrying about whether you’re fat. You’re not fat. Or rather, you’re sometimes a little bit fat, but who gives a shit? There is nothing more boring and fruitless than a woman lamenting the fact that her stomach is round. Feed yourself. Literally. The sort of people worthy of your love will love you more for this, sweet pea.


There are some things you can’t understand yet. Your life will be a great and continuous unfolding. It’s good you’ve worked hard to resolve childhood issues while in your twenties, but understand that what you resolve will need to be resolved again. And again. You will come to know things that can only be known with the wisdom of age and the grace of years. Most of those things will have to do with forgiveness.


Most things will be okay eventually, but not everything will be. Sometimes you’ll put up a good fight and lose. Sometimes you’ll hold on really hard and realize there is no choice but to let go. Acceptance is a small, quiet room.


Your assumptions about the lives of others are in direct relation to your naïve pomposity. Many people you believe to be rich are not rich. Many people you think have it easy worked hard for what they got. Many people who seem to be gliding right along have suffered and are suffering. Many people who appear to you to be old and stupidly saddled down with kids and cars and houses were once every bit as hip and pompous as you.


When you meet a man in the doorway of a Mexican restaurant who later kisses you while explaining that this kiss doesn’t “mean anything” because, much as he likes you, he is not interested in having a relationship with you or anyone right now, just laugh and kiss him back. Your daughter will have his sense of humor. Your son will have his eyes.

The useless days will add up to something. The shitty waitressing jobs. The hours writing in your journal. The long meandering walks. The hours reading poetry and story collections and novels and dead people’s diaries and wondering about sex and God and whether you should shave under your arms or not. These things are your becoming.

One Christmas at the very beginning of your twenties when your mother gives you a warm coat that she saved for months to buy, don’t look at her skeptically after she tells you she thought the coat was perfect for you. Don’t hold it up and say it’s longer than you like your coats to be and too puffy and possibly even too warm. Your mother will be dead by spring. That coat will be the last gift she gave you. You will regret the small thing you didn’t say for the rest of your life.

Say thank you.


Posted: July 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Everyday Life | No Comments »

The limits of dispassionate knowledge

“The contemporary habit in academic writing of assembling more or less trite summaries of other people’s work, and disfiguring the prose at the end of every second sentence with a scattering of references, seems to me calculated to turn thought to lead and the eager reader into concrete.”

~ Fred Inglis, Culture (Cambridge: Polity, 2004), vii.

“In academia, the scholarly life is often premised on the suppression of passion. Historians are warned about over-identification with their subject matters; students of literature are taught to radically temper their emotional responses, in case they make an ‘affective fallacy’ (getting all weepy is considered decidedly unprofessional). Those in the social sciences are given countless safeguards to stop the passions encroaching on the business of producing reliable knowledge, while the harder sciences make a value out of every thing the passions are not: testable, logical, rational […] My argument is not that the values of dispassion are bad, simply that they are disingenuous and obscuring of many of the ways we know the world, including scholarly knowledge.”

~ Ben Highmore, A Passion for Cultural Studies (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2009), 16.

Posted: June 24th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Everyday Life, Research Methodologies | No Comments »