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Managing my teaching and research workflow

Academia, Information management, Productivity

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A colleague recently asked me about tools I use for managing my teaching and research workflow. The tasks or concepts in bold indicate what she is looking for:

  • Bibliography management: I use Zotero extensively for managing my citations, particularly since it has built-in tools for working with word processing programs
  • Alerts on research related to my current study: I don’t have very good tools for this yet, but I am hoping that Academia.edu will be useful for this.
  • Bookmarking pages: Because I’ve started to keep everything using Evernote, I tend use Evernote for bookmarking pages, although Diigo has better tools for highlighting and annotating. The problem with Evernote is that it is a bit unwieldy as a simple bookmark manager. Also, if the webpages are clearly related to my academic research, I simply save them in Zotero which, like Evernote and Diigo, can cache copies of the page.
  • eReading and highlighting: I do all my PDF annotations on a tablet. I use Goodreader, which has a built-in sync manager for cloud storage, for annotating and highlighting PDF files. So I sync all my Zotero PDFs using a cloud storage provider, SugarSync, and then use Goodreader for annotating my files. As long as you have a PDF annotator installed (such as Nitro Reader), Zotero manages your annotated PDFs well and provides annotation tools for cached HTML webpages.
  • Direct links to a learner’s blog: If I am teaching an online course, I make learners list down their blog in a centralize location, for instance in a Moodle wiki (since we use Moodle as the primary learning environment at the university).
  • Something to proofread my summaries or paragraphs so I am not in danger of plagiarizing: I don’t use one, but maybe I should!
  • Links to Google doc files where I do my writing, rewriting: I would just navigate to Google Docs, and create folder hierarchies there. In general, I use a project management system to organize my life, using the Getting Things Done system. So if i need to work on a doc, I note down the URL and put it on my to-do list.

But it seems that what my colleague is looking for is a central place where she could do all of this. In this case, what I would do is come up with a microsite intended for myself, using WordPress, Blogger, or Google Sites, and add links to all these resources and tools.

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Upcoming Philosophers’ Café discussions

Academia, Vancouver

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I’ll be facilitating two more Philosophers’ Café discussions this Fall. Both are at the Waves Coffee Shop at the corner of Howe and Smithe in downtown Vancouver at 7pm.

November 3 5: The Experience of Acceleration

The pace of life, it is often said, keeps getting faster. But what exactly are we exactly are we measuring? Is it the number of important things we think about or do in a given day? Is it our perception of time? Is it both? And while some things may have gotten faster, are there other things that have slowed down?

Possible points of departure
(Do you have any others in mind? Leave a comment and I’ll add your suggestions to this list.)

  • Kurzweil, R. (2000). The Age of Spiritual Machines: When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence. Penguin (Non-Classics).
    Availability: SFU Library | Vancouver Public Library
  • Davies, P. C. W. (1994). The last three minutes: conjectures about the ultimate fate of the universe. Science masters series. New York, NY: Basic Books.
    Availability: Vancouver Public Library
  • Havelock, R. G. (2011). Acceleration: the forces driving human progress. Amherst, N.Y: Prometheus Books.
    Availability: SFU Library
  • Gleick, J. (2011). Faster the acceleration of just about everything. New York: Books on Tape.
    Availability: Vancouver Public Library
  • (Thanks to Brent Dennis for this link) Robert Genn’s reflections on slowing down

December 5 3: Forgiving and Undoing

What exactly happens when we forgive or are forgiven? Are debts erased? Is harm undone? What are the relationships between forgiving and undoing?

Possible points of departure
(Do you have any others in mind? Leave a comment and I’ll add your suggestions to this list.)

  • Lown, M. (2009). Forgiveness. Teaching and Learning in Nursing, 4(2), 29. doi:10.1016/j.teln.2009.02.001
    Availability: SFU Library
  • Lea, V., & Sims, E. J. (2008). Imaging Whiteness Hegemony in the Classroom: Undoing Oppressive Practice and Inspiring Social Justice Activism. Undoing Whiteness in the Classroom: Critical Educultural Teaching Approaches for Social Justice Activism (pp. 185–202). Peter Lang Publishing, Inc.

    Availability: SFU Library

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Precision

Academia, Dance, The body, Thesis journal

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Different dance styles have different notions of what “precision” means. Here’s how I’ve seen it used (in different ways) in contemporary dance.

This piece by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker (b. 1960) is set to music by Steve Reich (b. 1936), who is one of the pioneers of minimalism in music. He uses a lot of repetitive patterns and rhythms. (A lot of modern electronic music owes a great deal to him!) In the first piece (Fase, created in 1982), two pianos playing identical repetitive patterns slowly go in and out of phase. And so do the two dancers. It’s kind of stunning.

The second video is from the 1983 piece Rosas danst Rosas, a piece that’s now been made famous because of Beyonce using (without the De Keersmaeker’s permission) the original choreography.


In this contemporary ballet piece by Jiri Kylian (b. 1947), precision is important to highlight little gestures, like how the lower leg straightens partway and then suddenly completely, creating a fluttering effect at around 0:17. They do a similar (but not identical) movement with a sideways pelvic thrust at around 2:17, which they accentuate by extending their hands at the wrists. (I love the music Jiri Kylian chose for this piece. Love Baroque music for the same reason I like some kinds of electronic music…. when pure structure and formal rules are balanced with expression and emotion.)
Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) used algorithms in his choreography. He sometimes used chance operations to put together sequences of movements. Because the movements were not always in a “logical” fashion, they were often very difficult to perform… but that’s also what made them very interesting. He also used chance operations to put together entire pieces; in 2003, he collaborated with two bands (Radiohead and Sigur Ros) on a piece called “Split Sides” and, as the New Yorker describes,

“made two separate dance sections and ordered up two lighting designs, two backdrops, and two sets of costumes. Nor was any element paired with any other. Everything would be sorted, by chance, before each performance. Mathematically speaking, there were thirty-two possible combinations.”

I studied Cunningham’s technique as a dance undergraduate student, and it was a totally amazing experience. My entire body had to be paying attention to patterns, directions in space, where the walls of the the room, all the while keeping count. You had to be precise in time, precise in space, precise with the body (especially with the spine). It was an unnatural experience at first (“biomechanical rebellion“, as a group of science researchers called it), but as Merce pointed out, if you do something long enough, it becomes natural.

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Kraftwerk Retrospective

New Media, Performance, Technology, The body, Thesis journal, Visualization

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I can’t stop watching.

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William Forsythe: Making visible hidden intentions

Academia, Dance, New Media, Somatics, Technology, The body, Thesis journal, Visualization

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The choreographer William Forsythe was very much influenced by Rudolf Laban in the way he treated the space around the dancer’s body. Working with a ballet company, he created a series of videos that used visuals to show some of the techniques he used to move in new ways. In these videos, he superimposes lines and shapes using  post-production editing to show how ballet dancers could think about the  space around them in a way that could help them break out of their  habitual patterns of moving. Those videos are part of a multimedia CD that was released in 2000, called Improvisation Technologies. I think that his ideas share many commonalities with the techniques that I’ve seen employed in EDM dance styles.

Someone posted many of his videos online. Here are a few of them:


Shearing space

Using lines to create organic movement

Axes and transforming/scaling axes

Following a curve to its logical conclusion

Rotating inscription with lines

Point-point extrusion

Transporting lines

Soft body part trajectories

And this is what some of his techniques, when ballet dancers apply them while freestyling, can look like:


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Constraining through fabric

Academia, Art, Dance, Movement, New Media, Performance, The body, Thesis journal

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Some very well-known examples of changing dancerly ways of moving come from the work of Loie Fuller and Martha Graham through their use of fabric.

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Our bodies our changing because of the things we’ve created

Academia, Dance, Movement, Performance, Somatics, Technology, The body, Thesis journal

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That’s kind of obvious, isn’t it. But I suppose that by “bodies”, I mean the way we carry our bodies: the way we move, the way we hold ourselves, our posture, our movement abilities, our movement qualities. Our body’s sense of well-being. The invention of the chair has changed forever the way our back and hip flexors are configured.

And by “things we create”, I mean specifically computational technologies and concepts. Computers and the configuration of the desktop keyboard and monitor are changing the way our spine, fingers, arms, scapulae, clavicles, heads, etc. etc. work together. Lyn Bartram has pointed out (and I need to ask her for a reference) that the one thing that has been proven to have changed with younger generations as a result of technology isn’t their ability to concentrate: it’s their ability to use their thumbs. Thumbing dexterity has increased! New interfaces such as touchpads have changed (to a certain extent) the way we generate written text, although there is to some extent a kind of a return to more analog strategies for text input. (I just ordered a set of 5 stylii for my iPad from eBay.)

So that’s the general area I place my research on: the way technology has changed our bodies, and specifically the way digital technologies have changed the way we move.

The one aspect of human movement that seems to be understudied is in its most expressive, creative way: dance. I’ve come across one paper by dance scholar Naomi M. Jackson, “Rethinking Humanness: The Place of Automata, Puppets and Cyborgs in Dance”, delivered in 2001 at the Society of Dance History Scholars, which has touched on this. Of course, the work of choreographers such as Merce Cunningham and William Forsythe have done much to explore the use of technology in expressive human motion, but what I’m curious is about is popular, grassroots explorations of the same.

I am also interested in these genres because they (and particularly liquid) signals a departure from the angular, hard computation of Cunningham technique. There’s an organic-ness to the aesthetics of the genres that had been missing from Cunningham. Both explore space, absolutely, and yet there’s something more complex and, well, liquid about Liquid.

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Where are investigations and narratives around the actual dancing “electronic dance music culture”?

Academia, Dance, Movement, The body, Thesis journal

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I’m currently scouring academic references about the dancing that happens as part of electronic dance music, and I’m pretty shocked at how little has been written up about it. There’s tons that have been written up about the music, but so far nada on the actual dance. This is incredible. I am hoping to run into more soon, but for the moment, primary and “non-academic” secondary sources online sources (Wikipedia, Youtube, community discussion forums, blogs, etc.) are really all that there is available.

There’s been tons written up about hip hop, of course, about four decades’ worth of literature, and a lot of it concentrates on issues of race, culture, gender, otherness.

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Writing up for movement and technology project

Academia

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I’ve been collaborating with Thecla Schiphorst, who heads the Art+Performance+Research Group at SIAT, and Pat Subyen, on further developing a website that documents an amazing and ambitious proposed project about movement and technology, to be funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC). The project is an extension (on a remarkable scale) of the Meaning from Motion project that Thecla and two other SIAT faculty, Lyn Bartram and Magy Seif El-Nasr, had been leading. SSHRC approved the LOI, which is very exciting! and we are now onto the next stage of the proposal.

There are four sections that I have been asked to write for the website:

  • ABOUT
    An overview of what the project is about, a large part of which will be taken from the LOI.
  • TECHNOLOGIES AND SENSING
    A description of precisely what kinds of technologies we will be looking into in the project. A particularly large emphasis will be sensors; I’ve started making a table for that.
  • SIGNIFICANCE. Parts of the section will also be taken from the LOI.  I also have to match this part against the criteria set by SSHRC for funding its project. This is going to be a huge section, so I’m guessing that I will have to start writing this first of all the sections because this will require the most amount of work. It will have to be divided into sections. I anticipate that this section will actually form a chunk of my thesis introduction… so I might as well get writing!
    • First I have to argue for the originality, significance, and contribution to knowledge of the project. I’m guessing I will simply expand on some of the themes I will mention in the ABOUT section.
      • First we talk about the role of movement and the body in current trends in mobile and ubiquitous computing. I describe how these are accelerating and that certain trends are very clear. Then I will name some categories (HCI, movement sensing, movement interaction, machine learning for movement recognition, computational design) and describe (rationalize) why these categories are relevant/useful lenses for looking at these trends. I will review the literature in some of these categories, namely:
        • Computation and sensor technologies (Strength: xxx. Weakness: Lack of a nuanced understanding of the phenomenological/experiential properties of motion)
        • HCI and the design of new technologies (Strengths: Increasing interest in designing movement. You can reduce cognitive load by doing movement (djadjadinigrat). Cons: Lack of a nuanced understanding of the phenomenological/experiential properties of motion. Focused mostly on ergonomics, range of motion, measurable physiological properties, etc.) ..
        • Artificial intelligence and machine learning! I will state how a vast majority of movement-based interaction design relies on machine learning and artificial intelligence. I will give the example of how a large proportion of papers presented at SBM explored various heuristics in recognizing pen strokes.
        • Movement practices and movement analysis; movement as a tool (input devices, therapy, parkinson’s, well-being). (but movement analysis has not been folded into technology design, in spite of the fact that movement is a ‘technology’ in its own right in that movement is an extension of the self.its ability to research the experience of movement within technology design)
      • Taken together, I state that the references illustrate current research movement sensing, movement interaction, machine learning for movement recognition. Already, in each of the three threads, we see gaps in the analysis. I summarize my commentary of the gaps in the categories stating that they represent gaps in methodological approaches, and that only a partnered, radically interdisciplinary approach can fill these gaps. Morever such an approach has to date not be clearly done. I will do this by looking at related initiatives such as laboratories (the movement lab at stanford), projects (sychronous objects). We are at an important time in the development of new technologies that exercise in greater capability and greater intelligence in not only sensing but also deriving meaning. What  is lacking is the deep, experience-based knowledge of movement experts who have access to systems of knowledge that define/name/analyze/synthesize kinesthetically and verbally.
      • I will match these categories with our partners, their research areas and their strengths, and their approach to the research. I do that in part by matching their publication record.
    • Next I have to argue for the potential for long term viability and sustainability of this project (and the fundamental approaches it takes to to research): I will make a claim that this interest in and applications of this research, as well as the kinds of methods that we are applaying will only continue to grow.
      • The interest in and development of technology will only increase. Mobile and ubiquitous technologies and natural interfaces will only grow. So will interest in artificial intelligence and machine learning (cite the 58K course that was recently offered). We can only expect a future where people will move through the world with digital technology in our pockets or embedded in environment around us.
      • Movement is a fundamental part of how we acquire knowledge, make sense of the world, etc. Movement will never cease to exist. Our ability to read, respond to culturally and socially situated phenomena depends on our ability to perceive, interpret, and act on human movement. I will give the example that Thecla provides about the general who made his platoon kneel. Movement is as important in peace and wartime.
      • The interest and need in exploratory research approaches in technology design is only growing (I will try to cite some empirical data taken from scholarly databases here). There is also an increasing interest  (that shows no sign of abating) of cocreation of knowledge through interdisciplinary (art, science, socal sciences) (cite CERN as an example). In particular, there is increasing interest in movement-centered design and evaluation of technology. At the School of Interactive Arts and Technology alone,  graduate students are studying human movementfrom its application in mixed reality environments,

Eventually, these sections will change as content generated by our proposed partners of the project get folded in. In the meantime, I’m drafting the initial content. So. Here we go!

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Indigenous peoples in Canada make extensive use of social media

Academia, Advocacy, Blog, Communities, ICT4D

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The headline this morning on The Tyee by a colleague and friend of mine touches on the widespread use of social media among the First Nations of Canada, who are widely scattered across this large country. Many First Nations territories were never ceded to Canada’s European colonizers, and thus remain illegally occupied. The article touches on the risks that corporately-controlled social media pose.

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