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The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 4,900 times in 2014. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 4 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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I made the decision recently to leave Facebook. I had been mulling it over in my head for a while and the final push came last week when my wife, during one of her sleepless bouts, had checked Facebook and saw a timestamp against my name that suggested I was actively on Facebook despite being sound asleep next to her. While I have little control over my online activity being logged somewhere, I at least want it to be accurate.

I’d been considering leaving for many reasons: the fact I found it conducive to compulsive behaviour; that it wasted my time; the knee-jerk commentry; getting friend requests from work colleagues and ex-students and accepting them because I liked them but then feeling I wasn’t so happy for them to see so much of my personal life; the data trawling and potential privacy breaches; the trolling; reaching for my mobile to ‘check-in’; the armchair politics; the adverts, particularly the adverts … I could go on.

But now I have made the decision I feel liberated. That said, there’s been some work involved in leaving the 21st century. Firstly I have been reacquainted with some long lost friends in my 5 years of using Facebook, so I wanted to notify them I was leaving and make them aware of where they could reach me in the future if they so wished. Secondly, I manage a couple of different professional and personal project Facebook Pages so I needed to set up an admin account to continue doing so—this led to the strange scenario where I had to ‘like’ myself in order to pass on admin rights to myself! And finally I wanted to delete any photos I had there that I didn’t want sitting in virtual space forever, (although I think it highly unlikely I will have truly managed this as there’s always a digital trail out there somewhere).

So from tomorrow I’ll be Facebook free when I deactivate my personal account. I only hope it doesn’t lead to me sounding smug when I say I’m not on Facebook if asked; you know, smug in the same way people sound when you ask someone if they saw a particular television programme only to be told pointedly that they don’t have a TV.

Yesterday I attended the annual UCS (University Campus Suffolk) Learning and Teaching conference. It was a day packed with presentations looking at open, distant and e-learning, as well as investigating how technology in both the lecture theatre and online can enhance learning.

Keynote speakers, Dr Andrew Middleton and Professor Stephen Gomez discussed student engagement and learning landscapes. Gomez interestingly pointed out that perceptions of what constituted a lecture when he first came to education hadn’t changed since the 14th century, whereby a didactic method of imparting knowledge from one source, the lecturer, to a passive audience, the students, was still being used today. He related this to the differences in business or health care in the 14th century to current day practice, stating that as academics we were either incredibly lucky to hit upon the ‘correct’ methodology back then, or we needed to rethink these old ideologies.

Throughout the rest of the day, I heard speakers discuss the benefits of online handbooks and  teaching resources; using technologies for adaptive release of tests to students (whereby a learner can not progress to the next stage of a test until they’ve completed that section correctly); the advantages of verbal feedback being supplied as audio files; and the idea of releasing feedback and grades separately to encourage reflection and help students see feedback as supportive rather than linking it to what they may see as negative grades.

In the afternoon Professor David Gill gave a presentation on how Web 2.0 technologies had become leading tools in linking students, academic research and the press, with how the Looting Matters blog, which reports on archaeological research and stolen antiquaries, had become a ‘go to’ website for Reuters when reporting on such issues. As a counterpoint to some of the other presentations during the proceedings, Dr Fidel Meraz and Dr Mike Doherty, lecturers from the UCS Interior Architecture and Design course, discussed the importance of not relying on the fetishisation of technology when working with students who have to have an experiential perspective on the human and social aspects of navigating space and designing for interaction in a physical environment.

The day was extremely stimulating. The pedagogical rationale surrounding different frameworks of teaching, and how the  methodology behind decisions of delivery using technology has provided much food for thought in considering my own teaching. In particular, Professor Gomez demonstrated an online resource for tagging imagery which could be very useful in critiques about student work, or when teaching the history of design.

However, throughout the day there were many questions I felt weren’t being discussed. These include:
—data protection of staff recording things on personal devices
—staff using personal devices they’ve paid for in order to meet expectations of contemporary education
—health and safety issues around RSI
—the possible disenfranchising of students who can’t afford up to date technology
—the possible disenfranchising of students and staff who live in areas of web poverty
—workload management and work/life balance issues in an ‘always connected’ culture

The focus of all the presenters tended to be on pedagogy without any discussion about any wider ethical implications. For example, data protection was only raised once in one Q&A session, and social justice was only briefly discussed at the end of the day in the plenary session when a student raised the issue for the panel to discuss. For me, for such ethical considerations in open, distance and e-learning have to be explored alongside all other discussions about the positive benefits of championing existing and emerging technologies in higher education. Drs Meraz and Doherty have a point in using the term the ‘fetishisation of technology’ and I worry we are rushing into a future where by all manner of problems will rear their heads down the line for both students and lectures if due consideration of such issues isn’t embedded into current dialogue.

These comments are not meant to be critical of any discussions that took place, or to be seen with any luddite connotations, because I embrace new technology in both my personal life and professional practice, and can truly see the potential advantages to both learners and teachers that emerged from the majority of presentations I witnessed. But they are meant as a word of caution on not divorcing the social and political implications of championing technology in any such discussions, and the belief that, as educationists, it is our duty to always be considering our practice holistically.

Contractual Freedom is a short film I made seven years ago about the then obsession with ID Cards and surveillance that Tony Blair’s governement had at the time.

While not directly relevant to the current internet spy scandle, there are enough cross overs to feel it is worth posting this old film again in 2013.

Contractual Freedom

Contractual Freedom was short listed for the Big Issue Film Festival in 2007.

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Still from Academic Earth video, The Psychology of the Internet Troll

Ever wondered what the psychology of a troll is, you know, those annoying people who are deliberately out to promote arguments and upset others on the internet? Well, according to the video The Psychology of the Internet Troll, hosted over on Academic Earth, it is all linked to being alone. “We all behave differently when alone. Anonymity frees us from a perceived obligation to act in accordance with certain social norms,” they state, going on to say that, “while most of our anonymous behavior is relatively benign, what happens when it isn’t?…We’re 20 years into the experiment of the World Wide Web, and we can clearly see how Internet anonymity plays out across social media, chat rooms, and comment sections. Usually just a nuisance, anonymous troublemakers, known as trolls, can be dangerous when they go after the vulnerable. In an effort to better understand what makes them tick, psychologists are starting to take a closer look at the psychology of the Internet troll.”

My own experience with trolls has thankfully been limited to befriending someone on Facebook who I hadn’t seen for over 15 years. They then preceded to comment, uninvited, on conversations I was having with others online, and stating to get argumentative with people they didn’t know. They also started to negatively comment on anything I posted. I didn’t think of this activity as trolling at first, until a friend posted a comment after a protracted argument with said protagonist that they had forgotten the adage “do not feed the troll”, and signed off from the conversation. This realisation that my old acquaintance’s behaviour was deliberately vindictive, which I had only previously thought of as annoying, opened my eyes to his divisive actions and I unfriended him straight away.

The video is well worth a watch, and uses animation to break down some complex psychological research that explains the behaviour and mentality behind trolling. And if there is any one thing you have to keep reminding yourself when online or using any form of social media, it is: DO NOT FEED THE TROLL.

Watch the Psychology of the Internet Troll here.

Screen Shot 2013-06-09 at 10.50.44It seems that some people are still getting their knickers in a twist about Yahoo’s relaunch of their photo sharing site Flickr. Lots of people were complaining about it before the relaunch, and lots are complaining about it afterwards.

For the record, I (mostly) like it. I thought it had started to look dated, and when the iPhone app was redesigned in December 2012, my immediate response was that I hoped there would be a redesign of the main website along similar lines. And my wish came true.

Sure, the constant scrolling is playing havoc with my first generation iPad, crashing Safari as it does. But then so does Facebook and iTunes, as websites become so content laden that older processors can’t cope. But this is the way the web is going, and there is nothing I can do about it.

Visually, the new Flickr gives me a better view of all of my photos without having to enlarge them—previously the ‘large’ view was restricted to 5 images on my home page, which then switched to thumbnails for all subsequent pages. This always annoyed me. But now it gives an over view of someone’s visual interests from the outset. The photograph sizes are just enough to see what I want from the images I only want to ponder momentarily, and I can enlarge those that grab my attention and interest. Previously, past the first page, I had to enlarge pretty much every image to decide if I wanted to investigate them or not. This has got to be an improvement.

I accept that it may not suit the ‘professional’ photographer as well as it once did, but there are alternatives they can use. And they tend to have quite an elitist view about photography anyway and sneer at anything that has a mass appeal—you’ve only got to look at the bitching online about Instagram to see this, (which I’ve discussed previously on here).

So, well done Yahoo. When my Pro account becomes null and void and I have to pay for no adverts, I will do. You are a commercial enterprise offering a service after all—I want to use that service and I don’t want adverts—no complaint there from me.

To view my Flickr pages, go here.

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I’m not sure when streaming a band’s forthcoming album, pre-launch date, became a popular marketing ploy. But for at least 7 of the new releases I’ve bought this year so far, I’ve been able to listen to them in their entirety prior to making a purchase, and usually several weeks in advance.

As a marketing ploy, this is good news for me—it is good to know what I’m getting before I buy it, especially with bands I am unfamiliar with. It was streaming The Villagers album {Awayland}, a band that had previously passed me by, that convinced me to buy it. This doesn’t mean I’m not prepared to take risks, or rely on a trusted journalist’s or friend’s recommendation, but it does mean I can be more discerning when hitting the ‘buy’ button.

Could this work against an artist? Well, certainly. That hotly tipped release that has been slavered over by critics who have had advance copies months ahead could end up being just hyperbole and bandwagon jumping, which is often the case. I pre-ordered the last, much lauded, Nick Cave CD when its release was first announced, and then nearly cancelled the order when it streamed on The Guardian as the lyrics were, in places, embarrassing, and the overly dramatic vocal delivery grated, (The Bad Seeds though, what a band—please make a solo album without Nick). But I still kept the order if only for the promise of well designed packaging.

Therefore, it struck me as odd yesterday, when The Quietus announced that Stockholm electronic experimentalists, The Knife, were streaming their new album, due for release next week, on their website. Not so odd in itself in this day and age, but the fact that the artwork for Shaking The Habitual was also on show for all to see did strike me as such. The artwork contains a witty anti-capitalist side swipe by comic strip artist Liv Strömquist, (section above). This will come with all physical and digital purchases, and, as The Knife proudly announce, be fully readable online. As someone who has never given up on buying CDs as I’m old fashioned enough to still like having an artefact with artwork, this stumped me slightly. For now, I’ve read the comic online, laughed, got the joke. I’ve heard the music. Anytime between now and next week I can go back to The Knife’s website and listen to it again to the point that I could get bored with it. And then, I could stream it on Spotify once it has been released if there are still a few listens left in it. And I can point anyone that I might think is interested in such things to the website to read the comic strip, as I’m technically doing here. Therefore, this seems to really make buying a physical or digital own-able item pointless.

The question that now remains is: will I buy the album? Under normal circumstances I would do, as I like it. In some respects, as a sucker for (good) experimental electronic music that has its feet firmly rooted in pop, and as the sort of person who laps up satirical agit-prop comic book art, then I’m a target market for this ‘product’. The fact I’ve become interested enough to want to write about all this ‘new’ media gubbings, probably, also demonstrates that I’ve already, metaphorically at least, bought into this album. The fact that I will want to put it on my iPhone for the walk to work or for playing in the car, as well as listen to it on the decent stereo we have in our front room, (rather than on my computer speakers), will probably tip the balance. But if free wifi was rolled out across the country and I was truly always connected, then this, and other similar marketing activities, would probably, finally, start to kill the collector in me.

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I received the latest publication from It’s Nice That through the post today, (above), which promises to be a good read over the Easter break. However, one of my pet hates struck me as I flicked through it, (through no fault of INT), is a photo in an article about design studios that features happy designers working on laptops at desks.

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Now I’ve nothing against laptops if used as occasional mobile working machines, or if a desk space is equipped properly to accommodate one. The problem, however, is one of un-ergonomic working environments and the risks that this brings to the user of suffering repetitive strain injury (RSI) at some point in their future careers. And it isn’t just the small studios supplying desk space for interns and freelancers that seem to not notice this is a problem, as a picture in the same issue of Printed Pages shows Stefan Sagmeister works like this as well:

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And the trouble is, you see this sort of photo time and time again, and the issue never gets mentioned. Look, lots of happy designers working together in a ‘cool’ creative space, (photo below from It’s Nice That’s website):

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As someone who suffers from RSI, I have to be very careful about how I work. I never use a mouse anymore, as I worked out that much of my problem had come from a combination of poor posture for long hours while drawing in Illustrator using a mouse. That, and being hunched over a laptop at a desk in a previous job. Now, my home studio set up and my day job set up are designed exactly the same, with a Trackbar that I use to scroll and click with my left hand, and a Wacom tablet for cursor control with my right hand.

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I came to this set up through my employer, University Campus Suffolk, organising a work station assessment by a company called Posturite who gave some great advise about how I should work. Properly adjusted chairs, the angle of your back, arms and legs are all important factors as well, as important in fact, as taking regular breaks.  I also use voice recognition software for when I have to do a lot of writing. These measures, along with physiotherapy when RSI first reared its ugly head in 2009, have kept me working efficiently and not having to have time off because of the problem.

But I worry about future designers over reliance on laptops and poor work station set ups who aren’t aware of the issues. It makes me wince every time I see such a photograph of a ‘cool’ studio space that I know my students would love to work in once they graduate. I now include a health and safely lecture in one of my first year modules, which I know is not a sexy issue, but then neither are shooting pains in your arms or numbness in your fingers, and a depressing sense that you will never be able to do the job you love again.

Please note: this post is in no way meant as a criticism of It’s Nice That, these sort of photos are prevalent throughout the design media.

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Coastguard mast seen from the ground, Shingle Street, Suffolk

I’ve recently rejoined Instagram. My departure in December 2012 was, like many others, due to the announcement that Instagram was going to change their terms and conditions that would allow them to let advertisers use my content without asking. Instagram soon backtracked on this, but I had made the break. At the time I was considering leaving anyway, as I had started to question how many social networking sites I was on, and what I was getting out of them. So this minor media blow-up prompted my exit, and as such, I wasn’t bothered about rejoining once the back peddling started.

However, much to my surprise, I actually found that I missed it.

Around the same time, many photographers I know started getting quite vitriolic about people who use Instagram, and posted articles on their Facebook walls against the photo sharing app. One such was by Jonathan Jones in The Guardian, which pretty much calls anyone who uses Instagram mindlessly deluded. Now, if there is one thing that winds me up more than anything else, it is artistic elitism—so I rejoined Instagram, if for nothing more than to wind up people with such attitudes.

To be honest, I was a little incensed by such opinions, and so some furious notebook scribbling has resulted in the following points, presented here for your reading pleasure:

  • Anyone who is so vehemently opposed to something usually feels threatened by it, and this usually results in a defensive attitude. This is what I believe we are seeing here. Anything that looks popular is immediately denounced and elitist walls start rising, soon to be followed by over blown pompous statements and incredulous derisions that do not really have an ounce of an objective rationale.
  • Photographers do not own photography. It is a popular activity, for anyone to take part in for their own purposes. In fact, anyone who owns a camera is automatically a photographer, and therefore has as much right to do what they want within the medium as anyone else. For good or for bad.
  • I do not disagree that much on Instagram is vacuous and of little artistic merit. Particularly the filters, which I use sparingly and only to enhance a poor photograph. But that doesn’t damn the medium. A good analogy is with that of looking at Punk music between1976–79. Immediate and of the people, Punk encouraged anyone to pick up a guitar and get involved. This was both its beauty and its downfall, as a thousand god awful bands formed. But a few fantastic talents emerged that wouldn’t have otherwise, and they developed and grew to be of great importance to the wider world of music. So to with Instagram—it is there, free to download if you are lucky enough to be able to afford a smart phone, and there is stuff of value there if you choose wisely in who you follow.
  • Many of the people I follow are designers. There is something about its immediacy and ‘of the now’ nature that is appealing in sharing with people who have a particular visual outlook on their surroundings. As well as locations I am unlikely to see, typography, book jackets found in flea markets and architectural points of interest, to name a few subject matters that occur regularly, are visual thoughts knocked backwards and forwards between followers. To be able to check this in the middle of a mundane day is not just to feel connected, but it encourages the viewer to look at their own everyday from a different perspective.
  • Instagram is by far a better designed interactive mobile image sharing vehicle than Tumblr, which, in and of itself, tends to encourage the sharing of other people’s work with little to no respect for copyright. (No offence Tumblr, you have your purpose and are good at it).
  • There is just as much vacuous art photography outside of Instagram as there is engaging and intelligent work. Shit photography is not the preserve of Instagram, and photographers have no high-horse to get on from this perspective.
  • And finally, the concept that something can only be validated if it is on a gallery wall is beyond ridicule.

I use Instagram as a visual scrapbook for my on-the-go visual notes and thoughts, albeit a scrapbook that I welcome others to share in. I do not want to see photographs of other people’s meals or kids or snowmen with or without a wacky filter; so I don’t follow those that post such things. But I do want to see the photos of, say, Dan Hill, the architect, designer, writer and CEO of communication research centre Fabrica , whose City of Sound blog is always a stimulating and intelligent read and who has much to say on all things design related. To see the the experiences and interests behind what informs his opinions and his writing is always engaging, and never ever deluded.

I don’t know whether people still produce fanzines or not, but Kek-W is so tired of writing online that he has decided to produce one. Or rather, as he calls it, an analogue blog.

Titled Kid Shirt, this is basically a physically constructed fanzine involving actual cut and paste, which has then been scanned as a PDF for anyone to download. He sets out his rationale in the first pages:

Just like fanzines of old, this analogue blog contains lots of musicians you’ve probably never heard of. However, worthy of note is the strange hybrid between digital accoutrements and physical form, and the over laps in different media that Kek-W has deliberately exploited. For example, posts become pastes, and ‘previous’ and ‘next’ buttons simply indicate what direction you need to go in: they aren’t buttons at all. Further to this, comment fields remain empty because the PDF you download is a static, non-interactive document.

It is interesting to note the “proper writing” comment in the introduction, (see below), as I wonder whether the lack of audience right to reply to the text, frees up the writer. It could also be considered in direct contrast to the Guardian’s current Open Journalism campaign, which is something I could applaud if I hadn’t read many of the idiotic comments left on the Guardian website by knee-jerk reactionaries.

Aesthetically, Kid Shirt completely shreds any signs of slickness, despite the whole having a lo-fi sophistication. This, in my opinion, is all part of the publication’s charm. On his digital blog, also titled Kid Shirt, Kek-W states: “Download it, print it off, staple it together, read it like a fanzine…   Or…if you’re a MediaKid, use a PDF-reader, dump it onto your tablet, whatever,” before going on to vehemently disclaim any responsibility for it not working on different platforms because his call for testers was ignored. The punk attitude he displays is more than a visual style, evidently.

In fact, it is with this in mind that I was reminded of an article in Eye 82, whereby Rick Poyner wrote about British artist Laura Oldfield Ford’s Savage Messiah fanzine. He stated that the, “visual style is a kind of reclaimed punk that recalls the anarchic graphics of Crass,” (while completely forgetting to name check Gee Vaucher, the artist behind Crass’ visual output, in the process). Well, while there are similarities between Savage Messiah and Kid Shirt in terms of the crude nature of the layout and artwork, this is much more intriguing to me, as the narrative of online publishing has been used which takes this beyond mere pastiche, as could be claimed of Ford’s work. While much less political in terms of content than Savage Messiah, Kek-W is more oppositional as these virtual signifiers are détournements, that add a critique of contemporary publishing, something that affects all who dabble in online social networking. Ford’s anachronistic visual style potentially distracts from her important messages, where as Kek-W’s is at its heart.

Download Kid Shirt here.
Thanks to Uncarved.org for the heads up.

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