Honestly Kid

by Daniel Damkoehler


Archive for November, 2009

Confessions of an Audience Member

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009
Rod Serling Never Braved the TwitterZone

Rod Serling Never Braved the TwitterZone

I should know bet­ter. As a guy with two the­atre degrees, I know first hand the ter­rors (and joys) of putting one­self and one’s work before an audi­ence. You can try to tell your­self that you don’t ‘need’ or even ‘want’ their approval, but the truth is you wouldn’t be there at all if you didn’t. Rod Serling’s voice is under any live pre­sen­ta­tion say­ing “sub­mit­ted for your approval” to the audi­ence.

I should know bet­ter. I have pre­sent­ed ideas, prod­ucts, plans, and research to groups small and large. I’ve nev­er been a paid con­fer­ence speak­er, but I have been paid to make sure pre­sen­ta­tions go well.

I should know bet­ter than to make a snarky com­ment pub­licly just because it struck me as fun­ny for a fleet­ing moment. Apparently I didn’t know bet­ter at the Web 2.0 Expo last Wednesday in New York.

danah boyd, a researcher at Microsoft Research New England and a Fellow at the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet and Society whose blog and arti­cles I’ve dipped into from time-to-time, was off to a rough start with her pre­sen­ta­tion and well… I was dis­tract­ed by the Twitterwall backchan­nel and stu­pid­ly tweet­ed the first snarky com­ment that came into my head includ­ing the con­fer­ence hash­tag.

After a busy cou­ple of days work­ing and trav­el­ing I logged on Friday and real­iz­ing the error in my ways, expunged my Twitter account of the snarky com­ment and apol­o­gized to Danah on her blog via the com­ments.

Since then, Ilana Arazie at Social Times took anoth­er look at the Web 2.0 Expo Twitter Circus and Danah Boyd post­ed about what hap­pened from her per­spec­tive.

Now, my com­ment wasn’t the worst of the bunch (you can find it quot­ed on a cou­ple of blogs about the event if you try), but for me that’s not the point. I want to know what went wrong in my wiring as an audi­ence mem­ber. Was it a fas­ci­na­tion with the pow­er of the new tech­nol­o­gy (this was my first Twitterwall expe­ri­ence)? Was I tempt­ed by the chance to mock some­one with­out her know­ing? Look, I’m not hid­ing from the fact that I’ve been a bit of a wiseass my whole life, but I haven’t been rude or a scene steal­er.

My con­fes­sion here is that I sim­ply don’t know why I joined in the snark­fest. I want­ed to hear what danah Bbyd had to say. I want­ed to be chal­lenged after some rel­a­tive­ly light weight keynotes (no offense to the oth­er speak­ers, but boyd they ain’t). Much of the active online dis­cus­sion around the event has involved known speak­ers or aspir­ing speak­ers, but rel­a­tive­ly few audi­ence mem­bers. Perhaps oth­er audi­ence mem­bers have already moved on to the next event or it just wasn’t such a big deal to them or maybe they just don’t think about this stuff. My guess is that most of us don’t know why it all hap­pened, we twit­tered and tit­tered and indulged in the pow­er­ful igno­rance and juve­nile behav­ior of the crowd-mind with­out real­ly choos­ing to and made up our excus­es or denials as we went along.

I spent most of my time in school and a lot of time fol­low­ing it think­ing about per­for­mance and the rela­tion­ship of  audi­ence to per­former. I delved into Aristotle, Brecht, Artaud, Grotowski, John Cage, the Situationists, and Dada, dab­bled in sur­re­al­ism, Fluxus, and the Wooster Group, I interned with Reza Abdoh, wrote pieces per­formed on the move through grass fields and ceme­ter­ies with char­ac­ters named ‘I,’ ‘she,’ and ‘shirk,’ and sin­cere­ly wres­tled with the angel of the­atre that mutes an audi­ence of the major­i­ty in favor of priv­i­leg­ing the voic­es of the per­form­ing few.

Why does that rela­tion­ship, per­former to audi­ence / audi­ence to per­former, mat­ter so much? Why should we and do we recre­ate it in the face of all the tech­nol­o­gy that proves we don’t have to? My answer: we crave those rela­tion­ships because we are hard wired to as humans. Knowing more about that rela­tion­ship will help us know more about what it means to be human. The ambigu­ous nature of human­i­ty is the true sub­ject of much (if not all) of our art and sci­ence from the first cave paint­ing exper­i­ments to our own twit­ter-fed-blogspiels. We want to know our­selves and cre­at­ing audi­ence-per­former sit­u­a­tions is one way we learn more, but only if we ask ques­tions about what hap­pened in the per­for­mance space/conference hall.

My next few posts will be about the Web 2.0 Expo and what I saw and heard there, par­tic­u­lar­ly as it relates to audi­ence rela­tion­ships, per­for­mance, and the screen as a stand in for the the­atri­cal frame/proscenium.

All About Coffee

Friday, November 13th, 2009

My old pal Balzac

My old pal Balzac

Simplebits point­ed me to this great bit about cof­fee on theoatmeal.com. Great graph­ics, fun­ny bits, and edu­ca­tion­al too.

I’ve been cut­ting back on my cof­fee drink­ing for the last few months — switched to green tea, which isn’t quite the rush, but keeps the caf­feine with­draw­al at bay. Without the med­ical evi­dence we have now, I’d prob­a­bly go out with a 16 cup a day habit like my old pal Balzac.

Sure he kicked it (you know, ‘the’ buck­et) when he was 51, but count up the vol­umes of his work in any decent library and you’ll know he didn’t sleep much either. The man lived! And he lived on cof­fee!

I’ll be in New York for the next few days and I’m look­ing for­ward to slid­ing off the wag­on and into a steady stream of dou­ble shots no milk no sug­ar. That’s liv­ing, I tell you… that’s liv­ing…

Radical Converts part 1

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

Radical Coltrane

For my mon­ey, the Radical Convert is where the action is. These include peo­ple like Che Guevara, St. Augustine, Tom Cruise, Chairman Mao, Ghandi, and John Coltrane. All of these peo­ple could point to a day or even a moment when every­thing changed, each one saw the light and knelt down on their own per­son­al road to Damascus. Recovering from that blind­ing insight meant chang­ing them­selves and every­one and every­thing around them at almost any cost. If their will, deter­mi­na­tion, and com­mit­ment don’t scare you just a lit­tle then you aren’t pay­ing atten­tion or you’re one of them.

Radical Converts speed past car­ing if they seem fools to the rest of us. They dwell in some sort of per­fect per­son­al knowl­edge and every­thing around them must con­form. It may or may not be a ‘moral’ world they wish to cre­ate, but cre­ate it they will.

Your typ­i­cal Radical Convert will go over like an ill-trained leg hump­ing dog at most par­ties, but she’ll be a blast on a road trip — if your idea of a blast includes wit­ness­ing pro­found decla­ma­tions on mat­ters cru­cial through mun­dane while watch­ing the feath­ers of all with­in earshot ruf­fle. They’re like lit­tle con­flict gen­er­a­tors and frankly that can be a hel­lu­val­ot of fun if you can keep your sense of humor.

  • Take a PETA activist to the 4H pavil­ion at your local coun­ty fair and watch the feath­ers ruf­fle (pun intend­ed)
  • Take a sem­i­nary stu­dent to Denny’s Vegas and egg him or her on to preach ‘the word’ from the top of one of the tables
  • Surprise your Marxist bud­dy with a trip to the New York Stock Exchange or your free mar­ke­teer stock bro­ker pal with a sus­tain­able devel­op­ment retreat week­end

It’s not just the believ­er you want to throw into these sit­u­a­tions, but the guy you’re pret­ty sure won’t ever stop hav­ing to con­vince him­self that that thing that hap­pened when he con­vert­ed, that spe­cial won­der­ful moun­tain­top feel­ing, is actu­al­ly some­thing real­ly impor­tant and true. I’m always a bit sus­pi­cious that fired up rad­i­cal con­verts are protest­ing too much, but that’s the delight of test­ing them and putting them in sit­u­a­tions that test more than you ever could.

Seriously though, tweak­ing the noses of the con­vert­ed is some­thing too easy, like upset­ting the sin­cer­est per­son you know. I want to know what the heck makes them tick. What gears turn when they con­front the things/habits/people that their new belief tells them must be removed from their life or even the lives of all those around them? Just how did Ghandi man­age to stand tall in the face of the British Empire at the gates of the Salt mines? What made Che give up on med­i­cine and start shoot­ing anti-rev­o­lu­tion­ary forces? How did jump­ing on a couch on nation­al TV seem like the best way to get a point across for Tom Cruise? Augustine basi­cal­ly unrav­eled an empire because of his new found faith. It’s pret­ty well doc­u­ment­ed that Mao starved mil­lions of peas­ants in order to bring them the rev­o­lu­tion. Coltrane made some of the most beau­ti­ful­ly orig­i­nal jazz music in the midst of a quest to find a one­ness with a sin­gle sound — OM.

That’s the pow­er of con­ver­sion.

Whenever peo­ple tell me that peo­ple don’t change, I think of the con­verts.


Wednesday, November 11th, 2009
Are you in a user tunnel?

Are you in a user tun­nel?

Working with web tech as with any seg­ment of the IT/Computing world it is easy to fall into what I call a user tun­nel. A user tun­nel forms when we use the same tech­nol­o­gy the same way again and again with great or at least reli­able suc­cess. User tun­nels may or may not include work-arounds that com­pen­sate for soft­ware short­com­ings and bugs, but they do keep the user attached to a rel­a­tive­ly lim­it­ed set of func­tions and options.

For exam­ple, some­one who uses MS Word to cre­ate let­ters and mail­ing labels day in and day out may be an expert in mail merge func­tion­al­i­ty and let­ter for­mat­ting in Word, but she may also work in an MS Word user tun­nel that takes her direct­ly through the tasks most nec­es­sary to achiev­ing her most com­mon and impor­tant goals quite unaware of MS Word’s oth­er func­tions like insert­ing and man­ag­ing cita­tions, or track­ing changes. Those are both oth­er user tun­nels.

I con­fess to hav­ing formed a bit of a user tun­nel in my use of WordPress. I use WordPress pri­mar­i­ly as a CMS or blog­ging plat­form pret­ty much as intend­ed with some addi­tion­al plu­g­ins and very rare tweaks to the core code. It works great and achieves my goals.

Meanwhile, oth­er folks have been find­ing ways to lever­age WordPress into a kind of web app frame­work so that they can achieve far more ambi­tious and var­ied goals. Here are a few of the most pop­u­lar and mature WordPress based web apps out there:

  • BuddyPress — social net­work­ing built on WordPress Mu
  • Scriblio -a media man­age­ment sys­tem built from WordPress
  • RoloPress — con­tact man­age­ment built on WordPress
  • bbPress — this forum soft­ware built by the mak­ers of WordPress might not belong in this list — how much WP code they’re using they don’t say, but it cer­tain­ly feels WP-esque — and it pow­ers the WP sup­port forums (and on top of all that it has the word ‘press’ in its name)

I won­der how long it will be before some­one for­mal­izes this web app frame­work idea a bit and devel­ops an AnythingPress express­ly for quick­ly build­ing web appli­ca­tions with­out hav­ing to roll every­thing one­self. In my imag­i­nary back-of-the-nap­kin ver­sion of an AnythingPress, some coder much more clever than me would pro­vide a screen for defin­ing con­tent types, includ­ing, exclud­ing, or re-pur­pos­ing exist­ing WP con­tent types and their func­tion­al­i­ty. It would prob­a­bly also include a raft of con­fig­urable (via drag and drop) end user forms. The trick of course is to keep it light and open, make it an AnythingPress not an over­ly com­plex EverythingPress.

Would AnythingPress turn into some­thing like Drupal? Would it actu­al­ly be use­ful and sup­port­able? I don’t know, but I think there’s a de fac­to AnythingPress form­ing as devel­op­ers inno­vate, don’t you?

Steve Carell Retrieval Problems

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

It was May of 1992. I was dri­ving across the coun­try in a tiny fad­ed yel­low ear­ly 80s mod­el Honda Civic. We stopped in Chicago. While Los Angeles riot­ed over Rodney King and oth­er cities react­ed in sym­pa­thy, Chicago remained calm, cool, and good humored. I remem­ber many things about that trip: meet­ing my first Pynchon fanat­ic, see­ing the White Sox, drink­ing Old Granddad from a bot­tle in Nashville, teach­ing the Bostonian in the group about scale via a par­tial descent into the Grand Canyon, and the utter shock we felt upon arriv­ing in San Luis Obispo — How could there be so much blond hair? So much tan skin? Why wasn’t any­one wear­ing black? Did any­one there read the New York Times? One year in New York city and we were becom­ing Seinfeld char­ac­ters.

I also have a dis­tinct mem­o­ry of see­ing the Second City com­e­dy troupe one night in Chicago with my friend Gillian.

But wait… was that the sum­mer of 92 or the fall of 94? Was I dri­ving with two guys or one woman? Did we stay with the Pynchon mani­ac or the fam­i­ly who col­lect­ed Oosik (a.k.a. Walrus penis bones)? Was I with Gillian?

I remem­ber laugh­ing at some guy dressed like Fabio on the Second City stage. He was the one guy that nev­er failed to get a laugh that night. I remem­ber remem­ber­ing at some point that his name was Steve Carell. Yes, that Steve Carell.

Why is this all so jum­bled? Do I remem­ber Steve Carell or do I sim­ply remem­ber remem­ber­ing him or worse do I only think I remem­ber him because I remem­ber think­ing that I remem­bered him?

I have always thought of this type of inter­nal con­fu­sion not as mem­o­ry lost or jum­bled, but as a faulty retrieval mech­a­nism. My files have warped and stuck togeth­er like the labels peel­ing off the fold­ers of a care­ful­ly orga­nized fil­ing sys­tem, but the infor­ma­tion in the files would still be read­able if I could just fig­ure out which file is which. Turns out there’s some neu­ro­science that vin­di­cates my view. I give you Karl Pribam.

Plants Singing In Moonlight

Friday, November 6th, 2009

I’ve been read­ing Wade Davis’ book Light at the Edge of the World: A Journey Through the Realm of Vanishing Cultures in fits and starts over the last year or so. You cheat your­self of a chance to bet­ter under­stand just what you are if you choose to ignore his well researched insights into humanity’s cur­rent con­di­tion.

NYC">WordCamp NYC

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

WordCampNYC – Nov 14-15I’ve been using, installing, admin­is­trat­ing, fig­ur­ing out, break­ing, fix­ing, hack­ing, tweak­ing, and push­ing WordPress since back in 2006 when I cre­at­ed this blog (I nev­er both­ered much with WordPress.com until much lat­er when a client asked me to cus­tomize the look and feel of a site host­ed there).

I have used WordPress for a wide vari­ety of sites, most of which  required a sim­ple CMS that would be easy to install and admin­is­trate. The blog­ging func­tion­al­i­ty took a back seat or wasn’t used at all. Joomla was overkill (and noth­ing I want­ed to learn to admin­is­trate at the time) and Drupal would have meant pound­ing thumb­tacks with a jack­ham­mer.

In order to make some of the sites do what the client request­ed I piled on plu­g­ins, wrote cus­tom queries, and even dug into core and tweaked tiny bits to make extra spe­cial cat­e­gories and sort orders. It’s been a great way to learn PHP, get a leg up on the pow­er of CSS, and quick­ly build and deploy sites fol­low­ing web stan­dards.

I con­fess to hav­ing had a few secu­ri­ty sna­fus with sites pure­ly because I failed to make all the req­ui­site updates in a time­ly fash­ion, but all were rec­ti­fied in short order and I’ve learned my les­son on that score.

Based on deci­sions made pri­or to my arrival, my cur­rent employ­er uses WordPress.com to host its blogs. This has worked fine as a way to test the via­bil­i­ty of those sites with­out fur­ther over­bur­den­ing our IT /Web team and of course, the price is right for a non-prof­it: Free. The blogs thrive, attract­ing a steady stream of new and repeat vis­i­tors. This suc­cess and the suc­cess of blog­ging in the non-prof­it and aca­d­e­m­ic worlds has attract­ed some over­due atten­tion from the strate­gists.

The dot com URLs aren’t going over well with peo­ple on the boards of this org and editors/authors are begin­ning to feel some of the tech­ni­cal and design lim­i­ta­tions of not host­ing the site our­selves. Even though it’s not the pri­ma­ry focus of my cur­rent posi­tion, I hope to be able to chime in on the deci­sions in the off­ing about blog­ging tech. I know what blog­ging solu­tion I would rec­om­mend now, but I also know there’s more to mak­ing it work than the a sin­gle site install.

So, after a few years of hang­ing back and watch­ing the WordPress com­mu­ni­ty devel­op and grow and play­ing catch up via forums and tri­al and error on my own serv­er, it’s time I jumped in to learn a bit more about the beast and its off­spring. I’ll be down in New York for the whole meet­ing with eyes and ears open.

Vitamin D

Monday, November 2nd, 2009
Beautiful Vitamin D3

Beautiful Vitamin D3

It’s dark out when I wake up and dark out when I return home from work. And it’s cold.

Why am I smil­ing?

I’ve become a user. A habit­u­al dai­ly user. Such nice tiny white caplets too. They go down easy with break­fast, din­ner, or lunch. No ill side effects either.

Vitamin D3.

Watching The Botany of Desire this week­end on PBS, Michael Pollan, et al made it clear to me that we humans are sub­ject to the whims of the nat­ur­al world not the oth­er way around. A lit­tle shot of D3 in the morn­ing can make the dark and drear of ear­ly win­ter feel bear­able. Our moods, whims, and even mem­o­ries serve, dis­tract, or buoy us up at the plea­sure of the chem­i­cals in our bod­ies and brains.

Sure, the intake of infor­ma­tion through our sense organs can change our mood, but it does so via chem­i­cal impuls­es (and vice ver­sa).

So, yes, I am a user and so are you.