Monday, February 27, 2012

Reading, Thinking, & Reflecting Post - 2/27

Last week, we were not required to post about the readings from our canonical text, so this week I will be posting about my reflections from the last 2/3 of the text. I annotated the book quite heavily, so I will have to do my best in narrowing down the point of interest that I would like to comment on for the purposes of this blog post.

I suppose I will begin by providing a brief summary of each chapter in How We Became Post-Human.  Chapter Four continued with the discussion of the first wave of cybernetics by exploring Norbert Wiener's theories with regard to the relationship between cybernetics and liberal humanism.  Chapter Five connected the theories of the first wave of cybernetics with a piece of literature, which was Limbo by Bernard Wolfe. Chapter Six introduced the second wave of cybernetics, which is defined by the shift to the concept of reflexivity, and discussed the theories of Humberto Maturana and Fransicso Varela extensively.  Chapter Seven then connected the theories of the second wave of evolution to a piece of literature, which was Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep by Philip K. Dick. Chapter Eight moved into the third wave of cybernetics, which is characterized by issues regarding the materiality of informatics and the need for embodiment of information (or not). Chapter Nine continued with the third wave of cybernetics and went into a detailed discussion of Artificial Life that was framed around the debate of embodiment vs. disembodiment. Chapter Ten referred back to literature by discussing text such as Blood Music by Greg Bear, Terminal Games by Cole Perriman, Galatea 2.2 by Richard Powers, and Snow Crash by Neil Stephenson. Chapter Eleven provided an overal summary and conclusion for the text.

This book was an enjoyable read, albeit dense with theory at times, and I really liked how Hayles tied literature in as a way to expand on the theories - it made for a great change of pace throughout this text, and reading about the fictional worlds created by each author really drove the points of each theory home.  I was especially excited to read the in-depth theoretical analysis of DADoES.  Thanks to How We Became Posthuman, my reading list has expanded considerably.

Since the text was basically broken into three sections, I will do the same for this post...


The First Wave of Cybernetics

"Analogy is not merely an ornament of language but is a powerful conceptual mode that constitutes meaning through relation... When analogy is used to constitute agents in cybernetic discourse, it makes an end run around questions of essence, for objects are constructed through their relations to other objects." (pg. 91)

I really enjoyed this quote about analogy, and it reminds me a lot of what we learned about in sociolinguistics when we talked about prototypical schema clouds in the field of cognitive linguistics. Essentially, the theory in linguistics, based on work by Piaget, posits that people form "schema clouds" of meaning that people assign complex meanings to words based on associations they make with a prototypical concept of that word based on their prior experiences with it. I was able to make a further connection with this theory when Hayles was discussing Wiener's theory further by making a connection between the key concepts of pattern and perception by stating that "perception does not reflect reality directly but rather relies on transformations that preserve a pattern across multiple sensory modalities and neural interfaces." (pg 98)

"Analogy is thus constituted as a universal exchange system that allows data to move across boundaries. It is the lingua franca of a world (re)constructed through relation rather than grasped in essence." (pg. 98)

Schema cloud for the word "egg"
What's important about Wiener's theory with regard to analogy is that he had a great concern with boundaries. In other words, he wanted to be sure that the "cybernetic machine" would "reinforce rather than threaten the autonomous self." (pg. 105)

The Second Wave of Cybernetics

The discussion of the second wave of cybernetics was introducted in Chapter Six with reference to a classic article called "What the Frog's Eye Tells the Frog's Brain" by Lettvin, et. al.  One of the authors of that paper was Humberto Maturana.  He and Francisco Varela worked together extensively to determine the role of the observer, and they believed that observers "create [preexisting systems] through the very act of observing them."

"A frog's visual system does not so much represent reality as construct it." (pg. 131)
Again, perception was a key concept that I could connect to the discussion, because the theorists argue that the existence of reality is directly related to self-organized beings perceive reality (pg. 133). In addition to self-organization, which was defined as "living systems [operating] within the boundaries of an organization that closes in on itself and leaves the world on the outside (pg. 136)."  Autopoiesis was another major concept tossed around in this chapter, which is defined as "the circularity of [a being's] organization that makes a living system a unit of interactions." 

According to Maturana, a living system can be defined through autopoietic self-organization.  There is a clear difference in this way of thinking as compared to the that of the first wave of cybernetics.  The first wave of cybernetics is concerned with the liberal humanist "notion of possessive individualism, [which is] the idea that subjects are individuals first and foremost because they own themselves (pg. 145)," whereas autopioetic theory from the second wave of cybernetics states that "living systems are living because they instantiate organizational closure." It is interesting because before reading this book, I could never think of a machine as "living," but once I started reading about different concepts and theories about what it actually means to "be alive," my mind started to open. 

Honestly, I feel like this course is opening my mind quite significantly in that regard.  When I was an undergraduate, I majored in Wildlife Biology.  In my animal behavior and communication classes, as well as in classes dealing with evolutionary biology, we were basically told that the basic purpose of the life is to survive and reproduce.  Maturana and Varela's theory of autopoeisis bumps up against the theory of biological evolution, so it was a little difficult for me to swallow at first, but I found some interesting similarities as I read on, which I will discuss further when I move into the third wave of cybernetics. 

The Third Wave of Cybernetics

The third wave of cybernetics is focused on the notion that "materiality is secondary to the logical structures it encodes." In other words, the third wave is concerned with the issue of "embodiment." "

"In contrast to the body, embodiment is contextual enmeshed within the specifics of place, time, physiology, and culture, which together compose enactment, ...whereas the body is an idealized form that gestures toward a Platonic reality."

Chapter Nine spoke in great detail about Artificial Life. Artificial Life is "the study of man-made systems that exhibit behaviors characteristic of natural living systems... It is concerned with the analysis of living organisms by attempting to synthesize life-like behaviors within computers and other artificial media (pg 232)." Artificial life is not to be confused with artificial intelligence.  Artificial life "sees cognition as the operation of nervous systems," while artificial intelligence "envisions cognition as the operation of logic (pg 238)." Typically, artificial life "programs are considered to be simulations (pg 234)," and it can be "divided into three research fronts: wetware, hardware, and software (pg 225)."

Again, as a biogist, there was an interesting point that stuck out to me.  On pg. 226, there was an explanation of how DNA can be compared to binary code.  I found an interesting article called, "DNA seen through the eye of a coder -or- If you are a hammer, everything looks like a nail," which plays with the analogy of DNA as a code (or vice versa).

There are so many points that I did not cover in my post - I barely scratched the surface.  I'm hoping to revisit more of the theories and theorists related to the posthuman as I work on the canonical text wiki page with Cheri.  For now, I will close with a of video I found on YouTube that are related to cybernetics. It is kind of funny because of the German audio and post-apocalyptic soundstrack...


Hailes, N. Katherine. How We Became Post-Human: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Individual Tutorial & Reflection #2 - PHP

This week, I completed two different tutorials, so this reflection blog will contain two distinct sections.

PART I  - Finishing the PHP Guide from PHP Learn It!

Last week, I completed 9 out of the 19 steps in the PHP Guide from PHP Learn It! Lean PHP by Examples.  This week, I began with PHP Arrays.

PHP Arrays... 

"An array is a mean[s] to store [a] collection of values in a single variable."

The two types of arrays dealt with in PHP are numeric arrays and associative arrays. Elements in numeric arrays are stored with a numeric ID key. "When we want to store elements in array with some meaningful association other than numbers, we use associative array."

Multidimensional arrays are used when we want to "associate multiple keys to an element."

PHP Loops...

In PHP, loops are used to repeat a code for as many times that you want without having to rewrite it.  There are three types of loops used in PHP programming: foreach loop, for loop, and while loop.

"Foreach loop is most often used to print elements in a array...We can use foreach loop to print the keys and the values from a multidimensional array."


"A for loop is used when we want to execute a block of code for certain number of times."

"For loop has three statements.
  • In the first statement, we initialize a counter variable to an number value.
  • In the second statement, we set a condition (a max/min number value) until the counter is reached.
  • In the third statement, we set a value by how much we want the counter variable to incremented by."

"The while loop is used to execute a block of code for certain number of times until the condition in the while evaluate to true."

A break statement can be used to "break the loop when a certain condition is true."

PHP Functions...

"A function is a group of instructions to perform a task....A function is a block of code with a name which can be used in our code whenever we need it."

"A typical function has three components to it
  • Starts with the word function
  • Has a function name followed by parentheses (). A function name can only start with a letter or a underscore.
  • The code block in the function always goes inside curly brackets."
"A function can be used to pass arguments (values or information) into it through parameters. This is useful when we want to add more functionality to our functions."

PHP functions can also return a value like this:

PHP Comments...

"Comments are used to describe your code." The two ways to write comments are single line comments and multiple line comments. Single line comments are written with forward slashes "//", and multiple line comments start with "/*" and end with "*/". Because PHP codes can get complicated, it is important to write comments.  Once you write a lot of code, you will need some way to remember what your code does so you can use it again later.

PHP E-mail...

In this section of the PHP guide, codes for the mail function were provided and explained.  Examples of how to send both plain text and HTML emails were given.

PHP Date...

With the date function, there are two "arguments": format and timestamp. The format must always be specified so the time or date will display in the desired output, but the timestamp is optional. A complete list of day/time formats are available here at

PHP Cookies...

A "cookie is a small flat file which sits on user’s computer. Each time that user requests a page or goes to a webpage, all cookie information is sent too. This is used to identify who you are."

This is an explanation of the cookie function (creating a cookie), which I have copied directly from the guide:
setcookie($name, $value, $expire, $path, $domain, $secure) 
  • $name - name of the cookie. Example: "username"
  • $value- value of the cookie. Example: "john"
  • $expire- time (in UNIX timestamp) when the cookie will expire. Example: time()+"3600". Cookie is set to expire after one hour.
  • $path- path on the server where cookie will be available.
  • For example, if the path is set to "/", the cookie will be available through out the whole site. If the cookie is set to say "/news/", the cookie will only be available under /news/ and all its sub-directories. If no path is given, cookie in created under the current directory.
  • $domain- domain where cookie will be available. Instead of path you can use domain settings.
  • For example, if the domian is set to "", the cookie will be available within the domain nd all its sub-domains, example If the cookie is set say "" the cookie will be available under all www sub-domains, example ""
  • $secure - true if cookie is being set over a secure "https" server, false otherwise, Default value is false.
The guide also explains how to retrieve and delete cookies.

PHP Sessions...

The last section of the guide explained PHP sessions, which are "used to store information which can be used through-out the application for the entire time the user is logged in or running the application." The guide walked me through how to start a session, store information in the session, retrieve stored information, and delete session information.

PART II - PHP 101: PHP For the Absolute Beginner

This week, I also spent time working on a tutorial I found on a website called Zend Developer Zone: Advancing the art of PHP.  The tutorial was written by Vikram Vaswani and seemed to have positive reviews, according to the comment thread at the bottom of the tutorial's home page.

This particular tutorial involved quite a bit of reading, but it was extremely thorough and well-written. Now that I have been reading about PHP for the past several weeks, some of the information was review.  I have to admit, it felt nice to find myself nodding my head while reading through the tutorial because I was actually recognizing some of the terms and concepts needed for having a basic understanding of PHP.

Part 1 of the tutorial gave a general overview of what PHP is and how it works.  Again, this was review, and I was thrilled that it all made sense to me.  Just like in the last tutorial I completed, this tutorial provided a definition for variables, since they are so important for PHP and any other programming language. There was also was an explanation of how the "=" sign is used to assign values to variables. The basic types of variables supported by PHP are Boolean, integer, floating point, and string.  Finally, this part of the tutorial describes string operators and concatenation operators, which I had also learned about in the first tutorial I completed.

Part 2 of the tutorial was called "Calling All Operators." This part explained how PHP can "automatically receive user input from a Web form and convert it into PHP variables." I really liked how this part of the tutorial was laid out because he gave the php code, then he pointed out the most critical line of the code containing the php function, which he later provided the html script for in order to explain the function in great detail.  After he was finished describing the basics of forms, he then talked about how to add "intelligence" to scripts by constructing conditional statements. (Side note: I thought "intelligence" was an interesting choice of word.)


The next section moved from comparison operators on to logical operators.

I went ahead and tried the example code for the four logical operators: logical AND, logical OR, logical XOR and logical NOT.

The tutorial went on to explain conditional statements, if-else statements, and if-elseif-else statements

I will continue with this comprehensive tutorial next week - I really like the structure and the explanations are phenomenal yet easy to understand.


My friend Jay in the computer science department sent me one of his students, who is willing to help me brainstorm some ideas for my final project for this course.  We will be meeting on Tuesday for lunch.  I'm really looking forward to it!  In the meantime, he gave me this code to play with...


$array1 = array("scott", "laura", "php", "work");
//that's an array
//to access different items you start at 0 and count up

echo $array1[0]."<br/>";
//this will print the word "scott"
//notice how you access it through 0 not 1

echo $array1[2]."<br/>";
//this will print the work "php"
//the <br/> is html for line break
//notice how this is accessed through 2 and not 3

$array2 = array(array("me", "you"), array(3, 5));
//this is a nested array and allows you to have something that resembles a table

echo $array2[0][0]."<br/>";
//prints "me"

echo $array2[1][0]."<br/>";
//prints 3


... so I tried it out!

I was so happy to have learned about comments today, because being able to identify those within the code really helped me to understand the function of the script.  I was also happy he showed me this code, because now I really see how you can retrieve information stored in an array.I'm really starting to understand PHP, and I'm looking forward to next week when I can continue the new tutorial and report on my meeting with Scott.

Connecting Social Media with Indigenous Language Maintenance...

From the article called "Social Media Promotes Literacy Within Threatened Languages"....

"We started our website —— in 2006," she says, with the goal to encourage proficiency in future generations, and to archive contributions from fluent elders. She expounds, "We save all the posts of fluent elders, and archive them at the Bentley, adding to the storehouse of information about this endangered language."

Their website posts audio files, songs, stories, spoken lessons and examples of the language. The social media sites are all accessible from the website in efforts to encourage the conversation. More than 9,000 people visited the site in 2011, and according to Ms. Noori, about 400 people in Michigan are now using the language.

Read more:


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Individual Tutorial & Reflection #1 - PHP

For my first attempt at learning PHP, I browsed through a few different sites that offered tutorials.  I found a site called Learn PHP By Examples; it seemed to be a very user friendly site, so I decided to go for it.

Introduction to PHP...

On the left menu of the site there is a PHP Guide, which I began to follow.  The first thing I did was read the Introduction to PHP. A lot of this was review because it was information I had learned for the Technology Research Assignment.

PHP Installation... 
Next, I followed the instructions for PHP Installation.  I thought it would be a difficult process for some reason, but it was actually super easy to download and install WAMP5, which all I had to do to get PHP on my computer. Now that it's on there, there will be a little WAMP5 icon that I can click on any time from my taskbar, as you can see from the screenshot below. "WAMP5 is an open source application which comes with with PHP5, Apache web server, MySQL database and phpMyAdmin (mysql database administration program)." It only took me about 10 minutes to get it up and running.

The next step was to "Start All Services," so I clicked as shown here...

Then, I typed in http://localhost in my web browser, and it took me to the WAMP homepage:

PHP Syntax...

The next lesson, PHP Syntax, explains how HTML and PHP "work together."

"When writting php code, you enclose your PHP code in special php tags. This tells the browser that we're working with PHP."
//your php code goes here
 The next part of the lesson was to create my first PHP page!  (I actually got really excited when I got to this point...) I followed the steps (open notepad, copy the code from the tutorial, save the file in a wamp folder...)

....and... Voila! My first PHP page! "hello there!"

I went on to make the "hello world" bold and green by manipulating the code as directed by the tutorial.  I also learned how to write today's date.  I honestly thought it would be hard to use PHP - but so far, it is not too bad!  As simple as it was, I was really proud of myself to have made my very first PHP pages.

PHP Variables...

In PHP, variables are used to "store values such as strings (i.e words, phrases, etc.?) or integers. In PHP, variables are defined with a dollar sign, a variable name, and a value.
$variable_name = value;

 The tutorial gives an example of a code including variables to try, which I did...

This section also gave examples of a PHP variable with a string value, a PHP variable with an integer value, and a PHP variable with a float or decimal value.

PHP Variables FAQ and Examples...

In this section, I came across a word I had never seen before: concatenate. To concatenate means to "link together or unite a series or chain."  This is apparently an immportant concept when it comes to computer programming languages, and that would make sense!

PHP Strings...

The next section of the tutorial gave an in-depth explanation of strings how they can be stored, which is by storing the string value in a variable name ($str) and "use echo to output its value." (Echo is a special statement in php for outputing data to the browser.)

The section also discussed using PHP strings in single quotes and double quotes.  Single quotes  are used when outputting HTML code.  Double quotes are used for special characters in a string. 

PHP Operators...

The next part of the tutorial provided information on different kinds of operators (arithmetic, comparison, and logic) and how they are coded in PHP.

PHP If Else Statement...

I tried another example in this section, which used conditional, or "if else," statements. Using conditional statements is useful when writing logic is required or decisions have to be made by the code.

Example 1. If Else Statement in PHP

 Example 2. The Else If Statement

 PHP Switch Statement...

This was the last section I decided to look at for the week.  The next section will discuss arrays, which seems to be on an other level, so I will stop here and marinate...

Switch statements are like if-else conditional statements in that "a block of code will be executed if a condition is true." They can also be used to "evaluate different cases of a given scenario" by taking a "single variable as input and then checks it against all cases in the switch statement." (Side note: This reminds me about how Jay is envisioning the interactive database to work for his project...I wonder if something like this is what the PHP would be user for.)

Individual Tutorials & Reflection - Application Choice

Decisions, decisions...

Okay, I've decided. Actually, the choice wasn't too difficult.  I would like to learn PHP for this assignment.  I really enjoyed learning about PHP for the Technology Research Assignment, but more importantly there is a good chance I will be working on a project that will involve PHP right here at ODU with Jay Morris from the Computer Science Department. The purpose of the project is to assist indigenous peoples with the reconstruction of native languages.

One of my major research interests in linguistics is endangered language preservation. After getting my Master's in Applied Linguistics, I volunteered for two years as a linguistic consultant for a local tribe in their efforts to revitalize their language.  Jay is Cherokee, so he has a personal interest in native languages as well.  He has been trying to get this project off the ground since I met him a couple of years ago, and it seems like he is getting very close to doing exactly that!  Jay has invited me to be part of the project, and I am really excited about the opportunity.  My role in the project would be to provide assistance with research and gathering resources as well as helping with the comparison and analysis of related languages so that Jay could then assign values of similarities to sounds and words in the database.  In other words, I won't be directly involved with coding the user interface or setting up the database, but I think it would be useful for me to know a little bit about the programming language that will be used for the project.

Because I don't know much about HTML, and PHP is an HTML-embedding scripting language, I will try to find a tutorial that introduces concepts in HTML that will be helpful for PHP. I would really like to have at least a basic understanding of HTML before delving into PHP.

One of my concerns with my learning PHP pertains to access.  When researching PHP, it seemed like there was a relatively complex installation process.  I'm a little concerned because my personal laptop is on it's last leg, my office laptop is shared among faculty, and my office desktop needs all kinds of administrative passwords to download and install things, so I would have to get OCCS involved. I know I can download PHP with no problem, my concern would be accessing a server.  I wonder if any of the university computers have Apache... Alternatively, if I run into problems, maybe the computers in the computer science labs that have PHP already installed, and Jay could hook me up with a computer science log-in.

Anyway, I'm looking forwarding to exploring PHP further.  It seems like an extremely versatile programming language.  I just need to hone in on particular task project that I would like to attempt using the language.

Reflection on Six ENGL 866 Blog Posts

This week, I read and commented on six blog posts written by my classmates. 

     1) Bea's Reading Notes: 2/13

     2) Jennifer's Archives & Identity: Public, Private, and Communal

     3) Smitha's The Language of New Media (Post #1)

     4) Eric's Materiality and Realism in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

     5) Cheri's Taking the Humanity Test

     6) Amanda's Canonical Text Part I

I wanted to read a mixture of posts that would include posts about people's canonical texts as well as posts about information from the texts we have read together as a class.  Overall, my impressions were really positive and I was really impressed by my classmates' critical discussions and  analyses.  They used a diverse range of formats and styles, and they all offered unique, informative, and thoughtful perspectives.  What I liked most about the exercise of reading other people's blog posts was that it afforded me the opportunity to really understand how more than just two or three texts can relate to each other.  I am starting to have a better sense of how authors and theorists in the field of new media draw from each other and use each others' ideas to support or challenge.

I think the most important thing I learned from this week's exercise was that I am repeatedly gravitating toward a few related concepts: archive, memory, information and materiality (embodiment). I'm interested in learning more explicity about how these concepts might work together in the context of new media.

C.R.A.P. - Principles of Website Design

I am using this short post as a way to keep a few notes for myself and keep track of which materials I reviewed about C.R.A.P. Principles of Website Design...

Video: C.R.A.P. - Basic Layout and Design Principles for Web Pages
  • Contrast - text (color, size, font), layout (colors to draw the eye across page)
    • separate unlike elements
  • Repetition - colors, font
    • repeat aspects of design
  • Alignment - justification (left, center, right - find a balance in particular region)
    • justifying to emphasize key points
  • Proximity - everything that's alike should be close together (can also be closely related to alignment)
    • limit and separate unlike elements
Webpage: A CRAP way to improve usability
  • "aesthetic usability effect" - people believe that if a design is more attractive there will be greater ease of use
  • 4 key principles of visual design
    • Contrast
      • directs user's eye to what is important
    • Repetition
      • internal consistency (within your application)
        • fonts, icons, headings, links, list styles, page layout
      • external consistency (with the platform you are designing for)
        • standard buttons, link colors, search results
        • common elements of web pages should be in standard locations
      • "the task is the common denominator"
    • Alignment
      • elements of design should align horizontally and vertically
        • design interface to underlying grid
    • Proximity
      • if you place elements in a user interface near each other, people will think that they are related somehow
      • this will help build conceptual model of how interface is structured
Slideshow: C.R.A.P. Design Principles

    Monday, February 13, 2012

    Reading, Thinking, & Reflecting Post - 2/13

    The reading assignment for this week was to read 1/3 of the canonical text. The text I am reading is called How We Became Post-Human: Virtual  Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics by N. Katherine Hailes.

    One of the first things I found most interesting about this particular text as compared to the others I have read for this course so far is the focus on how the concept of virtuality and the existence of the cyborg relates to human consciousness and identity. I began the book by reading the Prologue, which sort of set the stage and started introducing the rationale framework for the text.  One of the first things I encountered was a discussion about The Turing Test (p.g xi).  The Turing Test is essentially a test to see if humans can tell the difference between human responses and computer responses.  The test is meant to demonstrate "intelligence" of the machine, and to show evidence that computers can think.  I tried to search for more information on the Turing Test, but a lot of it was very technical, so I actually found a video that explains it in layman's terms (...thanks to the power of TV):

    While researching the Turing Test, I found a couple of other interesting related articles, specifically related to Siri and the Apple iPhone.  I suppose one reason why the Turing Test jumped out at me is because I am an ESL teacher, and I recently heard one of my students make a comment that said, "Siri is the best 'conversation partner' ever!"  The first question that came to my mind was, "Talking to Siri is better than talking to a real live American human being?!" The next questions were related to the authenticity of responses - are they accurate? Are they meaningful?  Does Siri respond to questions in the same way a human would?  Does is matter?  I found a couple of articles (among many) that address some of these questions: Apple iPhone, Turing Test and Siri and the Turing Test.

    The point that jumped out at me in the Prologue was related to gender identity and artificial intelligence (pgs. xii-xiii).  I found it so interesting that issues of sexuality and gender came into play - I suppose I had never thought of it before, but apparently, this is a hot topic (no pun intended).  When I did a Google Image search using the terms "sexy cyborg," there were 750,000 hits!

    Finally, the concept of "embodiment" was introduced (pg. xiv). The importance of this concept is reiterated throughoug the book.  Essentially, the concept of "embodiment" is the belief that "intelligence requires a body."  On February 6, 2012, MIT published an article in its online journal that essentially stated that the definition of embodiment in this sense is too limited, and that we must consider a "broader view of computation" when considering the "notion of intelligence." I also found another paper that explores issues related to embodiment by aruging for "interaction, participation, and adaptation" in addition to the traditional view of the "intelligent robot" in the physical sense.

    "Beam me up, Scotty!"
    My China Connection
    Chapter 1 of the book focused almost completely on "Embodied Virtuality," and .  The author describes that she came across three "interrelated stories" through her research, which ultimately led to a definition of the posthuman. These interrelated stories follow the journey of how information lost its body, how the cyborg was created as a technological artifact and cultural icon, and how the human is giving way to a different construction called the posthuman. The author defined the posthuman by outlining a number of assumptions (pg 2-3):
    1. Informational pattern is more important than the embodiment of information.
    2. Consciousness is not as important as we have traditionally thought.
    3. "The body is a prosthesis."
    4. "The human being can be articulated through intelligent machines."

    Photo from the 10th Annual Macy Conference on Cybernetics

    Chapter 1 also introduced the Macy Conference on Cybernetics, which were interdisciplinary meetings held from 1943 to 1954.  "These meetings... were instrumental in forging a new paradigm. To succeed, they needed a theory of information ([Shannon]), a model of neural functioning that showed how neurons worked as information-processing system ([McCulloch]), computers that processed binary code and could... reproduce themselves, thus reinforcing the analogy with biological systems ([von Neumann]), and a visionary who could articulate the larger implications of the cybernetic paradigm and make clear its cosmetic significance (pg 7)."  In Chapter 1, there is also a definition of virtuality, which is defined as the "cultural perception that material objects are interpenetrated by information patterns (pg 13-14)."
    This text focuses heavily on the concept of "information" - what it is, how it should be embodied/materialized (or not), etc. - and therefore fits well with the key concept of Information from Key Concepts and Pattern from Lingua Fracta.  It also fits well with Interface and Interactivity from Key Concepts and Performance from Lingua Fracta. With regard to the layout of the book, it is organized in terms of the three "waves of cybernetics," all of which use the living being as an analogy for the intelligent machine.  The first focuses on homeostasis or feedback loops (pg 8), the second focuses on reflexivity (pgs 9-10), and the third focues on self-organization (artificial life) (pg 11).   

    Chapter 2 was called "Virtual Bodies and Flickering Signifier," and it primarily discussed informatics, and how there is a trend toward considering information in terms of pattern/randomness, as opposed to presence/absence, as well as considering its patterns of transfer.  Flickering signifiers were described by Lacan as being created by information technologies and characterized "by their tendency toward unexpected metamorphoses, attenuations, and dispersions (pg 30)." The author goes on to say that "flickering signification brings together language with a psychodynamics based on the symbolic moment when the human confronts the posthuman." To be honest, I am a little bit confused about what exactly a "flickering signifier" is and what it means, so I need to look into this a little further.

     Chapter 3 was called "Contesting for the Body of Information: The Macy Conferences on Cybernetics."  This chapter introduced the first wave of cybernetics, which focused on the idea of homeostasis and the analogy that can be drawn between feedback loops in living beings and feedback loops in machines as an argument for the disembodied medium as related to information (pg 50-51).  The author referred to Claude Shannon's definition of information "as a probability function with no dimensions, no materiality, and no necessary connection with meaning (pg 52)."


    Hailes, N. Katherine. How We Became Post-Human: Virtual Bodies in Cybernetics, Literature, and Informatics. Chicago, Illinois: The University of Chicago Press, 1999. Print.

    Monday, February 6, 2012

    Social Media Explained...

    (Source: Andrew Katz Facebook)

    Reading, Thinking, & Reflecting Notes - February 6, 2012

    This week's reading assignment was to finish both Lingua Fracta and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

    I read Chapters 5-7 and the Coda in Lingua Fracta, and one thing that I noticed after reading through the entire book was that it it is really difficult to discuss any one of the canons in isolation without considering how it relates to the others within the given framework.  Chapter 5 covered Perspective (style), Chapter 6 covered Persistence (memory), and Chapter 7 covered Performance (delivery).

    In considering "new media," it seems that the visual elements of "perspective"
    and "style" have been reborn.  This is a graphical representation of Samuel Marolois's
    Mathematical Theory on Perspective (Andersen 2007).  This drawing seems like a good analogy for new media -
    stairways, hallways, and rooms in every direction, often without a concrete destination.
    (Image Source: Royal College of Physicians)
    As a linguist, I found Mary Hocks' (2003) explanation of rhetorical theory as a "dynamic system" coupled with Stafford's (1998) theory that it is rather a "dynamic system of strategies" to make a lot of sense (pg 116.).  When you consider how new media usage is creative yet patterned, it is like the grammar of a language. This debate reminds me of the ongoing battle between the "prescriptivist" and "descriptivist" ways of looking at grammar - there's the "static" book version of grammar, and then there's the "dynamic" way it is actually used... either way you look at it, the usage is patterned!

    I was also interested in the discussion in Chapter 6 about Aristotle and his views on stylized language (pg. 118).  Again, I felt like there was a close connection to a topic I am familiar with - sociolinguistics.  The quote, "The responsibility for avoiding [the risk of excess], for maintaining appropriateness, falls to the rhetor, and it is a responsibility that persists to the present day in our attitudes toward language - from word choice at the barest syntactic level to issues of intellectual property and authorship on a cultural level (pg. 118)" stood out to me because it made me think of concepts that I had studied as a grad student such as language variation and ideology.  Furthermore, Aristotle's (1991) theory of rhetoric placing a distance between the language and its user in that conscious decisions must be made depending on subject, audience, style, etc. reminded me of the linguistic concept of "codeswitching." Then, lo and behold, the author stated that this rhetorical theory, taken with his definition of metaphor could be seen at the "level of code." *enter lightbulb*

    On page 120, Brooke provided a definition of perspective. "Perspective is a method for displaying three dimensional objects and/or scenes on a two-dimensional space." In the same chapter (pg 128), I found another definition that was helpful to me:
    • hypertext - links a passage of verbal discourse to images, maps, diagrams, and sound as easily as to another verbal passage
     Finally, at the conclusion of Chapter 5, I liked how the author tied the conept of "perspective" back to "interface" by stating that the meaning of the interface depends on and is defined by the user's interaction with it.... kind of like in the Matrix!
    (Source: Cyber Punk Review)
    I found it interesting how Brooke pointed out how the last two canons, which were presented in Chapters 6 and 7 (memory and delivery), have traditionally fallen by the wayside.  Since rhetoricians have traditionally analyzed static, written texts, the two canons have somehow lost significance.  With the dynamic, ever-changing nature of new media, these canons can be resurrected as Persistence and Performance.

    In Chapter 6, which covered "Persistence," there was an extensive discussion on "memory," which tied well into the material we covered in Chapter 5 of New Media: Key Concepts, "Archive."  I also enjoyed the part about collective history and the role media plays in it.  The author gave the examples of two historically significant events - Rodney King and the Challenger (pg. 149-150).  I was a bit surprised not to see some more recent events, namely those that occurred on 9/11/01, or George W. Bush's "Operation Freedom." Then again, I feel like those events happened during some sort of transisition, when "old media" was starting to take advantage of new technologies such as live streaming in this video, which burned these events in our collective memory (no pun intended):

    More recent historical events awere not only archived by, but driven in real-time, by social media. For example, the Arab Spring of 2011:
     This man represents the "youth."  The protest sign speaksof change through social media.
    The sword represents the terrorists and their version of change.
     You can see the man holds the protest sign high as he releases the sword.
    (Translated by ELC Student, Fisal Ahmed)
    (Image: Riccardo Guidi)
    In Chapter 7, one of the points that stood out to me most fell within the topic of "credibility."  As an instructor - especially one in an ESL/Higher Ed setting - web credibility is a significant issue when teaching how to find and cite sources.  I was intrigued by the concept of "distributed credibility," which was introduced on pg. 185.  Distributed credibility can be determined by considering "skillfull design, image quality, usability, information structure, comprehensiveness, absence of self-interest, usefullness," and so on.  I will definitely start incorporating this information into my lessons - I never thought about those things, and always have encouraged my students to only look for names, dates, connections to "real texts," etc.

    I found this video on YouTube that imagines the future "evolution" of Google:


    I wonder how far off we are from this in [virtual] reality?  I think this story embodies many of the concepts we have been considering in the two theoru-based texts we have read together so far in this course.  From the ecologues of practice we looked at in Lingua Fracta to the key concepts (network, information, interface, archive, interactivity, and simulation).   

    I'm very much looking forward to discussing DADoES in class. 


    Andersen, Kristi. The Geometry of an Art: The History of the Mathematical Theory of Perspective from Alberti to Monge. Springer, 2007. Googlebooks. Web. 5 Jan. 2012.

    Brooke, Collin Gifford. Lingua Fracta. Creeskill, New Jersey: Hampton Press, Inc., 2009. Print.

    Dick, Phillip K. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? New York: Del Rey, 1968. Print.