My name is Ale Fernandez. I live in Barcelona, Spain and I'm Chilean and Italian.
I am a web developer, artist and technical researcher.
I've lived in Scotland, Italy, Spain and England and career-wise I am interested in distributed systems and their applications to improvised performance and ecology.
This weekend I went back to what I did a few months back, and went down to the Tate Modern all the way from Bristol, to play (very little) crazy music and perform in front of loads of people in London.
Last time we were on Millennium Bridge, which (to explain for the non-londoner) is a very narrow bridge which gets swamped around 4pm on a Friday afternoon, by commuters going both ways. We were there lined up with loads of loud and eccentric instruments, in t-shirts and responding to a conductor, and to an orchestra by the Tate, and a boat with lots of improvising musicians (Evan Parker included, who is now coming to the Cube Cinema in June) playing samples of maritime, Thames noises - boats, seagulls, and some of the most complicated classical as well as improvised and participatory music that was a beautiful tribute to that space.
This time for us performers it was a 4 day experience - 2 days rehearsal, and 2 of performance, with some of the surviving masters of the Fluxus time, still around performing and writing material, as of course more famous people like Yoko Ono do. We performed from Alison Knowles' fantastic repertoire - including the really colourful and beautifully simple "Make a Salad" piece, and the really funny and proto-improv Newspaper Music. There was also loads of other work by other Flux performers, including a first realisation of the FluxOlympiad - an incredibly accessible way to get kids into experimental arts - "A gateway drug to Rembrandt" as baptised by our great deliverer of the most wonderful lecture in Fluxus, Simon (whose surname I forget, but he's a university professor specialising in this movement's history in the US).
Through this lecture and then through many memories and explanations given by Simon, Sara Seagull and Alison Knowles through this intensely arty weekend, I got to see a lot more of the history of Fluxus than is possible through a quick read of Wikipedia the night before the first rehearsal. Firstly the controversy of Fluxus's life-span, which for some starts with John Cage's Experimental Composition class, and ends with George Maciunas' death in 78, but for all the fluxus people present, was still very much alive and well, as we saw with the performances. What you can say though is that the network of artists who performed Fluxus was described in the past tense, in the exhibition that accompanied our performances at the Tate. Some of the later newspapers had a very Creative Commons-like copyright - anyone is authorised to perform any fluxus Event Score whenever they want, provided they use the names they stated, and if it's most of the event, it has to have the name they provide - in this case the FluxOlympiad, or a FluxFest or many other FluxEverythings from audience participation pieces, to distorted musical performances, or even video, hospitals and toilets in Fluxus style. This is a beautiful spirit, and the participatory element combined with the multimedia element, synaesthesia and the beginnings of improvised or loosely structured experimental artistic practices, as well as the DIY element, which have filtered through from the Fluxus hayday that mesmerised a young John Lennon, but seem to have gotten to today having forgotten their lovely playful origins.
It was very interesting to see the rejection our Fluxus initiators had for the internet - it's always easier for our younger generation to think technology has to be involved in artistic practice but as one performer said, shunning technology becomes a choice, now that it's so ubiquitous. No digital divide to straddle, more imagination needed to get to the same destination. And that aspect was refreshing, although a Fluxus facebook group is now hopefully to be created, and maybe it will only be through this technology that we will now assist in a re-birth of practice in the UK - at least if I can have my way and do a performance at the Cube Cinema...
The pieces were so accessible because they were tiny, some carried out in seconds, like the famous squeaky-toy-into-cymbals piece "C/T Trace", while others needed more time, like the Yoko Ono piece "Sky piece for Jesus", but were incredibly fun to perform and somehow symbolic and spiritual to carry out -we had to wrap up a string quartet in gauze and lead them away with care, like critically injured patients. In another piece we had to scratch our fingers down a small black board, or in another, bang our heads against the wall. So the beginnings of the "pain" aspect so famously put forward by people like Franco B - which Sara summed up wonderfully - "if there's so much pain in the world, what's the value as a privileged western artist in hurting yourself?" - are also to be found in Fluxus. That's terribly misquoted though, a flash of a memory in the middle of a very excited evening lounging in the Tate Modern's staff cafe after the first performance and talking about what went wrong and right. Also the pieces are accessible because they are available to all to perform, although I'd agree they wouldn't make much sense if you didn't get it, or get to share some of the original spirit.
The salad was a wonderful part of it all. It really used our senses, without resorting to video or high art concepts - Alison (and a team of cooks) just cut vegetables and made a lovely (if a bit gritty) salad for all the audience to consume. She made it on top of the turbine hall, in a long 10 minutes with all of them hidden up there cutting them up, but with the knives miked up so we could hear interminable chopping. And then our sight was first to see the spectacle of food, now so scarce in the world - flying greens, reds, purples, liquids and solids, some falling light as feathers, others heavy and squirting bits all over us poor performers - who in this piece had to hold the tarpaulin and toss the salad, and for this had our name written on the wall of the Tate. And then finally it was stirred with rakes and spades, and served on paper plates, and it tasted great! Also because I was a bit skint, it was even better to be fused with art in a culinary way...
I came to attend this symposium out of the blue, having seen an email late one Wednesday afternoon, saying our assistant director was too ill to go, and after a quick look at the programme, I realised it was a follow-up to an event I'd seen on video a while back where an entire conference on Second Life had been trashed by a talk which had argued it was all pretty much useless hype. So if this year's presentations were going to be in that vein, it sounded like like a fun time.
This being a web 2 conference, lots of it was used, including a live chat backchannel ( http://www.eduserv.org.uk/foundation/symposium/2008/livechat powered by cover it live streaming software:http://www.coveritlive.com/ ), a ning based conference centred social networking site (which as expected didn't achieve critical mass but was a nice feature all the same), and of course lots lots more.
Eduserv's Andy Powell started the day talking about these "Disruptive technologies" we know so well. Looking across the room, it seemed a-bleep with mobile phones, laptops and all kinds of hybrid gadgets twittering and SL-ing and all kinds of SN/Web 2.0-ing as he spoke.
"Please turn your phones off as it interferes with the equipment in the room, unless you're twittering or blogging from it"
This was the digerati of UK HE in the room (from which a colleague had minutes before noted the conspicuous absence of any HEA top brass), and it was a bit negative to hear all these references to the "disruption" caused by the uptake of web 2.0 in HE and all this focus on how to "control" it. But later on it surfaced that I wasn't the only one who thought a more positive terminology (like "Emerging Technologies") would be more conducive to positive adoption on campus or even just to an understanding of the real strengths and limitations of these tools. Another good reason to have a chat back channel - all these slightly controversial thoughts tend to get put forward there easily, while I guess people are a bit more shy of doing it live in Q&A.
Larry presented using Second Life as an embellished Power Point, with his avatar walking through a virtual exhibition of photos of his grandparents and of various turn-of-century discoveries, followed by lists of all the technological revolutions that that generation had to deal with. He compared that with the current IT situation, from the beginning of the personal computer and Internet, to now, and noted that in comparative terms we haven't even got from the Gutenberg press to Martin Luther - any real revolution to come from this has still to come. Another difference between that generation and this one is that the focus has shifted from using technology to free up time - we have no such illusions today. My lack of a pen at that point limits my recollection now, but there were some areas that the Horizon report had identified as the main areas of growth and change for the education community:
- the arrival of grassroots video as a teaching tool and increased pressure in HE institutions to deliver video storage/distribution/collaboration.
- Collaboration Webs - using tools like google docs or other simple online tools requiring just a modern computer and web browser.
- Mash-ups - old news but now getting more mainstream with the increasing availability of data.
- Social OS - the next step in social networking is a focus on the individual rather than on content in all aspects of software.
In my opinion these blue sky previsions don't tend to take into account the more global state of the world today, the economic downturn and it's effects on the world for example, so Dr Johnson's talk seemed a bit limited in that respect, and when cornered (by me) later over coffee, he seemed dismissive of the effects of global warming and possible legislation changes on data centre energy usage as well as changes due to price increases and how the digital divide would affect the future he envisaged. The horizon report can be found at http://www.nmc.org/horizon
Bobbie Johnson: The guardian and Web 2.0
This was the most useless talk of the symposium. I think the inclusion of two large media agencies was a mistake, and we could have done with half that presence replaced by someone from another business sector, from a student or from some other piece of the picture. Here are my notes anyway:
The Guardian was founded as the Manchester Guardian in 1821. The paper's format and structure didn't change until the early 50s with the addition of photography. At all times the core values of social justice, freedom of thought and religion and social reform have been at the forefront of the decisions they have made as an organisation. Johnson spoke at length on the history of this newspaper on that basis, and the various owners and trusts that formed through the years.
The website appeared in 1996. Very embarrassing. By 2007 the director told his staff at the All Hands meeting - "We are now a digital operation which makes printed stuff on the side". So radical change is very recent.
He then showed us a front page scan from a couple of years ago. Very few things came from web 2.0 specifically (although you could say that all the user generated content was in some way reflective of the new notion of the web as a 2 way consumption/production medium).
Then he showed a very nice blog aggregate page (in his words a "Superblog"): http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/index.html - probably one to emulate when doing a university-wide blogging service, although I suspect it's very well edited, so there's an extra bit of effort than just getting people to write good blogs.
The Guardian site has gone from Closed/Subscription based to free access, and as a company they have gone from content provider to content platform.
I closed my notes with a poem:
Did photography create surrealism in art?
The digerati thumb their phones
a blue glare reflects on their faces
Information hiding ignorance
Geoffrey Bilder: Sausages, coffee, chickens and the web: Establishing new trust metrics for scholarly communication
A very interesting and clued-up talk on trust issues and the web. Personally I would have defined these as filtering issues, but it still makes sense either way: the web is awash with information and it's not rated, so you can waste huge amounts of time surfing it, and never can be sure of the quality of what you read, whereas traditional media has inbuilt filtering - due to the physical and commercial limits of just publishing everything like the web does.
Bilder's talk examined amongst other things the reason why the tilde (~) is non-trustworthy - (Spoiler alert!) - because it denotes a URL for a home directory - i.e. not official information but contained in a personal home page. But to a regular non-techy this isn't obvious, and the same is true for the various web 2 enabled sites. It's hard to assess trust. The path followed by any new technology depends on all these issues, and trust is crucial to it's adoption. It usually goes like this:
A techno-information power base invents a new technology (eg, the blogging community circa 1996)
- The masses take up this technology
- Breakdown: the hype doesn't live up to it. (eg: people discover most blogs are abandoned in a few weeks).
- Filtering systems are created. (eg: technorati)
In this way Bilder made a clear connection between the trust exuded by traditional publishing media via it's implicit filtering system ("wow - they're going to publish my book" = "it passed the filter").
He then talked about the first filtering systems put together on early web logs: the slashdot.org karma points system put together to reduce the incredibly high volume of comments they were dealing with daily, and which was reducing the overall value of the site - high points (awarded via good behaviour on the site) made you a temporary comment moderator, and in turn your moderations would be moderated by other high karma scorers, thus drastically improving the quality of post comments if you opted to raise your filter level.
Other early systems of peer-based filtering were Ebay's focus on user trust and ratings and Google's siterank system. These trust metrics were key to the success of these sites.
Chatting later to Debra, she agreed that self filtering systems are probably the way forward. The slightly depressing outcome of Bilder's talk was the idea that in the same way that traditional media has been supplanted in a way by the web, and as medieval scribes were made redundant Gutenberg press, so quality controlled on-line resource collections like Intute are endangered by this, because they apply a "centralised" filtering/trust system, which an automated web 2 enabled peer review system might do just as well.
The questions and on-line comments were very interesting, and it was a shame there was no time to answer or discuss at length. One insight from here was the way people's perception of their personal profile (as used on SN sites) as increasingly personal - something that should be owned and held by the individual and released/sold only to trusted parties of interest to the individual. Bilder agreed that this is probably the way things will be in future.
And then we went for lunch. Many a picture was flickrd of the curiously purple tray of summer desserts.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/dmje/2475205817/ (more photos at
http://www.flickr.com/photos/tags/efsym2008/ - and the efsym2008 tag worked quite well as a way to tag across slideshare, flickr, delicious etc)
Also during lunch I bumped into Torsten Reimer of the now semi-defunct AHRC Methods Network. He sadly told me of the serious lack of funds that this kind of initiative suffers from. They have a little money for small projects, but not enough for anything bigger as a result of these, or for any radical strategic changes, so the MN is not viable at the moment.
This was similar to the guardian talk in it's irrelevance for me, but of the two I'd have kept this one, more witty and a lot more insight into the future: the speaker showed us the evolution of BBC content up to it's inclusion today on other websites: on the Sun, the Guardian's sites, and the communities formed around programs that the BBC had produced, but that were taking place outside of the BBC's websites.
So does it matter to the Beeb that their competitors are taking the content that 25% of their income is spent on (the online side) and making community out of them? This is the "globalisation" problem of web 2.0, and a hard decision for the Beeb, but they currently allow it. Possibly because their core principle is that they are a brand: Their charted doesn't specify they have to make programmes on TV: they just have to entertain, educate, inform.
First of all, the document circulated prior to the Symposium ( http://www.vp.is.ed.ac.uk/content/1/c4/12/45/GuidelinesForUsingExternalWeb2.0Services-20070823.pdf
In ID's case, the problem (for me) is the possibility of us hosting a university wide blogging service. A service like this would need us to first revise guidelines in many ways, even if the decision is to allow people to just use external services (we are still liable and there are still risks even if this is the case).
Another problem with external services is the credit crunch: what happens when your service goes bust, closes, shifts in focus, loses critical mass, starts charging or switches to paid registration?
From the chat: here are the BBC's guidelines on SN/Web 2 use: http://www.bbc.co.uk/guidelines/editorialguidelines/advice/personalweb/index.shtml
Also in the chat, the point was made that some of the social networking sites might be more resilient than public services - for example the ill fated AHDS - what will upcoming UK elections mean for any online services we may be using now?
Some of what he said I found to be a bit unbalanced along the lines of that chat comment: he said for example that information might be more at risk of unauthorised use, unscheduled maintenance etc - but these are also risks within an institution if their internal policies or technical systems aren't up to scratch - and if the government can lose huge amounts of public data, I am sure Higher Ed can catch up.
Also I'm a bit concerned with the paper's implicit position on Intellectual Property rights. It is true that not all info should be given away immediately, and that a lot of grant money depends on ideas being kept safely under wraps, even in academia, but a university legal dept should be up to speed on the GPL and CC licenses, and be able to advise what is personal and what is owned by the institution depending on who you are, the nature of the work/data and in what capacity you work for it. Any other sharing should be facilitated by universities by their embracing of web 2.0 related speedy transfer of knowledge (such as twitter/facebook).
Apart from these doubts though - this is the first clear and broad paper trying to put together the first academic guidelines on risks and implications of using SN and Web 2 technologies, and he is aware it's just a draft and needs input from others.
Afterwards I asked Chris how we can feed back to him about his paper. He said he's in the process of making it into a wiki, but that at present comments are open, and we can feed back that way.
David Harrison: A Modern Work Environment at Cardiff U: http://www.cardiff.ac.uk/insrv/futures/mwe/index.html
Dr Harrison startled us all with a very advanced web manager's view on how to run all the IT services within Cardiff University whilst still leaving space for SN/Web 2 technologies to be adopted strongly and used by their staff.
The presentation had lots of diagrams which I can't really explain well in written form, but here goes: The core (read "boring") services like calendars, request trackers, sick forms, finance software are at the centre of the picture, around which sit the managed research and learning environments, and around these, are the VLE/VRE. Anything else around this circle includes twitter and friends. Somehow this made much more sense with his slides though so I should stop there..
My main notes were that he had Cardiff's VC supporting all the way through, attending all the meetings and pushing things forward. We can't count on the same support at Bristol Uni, with Eric Thomas being much less available and not known to be particularly tech-friendly.
He also said that innovation, real discovery isn't particularly widespread in universities. The kind of innovation they see more and need is where existing innovation is brought into the university or across faculties and departments. This is a brilliant potential benefit of Web 2.0 - facilitating communication between people who wouldn't normally talk to each other, and giving them ways to disseminate that and value it.
http://blog.newport.ac.uk/blogs/michael/archive/2008/05/09/32921.aspx - another
Grainne's Presentation was the only one that really went into how web 2.0 actually affects pedagogy within academia. It was also interesting because I joined ILRT after she had left, and this was my first chance to see her after hearing so much about her. Fortunately she's already put it online: http://e4innovation.com/?p=198 - so I can skip talking about it since this post has gone on far too long now!
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