Tuesday, November 28, 2006

They're RFIDs, Not "Arphids"

Just up at LJ. I've got a competing p.o.v. (taking almost, but not quite, the opposite position) under consideration at AL. What can I say? The evidence led me to change my mind.

Monday, November 06, 2006

zipit linux?

Can anybody run Linux on this Zipit wifi device?

How does it work out? How do you think this would play in the field for relief workers, post-hurricane?

How feasible is it to build-in an RFID read/writer?

If it did work well as mobile device, who out there can think of an authoritative, free, text-based medical database?


Thursday, October 19, 2006

note pad

Yes, this will remain an open notebook. I'm scribbling: what if pixels were searchable? Metadata for pixels, some how auto-generated, or generated for 1 pixel according to the elements of its neighbors. You won't search for discrete images, but your search will turn up images in which a statistically significant number of pixels meet the criteria. Is this using a hammer to turn a screw, creating far more metadata than we can handle in order to execute jobs that could be done much more simply in another way?

Monday, October 09, 2006

ISHUSH is Moving

this is still my backup blog.
tech probs at we dot com, so for a while i may camp here.

Follow me over to WoodyEvans.Com. The party continues there, 'til real, real late at night. ISHUSH has been fun, but now I'm homesteading in new territory.

It'll be about a week until I sort out all the technical bits, but do drop in.

- WE, 09 Oct 06.


I intend to let ISHUSH stand here for as long as it will. I may even, sometimes, add bits to it, develop bits, and move bits around. It'll be an archival-bank-type-thing for what I was thinking on this year. It's going to slow-burn, now, down to smoke and cinders... kind of like StreetMeatStation did. So.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

drm again -- and a book, to start

The "internet of things" is coming -- what kind of a place do we want it to be?

rootkits for books? drm and print media?

From comments following on a recent post at reBang:

  1. Woody E Says:

    Books don’t run root-kits on people.
    DRM movies do run root-kits on people’s computers.
    Thassa crucial difference, sho!

  2. csven Says:

    C’mon, Woody. You know better. DRM is no more about rootkits than any other piece of software, because ANY software can have malicious code in it.

    Are cars weapons? Some people use them as transportation. Some people use them as bombs. All depends on what the person does with the technology.

    This is really about people and their behavior. Nothing more. Nothing less. It would be possible to have a fair DRM system, but there are a few problems in getting there:

    1) most of the people behind DRM systems don’t create the content they’re trying to protect; they’re protecting profits.
    2) most of the people accessing content using DRM hacks probably don’t have a clue about Intellectual Property laws and if they do probably don’t really care; they only care about getting something for free.
    3) deciding what’s “fair” depends on whether one is a consumer or a content provider, and there are way more consumers.
    4) the two sides are, for the most part, polarizing the issue.

    We’ll see if Sony’s new e-book makes inroads. If it does, it’ll be interesting to see if some people change their tune (of course I’m referring to those who don’t have other sources of income).

Librarians, where do you stand on this? Should the current impossibility of using books to run rootkits on readers necessarily exclude print media from the DRM debate? Are the old-fashioned copyright laws good enough -- or should readers get the kind of rights Cory Doctorow argues for in re: digital content? And is it hypocritical not to provide such usage rights to readers if you take a similar stance against DRM? Where are you on this?

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

5 cell phones in the library

...busted. Roger has put down a challenge after reading my post with the QR haiku... And I lack the ketai to rise to the occassion*. Can somebody help him out?


*We had a volcanic dispute with Sprint, over at my house. We don't like them too much anymore. They probably don't like us, either. Regardless, investigation has revealed that we live in a dip into/outof which no cell towers will give/get good signal. So we wait.

Listening: Andrew Bird
Shushing: used cars, new cars, cars, trucks, cars. where's my solar-powered jetpack?

Monday, October 02, 2006

QR code in action

Could it work for libraries too? Imagine programs using QR for scavenger hunts... Using them to solve puzzles, find clues that send them off to read certain books... How about a "real life" choose-your-own-adventure tale? Let your patrons forward the notices to each other through phones... Play "guess the poet"... Link to public-domain novels online... Link to Project Vote Smart pages... Not to mention some of the previous ideas -- useful grafitti, this could be.
(Vid via Smoothplanet.)

Sunday, October 01, 2006

from Anousheh Ansari's space blog:

"I always knew in my heart that I would go to space, but did not know exactly how. But I kept telling everyone how much I love space and I want to go to space, and finally found the way... My destination tomorrow will be Earth… But the Earth is not the same Earth that I left. It is a little bit better now because there is more love in it. I can see it from your written words that are sent to me in the emails… I only hope that I can help grow this wave of positive energy that we have started and to make sure it touches more and more people."


Reading: The Kite Runner, Ken Wilber's stuff, and Watership Down
Listening: Chinesepod.com (...newbie lessons...)

Saturday, September 30, 2006

Friday, September 29, 2006

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

haiku in kaywa qr-code


"Warm engines cool. The rain hits, hissing, steaming on metal.
Write on foggy glass"

Decoded with the KAYWA Reader from the screen ;-)

Jerome Chevillat did it. J, if we're ever in the same city at the same time, I'll buy you a drink.



Just experimenting. You can use your cellphone camera to read the haiku (if you download the free QR reading software).

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

arphid melodrama?

I appreciate the dangers of RFID chips in passports, I really do.
A bad idea? Almost certainly.

But hasn't anybody ever heard of tinfoil?
If the policy makers make bad policy, hack the effect.
Come on, people!

Monday, September 25, 2006

banned books week post 9/11

So a patron wanders in because she saw our sign about Banned Books Week.

"Hi," she says. "I saw that it was Banned Books Week. What the heck is that?" Her worried brow made it clear she thought it was the week the library banned its books.

"Well, since the terrorist attacks on our nation five years ago, the federal government," (here the blood drained further from her face, causing her cute little brown specs to stand out in high contrast) "has started requiring all publicly funded libraries to discard or ban one-tenth of one percent of our collection that has some sympathetic leanings toward the ideology of terrorist organizations." I give her a cheery grin. "See? And we'd rather not throw our books away, so we just ban them for a week."


"Just kidding!" Then I told her all about the ALA and how zealous we librarians are to prevent such a thing. You gotta have fun with this, right?

2 library program idea

RFID tags aren't toys... Arphid tags are!

From the badlands east of Hattiesburg, we welcome Doc Coyote and her troupe of Happy Hairy Hackers.

Learn! How to manipulate data on RFID chips.
Explore! The wonders of interactive "arphid" projects.
Meet! Local hacktivists with an eye to make the Internet tangible.

Doc Coyote is an old hand at making, breaking, and re-writing RFID chips with home-made, hand-held RFID reader/scanners.* She'll teach you how to build your own with parts from WalMart and RadioShack for less than $30. So bring your soldering iron and an open mind to your local library this Friday night at 6:30.** Go ahead, take the red pill! And welcome to "the Internet of things!"

*The library in no way assumes any responsibility for any theft, fraud, invasion of privacy, or distribution of misinformation that its patrons may participate in after learning these skills.
**Library patrons are strongly discouraged from using any skills learned at this program to manipulate the RFID chips in library books. If such tampering can be proven, any guilty patrons would be excommunicated from the library forever and ever and ever and ever. And ever.

Friday, September 22, 2006

orderly global economies / drm: redux in situ

I posted on the question of intellectual property and global economies here [link], and posted a video of Cory Doctorow at LIFT 06 speaking on DRM here [link]. Great comments followed both posts.

The conversation bleeds over to reBang blog [link], where Sven, Cory, The Mad Natural Historian, and I get into an discussion about all this in the context of a contest design posted at BoingBoing, following on one of Sven's post about how designers are exploited under the auspice of an "open source" contest.

Librarians not only have to worry about the impact of root kits on our computer systems, but we've also got to wonder about the fallout of DRM and IP law on our lending policies. How long before we're forced to buy restrictive licenses for [what we used to call] books at a jacked-up "institutional" price?

I don't know if small libraries could survive that. What do you think?


Weather: hot, wet, windy.
Reading: The 39 Steps again and again and again.

Vinay Gupta: worldchanging

You should get to know Vinay Gupta and his hexayurts project.

At Mind is Moving blog, he keeps a page detailing the idea. Hexayurts have been written about in the New York Times, and were featured at Strong Angel III.

It's a quick & endemic diaster relief project that uses simple materials to make a very sturdy shelter -- no complicated international NGO bureaucrastructres required. An excellent design makes duct tape and cardboard into roomy hexagonal shelters.

What he's done, as Surgeon Captain Peter Buxton, O.B.E, put it, is make "teaching people how to use materials that are availabe for them" primary over shipping in materials and techniques from developed countries (see vlog link below). This really does empower those who are affected by disaster.

Nominate this man for a Genius Award!

Here's Vinay's vlog from Strong Angel III [link].

Some questions come to mind... I wonder about modding the hexayurt for the needs of specific environments -- for instance, how would they have fared in SE Louisiana after the hurricanes of 05, in such a wet environment?

Might these structures be cheaply chipped, so that they become spimey (trackable in space/time for recycling, usage statistics, and info on wear and tear)?

Or might they be outfitted with arphids so that a collection of structures in a community could ooze info about which families live in which yurts, etc.?

How tough/expensive a task would it be to outfit these structures with a solar panel and basic wiring?

How tough/expensive a task would it be to use the structure of the walls (the fiber itself) as part of a water filtration system, Katavolos style?

What's the max lifespan for this structure?

The hexayurt is simple, elegant, and eminently helpful.

This could be a world changer.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Cory Doctorow on Digital Rights Management

Cory Doctorow, novelist and former EFF man, breaks it down at LIFT 06. Now I think I get DRM.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

14 comics: Rushkoff

Why do I have this dreadful (and not-yet very deeply explored) suspicion that Testament and Club Zero are very like Waking Life and What the Bleep?

Is it because the "story" is utterly sacrificed to the "ideas" the author is trying to share? I love ideas (and Rushkoff's work is mostly full of cool and good ideas), but I love stories more -- and, yes, the best stories are able to communicate ideas without the audience feeling like "uh-oh, I think this is some kind of statement or idea or something... I think I'm supposed to be getting it or something..."

Maybe it's because I don't like being instructed in what constitutes cool. Maybe I like to be shown, not told.

The characters in Testament read like walking barcodes. These aren't people with an array of terrible and wonderful and meaningful particularities; these are cliche cardboard people that the author musn't realize he's parodying. I really don't think he meant to parody the counter-culture he's writing about -- I do, in fact, take him at least that seriously.

I mean, who care'ss about all this Torah-as-metaphor stuff? We get it already! And it's atemporal and all that too. Eternal struggle against the forces of singular domination, yada yada yada -- we get it!

What Testament should have been was a story that started as a story -- instead of a manifesto that got a spackling with plot.

Well. I won't be buying any more comics by Mr. Rushkoff -- but I might check them out from the library some time, see if future attempts make for better stories. And good luck to him... his non-fiction rocks, after all.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

1 library program idea

LEARN the art of sousveillance, "watching from below"!
BECOME an active watcher of watchmen!
REALIZE the potential of ketai!

Sousveillance means you're watching the cameras that watch you. In a world of total surveillance by 'the man', why not take back the streets and turn the panopticon culture on the corporate-government overlords who would seek to see all?

In this library program, you'll learn how to use ketai, or cellphone-camera-gadgetry-culture, to manifest your right to watch the world around you. Police abuse? Thing of the past! Detention without charge? No more! Now you've got streaming video documentation of every breach of your civil liberties!*

So bring your cell phones, digital cameras, laptops, baggy clothes, offensive hats/buttons/teeshirts, loud music, and bad attitudes to your library this Saturday afternoon at one o'clock.

Cookies and punch served to a soothing background of techno-ambient musical compositions by local DJs and electronic artists.^

*No guarantee or assumption of liability for indefinite detention implied.
^If we don't play your track, we're not dissin' ya!

Monday, September 18, 2006

1 happy world: forget the 5th amendment or any of that other stuff

It just gets in the way!


The U.S. military in Iraq has imprisoned an Associated Press photographer for five months, accusing him of being a security threat but never filing charges or permitting a public hearing.

Military officials said Bilal Hussein, an Iraqi citizen, was being held for "imperative reasons of security" under United Nations resolutions. AP executives said the news cooperative's review of Hussein's work did not find anything to indicate inappropriate contact with insurgents, and any evidence against him should be brought to the Iraqi criminal justice system.

Hussein, 35, is a native of Fallujah who began work for the AP in September 2004. He photographed events in Fallujah and Ramadi until he was detained on April 12 of this year.

"We want the rule of law to prevail. He either needs to be charged or released. Indefinite detention is not acceptable," said Tom Curley, AP's president and chief executive officer. "We've come to the conclusion that this is unacceptable under Iraqi law, or Geneva Conventions, or any military procedure."

Hussein is one of an estimated 14,000 people detained by the U.S. military worldwide -- 13,000 of them in Iraq. They are held in limbo where few are ever charged with a specific crime or given a chance before any court or tribunal to argue for their freedom.

In Hussein's case, the military has not provided any concrete evidence to back up the vague allegations they have raised about him, Curley and other AP executives said.


Friday, September 15, 2006

check The Hedrons

Remember Sleater-Kinney? The Hedrons owe a lot to S-K, sure, but they've also innovated. "Be My Friend" has a story (tho that's a generous word here) that grabs you and involves you with the, um, narrative. It at first annoys in the same way that R.E.M.'s "Diminished" from UP annoyed during the first 100 listens -- it seems to pretend to know too much about an extremely unlikely predicament, and thereby barred the listener from immediately identifying with the situation. But that's not what The Hedrons do, after all. They somehow convice you that they really mean it. Repetitive and occasionally too full of vocal affectations that remind of the worst dog-days of the 1980s? Less than 1/3 of the time. Really bold? At least half the time. Worth listening to? F*ck yeah! Do it!


well, what sort of punishment, then?

No, we won't be pushing people around.

But we might be kicking them out. Even thinking of screwing some beady-eyed LED-flashing faux cameras to the ceiling and support struts. It's getting out of hand.

If books are for use, then libraries are for use. But for use for what? And who's to use the library? I'm liberal when it comes to social software and new media in libraries. But I'm conservative as hell when it comes to caring for the books (actually, the information, in whatever media) and the patrons.

Students are getting too loud. I'm stalking through the stacks like a fascist, hushing grown folks, asking them not to smear potato chips on pages, asking them to leave if they can't follow our rules.

This is changing things, and I don't like it. I didn't become a librarian to police people. I shush? Shush your damn self. We're all students here.

who blogged this? banned books from above.

I think it was The Lipstick Librarian. Anyways. Tell me Google ain't our friend.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

comments on orderly global economies and intellectual property

Update: David (of Simulation Weblog) has weighed in on this with some really good points. Read the comments of this post for more -- & Librarians take note:

"...Sometimes growth comes from efficiency. (Look how EBay recycles junk! or - sorry! - how Google cuts down on the number of trips we have to make to reference libraries). What if we applied modern database/ surveillance/ simulation techniques to road traffic management instead of surveillance, for instance - how much gasoline, time and lives might this save?"

The conversation continues...

In response to this post (link), Sven Johnson had plenty to say. It was worth posting as a new entry.
csven said...

I disagree with the words, but agree with the idea. In today's world I'd use:

"Respecting intellectual property is a cornerstone of an orderly global economy"

There is no protection. Not from hackers and not from corporate corruption. Rather than fight corporate greed by trying to break DRM which protects their precious media, I say people should ignore their product altogether. Much of what's being fought over is a luxury. No one needs the latest Britney Spears mp3. No one needs to watch whatever movie they can download from Pirate Bay. Worse yet, there is still greed behind those activities. Whether it's a Russian website selling lower cost music (bc they have almost no overhead and a giant legal loophool) or whether it's Pirate Bay raking in bushels of ad money (which they don't like to talk about), someone is getting rich. And you can be sure a fair amount of that dirty money isn't going to social programs to feed the poor or organizations trying to stop the AIDs epidemic in Africa. It's most likely just going into some other corrupt person's bank account.

The best way to react imo is to a) buy the offerings of truly independent artists and b) respect their work by giving them control over it's distribution. Don't do it because it's the moral or ethical thing to do; that removes pragmatism, and I'm very pragmatic. Do it because our collective behavior will either help us or harm us in the years to come. Because just in the way cheap goods purchased by the working class sent their jobs to low-wage countries, the day will come when all things will be pirated as easily as an mp3. And the effects of that technology rippling through our social systems faster than we adjust to accomodate them will result in economic chaos. Something is going to rip if we're not more thoughtful.

Because I don't believe people can stop themselves, and because I believe selfishness trumps, I expect that we'll see some very difficult times ahead. The cornerstone will, in effect, crumble. How or even whether we reinforce or replace it is the real question in my mind.

Woody Evans said...

If we accept that disrespecting intellectual property really amounts to theiving, I have to ask: why is stealing a threat to the global economy?

Using strong arm tactics to gain rights (by way of legal loopholes, like you mention they do in Russia), doesn't seem so different from bending international treaties to invade a country for its resources (or whatever other reasons). These moves can destablize the system in the short term, but WHY do they threaten the longterm stability of the system?

Morality aside, how is theft bad for the global economy?

csven said...

If there's no incentive, progress slows. If nobody respects the inventiveness of creators, then the creators won't invest the energy. That's the lesson of the Soviet Union afaic.

Assume for a moment that you've spent three years developing something. You've sacrificed for this creation; not just time and money but perhaps a marriage. And your reward? Someone takes your work and claims it as their own and profits from it. And you have no recourse because that theft is acceptable to society; society approves of the tricksters and the bullies.

Do we really want social Darwinism? Do we really want to remove the protections that intellectual property laws are supposed to provide?

The United States is the powerhouse it is today because of those laws. Unfortunately, they've become corrupted. The solution is not to wrestle product from the corporations, because there are ways to profit from that attention. The solution is to remove those politicians who votes are being effectively bought by corporations. The solution is to stop giving any attention to the products offered by those corporations. Ignore them. Entirely.

The opposite of love isn't hate - it's apathy toward the individual.

The opposite of IP corruption isn't cracking DRM - it's apathy toward the product.

There's a very good reason so much money is spent on advertising. We should not underestimate the power of turning our backs on companies and their offerings. Apple is a good example. I don't own an iPod. I don't purchase my music through iTunes. The reason I don't is because I don't like the restrictions. So I ignore their product. What's baffling is seeing a bunch of iPod owners angry over the DRM. Huh? Like they didn't know this going in? And they're angry with Apple because they purchased something which clearly limited their options? I think it's idiotic. Nobody forced them to purchase this luxury product. What happened to taking responsibility for our own actions? They shouldn't blame Apple, they should kick themselves for giving Apple the market. Apple's dominance is a result of their attention and nothing else.

Now, I'll agree that there are times when IP laws should be set aside. South Africa and Brazil weighed those laws against the AIDs situation in their countries and took action. There's nothing wrong with this and afaic it was the right thing to do; there's a time when excess profit (and by no means were these companies in danger of going bankrupt) should be set aside for the common good in just the same way that IP laws are for the common good. But access to music, movies, software, etc is a long way from that situation. We live in a world where the privileged use the word "need" far too often. No one needs most of what's being taken. All we're doing is teaching younger generations a behavior that will have a dampening effect on the future.

Woody Evans said...

Okay, it makes much more sense when you put it like that. Respecting intellectual property keeps the innovators innovating. Without respecting their intellectual property the innovative lose an important carrot, feel undercut and cheated by the pirates...

The thing is, as important as it is to fairly reward innovation and to keep encouraging it with law and money, I don't necessarily agree with the assumption that innovation will decline if piracy goes up.

I think need is what drives innovation, not the promise of legal rights or recognition, or financial reward. I think 1.3 billion Chinese hack innovations from Korea, Japan, and the West because they have a need -- imagined or not -- for those goods and goodies. Obviously if we're talking about breaking a patent on a water filter, it's a much stronger and more 'real' need than digicamming a blockbuster in the theatre and selling burned discs of it... Certainly there exists wildly different levels of "need" in the world, and the attempt to solve probelms that comes from that need can be as simple as selling copied movies, or as horrifying and selfish as the common folk remedy for male AIDs victims in rural Africa -- which amounts to incest and rape of minors in the belief that sex with a virgin heals the disease.

What you said (csven) about times when i.p. laws should be set aside for the greater good -- maybe the way forward is to create a more lenient legal evironment in the first place. A Creative Commons for patents?

csven said...

"I think need is what drives innovation, not the promise of legal rights or recognition, or financial reward."

Then how do you explain the economic disaster in the former U.S.S.R.?

My mother is German. When the wall fell she heard quite a bit from friends back home about how difficult it was for the former East Germans to adapt to a society in which they couldn't simply walk away from the jobsite when they felt like it. If they ran out of bricks to lay and the truck wasn't there with more to unload, they didn't wait... they bailed. They had no incentive to wait for more and no initiative to determine when they might be needed. Their basic needs were usually met and so innovation crawled forward. They had no experience with the products being developed in the West, so they didn't perceive a need for them. And when they desired something, they could find that item on the blackmarket - which is where organized crime incubated until the system collapsed.

"I think 1.3 billion Chinese hack innovations from Korea, Japan, and the West because they have a need -- imagined or not -- for those goods and goodies."

I don't know if you've been keeping up, but the Chinese are becoming increasingly concerned with the effects piracy is having on their own development. Chinese software companies are often hit so hard they can't stay in business. If there's nothing to be gained, they don't even try. They're now trying to use the same means as companies like Valve and MS to ensure that their fellow countrymen don't put them out on the street. But we all know that software verification systems can be circumvented.

The Chinese are now reaping what Communism has sown: people don't think piracy is wrong. How is China going to stop it now when it's so firmly a part of their culture? How do you convince a billion people to change their habit and pay for what they can get for free? Is the Chairman going to make an argument for Capitalist innovation where people are rewarded for their ideas??? If not, he needs to. Otherwise China is in real trouble. The world is leveling. Labor is making demands. Salaries are rising along with lifestyles and expectations - and much of it is based on old industrial technology. Meanwhile, those smart Europeans are pushing new rapid-manufacturing solutions forward (the kind of thing you get from a system that rewards innovation) and in the not-too-distant future products made in China will be more expensive and less attractive than those which are RM'd at home.

"Certainly there exists wildly different levels of "need" in the world,..."

I disagree. People only need a few things; among them are food, shelter, safety. No one needs what Pirate Bay offers. No one needs Apple to change their business model to give them unlimited use of the content tied to their devices. All those protestors should be protesting real issues - like this one: Blood Diamonds.

We need to get our priorities straight. Music and movies aren't anywhere near being a priority.

...maybe the way forward is to create a more lenient legal evironment in the first place. A Creative Commons for patents?

I've been arguing for this since before Napster (because I was aware of MPEG Layer 3 almost immediately - being a filmmaking buff, I was following its development). I downloaded some music back when a search for "mp3" yielded maybe 30 returns. But it didn't take me long to realize that we had some serious problems. And the patent issues I've known about for much longer, given my occupation.

Yes, we need to fix the system. I've never defended corporate activity in this arena. But I also won't yield to those who take a militant approach; mainly, because it doesn't work. The way to fix this is to use the power we have: with our votes and with our pocketbook. But the sad truth is that people are lazy. Far easier to download whatever you want and excuse it (often with outright lies) than make a real effort to fix the system.

csven said...

"...with our pocketbook"

Correction: with our attention (because that's how corporations can still leverage what people steal).

Woody Evans said...

"Yes, we need to fix the system. I've never defended corporate activity in this arena. But I also won't yield to those who take a militant approach; mainly, because it doesn't work. The way to fix this is to use the power we have: with our votes and with our pocketbook. But the sad truth is that people are lazy. Far easier to download whatever you want and excuse it (often with outright lies) than make a real effort to fix the system."

Now you've got me worried. If the issue is as serious as it seems to be and the only thing that can change it is political will, things look pretty damn bleak.

csven said...

Agreed. Because now boycotting (or stealing from) a company may not be enough. In today's technological world, attention has value. I can't imagine that some piece of music hasn't already been sold for advertising purposes that didn't include as part of its valuation the number of illegal downloads that the music label has tracked.

So even if people think they're hurting the labels, they may not be. This is where the whole "I wouldn't buy it anyway" turns around and bites the pirates in the arse - because one could then say "Well, you still put money in their pocket. Nice job keeping the greedy suits in control."


Further comments are welcome.
And if you don't know Sven, you ought to.

Ricky Gervais on Creationism vs. Evolution (and stuff)

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

stingray cult

Dead stingrays with their tails cut off have been found in Australia, sparking concern that fans of naturalist Steve Irwin may be avenging his death. (link: news.bbc)

Remember Biko

18 December 1946 – 12 September 1977

Friday, September 08, 2006

5 kirkyan timesuits

Seems there's new action on the kirkyan front. Sven's been writing about kirkyan weaponry, picking up on a thread from some of Warren Ellis' work in Second Life and putting a proper kirkyan face on the matter. Seems his post may even be garnering interest from our military-industrial overlords. Don't ask how I know that.

It's bombs, then, not books. And this is gung-ho, buddy, gung-ho. Forget "kirkyan timesuits for books".

The notion of the kirkyan is now picking up weight and heft from deep pockets. And publishers, monied as they are, are squabbling with writers are squabbling with readers are squabbling with libraries about what the future of the book is going to be -- the debate has no direction, no coherent vision for the future. Meanwhile, the kirkyan has predictably taken on a much less benign demeanor. And it may now be that it has means to become actionable.

Show somebody how to educate more people and not much happens. Show somebody how to blow more people up, and the princes perk up and take notes. I still say let's have books, not bombs. I hope to remain so naive and idealistic until the end.

But here's an insider's tip, for free: The money? The smart money is on the viridian kirkyan that, for one thing, cleans up your oil spills.

Sven's notion has traction. It's a solid notion and it's going to grow and become increasingly useful. Librarians are ahead of the curve on this matter, though, because we already truck in kirkyans daily. The e-book is but a crude example of what's to come. You guys know that.

But to give the notion a name and talk about its attributes is helpful. Kirkyan books. What can a kirkyan book do that an e-book, a cell phone, a page of paper, a radio signal, a stack of html on a server can't?

Can libraries save the world? This question has something to do with whether or not we can co-opt the kirkyan for the good of all and build autopoietic networks of goopy, clinging, smart (well, at least as smart as a retarded dog) books, that kind of crawl in and out of our nervous systems, onto and off of our shelves, into and out of our phones, and swarm all the hell over Africa and rural China.

Let's get cracking. Most of you "next-gen" bastards are already off to a walloping good start.

orderly global economies

"Protecting intellectual property from piracy is a cornerstone of an orderly global economy" (O'Connor 381).

Is this neccessarily so? Why or why not? I'm trying to sort it out.
Comments welcome.

O'Connor, David E. Encyclopedia of the Global Economy. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2006.

Reading: about the antipopes
Feeling: overworked, underutilized.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

10 teaching: b.i. platform

Today our library classroom got enlisted for a somewhat unusual endeavor.

A biology prof wants to use our classroom and laptops to demonstrate a cellular animation website and have the class do an assignment based on it -- in the library. We do frequently get profs bringing down their classes for instruction in library databases and use of the catalog, etc. But this will be the first time they've come to use our classroom as their own.

I'll take 10 or 20 minutes to demonstrate finding good biology resources in our databases and reference collection, but then it's out of my hands!

I think it's just delicious that they see us as a platform for their own uses. Maybe it's our smartboard...

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Steve Irwin, rest in peace

He pulled the stingray's barb out of his heart before he died.
Thanks for the enthusiasm, Steve. Rest in peace.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

2 ultraculture

quick fyi,
seems tomorrow (Sunday, the 3rd of September) is the second ultraculture massive.
d.i.y. ritual, if you Will.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

13 info viz: scientometrics from drexel

Someone's jazzing up the viz of bibliometrics...
Via info aesthetics:


CiteSpace: Visualizing Patterns and Trends in Scientific Literature /
Chaomei Chen

hi again myspace

The community college I work for has just unmade a decision to block MySpace.com from all campus computers.

This debacle was brief and ridiculous -- the computing administrators for our college unilaterally acted to block it -- and the librarians (among others) got all high-hackled and started growling. In side of, what, 3 days? they've backed off.

Well, we smell weakness now. They won't be able to censor so easily next time around. A very bad strategic move on their part, this was. If nothing else comes of it, they've lost their position of strength with this play, and that could hurt all of us one day.


Listening: Hobosapiens by Cale

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

free texts

From (my other blog) libSOS:


free text books

From Library Journal:

Freeload Press believes it has discovered a way to knock skyrocketing textbook prices down to nothing—literally! The rub is that the free downloads of thousands of books will include ads. The fledgling St. Paul, MN-based publisher (it launched in 2004) reasons that print products like magazines and newspapers traditionally have been able to keep their prices low, and in many cases free, thanks to ad sales. The AP reports that in exchange for filling out a quick survey, students will be able to freely download PDF files of eventually as many as 250,000 textbooks and study aids by 2007. To date, 25,000 students have registered and downloaded 50,000 titles.

So. Go get your 'free' texts.

9 teaching: briefly, on quality control

Back in June, Iris wrote about her experiences reading sophomore writing portfolios. She says:

So far, after reading only a couple of portfolios, I've learned that:
  • underclassmen don't understand citation, but that they can do it if guided
  • they are happy to use outside sources, but the sources control the writer rather than the other way around
  • that they think of "fact" and "interpretation" as much more distinct categories than they really are...

I'm concerned about that second one, most. I've seen that happen to me. Once you recognize it, you can control the tendency. Teaching students how not to be so controlled is hard -- there's so much available information, that [it seems] almost as easy as stopping wherever you happen to land with a search, looking around, and grabbing what you need from that pile and forcing it to work for you.

Note to self: remember to stress this with your classes -- you control the search, not the other way around. You control the info you use; don't let the info you happen to find use you to spread without good reason.

topic flowers

Thanks to Information Aesthetics and Neoformix, it looks like we've had an "art and recreation" heavy month here at ISHUSH:


Weather: wild fermentation + heat again
Watching: no more Deadwood, for awhile. There's Shakespeare, and there's Milch. But I don't pay for no HBO.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

buckyballs to buckypaper to buckybooks

Doc Nokes points out in the comments that he confused 'buckypaper' with 'smartpaper'... I neglected to read this correction at his blog.

Dr Nokes (at Unlocked Wordhoard) rocks the mike and spreads the meme for the future of paper and the future of the book:


Buckypaper and the End of Print Literature

Scribal Terror has a link to this article in Science Daily about buckypaper. I first heard about buckypaper a few years ago, but in a much different (and more significant) context.

Though it is not mentioned in the article, one of the potential uses for buckypaper that I heard discussed in those days was to make buckybooks (sorry, I have no link -- I heard this long ago). The idea, as I remember it, was to have paper made entirely of buckyballs that were dark on one side and light on the other. The "off" setting for the balls would be for the light side to be facing out. When current was run through the buckyballs, they would flip over so that the dark side was showing. By selectively turning some on and turning some off, you could create writing on the page (much as a marquee sign does by turning lights on and off).

The article talks about a lot of less important uses, like body armor, shielding airplanes from lightning strikes, etc. While all those things are nice, none of them will change the world. Buckypaper has the potential to change the world as significantly as Gutenberg's printing press...


blogging about this blog

In case you['re] new to ISHUSH... This blog isn't a work blog, and it isn't a personal blog -- but sometimes I talk about stuff related to work, and sometimes I talk about all kinds of other, more personal stuff. Mainly I talk about subjects that are somehow related to info-science in some kind of way. And I say "talk" because it feels more like talking than writing, most of the time. I think I "talk" to myself and to some of you loyal readers, to flesh-out notions and shore-up plans. These plans get implemented at work, at home, and elsewhere, times.

On the work front, things have been tough lately. I've spent the last two weeks in a perpetual bout of gland-handing with people in 'positions'. I've spent way, way too much time in meetings that concern me little or not at all, and way, way too much time listening to titled folks brag about their pet projects. It was driving me batty. I just wanted to get back to work in the library. The political side of things drives me crazy -- I find it so inane and insane, the meta-positioning the organization does to sustain itself as an organization, and the ego-tripping the positioned folks have to do to keep their positions within it. And so on.

On the home front, it's been tough too. Been a hard year. Been a hard three years. But we're getting our health put back together right, and things are blue skies again. And we've got a rascal of a new cat -- looks like a hunger-mad tarsier, and climbs legs and backs with its claws with great glee.

And the weather just broke. We hope.

So. Here's a new semester. I anticipate writing more here now that things are settling down a bit.

Monday, August 28, 2006

bye myspace

The community college I work for has just made a decision to block MySpace.com from all campus computers.

Friday, August 18, 2006

the "you're so vain, you prob'ly think this song is about you, don't you? don't you?" rant

Warning, kiddies, this one might be tersely worded.

"You had me several years ago when I was still quite naive."

This is not an old guard v. new guard thing -- it's not a left v. right thing. It is a past v. future thing. Are you going to want to have libraries in 50 years?

Yes is the answer you're looking for.

So let's get a few things straight. Or just skip this post. You already know all this. Or you've already heard too much of this elsewhere. Or whatever.

. We're going to have to reach out and get involved with new media. You're going to have to embrace the MySpaces and what-comes-next. We're going to have to make ourselves a bit uncomfie if we want to be picked up and tracked-back by the next set of upcoming.

. Long-term administrators, particularly in academic librarians, are in danger of falling on flat on their asses -- and not just that, but tripping lots of others with their clumsiness while they're at it -- if they get too comfie with the illusion that just because faculty is friendly and library instruction / info literacy classes are semi-regular it means the students give a cuss about Gale Literary Index.

. Pick up a goddamn .mp3 player and use it. Put some songs or lectures on it. Learn it. Now.

. Listen to the whole question before you give you're [your] answer, asshole.

. Pick up a phone gizmo and learn to text message with it. I don't expect us to get all ketai krazy, but take a photo now and then. Download a ringtone. See what the hell it is that you're trying to ban, please.

. Put something, anything, on your faculty web page. Just show me you know the web exists.

. We've got to "think different", quick now, about library programs. The Friends of the Library are awesome. But fewer scones. More Mountain Dew, and make this happen yesterday. Inter-generational dialogue: make that happen too. Exploit the young to teach the old.

. Buy DVDs of television shows that come on networks other than PBS, sometimes.

. Get some graphic novels. Get some gaming books. Invest in manga and anime like you give a shit about your YA patrons.

. Ask artists and storytellers and knitters and woodcarvers and quilters and scrapbookers to set up shop on Saturdays. Give them nice things to eat. Introduce them to folks.

. Use volunteers like they're going out of style, because they're going out of style.

. Do more. Do better. And you 2.0 next-gen post-yuppie tattooed librarians who think you're already all that? Rest on your new laurels at your peril: you will become Vogons shortly unless you start sweating harder.

Who's reading this, anyway?
"Your scarf it was apricot."

I say these things with love in my heart and blood on my chin.

That's all. Back to work.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

gaming in libraries: take-aways from Steven Markley

Recently interviewed Steven Markley here about gaming. Librarians might see some serious trackback (tracking back to the real door of the real library, and really going in and using the real collection, that is) if they incorporate a few of these low-to-mid-hassle tips to woo gamers. This is real "long tail" business, here. You put a dozen gaming books in your 790s, advertise them right, and bingo -- you'll have trouble keeping them on the shelves. I've done it, I've seen it, it works.


A few key points from Steve, with some further thoughts by me:

"But RPGs force us to interact with the story and contribute to its telling; there's a certain magic that results from the ideas of four or five people bouncing around a table or living room or wherever."

My take: if you want to build community in and around your library (and you do, don't you?), harness the interactions of people who are so actively interested and involved in story-making or "storytelling" through role-playing games. Hardcore gamers love gaming, and if they see you as an ally it could be very good for all parties.

"A campaign can end, and another can begin with the same characters or in the same setting with fresh characters, letting the story continue while giving a sense of accomplishment to the players. Or a campaign can be run on and on, never reaching any conclusion but simply continuing until the players move away or burn out... and maybe never really stop."

My take: Gamers can become long-term patrons if you make your library available to them and useful to them.

"Seriously, gamers have a bad image in general, and with the ladies especially. While some of this is mainstream snobbery toward the fringe, I honestly think a lot of it is gamers' fault. For whatever reason, gamers tend to be poorly socialized males that generally view women as objects of desire or unknowable x-factors, not real people. I think that's true of many men, but gamers end to be especially guilty of it."

My take: you're going to have to watch out for creeps. You want a relatively creep-free environment where females and males can join in activities without too much creepiness. Keyword here: creep. Watch out for them.

We want an equitable place to play, trade dice, and talk gaming. You don't want to scare the ladies out of your library by running some kind of creepy dungeon of gaming in the quiet reading area, or in the YA section.

"Another thing WW did was make female characters strong and viable personalities, rather than merely sex objects (though there is a subtext of eroticism in the contemporary vampire myth, which WW plays on). Finally, the emphasis of WW games was more on the characters themselves and interpersonal interactions, rather than combat tables and beating down the opposition -- so the goals became more about issues personal to the character, and less about concrete goals like leveling up, kill counts or treasure."

My take: Follow White Wolf's lead in this, and pro-actively promote character and community driven games. This will take some coordination with gamers, and some knowledge of the personalities of any local gamers you might want to invite to head up the activities. Don't pick a pig to be the first game-leader or whatnot. You might even consider getting a few people (certainly including a woman) to work together to design the game setting. Keyword: inclusive. Be ye inclusive. Practice inclusivity. Inclusivitiness. Be an inclusivite. A citizen of Inclusiville.

"I do notice a lot of female gamers are also anime fans. It's possible there's some sort of correlation, there. WW has an anime game called Exalted that's doing quite well, and many fans of the WoD are also Exalted fans, and vice-versa, creating a lot of genre mixing."

My take: From my experience working with gaming and manga/anime programs in libraries, if you can get a strong group of anime fans getting together for popcorn and a movie on Saturday afternoon, you'll also have a subset of that group who'll take out manga, and other graphic novels, and a smaller subset who game. Manga fans and gamers are natural allies. Exploit this.

"There's been cross-pollenization between Wizards of the Coast's collectible card games (like Pokemon and Magic: the Gathering) and their D&D property..."

My take: younger patrons tend to be the biggest fan of the card games. If your gaming night(s) can include kids, teens, and adults, all running different kinds of games, so much the better for your circulation stats -- so long as you make sure to display books of interest for these programs.

"...other figures say that the number of gamers is holding steady or even that there are more gamers. I guess depends on how broadly you apply the definition of gaming or interpret the numbers. But even if there is a shrinking number of gamers, that doesn't worry me; it's the lack of diversity in the market that is the cause of concern."

My take: you'll do well to impress gamers by having a variety of gaming systems' rulebooks on hand. This won't cost you alot of $$s, but it will earn you a lot of respect.

"...pen and paper gaming as a whole is doing fine, as far as I know, and I don't see consoles and other gaming mediums being direct competitors, as they fill different gaming needs..."

My take: don't think you've got all the gamers just because you're running LAN computer-game parties for your YA patrons. And don't think that if you set up a pen and paper RPG gaming night that you've got all the gamers. Have both & you'll see some overlap, but you'll see unique sets coming to each kind of program too.

"Read up on the books and play or run something. After that, the game groups will gel or fall apart based on the participants; you can create an environment for them, but it's the people that make the games. So try to find good ones."

My take: a gaming night program is going to take tending to. If you don't take care of it, get involved, and know what's happening, it may spin in some unwanted or creepy direction. So frickin participate.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

12 info viz: the higher dimensions toward superstrings

Thanks to Information Aesthetics, take a look at this animated explanation of higher space/time dimensions (pic links to Flash page):

Saturday, August 05, 2006

on + magick: Ultraculture Massive

From Ultraculture Gate:


'Ultraculture Massive

A reminder message to all interested. This Sunday is the first Ultraculture ritual.

All those who may wish to participate are welcome to do so freely and of their own volition.

The statement of intent is “Manifest Ultraculture as a working, open magickal collaboration, empowered to create positive change in the world, without causing suffering to any, and completely protected from misuse, corruption or interference from ill-meaning or self-serving forces.”

The method is any ritual, traditional or self-invented, which you feel most comfortable and effective with.

General guidelines on basic ritual construction can be found here:


All those who wish to participate will from thereon be considered aligned with the Ultraculture, which is not a physical organization of any stripe, but an idea. A developing, loosely affiliated magical current which aims at the construction, on all levels, by each individual in their own unique and self-directed way, of positive adaptive strategies to Twenty-First Century life.

We will never seek to do anything but broadly suggest practices and areas of inquiry that we have found personally useful. We do not “run” this show and neither does anybody else, and if anybody tells you otherwise, ignore them.

Individuals interested in the idea of an Ultraculture will find a direct method (many thanks to my friends Danny, Colin and Mr. Truth-of-the-Human-Condition for suggesting this one), which is the practice of Tonglen.


Visualize the suffering of all life. Every person, animal, spirit. Deformed, irradiated Iraqi babies moving in their slicked cots. Celebrities terrified of stalkers, shivering and alone behind their cultivated smiles. Beggars in India given forcible amputations by mafia doctors to increase their earning potential for their masters. Rich politicians and executives terrified of losing their wealth and trapped by their addiction to power. Your friends. Your enemies. You. Everybody and everything.

Visualize suffering as black smoke. With every in-breath, take the suffering of the world into your heart; breathe it all in, take it all in. Watch it dissipate in the secret central chamber of the heart. Now breathe out pure compassion for all life.

I hear doing this for long enough makes you a Buddha, but all religious doctrine aside I personally find it’s the only “spiritual” technique I’ve ever been satisfied with as being absolutely pure, the best way to truly get glimpses of overcoming the selfishness of the ego, to attain peace of mind, to keep happy and the best way to orient myself towards the world.

This, more than specific rituals, is the essence of this “Ultraculture” thing, and I have found its daily and regular use, with the goal of consciously tying it to each breath cycle at least six times a day, to be the most “real” thing I have as of yet found in religion and magic alike.

This can become a very strong guiding principle for your life. No monastery or complex ceremonialism required, unless that’s your thing. No gods, no priests, no secrets. Just your life, re-oriented towards decreasing suffering for all. A positive node in the cosmic network. And make no mistake—this is hardly “wishful thinking” or “creative visualization,” it’s heavy psychic lifting, and you don’t have to be a quote “magician” or a Buddhist or anything except a person in order to do it and perfect it.

Do that regularly and you’ll be so freaking Ultraculture that you’ll be too cool to even call yourself Ultraculture.

This is my will. I birth this child into the world, cut the cord and have faith that She will grow up healthy and strong and make me proud, and trust in you to help her become something capable of pouring light and compassion into this world.

Love is the Law, Love Under Will.


[The original notice, in case anybody missed it:

It’s now been nine months since the release of Generation Hex and the seeding of the Ultraculture idea. Nine months to get it circulated, get a rise in people’s attention, toss a few cryptic remarks out, provoke the naysayers, and eventually lose people’s interest. So, the hype now out of the way, we can birth it and get something a bit more genuine going.

First off, it’s just a word. Any grouping of two or more magicians can be considered an ultraculture. Ultraculture is a word for a social movement that is quite merrily occurring all on its own. Use the word if you like. Use the symbol in any way you deem fit to identify yourself, if you like.

Now, as to the “talk is cheap” part. We’re not interested in organizing people, telling people how to think or creating another online forum. There’s one way to learn magick, and that’s by doing it. So here’s a chance to do some.

The Ultraculture website will act as an open focus for monthly world-changing magick, the aim being to raise energy to encourage positive evolutionary developments that benefit the entire human race, in as specific and directed of a way as possible, working with the world instead of against it. Sure, it’s been done before. Sure, tons of other people, from your local meditation circle to your local Christian church, are doing the same thing as we speak. Good. What else you gonna do?

Ritual will be planned the first Sunday of every month. An intent for ritual will be posted on the website well ahead of time. No specific ritual will be recommended—all who choose to participate are welcome to use any method for manifesting the posted intent that they feel most comfortable with, although sample methods will be offered that can be customized by anybody who might happen to want to participate.

Anybody who chooses to do so is welcome to do ritual to manifest the posted intent on the day specified. They are also welcome to keep their participation completely to themselves.

Each month a new intent will be posted, drawn from current headlines and emerging trends. Eventually a system for recommending and voting on intents will be in place (in the meantime, you can suggest them to ultraculturegate@gmail.com).

I’ll be doing the first ritual on Sunday, August 6. The intent will be “Manifest Ultraculture as a working, open magickal collaboration, empowered to create positive change in the world, without causing suffering to any, and completely protected from misuse, corruption or interference from ill-meaning or self-serving forces.” If anybody happens to want to do a ritual for the same intent on the same day, good for you.

Future intents will be for assisting, in specific ways, climate change, renewable energy, defanaticization, universal human rights, cultural diversity and the like. Remember, though, that the truest and most direct way to change the world is to gain understanding of, and to purify, your own mind (i.e., mind considered as a non-local field, as in “All is Mind”), a life-long, and painful—though ultimately rewarding—process. The Ultraculture art project can be used as one focus in your personal process, and a means of accumulating positive karma alongside those of similar persuasion. That’s the main point—beware lust of result.

We take no responsibility for anybody who happens to be inspired by this website to do ritual on their own time and of their own volition. This is not an organization of any type, nor do we condone any specific practices of any sort.

That’s it. Everything else is hype. Participate or don’t. Tell others or don’t.

At your leisure.]'

Friday, August 04, 2006

Interview: Steven Markley: The Bulldog of Good Game Design

Steven Markley has been building and playing games of all sorts since, what, the late-1980s? Having written work for the big games, he has also designed many of his own. He's a quiet master of alternative worlds and generative, collaborative gaming systems -- if you pay attention to gaming, you have seen his work online. He joins us here for an interview.


1. What is the most exciting project you're working on these days?

I don't have as much time to devote myself to writing and the like as I used to. My own RPG projects are long dead, washed away by Katrina, so I devote what free time I have to writing stuff for White Wolf's World of Darkness games (both the original WoD and new WoD). I don't mind this; WW makes great games, and they're worth my love and time.

Specifically, I'm splitting myself between two gaming projects now. One explores fu dogs, fu lions and ki-rin in a Werewolf: the Apocalypse context, an old WoD game line that has been discontinued but that I continue to love and support. Another thing I'm working on is a new game line for the new WoD called Nephilim: the Legacy.

2. What's "gaming" all about, and why should librarians care?

Gaming is a fancy term for play-pretend. Really, that's all it is. Think of it as a play, but the playwrite (called the game master, Dungeon Master, or Storyteller) lays down the foundation of a play, but she lets the players write their character's personalities, lines and actions. The dice, rules and stuff come in to add definition to the characters, decribe capabilities and resolve potential conflicts. Beyond the game itself, it's a great social activity.

See, most of us sit and wait for our stories to be hand-fed to us, occasionally flexing our imaginations within the bounds of what's been given to us, but otherwise not bothering to think beyond that. But RPGs force us to interact with the story and contribute to its telling; there's a certain magic that results from the ideas of four or five people bouncing around a table or living room or wherever. There's no telling where a story may go, and so will always go in directions the game master doesn't expect due to player input. And that's the beauty of it.

3. Lately we've been talking about "Finite and Infinite Games" in the context of role-playing games. Are RPGs "infinite" by nature?

Stories told through RPGs (called campaigns or chronicles) can be infinite, but aren't necessarily by definition. In fact, they usually aren't. Stories have a beginning and ending, and this is true of RPG chronicles as well. A game master may decide that the campaign will revolve around conflict with a certain foe, and will climax when that conflict resolves in some fashion or another (a peace is brokered, the enemy is defeated, the players' characters fail, etc.); the end of the campaign is the resolution of the climax, character subplots, loose ends. This isn't a bad thing. Campaigns are stories, after all, and the most successful ones still follow that time-honored format.

Still, RPGs can be infinite, if the game master and players want it to be. RPGs allow for that sort of thing. A campaign can end, and another can begin with the same characters or in the same setting with fresh characters, letting the story continue while giving a sense of accomplishment to the players. Or a campaign can be run on and on, never reaching any conclusion but simply continuing until the players move away or burn out... and maybe never really stop. Most RPGs aren't run this way, but the thing is that they can support that style of play.

4. When I last checked, gaming was mainly the domain of boys. Is this still the case? Where are the girls?

Usually staying the hell away from us.

Seriously, gamers have a bad image in general, and with the ladies especially. While some of this is mainstream snobbery toward the fringe, I honestly think a lot of it is gamers' fault. For whatever reason, gamers tend to be poorly socialized males that generally view women as objects of desire or unknowable x-factors, not real people. I think that's true of many men, but gamers end to be especially guilty of it. These guys end up being able to relate to fantasy women better than real ones. One must look at archetypal female portrayals in games to see why: cover models in chain mail bikinis, helpless damsels waiting to be rescued, sultry leather-clad vamps, skyclad hippy-esque elves. The objectification of females is pretty overt in RPGs (though less so nowadays), and it makes sense that not many women try gaming, and those that do often don't stick with it for long. Even female gamers themselves are objects of fixation and unwanted attention by their male counterparts.

There hasn't been a concerted effort to bring women into gaming until relatively recently -- with the advent of White Wolf Publishing. White Wolf helped broaden the appeal of gaming, though, drawing more female fans into the hobby. They did this in several ways. One is language they use: they often use "she" as a gender neutral pronoun, instead of always defaulting to "he"; this is something I've picked up, and I apply to my writing as well. (Others, like Wizards of the Coast, have since picked up on this practice as well.) A small thing, but don't underestimate the impact a subtle shift like this can have. Another thing WW did was make female characters strong and viable personalities, rather than merely sex objects (though there is a subtext of eroticism in the contemporary vampire myth, which WW plays on). Finally, the emphasis of WW games was more on the characters themselves and interpersonal interactions, rather than combat tables and beating down the opposition -- so the goals became more about issues personal to the character, and less about concrete goals like leveling up, kill counts or treasure.

Still, there aren't many female gamers compared to males, even in WW games. I think this is a sad thing, but considering all the previous factors (plus others I didn't consider or I'm unaware of) it's understandable.

Here's something funny related to this issue: http://www.ebaumsworld.com/2006/02/scaredofgirls.html

5. Manga is pulling many females into the usually-male world of comics. Does this have any affect on gaming?

Not being a fan of that genre, I can't say much about it. I do notice a lot of female gamers are also anime fans. It's possible there's some sort of correlation, there. WW has an anime game called Exalted that's doing quite well, and many fans of the WoD are also Exalted fans, and vice-versa, creating a lot of genre mixing.

6. I reckon Manga might save comics by bringing a whole new generation of readers in. Is there anything comparable going on in the world of gaming to bring in the next generation, or are the Wizards and White Wolves content to settle for the audiences they've got?

There's always an effort by any business to expand their customer base, man. You don't do that, you fail, or at least fail to thrive. Cater to a small core of purists at your eventual peril. At one time RPG publishers targeted only select demographics (gamers and hobbyists), but they've been doing some clever marketing lately. There's been cross-pollenization between Wizards of the Coast's collectible card games (like Pokemon and Magic: the Gathering) and their D&D property; they've also green-lighted two Dungeons & Dragons movies (though the first was awful), and when they showed the last movie on the Sci-Fi Channel cable they advertised the game itself during the movie. Very slick, very smart. WW brought in anime fans with Exalted, has always and still poaches customers from the goth, punk, iconoclast and "counterculture" crowds with the WoD properties, and promotes t-shirts, custom dice, board games and other products based around their games.

7. Computers and PS2s are up, dice and pencils are down -- is the end near for tabletop games? And what about "live action" gaming?

According to some, the gaming industry is having to deal with a shrinking market, but the reduction isn't that much; other figures say that the number of gamers is holding steady or even that there are more gamers. I guess depends on how broadly you apply the definition of gaming or interpret the numbers. But even there is a shrinking number of gamers, that doesn't worry me; it's the lack of diversity in the market that is the cause of concern. And diversity, whether we're talking about a free market or ecosystem, is essential.

Right now, Wizards of the Coast dominates the market, and with the Open Gaming License other publishers can put out d20-compatible books as long as they display the OGL logo and abide by a few other guidelines. Since ecology was already invoked, think of WotC as a whale shark, the undisputed giant of the waters. White Wolf is a great white shark, while smaller sharks in the form of Steve Jackson Games and Guardians of Order claim their share of fish too. This ocean is brutal, because some sharks have gone extinct or are floundering: FASA, Palladium Publishing, Last Unicorn, and many others. And then there are the small sharks and remoras that feed off the giant whale shark, growing fat off the scraps the monster leaves behind: Green Ronin, Eternal Knot, Malhavoc, etc. Hell, even White Wolf got in on the OGL action and made some excellent d20 products. So in a sense, the WotC juggernaut and its OGL setup has been great for a lot of gaming companies.

However, what this also does is reduce the number of systems available. The d20 whores thrive, while other systems fail. If you'll forgive another analogy, think of Wal-Mart running small businesses out of small towns. I'm not saying d20 sucks; it's a fairly good system, and it's nice that pretty much everyone knows it. If you're hankering for a game, just grab anything d20 off the shelves and you're in business with a solid majority of your gamers. But it's not the best system out there, and even if it was a lot of great ideas and innovative mechanics are being lost to bankruptcy as d20 pushes them out. We need options, choices, alternatives. Gamers rarely form around new games, so as a game publisher you're drawing from a pool of existing gamers -- and with only so much time to game and money to spend, many just buy what they're familiar with rather than blow $30+ on something they've never heard of.

There are good and bad sides to monopolies, but something inside me jerks uncomfortably when I see one start to form.

Anyway, to address your question in short: pen and paper gaming as a whole is doing fine, as far as I know, and I don't see consoles and other gaming mediums being direct competitors, as they fill different gaming needs -- it's like saying basketball threatens football. However, there are fewer gaming systems and companies out there, and from what I can see that trend shows no signs of reversing or even slowing.

8. Okay. I'm a librarian, say, and say I want to establish an ongoing gaming meetup for my patrons. I've ordered all the basic game books (GURPs sets, World of Darkness sets, D&D sets, some others), I'm keeping the library's community room open till midnight on Saturdays, and I've even made arrangements to have coffee, cokes, and popcorn! What's next? And how do I keep the gamers happy so that this keeps on going for months and years?

Well, you've got a good start with just that. I'd get the word out there, to let people know that the option is available to them. Do the security setup on the game books. Definitely go for the three Dungeons & Dragons core rulebooks (Players Handbook, Dungeon Master's Guide, Monster Manual), 3.5 Edition: they're popular with gamers, are well-known, and have brand recognition. If you have the budget for it, I'd invest in the "core" books for a variety of other systems; the new World of Darkness and associated game cores are a good bet, as well as 2nd Ed Exalted, GURPS plus a couple of its setting books, and whatever else you think will tickle gamers' fancy. You might even ask patrons what they want and let them vote. Read up on the books and play or run something. After that, the game groups will gel or fall apart based on the participants; you can create an environment for them, but it's the people that make the games. So try to find good ones. (Don't bother with supplying dice, they'll disappear on you.)

And here's a sneaky thing you can do to your players: inspire them to read non-gaming books you have in the library. For example, say you're running a semi-realistic D&D game set in fantasy Renaissance France. Give bonus experience points to players with well-rounded character backgrounds, or that can answer certain questions about that time period, or brings you useful information about the setting. And then apply the info in the game in neat ways. They get an under-the-table education, and you [get] better players.

But you gotta have Mountain Dew. There's no real way you can game without it.

9. What are some of the best gaming books that you know librarians don't have on the shelves? Assume we've got the biggies -- what are we missing?

Well, I've never seen gaming books in any libraries. But the gaming books that are my favorites, the nearest and dearest to my heart, aren't necessarily what's the most popular or most available; it can be a bitch running down out-of-print books, believe you me. In the interests of helping you invest your money wisely and appealing to the most gamers, just go with what I recommended immediately above. For D&D, I've heard the Eberron setting is pretty good, and for the new WoD Vampire: the Requiem is the most popular game.

10. What sort of themes and settings are your own games concerned with?

I've pretty much focused on World of Darkness games since my gaming collection was unexpectedly downsized, and thus modern horror is my forte. There are a lot of variations on that theme, as each WoD game focuses on a different niche. Vampire: the Masquerade's theme is Gothic Punk, deals with the loss of Humanity to the Beast within and the uncaring mechanizations of the Jyhad (the eternal struggles the eldest vampires wage against one another, using other Kindred as their pawns). Werewolf: the Apocalypse's theme is Savage Horror, as animistic werewolves strive to save the worlds of flesh and spirit from encroaching doom while struggling with their Rage and personal flaws. Demon: the Fallen is Dark Revelation, in which fallen angels in the bodies of humans reap Faith from mortals while trying to find meaning in a ruined Creation, and struggle with issues of God, Lucifer and rebellion. Different games offer unique takes on the darkness.

11. What has been your biggest source of inspiration as a game designer?

Wow, big question. I'd have to say I've always been trying to recapture the magic I felt when new games were revealed to me, that fascination with their settings and elements. I never could quite do it, though; no matter how meticulous I was with the game's setting and premise, or how painstakingly I designed the system, it always rang a bit hollow to me -- there was no mystery to it, as I was the man behind the scenes, the guy in the black suit making the puppets dance. Endless rewrites and revisions to revitalize my creations did no good. It took me the longest time to realize that. It's just as well all that baggage was washed away.

I still feel the magic for the two World of Darkness, though... with more love for the old than the new. I enjoy writing house material for those games. I write for something bigger, with broad appeal and that still holds magic for me. It's not my own exclusive creation anymore, but I'm participating in my own way, and some people actually like what I do. I get no money or official recognition from White Wolf, but who cares? I'm not sure I could write what I want to if I actually worked for them.

Thanks, Steve!


Editor's note: In 2005, Katrina turned Steve into a refugee. He considers himself lucky to have survived. He's back on his feet now, rebuilding his life on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. If you have questions or would like to contact him, you may do so at ihatealllife {@} gmail {dot} com. Steven is also a life-long friend and blood relative.