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vision and language

Karthik Swaminathan from the VizLab posted a link to an interesting story on CNN, Man's restored sight offers new view of vision, that discusses research that offers insight into the way we develop visually. Michael May, blind from the age of 3.5 years, had his vision returned by a retinal transplant. Ione Fine, a neuroscientist at U.C. San Diego has been studying his recovery. Her research suggests, that as opposed to a purely innate mechanical ability to visualize, the cognition of vision is a learned response, not unlike language. Fine asked:

""There has always been this question: What would happen if a blind man got his vision back? Is it something innate or is it something we learn from first principles?" Fine asked. "Is it something that happens or is it something we learn, like language?""

May says:

""I will never be fluent visually, but I get better the more I work at it," he said. "

fair use and the news

Issues of fair use and copyright are increasingly having a bearing on our day to day lives. Corporations are converting the promise of the Internet to their own benefit, and in an attempt to extract every nickel from their work, are ignoring long held notions of fair use. In a discussion of copyright and fair rights concerning bloggers by Richard Silverstein, Tikun Olam: Media to Bloggers: "Drop Dead!" several alternative ways of dealing with onerous pay-per-view schemes developed by news agencies are considered. He suggests that somehow an "open source" model might be applied to the content created by bloggers. Some articles are archived free of charge at alternative sites such as Common Dreams but this severely limits the amount and type of content available. He also describes a scenario where groups of bloggers might form a "coalition of the willing" and pay access fees to the news organizations. I tend to agree with Liza Sabater who believes references to news content should fall under fair use provisions. In her article fair use = drop dead? she describes her husbands dealings with the Mattel Corporation following his use of Barbie imagery. Her approach is:

"in the case of articles, i say that the only way to bring attention to this issue is to try it two ways: to either start REPRINTING WITH FULL ATTRIBUTION or to BUY THE ARTICLE and then post a link to it (and then think napster). "

I think news content (e.g. a news article) is part of a cultural dialog that must remain within the public domain. Thanks to Andrew Carnegie, we have a tradition in the U.S. of public libraries that attempt to capture our written knowledge and make information accessible to society, without discrimination. At just about any public library, one can read a copy of the New York Times, the Chicago Tribune or any number of national and international news publications. Our culture recognizes the importance of the accessibility of this information and has provided for this via the public library institution. Of course, uber-capitalists will claim that libraries are serving their purpose, and therefore, Internet publications (news sources such as NY Times, etc.) do not need to be freely accessible. I see that as a waste of the promise afforded the Internet. At one time, the public library was the most accessible way of retrieving information, that distinction now applies to digital distribution via the Internet. The Internet should provide access to our cultural dialog free of charge (ignoring the cost of Internet access itself, unfortunately). It is of vital importance to the creation of an intelligent citizenry. I would go so far as to say that it's importance is so great that government should be responsible to maintain access to this information. This could be handled in many ways, including publicly funded digital libraries which store copies of the major news publications, or governmental subsidies to news organizations to defray the cost of permanent archives. The later might be the most efficient of these scenarios, and would allow the news organizations to continue to benefit from the revenues generated by advertising. News organizations have traditionally relied on advertising as their major source of income, and just because content can be controlled digitally does not mean they have the right to lock content behind a pay-per-view wall. Perhaps another solution to this problem would be if today's captains of industry took a clue from Andrew Carnegie and philanthropically contributed to society in a way that truly benefits us all. Maybe Bill Gates should stop self-servingly donating Microsoft software wherever the opportunity presents itself, and could instead fund a free, publicly accessible storehouse of digital knowledge - a national, digital public library. This library would archive all of the published news content of the major news organizations, and allow the general public to use the information for non-profit or fair-use purposes. In the meantime, I think the approach is to use sources in any way that fits one's personal morals, and hope that eventually the system will right itself.

xp as artist's studio

I was recently discussing methods of producing digital work and some of the related challenges with an advisor. How are models for producing work in the scientific community different than models that inform the production of art? Models of work in the discipline of computing are often characterized by long, lonely stints behind a keyboard going round and round sorting some algorithm in your head, until something works. As an artist who is interested in using digital technology to produce works, it has been difficult to adjust from a way of working that encourages feedback, ala the artist's studio, to a way of working that is primarily accomplished in private. Methods of artmaking often encourage mistakes and experimentation as a way to discover new avenues of expression. This type of freedom doesn't typically exist in the world of programming, and I miss it! Given this background I was interested to read an article in Wired, called The New X-Men. Evidently it's been around a while, but there is a way of producing code that relies on the collaboration of pairs of programmers. This method is called extreme programming (xp), and it appears to offer some of the benefits artists have often found by sharing ideas with fellow artists. This isn't simply having someone check your code, since as anyone knows whose coded for a while, you can't step in and immediately follow someone else's structure and logic. This is people working on the same problem and producing code based on collaborative feedback. In some respects it's more collaborative than even the artist's studio, since in that scenario the process is characterized as critique rather than hands-on manipulation of the end product. Additionally, xp encourages a less structured mode of creation that the typical software development paradigm. In this respect it is also akin to the way many artists work. These are interesting thoughts that validate a cross-disciplinary approach to creation.

book: interaction, artistic practice in the network

interaction, artistic practice in the network, edited by amy scholder with jordan crandall

interview with oliver grau

An interview with Oliver Grau appears on Switch|Journal. In particular, I found his discussion of immersion and how it relates to critical distance interesting, as well as his thought that aesthetic experience is somehow undermined by strategies of immersion.

"Obviously, there is not a simple relationship of "either-or" between critical distance and immersion; the relationship is multi facetted, dialectical, in part contradictory, and certainly highly dependent on the disposition of the observer and his or her media competence, which has increased over the course of history. Immersion can be an intellectually stimulating process; however, in the present as in the past, in most cases immersion is mentally absorbing and a process, a change, a passage from one mental state to another. Diminishing critical distance and increasing emotional involvement in what is happening characterize it. Aesthetic experience, which relies on concepts of reflective thinking space, as proposed by Cassirer, Adorno, or more recently, Hal Foster, tends to be undermined by strategies of immersion."

first steps

These pages will be set up to provide information regarding my phd research at the vizlab over the next couple of years. I will also catalog ideas that inform my thoughts as this project is developed. The first step is to get things organized and automated via moveable type.