Thursday, December 07, 2006

Another querulent triumph

Well whadya know? I managed, by some extraordinary twist of fate and bureaucracy, to have my speeding fine waivered. This is actually the second time in my life I have received a speeding fine (I've been driving for 18 years) and the second time I've had it waivered. Both times as a result of writing a letter to the RTA.

The RTA reply made a point that although the issues I raised were considered, the leniency for this offence was based on my previous driving history. I wonder if this point was made to quash any ideas I might harbour that my success was due to the brilliance of my querulency efforts. There is probably some unwritten policy of discouraging querulents from attempting greater feats of letter writing. Well, if they think this line is going to convince me that the art of composition is futile and irrelevant, they should think again! I am buoyed and encouraged to go to new heights of querulency and am just now considering how best to channel my craft.

"How about your thesis?" I hear some sensible person (probably with supervisory tendencies) call out. Well, yes, but "how about suing the NSW Department of Community Services for discriminating against same-sex couples in relation to parenting laws?" I retort, or "how about trying to uncover the story behind why the NSW Greens are staying silent on the issue of discrimination against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex in the lead up to the upcoming NSW election?" Oh the wonders of distraction and procrastination, wherever shall they lead...

Friday, December 01, 2006

Triumph of the Querulent

I was pretty stoked to receive in the post the other day an acceptance of my letter appealing the original denial of my request to waiver a late fee. How's that for a querulent victory? I saved myself $65 and as I expected, I am still in the dark. The rather bland and generic form letter, not surprisingly, gives no indication of why my request was accepted this time but rejected before.

I am not feeling quite as optimistic about my speeding fine but haven't received a reply to my request to have this waivered yet, so you never know. Now, before I go on, I must congratulate Peter Gray, for if there was a Querulent of the Year Award, this is undoubtedly the one person who should receive it. Peter Gray is a Uni student in Newcastle who took a bit of time off to take the NSW Government to the Land and Environment Court to get any greenhouse impacts assessed in the proposed development of the new Anvil Coal Mine, and won! At present, any environmental impact assessment does not need to take greenhouse impact into consideration. This decision could set an exciting precedent for all sorts of developments that have adverse environmental consequences at a global as well as at a local level. The NSW Government is taking the disappointing but completely predictable stance of suggesting they will probably appeal the decision. Go Gray, is all I can say!

I'm attending the wireless cultures workshop this afternoon. Given the lack of wireless access in Australia, even in our capital cities, I'll be intrigued to find out if any Australian wireless culture has been discovered at all. Actually, I am not being completely serious. There is wireless access in just about every airport and many homes have wireless but free wireless access in public areas is pretty thin on the ground (or should I say thin in the sky?)

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Attending this workshop on Friday

Wireless Cultures and Technologies Workshop

Convened by Dr Gerard Goggin (USyd) and Dr Melissa Gregg (UQ)
The University of Sydney
Friday 1 December, 1.30-5pm

Wireless technologies and cultures could be said to encompass anything from WiFi-enabled laptops and handheld devices to wireless broadband protocols such as Bluetooth and Radiofrequency Identification (RFID) as well as a range of cultural and community movements centring on wireless networks. While these emerging technologies are of great critical and particularly business interest worldwide, there has been little cultural research and analysis accompanying their uptake in Australia. This lack of attention is notable, given the intense discussion of new wireless technologies in Europe and North America.

This ARC Cultural Research Network workshop aims to generate debate about the current and potential uses of wireless technology in Australia. It will draw together a number of speakers from academia and industry to showcase the kind of research and development taking place in relation to wireless use, with a view to understanding the Australian context in relation to international experience. Among other things, it will provide a voice for growing demands for quality wireless provision in public and private settings in this country. It does this by exploring the benefits of established cultural research methods and theories for understanding the rationales and desires behind technology design and adoption.

Confirmed speakers

Genevieve Bell (Intel Corporation)

Chris Chesher (USyd)

Marcus Foth (QUT)

Gerard Goggin (USyd)

Melissa Gregg (UQ)

Katrina Jungnickel (INCITE, UK)

Speakers will offer short presentations based on their current research on wireless use in particular contexts—domestic space, neighbourhood networks and workplace environments—as well as actual mobile technologies incorporating a wireless component. These discussion papers will lead into open debate on issues involved in wireless provision, policy and practice in Australia, with a view to establishing research priorities and collaborations on wireless cultures and technologies.

We invite CRN members to register for this event by emailing both organisers, Gerard Goggin ( and Melissa Gregg ( Places are also available on a strictly limited basis for other researchers and policy, community and industry representatives. Non-CRN members are asked to email the organisers by November 13 if they wish to attend, providing details of their particular interest in wireless cultures and technologies.

Draft program

1.30 pm – 2.45 pm: Panel 1 (chair: Gerard Goggin)

Genevieve Bell (Intel Corporation): ‘Life at the edges of the network: architectural, technological and social intersections of wireless in and around Australia’

Marcus Foth (QUT): ‘Using Wireless Technology and Locative Media to Digitally Augment a Society of Friendships’

Melissa Gregg (UQ): ‘Freedom to work: The impact of wireless on labour ideology’

2.45pm – 3.15pm: Afternoon tea

Jo Tacchi and Benjamin Grubb (QUT)

3.15 pm – 4.30pm: Panel 2 (chair: Melissa Gregg)

Katrina Jungnickel (Surrey, UK): ‘Hacking the home: Technological tantrums and wireless workarounds in domestic culture’

Chris Chesher (USyd): 'Joining the Mobile Milky Way: Enrolment and Translation in New Media Assemblages'

Gerard Goggin (USyd): ‘Should we imagine an Australian wireless commons!?’

4.30pm – 5.15 pm: Plenary discussion of research themes, priorities and agenda (chairs: Goggin & Gregg)

Friday, November 24, 2006

Seminar and Reading Group

Yesterday I attended a postgraduate reading group at CCR in the morning and two seminar presentations put on by the centre in the afternoon.

The readings included a chapter from Nick Couldry's book "Inside Culture: re-imagining the method of cultural studies" and the editorial of a volume of "Ethnicities" called "The Predicament of Difference" by Ien Ang and Brett St Louis. I got quite a lot out of the Couldry chapter but reacted negatively to his writing style. I found his writing style, or perhaps more accurately, his textual positioning, quite arrogant and defensive. On the other hand, this is the first time the concept of "cultural flows" has really made any sense to me. I felt Couldry put a lot of work into delivering his re-conceptualisation of "culture" within a historical context. He argued that the problems with certain traditional definitions of culture are just too difficult to overcome. He was primarily focusing on anthropological definitions and uses of culture in early cultural studies, particularly the idea of culture being only that which is "shared", "fixed to a place" and readable, "like a text".

So apparently we need a nice, new and shiny, flowing model instead of the old, dingy "contained" one (this reminds me of Terminator 2 and the arrival of the new, improved liquid metal "Terminator"). I appreciate that some of the issues Couldry raises about the need to look into the relationship between place and culture as not automatic and also the idea that cultures are made up as much by what we don't share as what we share, are valid and worthy research areas. What I don't see is why a new model of culture has to be installed onto the landscape of cultural studies for these questions to be pursued empirically or theoretically. Some of the other students had some similar views although some were more critical than others of Couldry's positioning in relation to cultural studies as a discipline.

The article by Ang and St Louis received a slightly less favourable response in the reading group. Again I found the writing style a bit frustrating but not as much as one of the other students. One student really disliked it. One of the points made we all found pertinent is the pervasiveness of the idea of identity politics, even when, the concept may have been done away with theoretically (at least within some circles). This reminded us all of the concept of "culture" in Couldry's reading and how it too is not something that can so easily be done away with...

The seminar presentations were great.
One of the presentations was by Sandro Mezzadra, from the University of Bologna, on "Boundary Work. Shifting Configurations of Territory, Borders, Sovereignty and Citizenship in Contemporary Europe" and the other one was a presentation by Fiona Allon, Kay Anderson and Robyn Bushell entitled "Not In My Backyard!: Backpackers, Mobility and the ‘Global City’". Both presentations inspired me to pursue an area that is I'd like to explore in my thesis, that is, thinking about how notions like work/life balance pre-suppose a particular concept of place which is undermined by the contemporary experience of place, and is inadequate for explaining and articulating people's experience of work and life.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

hot day at home

It's muggy and hazy today. Working from home with the still air and the dozing pets makes me feel sleepy. I worry about the bushfires in the Blue Mountains nearby and the damage they are causing to wildlife habitats. I'm also concerned about my sister and her family. She recently moved up to the mountains. I know she is not in an area that is currently in danger but the idea of her up there does make me feel anxious. It is becoming more and more commonplace to expect that each summer there will be severe bushfires in the Blue Mountains where in the past, these were much less frequent. Is it to do with global warming or more development on the urban fringe? A complex interaction of these and other factors to be sure. Each year, there is a sense of looming danger as the hot days of December approach. I spoke to my sister the other day and she has tried to empty all her gutters of leaves. Some areas she couldn't reach because her roof is too high and she would have had to climb up onto the roof. I wonder how it is expected that elderly people do this sort of fire preparation.

I haven't heard back after my recent batch of letters and am taking it easy on the querulent front. I had a meeting with my supervisor late last week, and I showed her the method I'm using for filtering and extracting themes and examples from each interview. This mainly involves notetaking and grouping insights and quotes as I go. The meeting was helpful and I feel kind of reassured but still haven't resolved whether to use a qualitative research program or not. At this stage though I've decided to continue with the method I'm using since I have to listen to each interview anyway to fill in words that were missed by the transcriber. I think I might consider using NVIVO after I've completed this step, even though this means getting hold of a PC somehow.

Today, I entered the remaining observation notes from the Telco staff in Melbourne and the one session I did with a staff member at the Holiday Inn at Darling Harbour while she was working "on the road". I still have a few more observation notes to record. I've been entering the notes into the comments fields of iPhoto next to the photos I took during the observation sessions. This has the effect of creating a very film like, story-book feel to my observations. It takes ages to enter all the comments because I also recorded the sessions on a digital voice recorder so I cross reference my hand written notes with the recording while I enter the comments next to relevant stills. I still reckon my "thesis" would have made a great documentary. It might sound boring recording and photographing office workers in their daily interactions with information and communication technology but visually it is suprisingly rich and evocative.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Querulent tendencies

I know I have querulent tendencies, but it's getting worse. If I didn't put the brakes on it I'd probably be a full time letter writer. It's disturbing. I guess it's a way to direct my frustration and to express my thoughts on things (and yes, maybe to procrastinate, a bit). Sometimes my letters are attempts to feel a little less powerless in the face of seemingly impenetrable bureaucratic structures and policies. Sometimes I genuinely aim for change. Over the years I have learnt that writing a positive and polite letter instead of the one you'd really like to write (the one full of expletives) is actually a lot more effective. I know this is rather obvious but to a Querulent it is very challenging to write a nice letter. Yesterday I wrote two letters. One to try and get a speeding fine waived. The other one was to try to get a denial of a request to waiver a late fee reviewed. Both are probably futile. In the case of the second letter, apparently I have now exhausted my last "appeal". What does this mean? That all future letters I write in response to their "form" letter replies are put in the trash? Maybe I am banned from writing letters or will receive a penalty notice for letter writing. Sometimes I wonder, when I write, if my letter is read by anybody. Some replies I've received to my carefully crafted letters are so irrelevant and obscure that I'm pretty sure they are computer generated. Maybe they were opened by a person. I can only hope.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Blogger upgrade, Swedish PhD students and Return to "The Thesis"

I just upgraded my blog through blogger. I haven't fully explored the new features but at this stage they seem relatively minimal. I notice there is now an easy way to add labels at the bottom of this post and the template seems to be easier to customise, although knowledge of html and css is still required for any substantial changes.

I've been really busy since returning from hols. CCR has a visiting student from Sweden and I've been assisting her orientation and settlement to Sydney and introducing her to CCR etc. I met her while in Sweden last year when I was on the exchange program and she was very welcoming to me during my stay. I am enjoying being able to return some of her generosity. Friday and Monday we went out to CCR together. Today she has gone out to CCR in Parramatta all on her lonesome. I hope she gets there OK! It's not exactly the most accessible Uni by public transport.

Returning to the land of "The Thesis" is challenging. I am making iddy-biddy steps towards my analysis but still seem to be wading through final collation of my material. Always in the background I'm thinking about where I'm taking this thesis. I've also got a bit stuck on whether to use a qualitative research software program or not and if I do, then which one? I've done some research and Weitzman and Miles' book "Computer Programs for Qualitative Data Analysis" is pretty helpful although woefully out of date. I can't seem to find anyone to talk to about the issues. I guess one of the biggest issues is that I have a Mac and the two main programs I've considering - Nvivo and ATLAS/ti don't have versions for the Apple Mac. I have a meeting with my supervisor this Thursday and will bring it up with her then.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

More on NSW Greens

Why do the NSW Greens remain completely silent on the issue of same sex civil unions and discrimination against gays and lesbians and their families in the lead up to the NSW election while the Victorian Greens have come out strongly in favour of recognition of civil unions in their state election platform (as seen below)? I've just sent another email to NSW Greens asking them to explain.

Civil Unions vow

The Greens will push for the Victorian recognition of civil unions in state parliament after the November 25 elections. Releasing the Greens' Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex People (GLBTI) Policy, spokesperson Sue Pennicuik said, "This issue is not going away, because the Greens will keep it alive. We won't rest until same sex couples have equal rights." Human rights and social justice are pillars of the Greens philosophy. It is the responsibility of government to defend the dignity, humanity and rights of GLBTI people and to remove all forms of discrimination against GLBTI people, on the grounds of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Find out more about the Greens GLBTI Policy.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Glasshouse axed - not funny

I had a fabulous holiday and I'm finding it difficult to shift from tropics to thesis mode. I was also disappointed to come back to discover the ABC comedy show, The Glasshouse, has been axed. The GlassHouse is a comedy show run on the national broadcaster which regularly satirises political and other figures in power. I'm a regular viewer of the program. Many believe the axing of the program by the ABC is politically motivated. There are a number of indicators that confirm this stance:

1/ The axing
corresponds to the recent introduction of anti-bias editorial policies imposed on the ABC.
2/ The axing also corresponds to recent news that the ABC will pay a new chief censor $280,000 a year to investigate and monitor instances of bias on ABC programs.
3/ The Glasshouse is one of the most popular shows on the ABC at the moment and has been rating very well.
4/The Glasshouse has received criticism from right wing commentators and government figures that it is biased.
The ABC provided a non-specific reason for its axing.
6/ The Glasshouse team claimed they were not aware that the ABC had been considering its axing and the ABC provided no indication that there was a problem with the show.
7/ The ABC remained silent on the overwhelming response and outcry by the public to the news that it was being axed.

There are just too many pointers to suggest that this move by the ABC is a result of the politicisation and control of media content. To me, it is another example of a program by government to curtail and diminish whatever forums and arenas exist for criticism and scrutiny of power in this country. Or maybe they just lack a sense of humour.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Phd on Holiday

I'm going to Port Douglas tomorrow morning with my girl friend for 10 whole days for a holiday. It's come up so fast I can't believe it. The last few weeks have been incredibly hectic trying to wrap up all my fieldwork before I go. The observation session yesterday went really well and was very enjoyable. In some ways it was the best observation session I'd done and a great way to complete the process. There are so many interesting and rich practices around technology use that have come up in my fieldwork I think the greatest difficulty is going to be filtering it all into a coherent argument. Now I'm struggling with the whole question of whether to bring up some academic books to Port D. or whether to feast purely on fiction for a whole 10 days. Oh it's a hard life :-).

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Working "out of the office"

OK, political rants aside and back to my research. I'm heading down to Darling Harbour in just a moment to conduct my last observation session for my phd research. This will be with one of the staff of the Telco based in Melbourne. The staff member is attending an event in Sydney and I have the opportunity to observe her conducting some work from her hotel suite. This will add to my observations of the Telco staff in their office by giving me some insights into their "out of office" ICT use. I've also covered this quite extensively in the interviews and also in the diaries (which covered both in and out of office use).

Saturday, October 14, 2006

NSW Greens overlook Gays and Lesbians

There's a state election coming up in NSW and I was recently emailed the NSW Greens policy platform. After reading it, I felt really disappointed that there was no mention of the issue of equality for gays and lesbians in NSW. This is an issue that I believe in strongly and have become increasingly active about in the last few years.

My political activism is connected to personal circumstances but is also an outcome of my awareness of the extent of discrimination that still exists against gays and lesbians (and their children) at both a State and Federal level, and my frustration with the lack of progress that has been made in this area in the last decade.

I sent a reply to the Greens and have decided to reproduce the thread in my blog. Maybe I just expect too much but I thought the response to my email reflected a cynical and politically opportunistic position by the Greens. I have removed names and made some slight modifications to protect privacy:-

Hi Greens Officer,

Thank you for sending out the election platform document for the upcoming NSW state election. I was pleased to see such a comprehensive platform with much thought and research that has gone into it. I would like to express my disappointment, though, that I did not see any of the policy areas addressing equal rights for gays and lesbians in NSW. This is not a trifling or secondary issue and certainly one that I expected the Greens to tackle head on. There are many areas of overt discrimination at the State and, of course, the Federal level. The current NSW Labour government has a poor record on addressing entrenched discrimination against gays and lesbians. There have been numerous recommendations made to the current government to reform a raft of laws to bring equality to gay and lesbian citizens in NSW. The current Labour govt has not acted on any of these recommendations, nor made any announcement as to its position or intention for the future.

I am very disappointed that the Greens have not made equal rights for gays and lesbians in NSW a central issue for this election platform.

Ms M


Hi Ms M,

Thanks for your comments. I guess at the end of the day, focusing on key issues impacting on the NSW electorate and engaging new voters is important.

I will pass on your comments to State Election Campaign. There is a Gay and Lesbian Committee/Work Group that meets regularly and feeds into the State Delegates Council, where decisions are made. Perhaps you could take this up
with them too??

All the best and look forward to connecting with you in person.

Greens Officer


Hi Greens Officer,

Thanks for your reply and I'm happy for you to forward my email to the Gay and Lesbian Work Group. I believe that the issue of gay and lesbian equality is a key issue that impacts on the NSW electorate.

This issue is fundamentally an issue about equality for minorities and the even distribution of civil rights in the laws and policies of NSW. It is therefore generalisable as a central tenet of any democracy and one the Greens should explicitly support, particularly in the current political climate where the distribution of rights is increasingly tied to political advantage, the strength of lobby groups and access to financial backing.

Having a platform that claims to support diversity but doesn't address it directly in its policy position is not the way to win new voters or to keep existing supporters, in my view. It will merely alienate potential voters who already feel excluded from existing party platforms. I, for one, feel very unhappy about the absence of this issue in the Greens platform.

I believe there is still time to incorporate a policy position on equality for Gays and Lesbians into the Greens platform for the upcoming NSW election and request that you forward my proposal to those concerned for consideration.

Ms M

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


Here's a great piccie of a few AOIRers (including myself) "back to back networking", so to speak, at the recent AOIR 7.0 conference in Brisbane. Piccie taken by Marjorie Kibby from The University of Newcastle. Thanks Marj...

Final observation at the council

Just about to go to conduct my final observation session at the Council. I'm pretty stoked that I've now got through 19 interviews and 14 observation sessions. Tomorrow, I'm flying down to Melbourne to conduct the observation sessions down there.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Slowly getting back into it

I haven't really recapped on my AOIR 7.0 experience. I must admit to having been struck by the same slight feeling of embarrassment that Adam talks about in his blog. The idea that there really are people out there reading my ravings sometimes, and that I don't even need to imagine them, because I met three of them at this conference, is a bit daunting.

The conference was very enjoyable but also a bit mixed. This probably has more to do with the disruptions to my accommodation than to the conference itself. I think there were some great papers and it was a wonderful community of researchers. I did feel that the broadness of the subject area - the "internet" - drew together such disparate approaches and topics that it felt at times that papers associated with panel themes didn't really have explicit meaningful ties. Also, I found myself wanting to have more in-depth, engaged discussions with people's work and ideas but somehow there didn't seem to be a forum for this.

The doctoral colloquium was fascinating and I really enjoyed meeting other doctoral students from around the world. I did, however, feel a bit out of place. I don't know, perhaps this is related to my subject area or my expectations. I didn't come across any one else at the conference doing related research on information technologies at work, and few from a cultural studies discipline. Being exposed to some of the social network approaches to "virtual communities" on the internet, particularly those of the U.S. students, was a real eye-opener but it's not an area or approach I have any expertise in. Overall, I found the conference immensely valuable and I hope I can go to future AOIR conferences. I commend the organisers for locating it in Australia this year as this made it possible for myself and others in this region to attend (although I recognise the location may have meant that some researchers from the northern hemisphere couldn't come this time).

Friday, October 06, 2006

A timely pellet

An addendum to yesterday's rant...It's hardly surprising that days after Howdy's speech at the anniversary dinner of Quadrant magazine, where he reiterated the Right's role as a "counterforce to the black armband view of Australian history”, the Federal government has taken another swipe at the education system. The Minister of Education, Science and Training, Julie Bishop, is today delivering a speech to history teachers in Western Australia, arguing for a national take over of the education curriculum to institute a "commonsense curriculum".

As I discussed in my recent post, the current Federal government is compelled to construct an ideological struggle by accusing other people of acting ideologically. Bishop's accusations are an unconvincing attempt at trying to create an "enemy" to justify an ideologically motivated takeover of the education curriculum. To do this she draws on metaphors of war and references to the fight against communism, such as, "teachers are teaching themes which come "straight from Chairman Mao"", "ideologues have hijacked school curriculum."

It's our own special brand of McCarthyism. Must be a shortage of stories on terrorism at the moment...

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Quadrant: desperate for an enemy

I don't know a lot about the magazine Quadrant. I'd heard of it and recently I discovered an edition lying around at a family member's house. Besides this, I've had little exposure to it. When I came across the magazine recently, I read an article by Paddie McGuiness, the current editor and was shocked at the tone of anger, resentment and hatred of the Humanities in Australian Universities and the way that the Australian Research Grant Scheme is set up to, in his opinion, favour the Humanities. I flicked through the rest of the magazine and the views it reflected were much the same. I threw it aside, looking for something more interesting to read. It was only after hearing a moving interview on Radio National yesterday with previous Quadrant editor Robert Manne commenting on Prime Minister John Howard's speech at Quadrant's 50th anniversary dinner, and then doing a search on the Internet, that I found out a bit about the magazine's history, and the role it has played in the so called "Cultural Wars" in Australia. For those familiar with its history, this is probably rather dull but I was fascinated to find out how the magazine was set up in Australia in the 1950's as part of a defensive against the spread of communism in the West, and the powerful Australian figures that have been associated with the magazine over the years.

When I imagine the group of extraordinarily wealthy and powerful Australians that attended the anniversary of Quadrant on Tuesday night, all rubbing shoulders and basking in their own glory, at least a dozen little jigsaw pieces fell into place for me in terms of understanding what has happened and is continuting to happen in Australia's political and cultural landscape. As Robert Manne so eloquently pointed out, this group has been working hard and largely successfully at defining Australia in terms of an ideological struggle. But what I realized is that this idealogical struggle was to a large extent articulated long before Howard was elected around a decade ago. It dates back to the onset of the cold war in the 1950's. Writing on the history of the magazine, Cassandra Plybus notes that, "Quadrant was the brainchild of Richard Krygier, the founding secretary of the Australian branch of the Congress for Cultural Freedom which was established by the CIA in 1950 as a key element in their strategy to combat Soviet propaganda."

What is so notable to me about Howard's regime is this absolute committment to constructing an idea as well as the lived reality of Australia's nationhood in terms of a fight against an enemy, and how this stance has been fuelled. For years, the "enemy" was conceived as the Intellectual Left in Australia and in particular, any individual or group who articulated a critical view of the entrenched narratives that had become historical orthodoxy in Australia, particularly narratives of Australia's discovery, exploration and contact with Indigenous Australians. The construction of the Left as being the "enemy" of Liberals in Australia and by implication the "enemy" of liberal democratic thinking is maintained and reinforced today through a stream of finger-pointing rhetoric, cleverly "dropped" to the media, and immediately gobbled up, like so many chocolate-covered poison pellets. Howard's numerous interferences this year into Australia's education curriculum and his assertions of the curriculum being "hijacked" by political correctness and post-modern thinking is a case in point. But as Manne so succinctly summed up - ideological struggles can only maintain their momentum by convincing others of the ascendancy of an enemy. If the so called enemy is in decline, then what's the point?

I wonder if it is not too far fetched to suggest that the "discovery" of the new enemy of terrorism is a necessary move that has come about with the marginalisation of the Left in Australia and the increasing difficulting in convincing any "ordinary Australian" of its threat. The fear of terrorism fuels an entirely new (old) ideological struggle, and is the new object for Howard and his Quadrant fellows to continue to define Australia in terms of its enemies.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Back from Brizzie

I'm back from my six days in Brisbane, four at the AOIR conference and two I spent with my Dad over the weekend. I had a fantastic time despite the unpleasant motel incident on my second night and met lots of great people. I arrived home last night and headed out to the Penrith campus of UWS early this morning to work so haven't had a chance to recap on my experiences. Tomorrow I plan to get my paper in a form to email to a couple of people who indicated an interest in reading it more closely. I enjoyed giving the paper but I wish I had the courage to get up and have a conversation with the audience rather than present the written paper. Perhaps this comes more easily when you're really familiar with the material. I know that at least half of it is just setting the paper aside and letting go of the safety net of words written on the page. It's a bit like singing in accapella. At some point, you just have to put the music aside and perform without it but it's a frightening moment.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Vacuum sealed

Originally uploaded by Juzzzy.
This apartment is so new, the pillows are still vacuum sealed.

View from balcony

Originally uploaded by Juzzzy.
My new accommodation on the 27th floor.

AOIR Brisbane, Break-ins and High Rise Apartments

It's the first day of the AOIR 7.0 conference proper. Yesterday I attended the pre-conference workshop for doctoral students. The conference has been interesting so far but unfortunately the experience has been kind of eclipsed by a rather unpleasant incident that happened to me at the motel last night.

Without going into too much detail, a man tried to break in through my window just as I was falling off to sleep. I scared him off by yelling but the combination of the attempted break-in, giving a police statement, the motel not being able to offer me another room and finding out that the man who tried to break in was staying in the room next to me was enough for me to decide to get on out of there as quickly as possible, even though it was 2am. I rang my girlfriend while I was giving the police statement and she was able to get a booking for me at the Hilton for the rest of the night. They were kind enough to offer it to me half price. Today I spent a few hours moving to new accommodation that my girlfriend also found for me. Thank you my darling hero!

I'm now staying in an apartment in a high rise building about 7 minutes walk to the Hilton and right in the centre of town. The apartment is brand spanking new, not even the pillows had been taken out of their vacuum sealed wrapping. I'm surrounded by other high rise towers, both commerical and residential but the height off the ground (I'm on the 27th floor) is rather comforting!!

I would have like to have attended the public lecture at 6:30pm at the conference but had a driving headache and am feeling a bit sad and sorry for myself. A long bath and cup of tea and I'm starting to feel human again. It's a bit of a shame because I would have like to have caught up with some of the other attendees over a dinner but there's still the conference dinner tomorrow night.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Meeting with supervisors

I'm meeting tomorrow with all three of my supervisors. I feel practically but not mentally prepared. I think all the non-phd work I've been doing as well as the fieldwork has distanced me somewhat from my thesis. I'm going to try getting up early and do a bit more work on it in the morning. I re-drafted the AOIR paper and circulated this to my supervisors. I hope to get some constructive comments tomorrow on the paper.

The trees that council planted a little while back are all doing very well. The residents express their pleasure to me when I bump into them on the street. One of the trees has died but I think it was sick when the planted it. The next street activity that I know about is a street wide garage sale that I believe is in the wings for early November. We've been talking about this off and on for about three years and finally it's to happen, perhaps. I hope everyone participates. It will be huge.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Draft AOIR paper - warning: long post, comments welcome

Why Google wants your desktop
A Paper for the AOIR 7.0 Conference

I'm writing this paper using Google's recently acquired Writely, a web word processor. It hasn't crashed yet which is reassuring since Writely is still a Beta version. I'm encouraged to report bugs to the developers by clicking on the "Report a bug" link conveniently located top right of screen right next to the Writely logo. I can see the program design prioritises collaboration features. Five tabs at the top of the screen invite me to Edit, Collaborate, Publish, Blog and make Revisions in that order. To collaborate, I can email others to join me in editing this document. I can make this paper public at the click of a button. Oops I just did that. I wonder how I can reverse it. I'm not sure I'm quite ready to make this document public.

There's a buzz associated with knowing these words are a mere click away from disseminating to a host of destinations but I also feel removed from my desktop environment, and vaguely uneasy, as if the 'page' I'm working on is not really part of my work space and might disappear at any moment. I've been using MS Word since 1990 and despite its many flaws, it's become the main medium through which I write, work and to some degree, think. MS Word is so ubiquitous and pervasive that I don't think of it as a separate program on my computer. It's so much part of the desktop environment that it seems inseparable from the graphic user interface itself. I find it hard to imagine feeling comfortable replacing it with Google's Writely. On the other hand, perhaps it's just a matter of use. Given enough time and practice, I could adapt to this new way of doing things. If it is well-designed and presents enough benefits, then I could overcome my initial resistance and learning curve. At least, that is Jef Raskin's theory. According to Raskin, originator of the Macintosh, and author of The Human Interface,

"When we set about learning any interface feature that is new to us, we proceed in two phases, the first of which gradually grades into the second. In the first, or learning, phase we are actively aware of the new feature, and seek to understand and master it. If that feature is well–designed, and if we use it repeatedly, we eventually enter the desirable second, or automatic, phase, in which we have formed a habit, and use the feature habitually, without thought or conscious effort.”

This process sounds straight forward, but I'm left with a few questions. Firstly, does moving from Word on the desktop to Word on the web really only involve learning a new set of interface features? Word processors are integrally connected to the entire graphic user interface of my computer. The desktop, the organisation of files in folders and the creation of documents by word processors all work together to form a coherent working environment for the production and ordering of complex information.

In terms of the historical development of the personal computer (PC), the development of word processing and PC's is intimately linked. Word processing was one of the first software programs ever designed for the personal computer. With the release of Macwrite on the Apple Macintosh in 1983, and Microsoft Word on the IBM PC in 1984, software versions of word processing soon replaced the dedicated word processor used before PC's became widely available. One might ask how useful a personal computer would be without a word processor?

Ensuring the successful take up from Word on the desktop to Word on the Web seems to me to be more than a matter of mastering a new set of features and incorporating them into my daily routine. To my mind, there is the much broader question of how does a web service such as Writely integrate and work with my overall working environment, as well as the actual practices involved in using the software. I'd go further to say that this working environment is not limited to the computing environment but extends into the social and built spaces of everyday life. Just as sites like the office, home and school are transformed by the incorporation of new technological objects, the development paths of the desktop computer and the word processor are connected to how they fit or don’t fit into these domains.

Building on Raskin’s theory of “learning” and then “automating”, I suggest that technology transfer is more than a matter of mastering a new set of features and incorporating this into my daily routine. It involves at least two other interlocking processes or paths. A model that incorporates all three processes might look something like this:

1/ functionality and design benefits followed by mastering and habituation
2 /overall coherence into a unifying “space” or environment
3/ integration of this environment into their social and physical contexts

These paths are reinforced over time through spatial practices and can be challenged and re-negotiated at any point.

This brings me to the second question I have when considering a transition from Word for the desktop to a web based Word processor such as Writely. Is it, in fact, Google's aim to get users to replace Microsoft Word on the desktop with a web word processor? I'm not a Google insider, so I can only conjecture on recent developments. Certainly, there are a number of indicators to suggest such a trend. Some industry commentators talk about the "web office" and speculate on who's building it, pointing to a range of contenders such as Thinkfree, JotSpot, AdventNet, Silveroffice and 37 Signals. Google, in particular, attracts attention because it is considered to be large enough to gather all the necessary building blocks together to produce something that would rival the offerings of Microsoft Office (references). These commentators point to the recent acquisition of Writely, the release of Google Spreadsheet and Google Calendar and the now established Gmail as being the potential parts of this greater something, a "WebOffice suite". Other industry commentators point to the recent partnership between Google and Sun Microsystems to bring Sun's StarOffice to Google users as another indicator that Google intends to take on Microsoft Word.

There is also Google Apps for Your Domain, a package of programs (email, instant messaging and calendar) that go together with a hosted web site and domain. Microsoft has released its own parallel service OfficeLive offering a comparable array of services. Both bundle a set of communication and collaboration tools together with web and domain hosting and offer it free (at least while in Beta phase) to businesses and organisations, thereby anchoring the online identity of their customers businesses with the critical communication services required for their daily operation.

It's hard to make sense of all of these developments and harder still to make conclusions about what will happen in the future but I'd like to take a speculative position to see if there is some broader trend that can be recognised.

All these recent developments seem to intersect and condense in and around the idea of "the office" and ultimately where this space is located. The meaning of "office" is far from clear. There is no set of defined features or ideas that constitute "the office". Google seems to specifically steer away from using the term, possibly due to its powerful associations with the Microsoft brand. Microsoft first adopted the term in the early 1990's with the release of a new product that combined a number of applications that had previously been marketed and sold separately such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint. Office bundles, or ‘productivity suites’, as they are referred to by the industry, now also include email and publishing programs.

Although the term “office” is used in a range of ways to describe a number of different technologies, what unites them is the use of the term “office” as a combining metaphor, one that integrates and contains otherwise heterogeneous information and communication functions and activities into a coherent whole. The desktop GUI and office productivity suites together draw on the combining metaphor of “the office” to create a unified work environment. Moreover, this computing work environment “mirrors” or “echoes”, in critical ways, the social and physical context of work and is integrated into it, a folding of one environment into another.

Since the early 1990’s, the association between personal computing in a desktop environment with office productivity suites has been strengthened. In part, this tight coupling is due to the dominance of Microsoft, by far the largest supplier of office productivity suites. Their practical monopoly reinforces the association and also impacts greatly on development, ensuring that the personal desktop environment and Microsoft office both develop in a mutual direction, a classic example of path-dependence. However, in my view, the tight coupling has also to do with the creation of a coherent computing work environment through the use of the office metaphor.

While the desktop environment has proven to be a robust and lasting model, the tight coupling of office suites with the personal desktop computer is potentially destabilized with the emergence of web office suites. Web-based office suites re-situate the space of office activities from the desktop computer environment to a web-based environment, facilitating collaboration and communication in a way that the desktop environment does not. Some commentators argue that the desktop paradigm is challenged by new modes and “flows” of work where collaboration and communication tools become critical; “The Internet, intranets, and email transformed workflows. Globalization and outsourcing dispersed people to satellite offices and partner companies. Collaboration tools became critical” (RedHerring Research).

The idea of the “web office” is not fundamentally new. It references and builds on earlier instantiations and imaginations of it embodied in “the electronic office” or “virtual office”. What I see as significantly different about the current raft of web office suites is the development of web technologies, specifically interactive web applications, to support a total working environment that can perform a similar role to that of personal computers.

In terms of moving users from office suites on the desktop to using them on the web, industry commentators and human interface experts suggest that it is just a matter of getting the right combination of components and the right design. However, in my view, the issue of creating a “unified work environment” and folding this into the social and physical contexts of use is a significant factor that most commentators ignore. Web office suites are bound to personal computers because PC’s make up the environment in which web office suites will be used and are, at present, the main access point for the Web. In some industry circles, this might be described, rather disdainfully, as its legacy. But “the legacy of a new technology” is not just some set of outdated functions or features that one “gets over” in the process of adopting a new set of features or functions. Legacies shape the environment in which a technology emerges and don’t simply disappear with the emergence of something new. Waste, is one of the ways in which modernity deals with its legacy technologies. A technology that is converted to waste can “disappear” and be replaced with a new technology, a process that very much describes our current “upgrade culture”. However, the process of turning something into waste, particular if it involves 400 million Microsoft Office users, is a time-consuming business.

In my view, companies like Google and Microsoft recognise that the future of web office suites are bound to personal computers and that any technology transfer strategy involves more than an upgrade approach. Their approach is to work towards a hybridization of the desktop operating system with a web-based service model. Some indicators of this strategy include the recently released Google desktop, a desktop search application that allows a user to search their own computer as well as the web thereby integrating web and desktop searches. Another indicator of this hybridization is the distribution deal with Dell to pre-install Web and desktop search software on all Dell computers (Zdnet) and the August deal with Real Networks to bundle Google Toolbar and the latest Firefox browser to every download of RealPlayer’s multimedia player.

Microsoft is often criticized for being tardy with moving Office online, critics arguing that Microsoft has been feasting on its existing desktop monopoly (Red Herring). However, another way of viewing Microsoft’s strategy is to examine the logic behind their OfficeLive suite, which is directed towards building on existing installations of Microsoft Office, not replacing them. Microsoft promotes this on their OfficeLive website when they write, “these Web-based applications can be customized to automate your daily tasks — they even integrate with popular and familiar Microsoft products such as Microsoft Office Outlook, Excel, and Word.” (OfficeLive website).

In conclusion, current trends suggest that there is a potential destabilization of the tight coupling that has existed for over 15 years between the desktop environment and office suites. Web office suites can offer, arguably for the first time, a similar level of functionality to desktop versions with the improvements that have come about to interactive web applications. Additionally, web office suites offer many benefits over their desktop equivalents in terms of supporting collaboration and communication. However, while many industry commentators and HCI experts contend that its just a matter of getting the right blend of components and design and replacing the desktop model with web based office suites, my view is that the greater challenge is the drawing together of all the heterogeneous information and communication functions and activities into a coherent system and the integration of this system into existing social and physical contexts. The battle over the office, if we are to use such characterizations, is not a battle being played out between Microsoft representing the side of the offline desktop model and Google representing the side of the online web-based model. Both “sides” are working towards the convergence of the desktop with the web. The battle is over who shapes this hybrid operating system of the future and how it’s folded into the world.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Intelligent design or "Argument from Design"

Did you ever wonder about the history of intelligent design? I was very interested to discover in Richard Dawkins book "The Blind Watchmaker" that the idea of intelligent design was perhaps most famously articulated in 1802 by a certain 18th century theologian William Paley writing about fifty years before Darwin;

"In crossing a heath, suppose I pitched my foot against a stone, and were asked how the stone came to be there; I might possibly answer, that, for anything I knew to the contrary, it had lain there for ever; nor would it perhaps be very easy to show the absurdity of this answer. But suppose I had found a watch upon the ground, and it should be inquired how the watch happened to be in that place; I should hardly think of the answer which I had before given, that for anything I knew, the watch might have always been there."

A quick look at wikipedia suggests this teleological line of reasoning went back much further in a Western tradition to Greek philosophers
and was reiterated in the 13th century by Thomas Aquinas in his Summa Theologiae.

The Paley quote is carefully selected by Dawkins who goes on to say in the introduction of his book "The Blind Watchmaker", "Natural selection, the blind, unconscious, automatic process which Darwin discovered, and which we now know is the explanation for the existence and apparently purposeful form of all life, has no purpose in mind. It has no mind and no mind's eye. It does not plan for the future. It has no vision, no foresight, no sight at all. If it can be said to play the role of watchmaker in nature, it is the blind watchmaker."

Teacher found

Thanks to a recent post, I think I've found a teacher to take the "Culture & Technology" class. A colleague of mine at the CCR indicated his interest in taking the class and I put forward his name to the Acting Program Director. I'm hoping to email the students today to let them know about the new arrangement.

I'm going to try to make some headway on my paper for the AOIR conference. The title of the paper is "Why Google wants your desktop". The problem is I'm not completely sure that what I had in mind when I wrote the abstract is something that I want to write about now but I'm going to try to draft an outline of the paper prontisimo...

Friday, September 01, 2006

Observation sessions and teaching

I had another observation session this morning at the Council. I've completed nine so far and have six to go at the Council and another four at the Telco in Melbourne. They've been going very well but it's difficult to organise all the data. I'm going to concentrate on this side of things over the next week or so. I have a joint meeting with my three supervisors on September 21st and I feel a little all over the place with my Phd. It's not that I haven't been working hard, it's just a bit fragmented at the moment and I have been doing quite a lot of non-PhD work. I'd really like to aim to have all my observations completed at the Council before the joint supervisory meeting.

I'm considering doing one more class for the "Culture and Technology" program. I don't feel that I have to but if I hear the Uni hasn't found anyone by Monday I'll think about doing this Wednesday's class on Intimate Machines 2. This would mean the Uni need only cover one lecture and if the class is cancelled for the following Wednesday then the students only miss out on one class. I must admit, I was shocked to discover that the Program Director has gone overseas and forwarded the coordination on to an Acting Program Director. I didn't even know he was going overseas and then received an auto-reply to an email this morning asking if he'd had any success finding someone to take the classes.

It's a gorgeous Sydney Spring day. The jasmine is out and the wind is warm. I'm excited about doing some work on the house. We finally got our development application in just over a week ago. The work we are proposing is pretty minor compared to most renovations. I'm hoping we don't have difficulties finding a builder that's prepared to do a small job. It's certainly not the "gut and smeg" that you commonly see done on inner city terraces - but it does involve demolishing the kitchen and bathroom.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Dilemma, guilt etc

Of course, I should have expected that I'd be asked to continue teaching. I received a call this morning and the regular lecturer is unable to return for the next two classes which brings us up to the semester break. I took the teaching on in a moment of spontaneity and impulsiveness but was clear that I could do no more than three weeks of teaching. Now that the time has come to respond to the request to do more teaching, I feel terribly guilty. I don't want to let the students down but I really don't think I can manage more teaching. It's the preparation time involved in each class, particularly in the lecture. I've suggested that the Program Coordinator look for a guest lecturer for each of the two weeks remaining before the break. I hope this works out.

The readings for this week are Heidegger's, "The Question Concerning Technology" and Paul Virilio's "The Information Bomb". I was hoping to get on to looking at some more recent theories of technology and society like social constructivism/social shaping. I think there is too much weight on the substantive theory. However, the case study of the smart card that I introduced last week stimulated many interesting questions, not least, the notion that the smart card is not necessarily something that is pre-determined and inevitable. This leads directly to a consideration of the social constuctivist aspect of technology. Perhaps I'll start off with this in my lecture tomorrow.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

"Culture and Technology"

I returned from Melbourne to be swept up with teaching a course at UTS called "Culture and Technology". Haven't had time to scratch myself. Just before flying down to Melbourne, the Program Coordinator of Writing and Cultural Studies at UTS rang me to request that I take this course for three weeks. The regular lecturer had received news about a family tragedy and had to drop everything and go. Crazily, I said yes and within a few days of returning from Melbourne found myself teaching this course. I've really enjoyed the class, and it's a great program. It's probably the main reason I agreed to take it. I looked at the outline and thought "I'd like to take a course like that". It's been great but I've spent a lot of time preparing for the classes. I have one class to go. Last week was on cyborgs, this week on Foucault and Crary, next week on Heidegger. I'm going to feel sad saying goodbye to the students so quickly. I feel very fondly towards them and I've only been teaching them for two weeks.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Best dumpling noodle soup ever!

I just had the most delicious dumpling noodle soup in a little side alley off the main drag of Chinatown in Melbourne, aka Little Bourke St. I arrived just in time. It was packed but there were little odd spots for single noodlers to squeeze into. By the time I left, there was a queue of hungry looking after workers snaking out the door and around the corner. The dumplings were mushroom and vegetable. I'm vegie and always in search of interesting and tasty vegie meals. They were devine. Best dumplings. Did I say they were good? They were superb and obviously a Melbourne secret.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


Flying down to Melbourne tomorrow to start the fieldwork on my second case study. I'm staying there for two days and flying back on Friday evening. So much going on at the moment on various fronts. Also have family visiting from Israel at the moment and this weekend is packed with social activities. I don't know whether I feel prepared for Melbourne or not. In some ways I feel less nervous because I've notched up quite a bit of experience now conducting interviews. However, I don't really know how compatible my tools; interview questions and diary etc, are for this particular organisation. I've tried to design them generically enough to work for both organisations but I'm not sure...

I finally managed to send off my 8 page summary to the AOIR conference organisers for the Doctoral Colloquium. My understanding is that these will be distributed to the other students participating in the Colloquium. I really need to start drafting the paper for the conference.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

AOIR conference

A while back I submitted an abstract to the conference of the Association of Internet Researchers Conference (AOIR) which is being held in late September in Brisbane. I also applied to attend the Doctoral Colloquium on the day before the Conference. To my surprise my abstract was accepted but I was put on the second round offers list for the Colloquium (I thought it might turn out the other way around). I had just started to fret about writing the conference paper and then received an email just last week saying that I've been accepted into the Doctoral workshop in the second round offer. I had a brief crisis feeling a bit overwhelmed by the combined demands but have decided to push on and give them both a go. When I looked closely at the schedule for the Colloquium, each student is presenting for only 20 minutes with an additional 15 minutes set aside for discussion. This seems reasonably manageable and it would be beneficial to receive feedback from a community of researchers who are theoretically working in a similar field. I've set aside today, after I finish blogastinating, to complete the requirements for the Doctoral Colloquium. I have to write an 8 page summary of my phd research which will be circulated to the other members of the Colloquium.

My initial motivation for participating in the AOIR conference probably comes down to my search for a community of academics doing likeminded research, something in the field of social research of technology and technology use. However, I'm not sure there are any networks/communities that are a perfect fit. This conference primarily attracts researchers doing projects on the Internet. My supervisor did say to me that she felt that the AOIR crowd defined this pretty loosely but I still feel that my research is a bit peripheral to this field's self-defined parameters. I'm on the AOIR mailing list and from the posts, I have not discerned any researchers who are interested in the field of technology and work. The use of catch terms like the Internet, CMC, CSCW and SST by communities of academics can be very confusing. These terms are significant key terms drawing together many of these researchers into coherent networks and are often fiercely defended and yet they don't stand up to very much scrutiny or hold the same meanings outside the ongoing circuits of academics attending conferences around the world.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Mid fieldwork

I've completed 13 interviews and 2 observation sessions and have received 2 diaries back so far. My trip to Melbourne is fast approaching too. I haven't booked any accomodation yet so have to get on to that. I'm staying there for 2 nights and 2 days while I conduct the interviews at my research site there. I realised that the organisation of my method means that I need to make an additional trip to Melbourne in a few weeks time to collect the diaries and conduct the observation sessions. I've considered altering the sequence so that I do it all in the two days that I'm there but not only will this be a real stretch timewise but I think it will be a bit overwhelming. As it is, I'm conducting 3 interviews on one day and two on the other. I'm hoping that Sarah can come with me on the second trip and we can make a long weekend of it.

I'm really happy with the material generated so far. The 2 returned diaries are packed full of interesting snippets and details. I'm impressed with how much thought has gone into them. Yesterday I picked up a book at Gleebooks, "Writing Ethnographic Fieldnotes". Not that I have any shortage of data but I feel that there are many interesting observations in and around the actual contact that I have with participants that can add to my overall data. I've been a bit ad hoc though with my method of notation and felt that a more systematic approach could really assist me. What I like about this book is that it touches on some of the theory behind writing as part of the ethnographic process but is very practical in its orientation.

Qwerty is back and getting stronger every day. She's also hungry as a wolf and gives me those starving eyes all day long. Her appetite is greatly increased by the medication she is on for her autoimmune condition. Oh woah is me, it is difficult to resist them.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Qwerty's coming home

My dog is coming home from vet hospital today. We are picking her up in an hour and I can't wait to bring her home. Last Tuesday morning she looked a bit under the weather and was off her food. By Wednesday night she was seriously ill and by Thursday morning, she had a blood transfusion. It turned out she has an autoimmune illness which means that her white blood cells were destroying her red blood cells. This made her seriously jaundiced and anaemic. She is now on immune suppressant medication and her red blood cell level has been steadily rising since last Thursday. We've been visiting daily and praying to all the dog gods in the universe that she would make a speedy recovery. In addition to some prayer, we thought that we'd mix it up a bit and so we've been sending good vibes and asking all our friends to think positive thoughts for Qwerty every day. We have many neighbours, the lady in the cafe around the corner, many friends and family all sending her positive thoughts. Thanks everybody...

This did put a bit of a spoke in the field work but not a major one. I had to reschedule a few interviews but I've completed six so far and have another four arranged for this week. I've had a few more recruits come through from the Council and I rearranged my trip down to Melbourne for August 10th. This is probably a better time anyway since I'll be a good way through my Council field work by then.

Friday, June 23, 2006

In the thick of field work

I can't believe almost a month has passed since my last post. The title of the paper I gave just over a month ago - "Entering the field: researching everyday office computing" was most apt. I really was on the cusp of launching into the field work. Soon after giving the paper, I travelled down to Melbourne to visit the organisation where I'm conducting research on a new mobile phone solution. I had a whirlwind trip going there and back in a day. It was quite unsettling arriving in Melbourne in the morning and coming back that afternoon, although I did manage to orient myself successfully enough to buy a pair of boots after my meeting with the staff of the organisation. Melbourne really does have the best shoe stores.

Since returning from Melbourne I worked on the design of the office technology diary and got good feedback from a range of people. I tested it on Sarah for a week and am only disappointed that I can't include her diary in the overall research.

Over last weekend I revisited the interview questions I drafted for my ethics application way back in August last year. I did some reworking of the structure and wording of the questions and started interviewing the staff from my Sydney based organisation this week. I've conducted three interviews so far and I feel that they are going very well. Of course the process raises all sorts of new questions and there's alot to do negotiating the field work process, alot more than I anticipated. I'm very excited to finally be in the field.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Paper over

I presented my paper on Friday to the other postgrads and I'm glad the Research Coordinator cajoled us into participating in the 'mock conference' despite it falling at a busy time for me. I received some very valuable feedback and didn't feel as nervous presenting as I have in the past. I also found out that one of the other students has used a diary technique and today I'm going to email her and see if I can find out more.

I've received four consent forms from participants at the council who indicated their interest in being involved in the research. I need to follow up on some of the others who haven't sent their consent forms back. This part of finalising the participants and scheduling the fieldwork is really fiddly and takes much longer than you expect. I'm hoping to go down to Melbourne in the next week or two just for the day to visit the Business Development Unit of the Telco. I'm really looking forward to that.

I'm still dreaming about a delicious apple crumble that a friend made for Sal and myself on Saturday night. Mmmmm.....

Monday, May 22, 2006

Writing up draft paper

I'm presenting a paper this Friday on my research to a group of postgraduate students at Uni. Been freaking out about this for about a week. Will spend today trying to bed down the draft. On the field work front, I've received nine positive replies from participants at the Council since the mass email was sent out. The Head of IT is sending out a repeat email today. I have to make a trip to Fisher library tonight. I have six books overdue. I couldn't renew them because I exceeded the number of times I can renew them darn it.

Back to the paper...

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Chasing up participants

Both of the organisations I've recruited have sent an email around to staff inviting them to participate in my research study. The text was prepared by me and they put in a few words in support of the project. The day after one of them was sent around I received a flurry of interest with five replies but since then nothing. I think I will have to generate some more interest in the project by going there in person and presenting my project to staff. I've just sent an email through to one of them to try to arrange to do this. The other organisation is in Melbourne and I'm planning on going down there in late May.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Field work in the slow lane

Well I've got my research sites - two to be exact. Both organisations have received my email text to be sent to all the staff in the organisation inviting them to participate in my research but I haven't heard anything back yet in terms of actual replies from participants. It's slightly frustrating not knowing the status of the recruitment within the organisation since this is largely in the hands of the key contacts I have in those organisations. It's a fine line to tread between giving them time to follow through with the tasks at their end and hassling them to get them done...

In the meantime I've been working on the design of the interview and technology diary to be handed out to all the participants. The technology diary is proving to be quite challenging to conceptualise but I do have a template to refer to that is quite a good fit - one of my supervisor's everyday water diaries. Today I have been doing a bit of brainstorming on what it is that I hope the technology diaries will reveal about everyday use of information and communication technology in the office and then break them into themes and exercises that can act as guides for the diary users. I thought I'd try it out on a couple of friends in draft form to see how I can improve it.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Howard's "Political Correctness"

Yesterday, the media reported that Australia's Prime Minister, John Howard, criticised the education system for "dumbing down" the teaching of English to children. As The Age article points out, his statements follow his condemnation of how History is taught in schools, made earlier this year. On both occasions he has drawn on similar language claiming education has succumbed to "political correctness", "so-called post-modernism" while shunning "the Classics" and " the importance of dates".

There was a strong, united and articulate response from most educators dismissing Howard's claims as "out of touch" and "simplistic". His comments came across as so ignorant and uninformed they blew in and out of the daily press without gaining much traction.

Howard is lashing out at what he believes to be an easy target - the imagined leftist educators that are out to teach critical thinking. He throws around terms like "political correctness" and "post-modernism" with no understanding of the complexity or history of their meaning but simply as a trigger for conservatives and uninformed members of the public.

It is a tired and see-through tactic that he uses whenever he wants to distract attention away from criticism of the actions of his own government and towards some invented social problem.

Despite knowing this, it is hard to know exactly how to react to these inane statements. Yes, they are tactics of distraction and getting heated up about it means accepting the bait. On the other hand, simply dismissing his statements and moving on seems to somehow give validity to the increasing tendency, not just tendency but official strategy, to identify and frame certain sectors of society as "enemies of the state". It is a finger-pointing exercise and I fear that every instance adds to the environment of fear and hatred that this government relies on to remain in power and to invoke its conservative agenda. I do fear. I fear the consequences.

In the same Age article, John Frow,
the head of Melbourne University's English Department, makes the point that Howard is waging a cultural war against a phantom enemy; "This is polemics. This is part of some phantom war he (Mr Howard) is waging against an imaginary enemy". But while his enemies are imaginary, it is this exact lack of definition and clarity that enables and facilitates persecution of others. The others may be vague and shadowy forms that hover under the signs of "political correctness" and "post-modernism" today but become very real figures when the hatred hardens from symbolic to physical actions directed at human lives.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Recruitment breakthrough

Two organisations I had approached to participate in my research have agreed to be involved. One of them is a Business Development Unit of a very large global telecommunications company based in Melbourne that has been experimenting with new technology solutions for the office on themselves for the last year. They haven't rolled out the solution to any other organisations yet. The other one is a Sydney city council. I was surprised to receive such a fast response from them but the Head of IT contacted me by email and said my project had been approved. Suddenly I can see the research coming to fruition when it felt that I'd never secure a research subject. I'm meeting the Head of IT of the Council tomorrow to discuss the research logistics and timetable. I've also been doing some research on the history of the office at the State Library. It has been interesting to see when references to the office and office equipment and mangement start to appear in indexes of newspapers and periodicals. From the late 1890's you begin to see more and more references to office systems, office equipment and office managment. It correlates with the rise of scientific management theories and the shift from home based and family based businesses to larger "enterprises" that were often located in city centres.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Inquiry into same-sex relationship discrimination

This morning I attended the launch of a HREOC (Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission) inquiry into discrimination against same sex relationships: financial and work-related entitlements and benefits. A few big wigs from HREOC spoke at the launch. I was interested to note how the inquiry gives the everyday stories of individuals a high priority. This is part of a wider strategy to change the views of those in Australian society who currently think that same sex relationships are not equal to heterosexual relationships and to bring to people's attention the impact of discrimination in the legal system on "ordinary Australians". The sharp focus on strategy in the talks and in the inquiry itself seems to echo an approach recently adopted by many sectors dissatisfied by the directions of the Howard regime but trying to accomplish positive social change in spite of 10 years of conservative government. I understand the strategy and I think it is a powerful one but I also have mixed feelings about adopting the same language and common sense ideas about "fairness", "ordinary Australians" and "nationhood" used by the reigning government to enact their own conservative agenda. I also wonder why the inquiry has limited its terms of reference to work-related entitlements and benefits and didn't include other issues such as custody and adoption rights for same sex couples with children.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

recruitment set back

I received an email yesterday that the finance company I was hoping to recruit to my study is unable to participate due to lack of "spare capacity". I'm very disappointed because I had put a lot of work into securing them for my research. I'm now back to the drawing board, three months into the year with no test subjects. You see I'm feeling a bit frustrated. Good news though about the Association of Internet Conference in Brisbane: my paper was accepted. I read the reviewers comments on the abstract and I think I pretty much scraped in. I agreed with them that my abstract was too barebones. At the time I didn't think they wanted more detail but I realise now after reading the comments that they needed a bit more to go on. The conference is running a doctoral colloquium before the conference proper that I thought might be useful. I have prepared a two page summary that has to be submitted by 31st of March. I do have some concerns that my work isn't the greatest fit for a conference that focuses on Internet research but my supervisor believes that they have a pretty open interpretation of this and are interested in associated research.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Trees, sneeze and theseez

A major victory on the tree front. I received a call from the Tree Manager at Marrickville Council about the street petition and they have agreed to plant four native gums in the street to replace the ones we lost. They have yet to finalise which of the four types of tree we suggested they will go with but probably the brushbox or watergum. The planting season is between April and October and he said to me they would be planting them some time in this period. They also indicated they would be using mature specimens so they will be pretty big as soon as they are planted. The strategy has been successful all round because the Tree Manager has agreed to use this as a precedent for further tree replacements. Very exciting! I feel like the time I put into knocking on everyone's door and almost losing my voice from pitching my proposal to every household was worth it.

Meanwhile I've been feeling a bit under the weather. I'm not sure if it is hayfever or a cold but for about a week or two I've been feeling very tired, sore muscles, itchy nose, sore dry eyes, congestion, swollen tongue. The confusing thing is I never had hayfever as a kid but I've heard that you can develop it as an adult. The last few years I seem to get bouts of this and I'm wondering if I am now affected by some pollen that comes out at particular times of the year. I thought I might go up to the chemist and get some antihistamine.

The recruitment for my PhD research has been going pretty well I think although my supervisor was right to warn me that it would take longer than I expected. I'm feeling less worried though. It was hard not to panic when there didn't seem to be any possible subjects for my research on the horizon. I learnt alot in a very short time about how to pitch my project to get organisations interested. Recently, I had a very positive meeting with a finance company located in central Sydney that has just moved offices. I also had a very exciting discussion with a manager at a large global Telco. When I explained the kind of organisation I was interested in, they suggested that they may make a good case study. When I found out more about this particular unit I became very excited. They have been testing a new mobile phone solution in their own office for about a year now that has been designed specifically as a kind of alternative to Blackberries. The solution has email, synchronises with outlook and enables access to the office network remotely. Using what the manager called "decked phones", they use the same mobile handsets once they come into the office as the internal phones. This particular set up has not been rolled out to many other organisations yet and is still in testing phase but could represent a very good case for my "emerging office" study.

Monday, March 13, 2006

On my way

I'm just about to head out to go meet with the Head of Strategy at a finance company in the city and a potential recruit for my research. Crossing fingers...

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Abstract for AOIR conference

I left it until the last minute but decided ultimately to submit an abstract to the Association of Internet Researchers conference that is being held in Brisbane this September. The process of writing it was excruciating but very good practice for me nevertheless. Why is thinking/writing so hard?

Here is the abstract I submitted. The topic is on Internet convergence. Any comments would of course be appreciated.

Why Google wants your desktop

Internet search engine company Google recently announced Google desktop, bringing the now familiar browser search engine to users desktops. Desktop platform companies such as Microsoft and Apple have Internet strategies such as .Net, a Windows environment for developing Internet services and .Mac, an integrated Desktop/Internet hosting site offered by Apple.

This paper proposes that the Internet did not develop in isolation but in a process of dynamic and dialectical engagement with other domains of convergence such as the office and the home. Domains such as the office, the home and the Internet operate as sites of convergence that mutually shape each other.

The paper looks at some past and current examples of technological convergence focusing on how the Internet and the office have co-evolved. Drawing on some recent works in the philosophy of container technologies, this paper also develops a notion of convergence that takes into account the environmental context as a force that helps to shape and order entities they contain by bringing them into contact in particular ways.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Things happening fast

I'm cooking up a storm at the moment with my Phd and various other projects on the boil.

On the recruitment front for my PhD research, I received a positive phone call from the Head of IT of a Sydney council I met the other day. He asked me if I will make a presentation to all the Council Managers in three weeks time to try to gain their support for my project and let them know what is involved. I'm very nervous about this but it's a positive development.

I attended a very inspiring seminar series last Thursday put on by CCR, the research centre where I'm studying my PhD. It was titled "Container Technologies" and involved eleven presenters giving five minute summaries of the papers that will make up an anthology of recent works on the topic. I really enjoyed the presentations and it stimulated my thinking on ways of approaching a broad topic such as human-technology relations and how an approach like this might/could inform my project on office technologies and the development of the modern office.

My querelent tendencies have been in full throttle since the beginning of the year and I've made a note to myself to go easy on the various campaigns I've got going for fear they will consume all my time. My recent letter to my local MP Carmel Tebbutt on same sex relationships and children was forwarded by Ms Tebbutt to the Minister for Community Services and the Attorney-General's office for comment. I have received replies from both Departments forwarded to me by Carmel stating that a detailed response will be provided shortly in response to the issues I have raised. I feel quite buoyed by the outcome since I didn't really expect my letter to go any further than Carmel's desk.

My campaign to replace the four lost gums on our street with similar trees has resulted in a street petition and I have received a very good response from my neighbours with almost all of them signing in support of the campaign. I'm sure I am going to be added to some Labour register of troublesome civilians/querelents/swinging voters/lesbians/activists/tree huggers.