When research is officially only 40-50% of my academic workload, I’m learning that it’s easy to start feeling like nothing’s getting done. I’m hoping that these progress reports not only communicate to others what we’ve been doing, but also help me keep things in perspective.
First of all, our super awesome summer scholarship student Samantha has been hard at work bringing The Story of NZ Merino video series to life. The first video tells the story of how NZ merino wool made the shift from commodity to brand, the second video tells the story of the NZ “ethical wool” brand, and the third video poses questions about how ethical producers and consumers are socially constructed. I’ve been responsible for the story and writing, and Sam has been responsible for visual design and video production. This year, VUW’s Summer Scholar Scheme has organised a poster competition as a way to help students understand that “communicating research and scholarly findings to a general audience is an essential part of academic and professional life” and earn some extra prize money. Given that our project has focussed on how media design can directly inform such activities, I’m fully supporting Samantha’s participation and the final videos will be made publically available in March under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA 3.0 license. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for ways to distribute the videos for educational use. It’s our hope that the videos are well suited to secondary and early tertiary curriculum, as well as for museum public education programmes. We’ll be working to ensure that the videos are also fully accessible to the vision and hearing-impaired, and look forward to seeing what kinds of learning activities our work can support. If you, or anyone you know, might be interested in working with us on this, please email me.
In other news, I attended KiwiFoo last weekend and had the opportunity to facilitate a thoughtful discussion on rural computing (a.k.a. RFID+Sheep). There was a fair amount of interest in how pervasive computing could be used to support farming activities like herd/flock and pasture management, as well as the potential to establish NZ’s capacity to deliver these technologies to market. Given my own focus on social research and cultural content creation, the hard business talk was more than a little out of my league–but it was fascinating to see how people with different interests could still support and benefit from each other’s work. I met some really good people with whom I hope to work in the future, and I’m looking forward to visiting John and Karen‘s Lifeboat Farm in the Wairarapa to experience some farm tech and sunshine. (As an aside, after eating their happy lamb I now understand why people like it so much; it’s a fine fine meat.)
Continuing on the event front, a few days ago I attended Scott McCloud‘s Writing with Pictures workshop at Webstock. (To be honest, I wanted to attend David McCandless‘ workshop on How to Make Information Beautiful, but I couldn’t afford it.) And since I’m such a huge comics fan, and have used Scott’s books in class for years, I was really looking forward to it. Plus, I have a lot of visual communication to do in the next couple of years and was eager to learn. Now I’m quite glad I went–Scott’s a friendly guy who is happy to answer questions–but he didn’t cover a lot that I didn’t know from his books and I was disappointed that we didn’t tackle the art of storytelling, with the exception of a lovely exercise in which a couple of people read a comic out loud and Scott deconstructed bits of the story. I also learned a bunch of fascinating things about facial expressions, like anger+joy=cruelty and that resentment=anger+weakness (looking away) while defiance=anger+strength (looking straight ahead). And in terms of practice, I learned that even though I cannot actually draw–everyone thought my giraffe was a brontosaurus–I can make funny scribbles on paper. Unfortunately, my “abstract” style does not lend itself to the communication of complex information, and it looks like I’m going to have to find a different way to up my game in these areas.
I’ve also been making slow but steady progress on my research and writing. I’ve got a draft version of a paper on the social construction of ethical wool, as well as one on international livestock traceability programmes and the politics of RFID. I also submitted an abstract on how to imagine rural computing to the Fibreculture Journal special issue on networked utopias and speculative futures, so hopefully more on that later.
And last, but not least, it looks like our C&T2011 workshop on ethnographic fiction and speculative design has received a fair amount of initial interest and we’re hoping that will translate into some interesting submissions. There’s still plenty of time to get in an extended abstract and we’ll send out reminders two weeks before the deadline. I’m also excited to see that the workshops have been scheduled over two days, so I hope to participate in the Food(ing): Between Human-Computer and Human-Food-Experience workshop or sneak a rural computing paper into the locative media, memory and presence in the city workshop.