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The article on One Laptop Per Child that I co-wrote with Mark Warschauer has been publicly released! You can download it at

Can One Laptop Per Child Save the World's Poor?
by Mark Warschauer and Morgan Ames

The One Laptop per Child (OLPC) program is one of the most ambitious educational reform initiatives the world has ever seen. The program has developed a radically new lowcost laptop computer and aggressively promoted its plans to put the computer in the hands of hundreds of millions of children around the world, including in the most impoverished nations. Though fewer than 2 million of OLPC’s XO computers have been distributed as of this writing, the initiative has caught the attention of world leaders, influenced developments in the global computer industry and sparked controversy and debate about the best way to improve the lot of the world’s poor. With six years having passed since Nicholas Negroponte first unveiled the idea, this paper appraises the program’s progress and impact and, in so doing, takes a fresh look at OLPC’s assumptions. The paper reviews the theoretical underpinnings of OLPC, analyzes the program’s development and summarizes the current state of OLPC deployments around the world. The analysis reveals that provision of individual laptops is a utopian vision for the children in the poorest countries, whose educational and social futures could be more effectively improved if the same investments were instead made on more sustainable and proven interventions. Middle- and high-income countries may have a stronger rationale for providing individual laptops to children, but will still want to eschew OLPC’s technocentric vision. In summary, OLPC represents the latest in a long line of technologically utopian development schemes that have unsuccessfully attempted to solve complex social problems with overly simplistic solutions.
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I couldn't help but submit a comment disagreeing with parts of a recent post by OLPC founder Nicholas Negroponte on Boston Review. The original post to which he is responding, though, is excellent, and I really recommend reading it for a critical take on "ICT4D" (Information and Communication Tech. for Development). I'm reposting here to help me keep track of it (and for your potential horror/amusement/edification).
"Laptops arrive, and generators-for-hire appear, or suddenly, as in Rwanda, the school is electrified." -- I don't know about Rwanda, but I have spent time in Perú, and laptops in schools without power don't magically get charged by libertarian fairy godparents with portable generators; they just *don't get used.* The Peruvian government had to step up by buying solar panels, though last I heard, these were still not actually distributed.

"In Peru and Paraguay, local, independent software developers and repair shops start popping up." -- Huh? Where in Paraguay are these? I've spent five months there studying their OLPC deployment, and the only repair shop I know of is run by Paraguay Educa, which also deployed the laptops. And the software has been developed by them or through their outreach, as well. Don't ignore the hard work that deployments are putting in to create this capacity. It doesn't just spring fully-formed from the forehead of a community.

"Imagine I take a five-year-old from the most rural part of India and drop her in Paris for a year. She will speak French by the end of that year. Did Paris magnify her knowledge of French? No. It created it from her potential to learn language." -- No. It WOULD be created from the concerted kindness of French people in teaching her, as WELL as her ability to learn (definitely helped by her age). But if nobody talked to her for a year, or if she stayed in a community that spoke only her language within Paris, there is NO guarantee that she would learn French.

"... all of us who can afford a laptop buy one for our kids." -- My research on middle-class parents in Silicon Valley, including many who themselves work in the tech industry, indicates otherwise (forthcoming in CSCW 2011; advance copy available at Many middle-class parents have been massively restricting their children's access to technology -- including computers -- to the very ages that OLPC is targeting. (It's working-class parents who give their children more freedom with technology.)

On the topic of independent evaluations, there are a number out there and many more in progress. Plan Ceibal in Uruguay has been publishing eyes-open (though mostly descriptive) evaluations of their countrywide project. BID will be publishing a (not that favorable) evaluation of the project in Perú soon. I will be writing up my dissertation and publishing it in the next year or so. I recently co-wrote an article with Mark Warschauer that has been published in the current issue of Journal of International Affairs. And there are many evaluations of pilot projects. We're working on it ...
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I'll be presenting some early results from my research in Paraguay this coming Sunday at 1:30 at the OLPC SF Community Summit! The panel will also be streamed. More info at:

Tentatively, I'll be talking about Paraguayan classrooms (drawn from my field observations), Scratcheros and other passionate users (drawn from my interviews), and early results from an analysis of XO Journal metadata.

This summit is going to be big -- some of the biggest names in OLPC will be participating. I'm excited and honored to be joining them. And if you're interested in OLPC, you should join too!
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It's official -- I'll be returning to the Bay Area for the OLPC San Francisco Community Summit October 23-24 (with a reception on Friday October 22 for which I won't yet be in town). If you have any interest in OLPC, ICT in development, or technology in education, and especially if you live nearby, I encourage you to attend too! It's only $35 (or $20 for students) and there will be some really interesting attendees.

The official website:

More information:
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I'm leaving for dissertation fieldwork tomorrow! I'll spend 3-4 months in Paraguay and 2-3 in Uruguay, studying the sociological implications of One Laptop Per Child. If you'd like to hear about my adventures, please leave a comment here at LiveJournal (not Facebook) reminding me who you are (I haven't written regularly in so long) and I'll add you to the filter. Comments are screened. (I've added some of you who I remember already, so if you see the post just after this one, no need to comment.)

Update: to let me add you to the filter, I'm afraid you need a LiveJournal account. While I would prefer a more open standard, I don't know of ones that are easy to use now and would rather do research than look into it. Moreover, so many of my friends are already on LiveJournal that the switching cost would be high. My apologies for any inconvenience!
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proposal at Shoshone Point
Originally uploaded by morganya
On May 30, Josh proposed to me at Shoshone Point, where friends Alissa and Adam were married about four years ago. We had been dating a bit over two years. Here's the story of the trip, which ended up being epic for more reasons than this!

The plan was to spend five days backpacking the Grand Canyon. With my South America trip looming large and many other things including my conference, area exam, and numerous almost-finished papers in the works, I hadn't actually put much thought into the logistics of the trip. Luckily, Adam covered us for food with delicious recipes from the vegetarian Lip-Smacking Backpacking book, and we had ample gear for the trip. I dashed off a pile of articles to finish reviewing on the trail for my upcoming area exam, and we were off mid-afternoon on Friday, May 28.

After a layover in Salt Lake City, we started the trip at Alissa and Adam's place in Grand Junction, Colorado, where we re-packed our backpacks with food and a few items we borrowed because we couldn't bring ours with us (camp stove fuel in particular doesn't mix well with low-pressure baggage areas and is generally frowned upon in the cabin ...). On the way out of town on Saturday we saw their new beehives and met cute animals. We met up with the other two in our group, Shelly and Amanda, in Bluff, Utah and camped that night on BLM land in Valley of the Gods.

We arrived in the Grand Canyon midday Sunday and set up camp. The plan was to get to the trailhead as early as possible the next morning, since we had a grueling hike (what we then thought would be about 8 miles) from the rim to water along the Boucher Trail, the most difficult on the South Rim. Still, after preparations we found that we had time for sightseeing, and Josh had never been to the Grand Canyon. Shelly and Amanda went off to the geology museum (Shelly is a geologist and Amanda a GIS expert), and the rest of us decided to walk the ~2 miles along the rim to Shoshone Point. Among other things, we saw a large native wasp (which reminded us of a similar wasp that landed on Alissa's bouquet in the middle of their ceremony), a herd of elk, and lots of interesting scat on the way out (and Josh was amused and somewhat disturbed at our fascination with desert poop).

At Shoshone Point, two avid birdwatchers dangled their feet off the rim, tracking the canyon's condors with their large scopes. We took a few pictures around them and talked about memories of Alissa and Adam's wedding. Then they started to head back. "Just a minute," Josh said, grabbing my arm as we passed Shoshone Rock. I figured something was up then, but nonchalantly studied the lichen on the rock while he crouched down and rummaged around in his backpack. Then, still crouching, he took my hand and, clearly very nervous, said, "Morgan, will you marry me?"

I think the first thing I actually said was "Oh my gosh ...," but that was soon followed by an "of course!" as I pulled him to his feet for a hug (conveniently captured on camera at a distance by Adam). He produced a surprisingly large box and opened it to show an elaborate necklace. He explained that he had gotten me an engagement necklace, figuring we could pick rings together later. I had him put it on me, and he explained a bit about the design process, which includes 3D printing in metal. Then we went back to tell Alissa and Adam the news. "So now this point has special meaning for more of us!" Alissa said. We went back to take more pictures.


It is said in some cultures that newly-betrothed must go through a trial together to test the strength of their relationship. The backpacking trip the next five days became our trial. Sickness, snakes, scorpions, and sacrifices follow ... )

We managed to secure a hotel room on Friday morning (thanks to the *very* helpful staff at Maswick Lodge who found an empty room and allowed us to check in 9 hours early) to catch up on sleep after our all-nighter of hiking. After a few hours of rest, we visited a couple of rim gift shops and picked out matching engagement rings. (We're opting to get fancier wedding bands but keep the engagement rings simple.) Then we had a fancy dinner with the group at El Tovar Lodge, where I was served four lamb chops the size of my head! On Saturday morning we shuttled to Flagstaff, then flew home to San Jose, where Rick kindly picked us up. The trip was over, we survived, and now we're engaged!
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Here's the flyer for the panel I'm organizing this spring, as previously promised. (Apologies to all who are out of town or not interested!) More information here:

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I'm tremendously excited to announce the panel on values in design I am planning this spring. Please join us at Stanford for a great discussion on May 17 -- and spread the word! I'll post a flyer soon.

Designing for Freedom: Values in Communication Technologies
The Second Annual Rebele First Amendment Panel
Monday, May 17, 2010, 3pm-5:30pm
Mendenhall Library, McClatchy Hall, Stanford University
Reception following
Free and Open to the Public

Batya Friedman
Professor of Information Science, Adjunct Professor of Computer Science and Engineering
Co-Director, Value-Sensitive Design Research Laboratory
University of Washington

Mark Warschauer
Professor of Education and Informatics
Founding Director, Digital Learning Lab
University of California, Irvine

Jenna Burrell
Assistant Professor of Information Science
University of California, Berkeley

Morgan Ames (Organizer)
Doctoral Candidate, Communication
Stanford University

Chair and Discussant: Fred Turner
Associate Professor of Communication and Director of Undergraduate Studies
Stanford University

Communication technologies have long been heralded as the harbingers of unprecedented freedoms, including the promise of decoupling expression from physical constraints and political scrutiny. These promises are not accidental: many organizations, from private corporations like Google to open-source software projects like One Laptop Per Child, specifically build their machines and software to embody these values. At times, however, the full implications of these design choices are not fully understood until the technology is put into use. In the process of appropriating, re-negotiating, and sometimes countering a technological artifact, users – from governments to schoolchildren – bring their own values and practices to bear on it, often with unanticipated consequences.

What happens when the values of these groups conflict? When we account for the sundry cultures of designers and users, what are the implications of these technologies for society and free expression? The 2010 Rebele First Amendment Panel will explore the ways in which the design and use of communication technologies can help or hinder freedom of expression. We will discuss the process by which technologies come to embody and symbolize values, how values are negotiated by various groups as the technology goes into use, and the implications of these processes for free communication.

This panel brings together three pre-eminent scholars at the forefront of this research area: Batya Friedman, Mark Warschauer, and Jenna Burrell. These scholars draw from myriad disciplines, including anthropology, cultural studies, communication, education, information science, and computer science. Batya Friedman, Professor at the University of Washington and Co-director of the Value-Sensitive Design Research Laboratory, has provided a methodological framework for studying values in the design of technologies and offers a designer’s perspective on the integration of values into technology. Mark Warschauer, Professor at University of California, Irvine and Founding Director of its Digital Learning Lab, is a leading scholar of technology in education, the digital divide, and technology and development. Jenna Burrell, Assistant Professor at University of California, Berkeley, has analyzed technosocial practices in post-colonial countries, particularly Africa. Organizer Morgan Ames will join these scholars by discussing her recent work on the values that families create around communication and media technologies and her upcoming dissertation research on the social meanings of the One Laptop Per Child project. Associate Professor Fred Turner will moderate the discussion.

Participant Biographies )
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1980: I had been a tadpole for about two months by the last day of that year. Wouldn't have been counted in the census. My parents were living in a little 1940s house on a half-acre lot in a suburb of Salt Lake City, Utah, after a few years of farming in Draper.

1990: Resident of Salt Lake City, Utah. For the second half of it, I was a fourth-grader in Mr. Fornelius's class in greater Salt Lake City, obsessed with rocks, stars, Greek myths, reading, experiments on plants, and spending time outside. That was a happy year. For the first half, I was a third-grader in Ms. Cox's class, and she was really mean and I was pretty unhappy. However, I was part of the Young Astronauts program and got a chunk of a space shuttle, which I thought was totally awesome!

2000: Resident of Berkeley, California. That spring, I was one semester into college at Berkeley, still planning on double-majoring in English and astrophysics. I was taking Physics 7B (electromagnetism and thermodynamics), Math 54 (linear algebra and diff. equations), and a comparative literature class that would ultimately sour me on being an English major. I had work-study jobs giving star shows at Holt Planetarium at Lawrence Hall of Science and being a teaching assistant at Willard Middle School. That summer, I worked at Cal Sailing Club and continued to give shows at Holt Planetarium. That fall, I took my first computer science course -- I got into 61A after studying the book over the summer -- and what turned out to be my last physics and astronomy courses. Throughout the year I was dating Eugene, starting karate, and getting more into ballroom dancing. I still didn't have many friends at Cal and wasn't very happy, mostly due to depression.

2010: Resident of Menlo Park, California. ABD (all-but-dissertation) in the Communication department at Stanford, I'll be completing my dissertation fieldwork on the One Laptop Per Child project in South America this fall. This spring, I'm finishing up coursework (Spanish courses, seminars, and yoga), finishing up research papers, and organizing a panel on Values in Design (May 17, 3pm, Mendenhall Library, Stanford campus! More details soon!). I'm dating [ profile] joshbuckler, I recently moved into the house he bought, and I'm feeling very happy (though I recently had another bout of depression).

2020: Strange to think about. I'll probably have kids, and I'll probably be a professor or researcher studying the social implications of technology. However, my life has taken so many unexpected turns that I may be doing something totally different. Time will tell!
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Originally uploaded by morganya
Well, we have a turnaround on Lea. I finally got access to her medical records (the previous owners had to add me to the account; these vets extend HIPAA-like privacy to pets!) and it turns out that she *had* been in for a visit in 2006 and she *had* been given the FIV vaccine at that time. So the test was a false positive -- or, I should say, it correctly detected FIV antibodies but they were present because of a previous vaccine, not an infection. This is certainly a relief. I'll wait until they send me the paperwork to confirm, but it looks like we can allow her outside after all (though I'm happy to keep her as a mostly-indoor cat anyway).


Mar. 1st, 2010 02:56 pm
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2010-03-01 10.47.08.jpg
Originally uploaded by morganya
Meet Lea.

I first met Lea, though I didn't know her name at the time, in early November, just days after the sale of the house closed. I was in the new kitchen, making notes for the remodel, when I heard yowling outside. I opened up the door, and a scrawny cat with patchy fur and protruding hip bones peeked cautiously at me from the bushes. I called her over and, though timid at first, she climbed right into my lap, purring. The only food I had in the house was half of a burrito, but I scooped out some of the innards, which she gobbled up. The poor thing was clearly starving.

I bought some proper cat food the next day and returned with some in a tupperware, which I left on the front porch. When I visited two days later, it was gone, but Lea was there, waiting expectantly. Over the next month I refilled the bowl and allowed Lea to climb into my lap on occasion, noting that I didn't seem to be too allergic to her (perhaps my allergy shots really were working). When construction started, I handed over kitty food duty to the main contractor, who said Lea was the sweetest cat he had encountered.

How she came to be an indoor-only cat in our house ... )

We confirmed with the previous owners that at least to their knowledge, Lea hadn't ever gotten a FIV vaccine, which would also create a positive test result. We also found out that she was not 13, but a whopping 16 years old -- old even for healthy cat standards!

So that's Lea. I hope you get a chance to meet her sometime. Though sometimes shy, she's an incredibly sweet cat.
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Eclipse in Hangzhou - totality!
Originally uploaded by morganya
We managed to outrun the weather and see totality! More later ...
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The Micro$oft homepage today says:

"You'll never find it with old Firefox. So get rid of it, or get lost. ... Ditch the web browser you're using. ... Download Microsoft's best ever browser ... Use the clues and your brilliance ..." -- does this strike anyone else as ridiculously gimmicky and cheap?

"It's not as stupid as it sounds." Ha.
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I recently encountered this passage in an online journal (ironic, given its content), and found that it stuck in my mind for days afterward. In the article as a whole, the author (somewhat snarkily) muses on what has become of attention and time in our digital world. Without veering into technological determinism, he addresses the fact that using digital media isn't just a matter of choosing to do so -- there is an element of compulsion, of "domestication," possibly even of a lack of discipline (which I know I'm guilty of at times). I've been thinking a lot about this recently, both in research and in my personal life, so perhaps it resonated with me because of that. Here are the opening two paragraphs (for those of us -- me included, usually -- who don't have the time to click through ;~)). I may want to find that Proust passage to include in my own research ...
The pages in Proust's long novel describing a first-ever telephone call are often admired for their rare sensitivity to the experience of a new technology. The narrator is speaking, across the miles of cable, to his grandmother. More than speak, he listens. The telephone separates previously united aspects of his grandmother—her voice and physical presence—and through isolating the voice reveals something that the narrator had missed in the flesh: "having [her voice] alone beside me, seen without the mask of her face, I noticed in it for the first time the sorrows that had cracked it in the course of a lifetime."

Proust's passage has no equivalent in any contemporary fiction I know when it comes to an account of a first email read, or first social networking profile posted. Even so, it can't tell us much about what we may really wish to know about technology: never mind losing your virginity—what is it like to live with someone? Proust seems to have recognized that domestication, as the technologists call it, was harder to describe than initiation. In a later volume, he refers in passing to the telephone as "a supernatural instrument before whose miracles we used to stand amazed, and which we now employ without giving it a thought, to summon our tailor or order an ice cream."
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Like many, I'm ashamed of the very slim California majority who voted Proposition 8, which amends the California constitution to discriminate against same-sex couples in not allowing them to marry. Similar propositions were passed in Florida and Arizona, and [ profile] anemone has told me about a new law in Arkansas that prevents same-sex couples from fostering or adopting children (and the group in favor has the hubris to claim that it doesn't discriminate because non-married hetero couples also can't foster, never mind that same-sex couples don't have a *way* of marrying in Arkansas!).

And like many, I'm angered by the Mormon Church's large and heavy-handed role in the "Yes on 8" campaign and other similar discrimination campaigns around the country. The Mormon Church has done these sorts of things for years in Utah politics, and I grew up often feeling helpless frustration as the church "unofficially" encouraged their members to prop up intolerant policies or support bigoted, closed-minded politicians. So I'm so happy that the church is finally being called to task for it on a large scale, and support both calls to challenge their legal standing in getting involved in political campaigns as a church and nonprofit (though they've been rebuffing these arguments for years) and their moral and ethical right meddling with topics that arguably don't really concern them. I encourage challenges or boycotts of the Yes on 8 donors. As the bloggers at Bitch, PhD put it ... )

But I adamantly don't support a boycott of the entire state of Utah. One reason is that boycotting Utah tourism would ironically most hurt the most liberal parts of Utah, particularly Utah's three primary tourist destinations: Salt Lake City (Utah's capital and the gateway to most of Utah's ski resorts), Park City (the site of many ski resorts and of Sundance Film Festival, which the Mormon church would probably be happy to see fail), and Moab (the town just outside of Arches National Park). Salt Lake City had one of the most liberal mayors in the country, Rocky Anderson, from 1999 to 2007 (and he probably would have been re-elected had he decided to run for a third term). Rocky has come to the anti-war protests (including one for which I was in town) and has been consistent in his criticism of the Bush administration (and support for impeachment of Bush). He supports the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, and gay marriage rights. And he was supported by the majority of Salt Lake City residents. I don't know as much about the politics of Park City or Moab, but I know they support liberal policies and politicians when voting, just like Salt Lake City does. And so I ask the boycotters, is this really what you want to be punishing?

By boycotting Utah, you'll hurt the most liberal parts of Utah much worse than the Mormon church. Boycott the actual Proposition 8 supporters (or support the detractors), put political and moral pressure on the Mormon Church, and, of course, work to ensure that Proposition 8 gets thrown out as the discrimination that it is, but don't misguidedly boycott the tourist destinations -- which are also the most liberal areas -- of an entire state.
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I wrote about the danger of California's Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriage last May, shortly after the California Supreme Court rightfully threw out Proposition 20 from 2000. Well, it seems that after initially being against it, a majority Californians are coming around to support Proposition 8, in part because of an ad campaign (that got about half its money from the famously homophobic Mormon Church, which is incidentally also one of the main reasons the Boy Scouts are so homophobic) that is not only prejudiced but outright false, at least as discussed on Forum this morning.

For one, the ad campaign is claiming that children will be "forced" to learn about all kinds of marriage, including same-sex marriage, in schools. Apparently marriage is discussed in kids' sex-ed classes, and the argument that the proponent of Proposition 8 made was that if Proposition 8 passed, it would be "discriminatory" to talk about heterosexual marriage and not homosexual marriage (so he'd rather be discriminatory in defining marriage so narrowly?!). But parents have always had the option to opt their kids out of sex ed, so if they felt that strongly about it, they could do that. (Hell, they may even be required to sign a waiver before their kid is allowed in to sex ed -- that's how Utah works, anyway.) Also, this is such a red herring argument -- it isn't central to the issue at all.

The second argument is also both a red herring and false. The Prop. 8 proponent argued that churches that refused to perform same-sex marriages could lose their federal funding. The opponent said that there was no way for this to happen.

One of the callers mentioned the parallels between this and the fight for legalizing interracial marriage, which was "against the will of the people" in the 1950s. The proponent for Prop. 8 said that that case was completely different because interracial marriage is still "in support of families and children." (He skirted various questions around heterosexual couples who wanted to marry but didn't plan to have kids, and around homosexual couples who did have kids and wanted the legal standing to best support them that is provided through marriage.) There are also other parallels promoting various forms of segregation that were also "against the will of the people": it was equally "against the will of the [majority of] people" to do away with slavery and to integrate schools and public services in the 1950s. The rule (a.k.a. tyranny) of the majority can be dangerous: the "will of the people" isn't necessarily right, fair, or just. The California Supreme Court rightly recognized the historical and logical flaws in this argument and ruled that the civil and legal institution of marriage, or whatever you want to call it, has to have not only the same rights and benefits but the same name for all. But now that right is threatened.

So California US-citizen friends, make sure you vote NO on Proposition 8. And for everyone, Californian or no, please please please consider donating to the "No On Proposition 8" campaign to help them fight the lies.
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I know certain friends who would appreciate these awesome kitted and crocheted creatures. It's almost enough to make me want to try it again ... almost.

I especially like the sea creatures. For [ profile] corpsefairy, a knitted cuttlefish!

She'd probably appreciate the nudibranch, squids, and octopi, too.

There's also a heart, a digestive system, a uterus/fallopian tubes, some variations on Cthulu, and some amazing chain link fence art:

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Last Wednesday, I played with a pottery wheel for the first time in 10 years. In high school, pottery was one of my respites from hectic days full of AP classes, along with orchestra, print-making, and (even) auto mechanics. I found wheel-throwing particularly meditative, with its paradoxical combinations of muscle tone and gentle movements, extreme focus and sensory awareness, planning and improvisation, exercise (kicking the wheel) and stillness. The feeling was addictive. I've since found similar paradoxes elsewhere, particularly in karate, sewing, and partner dancing, but I've still longed to find the time to go back to pottery again. So a few weeks ago, I looked around for a class nearby that hadn't started yet -- and, after ruling out many options, found one in Sunnyvale that met once a week. Sold! First class was last Wednesday, and I found that I still had the muscle memory for throwing off the wheel. I threw three cylinders, two of which I sliced to make sure my walls were even, and one medium-sized bowl. I have lots of ideas for other things I want to do. I'm so excited to be back. And soon, Stanford will have its own brand-new studio up and running!

Having the time for this was predicated on a few other big changes that I haven't mentioned here yet. For instance, I'm no longer dancing competitively. Through the first half of the year, my partner and I were practicing maybe two times a week, with no coaching, while he juggled being a new father of twins and work commitments. In mid-summer, we talked about ramping up to our usual practice schedule of practicing four or five times a week, plus having coaching, training, or competitions on the weekends, and I balked. I've done it for years now, and there is a lot I love about ballroom dancing, but I just don't have time for 15-20 hours/week of it anymore. I've still been social dancing, I'm still teaching ballroom to kids (though high school kids this year) once a week, and I've continued my yoga practice, but I haven't been practicing ballroom since before all of my traveling in August. I miss it, but it really is for the best. It's funny that I find myself fidgeting in dance steps more than ever before, though.

I'm also taking a quarter off from school to finish up a project at Nokia Research and to be able to make more time to tackle my ever-growing reading list. More on this and other research directions later.

If I decide to pursue research on One Laptop Per Child for my dissertation, I'll need to re-learn Spanish, and I've been wanting to anyway. I was originally planning to take a refresher course through Foothill community college, but the first class session brought back all the horrors of high-school syllabi and petty grading systems, so I scurried home and bought a whole slew of teach-yourself-Spanish books instead. I'm hoping it will come back relatively quickly, with some practice, and that I can start conversational classes at Stanford in the winter. I still understand decently; I just can't remember many words or any conjugations. Pues, necesito practicar!

I'll be traveling this fall, as well! I'll be in Europe in late October, and in San Diego for the CSCW conference November 8-12 (participating in a workshop on family communication). Anyone else going?
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Burning Man 2008 costumes
Originally uploaded by morganya
Burning Man was, as I expected, intense. Not being much of a wild partier, I found some aspects somewhat unpleasant, particularly the incessant thumping music (especially bad right next to Center Camp, where we were staying -- though the music was much more diverse than the techno techno and more techno I had been led to expect!) and the hordes of obnoxious partygoers (often drunk and/or high) hollering stupid things, defacing things, pissing on the playa, littering, etc. (Ruth noted that this year, for the first time, there was more MOOP than she and Saryn could pick up on the way to the port-a-potties in the morning.) There were parts that didn't bother me, but didn't attract me either: the casual sex, the public nudity (I don't mind nudity per se but I didn't want to participate in the weird gender implications that I'll get into more later), the smoking and drugs. But there were aspects of the experience that were just incredible.

I knew I'd love the art, and indeed, it was mind-blowing to see (and interact with) it in person rather than just through photographs and videos, as I had in previous years. The general consensus seemed to be that there weren't as many really great art pieces but that there were more art cars this year than previously. But even so, this was my favorite part.

I was surprised (though perhaps I shouldn't have been, given all that I've heard) at the friendliness and openness of some of the people there: I have noticed that the friendliness that I grew up with and used to take for granted in Salt Lake City is often either absent or viewed with suspicion in the Bay Area, and I do miss it (though there are some reasons for it -- such as the cultural and religious homogeneity -- that I'm happy to be away from). I especially enjoyed interacting with camp-mates; even though a few members of the camp said that the group seemed less cohesive than in previous years, I really enjoyed getting to know such a diverse but consistently interesting group.

Finally, throughout my week at Burning Man, I was thinking about the interviews I did last spring on Second Life and on my research interests in the role of fantasy worlds in our lives more generally. Many at Burning Man, like in Second Life, seemed to like that there is some separation between that fantasy world and the "real" world. (Other online spaces, like Facebook, are much more contiguous with everyday life -- "online" is hardly monolithic.) And Burning Man, like Second Life and like the MUDs and MOOs so heavily researched in the 1990s, largely appeals to a fringe community (call them "early adopters" if you will, though the label isn't accurate). However, both also feel the stresses of becoming more mainstream, and there is discussion among "old-timers" about the changes. Both also reflect a certain idealization, and distortion, of societal norms and ideals. The "freedom" to create your own avatar in Second Life means you have the freedom to make her/him conform perfectly to social ideals (and the ostracism for "choosing" not to do so is surprisingly vehement and ubiquitous). The "freedom" at Burning Man to express sexuality or other aspects of one's personality generally not done elsewhere means that, for some, sexual stereotypes can be realized even more fully and publicly. There are other spaces, both online and off, that exhibit some of these characteristics, but I was especially struck with the similarities between these two. I'll be following up on the Second Life interviews soon, so expect more musings in that direction.

Overall, Burning Man felt very familiar. (I had even camped in the area before with parts of my mom's family, who are also known for their "radical self-expression," though not so much in technological terms. They were on my mind throughout the week.) ... and the obligatory reconsideration of my life direction resulted! )


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January 2011

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