Category Archives: conferences

29 May 2017: Academics’ views on Canada’s 2017 copyright review (free & open to public at #CongreSSH)

At 1:30 pm on May 29, at Congress hosted by Ryerson U in Toronto, I will be chairing Academics’ Perspectives on Canada’s 2017 copyright review — it will be an Open Congress panel, meaning it’s free and open to the public.

Speakers:

Sileshi Hirko (uOttawa and Open AIR): “Reframing User’s Right under Canadian Copyright Jurisprudence as a Human Right”
Lisa Macklem (Western U): “Copyright’s Role in Preserving and Ensuring Access to Culture: The Way Forward”
Meera Nair (NAIT): “Copyright Review 2017 – a Plea to the Academics”

This panel will share perspectives on the federal government’s upcoming review of Canada’s amended copyright law (tentatively scheduled for fall 2017). The public discourse on this review is dominated by the views of publishers and copyright holders’ intermediaries who are calling for the government to revise if not retract the legislative expansions regarding fair dealing. Rights holders’ lobbyists like Access Copyright and the Writers’ Union of Canada have been claiming that fair dealing is endangering Canadian publishing and content creation. How can educators and researchers (who, in these roles, are also promoters of culture) respond to these accusations and demonstrate the social and economic value of “dynamic fair dealing”?

The panel is hosted jointly by the Association of Canadian College & University Teachers of English (ACCUTE) and the Canadian Society for Digital Humanities / Société canadienne des humanités numériques (CSDH/SCHN).

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My conference presentations for #congress2013

June 2, 2:45
CACLALS
Clearihue A-118
“Globalizing McLuhan’s discourse of technology in international scholarship.”
abstract TBA

June 3, 1:30
ACCUTE special session on Monstrosities
Clearihue A-315
“Monster mines and pipelines: Frankenstein figures of tar sands technology.”

June 5, 8:45
CSDH session on Digital Sound and the Spoken Word
Mathematics 102
“Is it live or is it Deadmau5? Adaptations of Frankenstein in Canadian EDM.”

(Huh. WordPress parked a random advert under this post. Ignore it.)

Identity, Agency & the Digital Nexus: 5-7 Apr. 2013 at #AthaU

Symposium hashtags: #dns2013 #AthaU
2013_Mais_Symposium_Poster_final

Looking for pop culture representations of the oil sands

frame from Avatar (2009)

frame from Avatar (2009)

I’m working on a research paper about pop culture representations of the oil industry; I’m especially interested in Canadian works, and in representations of the Alberta oil sands. I have found a few great leads so far: Corb Lund’s peak oil ballad “Gettin down on the mountain”; James Cameron’s film Avatar.

If you know of pop culture texts, especially Canadian works, that refer to the oil industry – especially the oil sands – please leave a comment here (or e-mail me).

I’d be particularly grateful for references to pop music, theatre, TV, and science fiction works.

The research in progress is tentatively titled “Monster mines and pipelines: Frankenstein figures of fossil fuel technology,” and will be presented on March 4 at #AthaU’s inaugural Alberta Studies symposium, and again in June at Congress.

#Congress2012, part 2: conference tech review

Right, I’ve been meaning to follow up on conference-going with just a tablet, no laptop. The thing served perfectly for the proceedings in which I presented: it patched intuitively to the AV system (which all had audio as well as video); it supplied a backup copy for a panelist whose paper I had agreed but then forgot to print (oops!); it afforded some snapshots of proceedings (although this particular tablet’s camera leaves a lot to be desired, as if the company intentionally gave this model a bad camera just to be able to put a better one in the next release).

The tablet also proved unexpectedly handy in other situations: showing family pics to colleagues; providing a boarding pass (I seriously had printer issues the whole time); random must-see and to-do note-taking outside of proceedings; showing directions to venues, etc.

One weird irony in my tablet-bound conference-going was that while I had this mobile device with me more or less the whole time, with a cell data plan, I hardly made any use of social media the whole time; I normally like at least to tweet about proceedings (if for no other reason than to momentarily displace Twitter’s volume of celebrity gossip, sport event exclamations, and general smack-talking with critique, and in the process demonstrating the public value and engagement of Humanities research). Anyway, I wasn’t tweeting or blogging about anything during the conference, despite the apps at my fingertips. Drafting the conference review on the flight home felt weirdly like writing one’s paper on the way there: late, hasty. This is really less about the tech and more about the social, and the psychological, but thought it worth a mention.

One unexpected opportunity to further lighten the tech load: I didn’t use the bluetooth keyboard at all. In this case I think the short itinerary and busy schedule left me little time for catching up on other writing (this may also explain the social media disuse). And, technically, the pleasing availability and quality of built-in PA systems meant I didn’t need the portable boombox, either. But I still don’t think it’s safe to assume every conference venue will be similarly well equipped. The portable PA will stay an important “Plan B component” in my conference-going tech toolkit.

#Congress2012

This year my Congress itinerary started with a side trip: on landing in Toronto, I stopped by the Canadian Lesbian and Gay Archives in Toronto, to meet the people who run it and my research assistant, an Athabasca MA student who’s working on a research project there. Everyone was fabulous and the archive is like an impossible and imperative project: a collection of queer Canada’s vital cultural and historical documents, housed in a Victorian three-storey house (not, I suspect, originally designed for this purpose); and a project whose private funding means independence from – but also inaccessibility to – public funding sources. Given the recent budget’s libary and archive cuts, the CLGA’s support system seems a mix of boon and bane.

Next stop was with family north of Toronto; they drove me to Waterloo on Sunday, where we met the family friends, a couple, who’d agreed to host me while I was in town for Congress. One of my hosts actually works at WLU’s communications office, so I was privy to interesting non-academic perspectives on Congress and media.

Via FreeEducationMontreal.org

The first session I attended, hosted by ACCUTE, concerned critical theory in relation to current social questions of marginalization and gentrification; it also provided the first of numerous instances of delegates wearing red square fabric patches to express solidarity with the Quebec student movement. (My host and some delegates wondered aloud whether Congress might host a protest or march (between the manifencours and the spectre of censure hanging over WLU and Waterloo for their new corporate-funded research centre. I never saw any protest manifest, but then again I might have just missed it entirely based on my own schedule.)

After that session was the president’s reception, the big freeform meet-n-greet. Ran into a few people I know from Western and Guelph, including the indomitable Smaro Kamboureli, to whom I showed iPad-stored family photos in between the mobile calls she had to take, in our wave new world of augmented socializing. I introduced my RA to lots of people, but I think she found the scene something of a sensory overload. Every association gets invited to one of these receptions, and they tend to group like fields and interests, but not necessarily every association with people you know goes to the same reception you do. (Congress vets will advise newcomers, grads in particular, to go to every reception just to grab a good free meal. They’re not exactly regulated by bouncers and velvet rope.)

For the second consecutive night of the trip I endured the dim infinitude of insomnia, taking shape between the second night in a strange bed and nerves about the busy Monday ahead. Not an auspicious start to that day’s full program. Propped up by coffee, I presented a talk on Frankenstein in pop music for an ACCUTE session on New Directions in Adaptation Studies. The venue’s AV system played wonderfully well with the iPad, and played back the music samples I’d prepared at satisfyingly high volume and definition. This year the schedule of proceedings made much more breathing room for Q & A after the papers: a welcome change, making each session more productive and interesting for those party to it. In this case, I fielded some solid primary text suggestions and theoretical questions (such as one about how to distinguish adaptation from intertextuality).

In the session right after that, I joined a special “professional concerns” panel on cynicism in academia. While my previous talk had drawn several solid comments and questions from its relatively small but focused audience, this second session was provocative, feisty even – presenters and audience alike. Although some complained it was more familiar complaining, and floated some suggestions for action against sources of academic cynicism: workforce casualization, university corporatization -the now all-too-usual suspects. One excellent but then-undeliverable suggestion was for a panel on cynicism to include a higher-up university administrator. One of my co-panelists had maybe the best ever conference paper title for his talk – complete with a corresponding Venn diagram – but I’m not stealing that thunder here since the organizer has designs on getting the panel proceedings into print (more on that as it happens). For my part, I was pleased to be able to work into my presentation a shot of Margaret Sutherland’s painting of Canada’s ruling cynic, Emperor Haute Couture.

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My talk on academic cynicism, as seen from space

I represented AU at the association’s lunch for campus representatives, a yearly chance to give feedback on the conference, communications, and membership matters. Just before lunch I ran into a family friend who’s a philosopher, to find out he’d published a book and had recently been offered tenure-track work. Good to know some such offers still stand. Would there were more, for all the eminently deserving people you meet at things like this.

After that lunch, I played hooky for the afternoon, retreating to my hosts’ house in the suburb across the parkway for a leisurely run in the 35 degree late May heat. (Yeah, that’s real normal weather.) My host had recommended a nearby woodlot, on account of the shade, but I must have taken a wrong turn, and found myself jogging down an ever-narrowing dirt track. I turned back and sought civilization on encountering a patch of big ugly weeds spray-painted orange…and recalling that Waterloo was where the invasive and toxic giant hogweed had first been discovered a couple years earlier. Retreat!

Monday evening was time for the ACCUTE-hosted and strangely misnamed “wine and cheese,” preceded by drinks with the research team at the U of Manitoba’s Sex Worker and Missing Women archive, a team my RA introduced me to. This team’s work, like the CLGA’s, struck me as similarly imperative and impossible, possibly moreso, given the traumatic subject matter of and public recoil from their work. So maybe I didn’t meet everybody I’d been hoping to at the prior night’s reception; here was a welcome chance, instead, to make some new scholarly acquaintances.

I’m not sure what my RA was expecting of the ACCUTE “wine and cheese” but I guess it wasn’t a club with a dark dance floor full of English and Cultural Studies students and scholars getting down to the eclectic, request-friendly playlist being thrown down by ACCUTE’s resident DJ. The ACCUTE party is always a Congress highlight, and this year’s may have been the best yet: the sound system was massive, the tracks were way more hit than miss, and the floor was constantly full. Also, there was a dry ice machine, which got put to good use. Standout selections included “Born this way” (I hadn’t heard it before on a proper system, which opened it to new levels of textured and tactile appreciation), “Blue Monday” (which I dug on with a verve that felt retrieved from high school days), and “Vogue” – mostly for the opportunity it afforded a few of the delegates who’d been there back in the day to actually vogue – an extraordinary dancefloor drama. Sadly, I had to quit the scene all too early, gently ridiculed for doing so by partygoers taking a break from the move-busting for sidewalk cigarazzi duty.

The early but not-quite-Cinderella-grade bail was necessitated by next morning’s 9 am session on the copyfight, which I had convened and was chairing. (At least all the exercise Monday killed the insomnia, finally.) The copyfight panel was a fantastic line-up for a respectable turnout (not massive, but respectable given it was going down first thing after ACCUTE party night), with delegates from both ACCUTE and SDH, which co-sponsored it. The speakers included a law-trained member of Western’s copyright advisory group speaking on Access Copyright, my RA on copyright and digital porn, and Digital Prohibition author Carolyn Guertin on the modes and meanings of digital remix practice. Understandably, many audience members were very concerned about the Access Copyright situation, on which much discussion ensued in particular – and in which developments keep coming fast and furiously, making it hard to keep one’s work timely. This challenge to stay abreast of the latest regulatory decisions and manoeuvres is a common caveat issued by researchers presenting work on copyright; it’s a sign not just of the subject’s currency, but also of its inordinate command of policy-making resource, its monopolization of political will.

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Carolyn Guertin’s talk was rich with samples of digital remix productions

Following some sightseeing downtime (sights including RIM hq, the llamas of Eby Farms, and Mennonites), I randomly encountered some #AthaU colleagues whilst grabbing a coffee, and we compared notes on sessions and associations. There are so many even for a more discipline-dedicated than interdisciplinary researcher to choose from. I’ve previously attended CATR, CCA, and SSS conferences; and even in just Anglophone literary studies I could also join at least two other associations beside ACCUTE: namely, ACQL and CACLALS.

Tuesday afternoon, then, I attended an SDH session on the politics of cyberculture. Antiquated as anything “cyber-” sounds, the session presented up-to-the-minute investigations of digital graffiti, remix culture in China, and interactive art installations. The SDH proceedings also afforded a chance to catch up with familiar acquaintances and make some new ones.

The experience of attending Congress as something of a tour guide – i.e. introducing my RA, an AU Masters student, to the megaconference – made for a somewhat different Congress itinerary than the solo kind I’d pursued in prior years. One obvious difference was that it made the event more about mentorship, from overall orientation to details of conference presentation. The mentorship approach got me reflecting on my own independent introduction to Congress as a gad student, and how disorienting and trial-and-error that autodidactic exercise had been. It also meant making new contacts, as I got introduced to members of my RA’s own growing research network: the U Manitoba archive team; Brock U’s Margot Francis, author of Creative Subversions, a new book about Canada’s racialized, colonial imaginary. It also got me noticing how widespread this kind of mentorship is, observing other scholars leading students on a kind of conference Grand Tour, and, moreover, how much more taken for granted (and, arguably, easy to organize) this kind of mentorship is at traditional, face-to-face universities.

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#AthaU MAIS student poses for photo op with supervisor, mostly to prove he’s not a paper-marking robot.

The other novel dimension of Congress this year was staying with friends, one of whom works for the host institution but not as an academic, and the other in the private sector. They were very curious about what Congress is about in the big-picture way, and about what I was doing there in particular. On my last evening in Waterloo I treated them to a thankyou dinner at a hip little resto they’d raved about, a spot clearly staggering under the influx of hungry academic traffic; then we met a friend of theirs and, on a whim, went to take in a special concert led by Canada’s Polka King himself, Walter Ostanek.

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I’m way more stoked about this than I look. (If we’re talking media savvy, I need to work on my photo op skills.)

Over pints and between rounds of the chicken dance (which got played more often that night than Lady GaGa had been the night before), my hosts asked me about my work; it’s a sometimes difficult but always useful exercise to describe one’s research in plain-speaking cocktail-party talk. In turn, my host shared a sense of what such an event looks like from the not-quite-outside perspective of the university communications office, its media wing, which represents the university to the media, the government, the public. She said that she’d spent most of Tuesday in the Congress media office, and that it was “dead.” I wondered aloud about the media office, how some years it contacts you if it thinks your work will interest the media: this and previous years, I’d filled out and sent in the media form, but to no apparent end – no press of mics and cameras waiting outside the classroom doors. “Bring it to the media office,” my friend said. That is: Don’t wait for the media to come to you, if you think your work is a story – take it to the media. Given recent, disturbing developments in Canada’s public intellectual culture – from the government’s muzzling of climate change scientists to the Canadian Library Association’s suppression of its own members’ activism – this strikes me as a particularly important take-away point. Canada’s public intellectual culture – even the idea of the public itself – is only as strong as those willing to stand up for it, though we do so in the face of the public interest’s active destruction by a regime beholden only to the narrowest of private interests. On this front, Congress could stand to learn much from CLASSE and the students in Quebec, in solidarity with whom so many delegates wore safety-pinned red squares … more visible to sympathetic eyes than to those who really need to see them.

Packing light for the conference: losing the laptop

I normally pack a laptop for conference-going, but for this year’s Congress I’m planning to take the tablet. This plan has required some thought and strategy. It will also require packing some peripherals, but I still expect  my luggage to incur a significant net weight loss. Here’s a “Before & After” pic of conference tech luggage: what I used to lug at left, what I plan to at right.

Yes, my other laptop is in fact a Stanton.

The portability and versatility of the tablet (yes, that one, but I don’t need to do the fruitfully named firm’s own advertising for it) mean that it can take on the following functions and make the following gear replacements:

  • travel reading – tablet replaces print book with digital library
  • movie viewing – tablet provides more personalized in-flight entertainment than what the back of the seat in front of you is pushing (just hope the passenger next to you doesn’t mind the occasional eyeful of that ultraviolent horror film you’re enjoying);
  • music playback – tablet replaces Walkman mp3 player
  • communication device (not as just-in-time as a phone, but people seem to check their e-mail and Twitter pretty fast these days)
  • notepad – tablet replaces paper notepad
  • presentation station – the main reason for you used to lug the laptop
  • camera and camcorder – tablet replaces both (granted, the pics aren’t as high-quality)
  • turntables and tunes (hey, you’d be surprised how dance-friendly some learned associations are) – tablet replaces two turntables and a milk crate of vinyl records

On that account, the tablet totally makes me feel like I’m living in the future. And its tolerable substitutability for (if not exact interchangeability with) all the other gear listed above stands to cut a lot of luggage weight. Okay, that last item on the list isn’t exactly standard conference luggage – it’s not like I pack DJ gear for every research travel trip. I have done so on occasion, though.

Some peripherals are constant: headphones and the power cord. Other items I have normally packed for conferences, and don’t plan to drop, include:

  • a thumb drive with critical document backups (yes, I know about Dropbox – but I still believe in offline storage);
  • audio cord: an 1/8″ jack-to-male-RCA cord connected to a female-RCA-to-1/8″ adapter – this way your device can patch to either a headphone jack or an RCA jack;
  • a paper notepad (it’s for good reason this ancient tech remains robust – for one thing, no batteries required)

There are three things I’ll be packing that are new, and two are specific to the tablet. One is non-negotiable: the adapter cable for VGA projectors. The second is not strictly necessary, but a great convenience: a bluetooth keyboard. (If I get some downtime for catching up on work, having an actual keyboard, not a touchpad, will seriously boost productivity.) The third is a new addition I’ve been meaning to add for a while – it has nothing to do with laptop versus tablet functions, and everything to do instead with the weirdly visual-centric culture of research in general: a portable loudspeaker. My conference talks tend to be heavy on audio samples, but often I show up at go-time to find the room not equipped for sound…leaving me to play painstakingly optimized sound from invariably shitty laptop speakers at a volume they’re not designed to support. Not this time: if the PA system is AWOL, my Plan B is a wireless boom box. (I wasn’t expecting to buy this brand, but the sound is unexpectedly full and rich, and the price is right for a Plan B purchase.)

The institutional inattention to sound in presentations extends to the tablet’s own presentation app. I spent the better part of Saturday evening trying to figure out how to get Keynote to embed and play back audio samples. I did finally get it to work, thanks to Post #5 in this forum. (The irony is that this solution requires the use of an additional audio-visual app, and the ironic bonus is that this specific solution also adds a modest visual interest to the presentation.)

Otherwise I don’t think much need be said about the constellation of apps both generalist and specialized that make the tablet such a digital Swiss Army Knife. I will be following up this discussion of the plan with posts from the field to report back on how it plays out in practice. In the meantime, of course, all the planning and strategy around minimizing the luggage and tech requirements for conference-going broach a couple of bigger questions.

First, the tech for which the tablet can substitute is not, itself, really all that old at all. There’s an important question here about not just the pace of technological change but its calculated disposability – its planned obsolescence.

Second, there’s the big question about the conference itself as a face-to-face event: how long before that technology is rendered obsolete by the ascendance of webinars and other virtual events? It’s hard to argue with how their carbon footprints compare (although let’s not fool ourselves that computing is anything close to carbon neutral).

Lastly, I shouldn’t forget about all the other obligatory gear I have to pack for a successful conference trip. Conveniently, there’s an easy-to-remember list: