Tag Archives: 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.

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:

The line, the skyline, between then and now

Every image of the past that is not recognized by the present as one of its own concerns threatens to disappear irretrievably. – Walter Benjamin

NYC skyline (from the ferry), Feb. 2001

In a hugely absorbing (but disappointingly under-attended) session on Imperialism and Culture at the 2008 Socialist Studies conference, I suggested that the attacks of September 11, 2001, marked a line between past and present that feels uncannily like the kind of line described in science fiction, a line that sharply divides one’s lived and felt experience of time in its unfolding. (Think of Lionel Verney’s reflections on life before and after the plague in The Last Man, or Offred’s reflections on life before and under Gilead in The Handmaid’s Tale…or Cayce’s reflections on life after September 11 in Pattern Recognition.) The session presenters suggested (and rightly so, I think) that to represent the attacks of September 11, 2001, in this way is to reproduce the kind of cultural imperialist ideology that has driven not only a lot of popular culture since, but also a lot of dubious-to-disastrous foreign policy decisions.

Point taken, and a fair enough one at that.

Lines of tragedy and trauma divide and sometimes dismember everyone’s lives, whether on the personal scale or the sociopolitical. Walter Benjamin observed that the state of emergency is not the exception but the rule. As witnessed by the helpless and horrified hindsight of Benjamin’s hypothetical angel, history is illuminated as a grim palimpsest of such lines, like a whip-scarred back: West African nations after slavery, the First Nations after colonization, Japan after August 1945, Rwanda after 1994. (This isn’t to homogenize different traumas and tragedies, only to suggest how they mar and mark time.)

Memorial mural, NYC, Apr. 2002

So it is perhaps not despite but because of this knowledge — knowledge of history’s lacerated hide, and of the military-entertainment complex that feeds greedily on it –that one still feels so keenly this line, this skyline, cut down through the lived experience of time in its unfolding.

Or its collapsing.

Such a strong storm buffets the angel of history, it’s impossible to tell which.

Works Cited

Benjamin, Walter. “Theses on the Philosophy of History.” Illuminations (1940). Trans. Hannah Arendt. New York: Schocken, 1969. Rpt. in Simon Fraser U http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/CONCEPT2.html

Forsyth, Scott and John McCullough. “Imperialism and Culture.” Society for Socialist Studies annual conference, U of British Columbia, 4 Jun. 2008.

Call for papers on Literature & the Copyfight, for Congress 2012

Call for papers: Literature & the Copyfight, Congress 2012.

Critical scholarship is urgently needed to intervene on the question of copyright: once a staple stimulus for literary and cultural production that now tends more to stifle it. … This session invites papers on the relationship between literature, copyright, and the copyfight.

The deadline for submissions is 15 Nov. 2011 (see link for contact info). Thanks to ACCUTE and SDH for joint hosting.

[Instead of posting the complete call for papers here, I’m practicing not duplicating content.]


Historic, pretty campus. (Pretty vertical, too: everything's a hike up or down the mountain.)

This year’s Congress has been a long story (which you don’t get) and a short trip (which you do): just yesterday afternoon and today, but nevertheless full of good things.
For starters, there’s clearly a lot more online back-channel activity than there was even just a year ago, especially on Twitter. Following #congress11 updates has helpfully pointed me to some recordings of events that I missed: the ESC round table on social networking and the humanities, for example; or National Chief Shawn Atleo’s lecture on First Nations education.
In a quick debriefing, what I did reach included:
an ACCUTE joint panel with the International Gothic Association, with talks about Mary Shelley’s Last Man, True Blood, and a Peter Pan adaptation;
the traditional President’s Reception (the real cornerstone social event of any Congress, the attraction being free food and drink), where, for a change, I actually worked the room and caught up with some good people: former professors, mentors, peers, and other colleagues from the different places I’ve studied and worked — even Prof Dr Kuester from Marburg, for whose McLuhan centenary conference I’d given a virtual (webinar) talk barely two weeks ago (“the ambassador liked it,” he said…oh good);
the first plenary talk for the Society for Digital Humanities (which I’ve been meaning to check out), which Jon Saklofske delivered, on what Disney theme parks can teach the designers of virtual worlds (both of which I haven’t been meaning to check out, actually);
then the ACCUTE-NASSR session on genre, in which my talk on the cento and copyright joined talks on Ann Radcliffe and Frankenstein, with a good audience and a great discussion on subjects common to our talks (like the power of the claims of the dead over those of the living, and the implications of stitching together things from diverse sources);
followed by lunch with a delegate at that session, an erstwhile colleague at Guelph who’s also studying copyright history, making said lunch a bit of a brainstorm (the kind of serious keener conversation I’ve often seen others at Congress getting into informally, but never thought I had neither the knack or attention span for, outside formal proceedings);
a “Career Corner” panel on publishing scholarly books, with reps from academic presses and the ASPP … amidst the Athabasca UP rep’s pitch for open access, another editor’s discussion of permissions, and my questions about quotation length and fair dealing (which can be used to defend a published book — a point I hadn’t been sure about), copyright (including the death and expected re-animation of Bill C-32) surfaced here as a bigger topic than many in the room had likely expected;
the ACCUTE annual general meeting, which I had to leave as it went overtime;
and, to wrap up the day, a couple of drinks in the beer tent with a former student of mine from UNBSJ, now at UNBF and holding down a resident DJ gig in Fredericton. Amazing to learn what your students get up to — another social serendipity that a big production like Congress can often yield. Before he took off to join the performers in this week’s Macbeth production, I asked him where I could find an ABM.
–I don’t know, I go to UNB. This is STU.
–STU is like twenty feet from UNB.
–Twenty feet up the mountain.

Congress 2010, day four

Author Lawrence Hill talks about _The Book of Negroes_. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

First thing (and I mean first thing, like before 8 am), Lawrence Hill read from and talked about his bestselling novel The Book of Negroes. (No spoilers, thankfully, as I’m not too far into it.) You can watch an archived video of the proceedings here.

I had to lurch out of there during the Q&A to get to my 9 am session with Socialist Studies on time. After our papers, AU colleague Jay Smith and I fielded great questions and comments about the copyfight from an audience modest in numbers but diverse and engaging in interest and questions: critical communication scholars, a rep from AU Press, a just-graduated English PhD…
A post-session coffee break introduced me to another AU prof, Ingo Schmidt, and then morphed into lunch as a reunion with my UNBSJ colleagues.

This is a placeholder for the better shot the waiter took with Madeley's camera.

The last Congress proceeding I took in was a two-hour panel on Open Access research and publishing, archived on video here.

The four speakers including law professor and copyright activist Michael Geist. Geist took a detour to brief the room on the new Bill C-32, the Copyright Modernization Act, being tabled this week. It was a briefing and a call to action, as Geist clearly explained the problem with DRM or “digital locks”: protecting them under copyright legislation ends up trumping other possible gains for fair dealing, education, criticism, private study, and other non-commercial personal uses of media content. As a call to action, Geist’s talk stressed that the bill might hold some good news (i.e. for fair dealing and education), so Canadians should demand the new bill be fixed, not killed. And fixing it mostly means permitting the circumvention of digital locks when that’s done for lawful reasons.

Geist explains what's wrong with protecting digital locks in copyright law. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

I managed to sneak in the session’s last question, really just to mention the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, which hadn’t yet come up in the session, but which seemed well worth mentioning, given the session’s Twitter activity showing a good deal of shock over just the new national bill itself.

Q: Is there any good news in ACTA? A: No.

I described ACTA as one of several industry pressures facing the OA movement, and asked if there was any “good news” with ACTA and how to mobilize against it. He said he didn’t see any good news with ACTA, but he did brief the audience about it: “The thing about this ‘Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement’ is that it’s not about counterfeiting or trade — it’s an intellectual property agreement.” One, as he summarized it, that would be like a DMCA for the whole world.

After which I retreated, under already smoggy skies freshly smeared with the smoke of nearby forest fires: to catch up on Congress blogging, to meet my UNBSJ colleague for a splendid Caribbean dinner at Mango Bay … and to go buy two dozen St Viateur bagels to fly home with.

Congress 2010, day three

Diana Brydon delivers CACLALS keynote on cognitive justice. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

First stop: Diana Brydon’s keynote for CACLALS. A talk about “cognitive justice,” which we were encouraged to define for ourselves, before she described it as the goal of “reciprocal knowledge production based on dialogues across differences.” She discussed Europe’s Bologna process to illustrate some of the obstacles — and opportunities — for higher education generally (“global higher ed for the moment is more Americanized than it is globalized”) and for postcolonial studies in particular: “neither the political nor the epistemological challenges posed by postcolonial thinking have yet been met.”

Was nice to run into AU colleague Joe Pivato there. Despite what the next photo suggests, I am in fact neither falling asleep nor drunk.

Surprise! You need more coffee. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

Surprise! (At least one of you can see where the camera is.)

Second stop: Saskia Sassen’s keynote for the Royal Society of Canada. This dizzying keynote mapped new connections among territory, authority, and rights (as per her eponymous book) — connections not quite national nor global either, like weaponized state borders (e.g. the USA’s) and the remittances of migrants’ income to their home countries (lots of money travels this way). Her main illustration? States now buying territories in other states, expulsing the people to get at the water, agricultural, and mineral resources. Coca Cola: kicked out of India and then “gently invited to leave” New York state for using up fresh water resources. (Because it takes 15 litres of water to make 1 litre of Coke!) Or China: in talks to buy millions of hectares in the Congo and Zambia for palm-oil plantations. Land purchases that Sassen says are illegal (i.e. states cannot buy the territories of other states), but leveraged through some combination of policy grey zones and tactical blind-eye turning.

In the Q&A that followed, Sassen fielded five questions in a row before answering each in sequence — an impressive performance of recall, improv, and reflection.

But the Q&A went long enough we’d only time for a hurried patio lunch before

Third stop: Will Straw’s keynote for ACCUTE. This was a glimpse into the queer bohemia and pulp press of 1920s Greenwich Village, complete with Canadian connections and a cast of characters that seemed taken from some melodrama of moustache-twirling villains. Among the slides he showed of period gossip tabloids and “spicy” magazines, it was difficult not to get distracted by incidental details. Like the half-page ad for “Melz’s original dissolving rubber prophylactics: more protection, more pleasure!” WTF?

The face one makes on seeing a vintage magazine ad for dissolving rubber prophylactics.

Last stop: the annual ACCUTE dance party. It’s always such fun, and shows such a different and uniquely humanizing side of people, where we get to check our formal roles (student, professor, etc.) at the door … I know I’ve got a thing for dance culture, but I remain amazed that ACCUTE is the only society at Congress that regularly throws a dance party. (Haven’t all the other societies been spending most of the day sitting too?)

Congress 2010, day two

Half the fun of Congress: random reunions.

This morning’s plenary panel for ACCUTE featured three speakers on the complex relationships of First Nations students and scholars to the university in general and English literary studies in particular. Len Findlay moderated and I’m always amazed how eloquently he mixes vernacular and learned language: he described three “frames” of discourse now “re-confining” Canada’s First Nations as “mess up, dress up, and ‘fess up” (referring to the continuing crisis of FNU and the truth & reconciliation procedures taking up the legacy of residental schools, for a couple of examples). Author Warren Cariou advocated “more comprehensive, embodied attention to orality in university literary curriculum” as a means to foster “more genuinely intercultural analysis.” Film-maker and scholar Tasha Hubbard reflected on the complex lived ironies of “indigenous grad students as pioneers” in academia, and very usefully detailed the responsibilities, priorities, and anxieties that First Nations grad students — most of whom come to grad school later in life — must work through while navigating an academic environment too often rife with misunderstanding and racism. Daniel Heath Justice made an impassioned case against chronically “low expectations” for First Nations students: “when you expect the best of people,” and establish a setting in which they can succeed, he said, “they rarely disappoint.” He also gave one of the most plain-speaking rationales of English literary studies I think I’ve ever heard:

Books saved my life. … Literature has changed my life. It initiated my cultural recovery. It didn’t start at home. It started in the academy and it brought me home.

Had lunch with Ben Lefebvre, a grad-school peer from Guelph, now a leading L. M. Montgomery scholar. Then I visited the people at AU Press to find out about open-access publishing: that is, releasing a free electronic edition alongside the for-purchase print edition. U of Ottawa P and maybe WLU P also do this, though AUP introduced OA publishing to Canada.

Paying more attention to Congress-wide events, I went to Ed Broadbent’s talk this afternoon. Watch an archived video of his talk here.

Ed Broadbent addresses Congress. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

He compared the “Golden age of the common man” — the thirty years after World War Two — with the “new barbarism” that began its ascendancy in the hard right turn of the 1980s. Broadbent stressed that social and economic rights (materialized in policies like universal health care, old-age pensions, and other “social safety-net” policies) are legally required in Canada, under section 36 of the 1982 Constitution Act and under Canada’s commitments to the UN (whose foundational 1948 declaration of human rights, he reminded us, was drafted by a Canadian, John Humphrey).

Amidst his more pragmatic, policy-oriented criticisms, Broadbent also supplied a useful interpretive tool for decoding the claims and arguments of neoconservative politicians and ideologues: “when a party advocates slashing housing, health and other benefits, they are assaulting our social and economic rights.” And he made a plug for reading too, encouraging everyone to read The Spirit Level. The authors studied dozens of countries to conclude that more equal societies (those that deliver social services to honour UN and constitutional commitments to social and economic rights) are more stable, just, healthy — better off in every way. Significantly, the USA and the UK ranked at the bottom of the authors’ scale; as Broadbent put it, “unequal societies are not only unfair, they’re dysfunctional.” And he noted that Canada’s ranking somewhere around the middle, but “is becoming more unequal more rapidly than other developed countries.” “It’s time to reverse the trend to growing inequality,” he declared, and cited a survey from the Manning Institute, of all places, showing that 82% of Canadians believe government should play a role in reducing poverty and inequality.

Makes me wish 82% of Canadians would turn out to vote.

The Q&A was feisty, as it kicked off with an NDP hater who seemed keener to rant than query; Broadbent gave just as feisty a retort about the quesitoner’s premises. Nice to see some crackin’, heckle-filled, hot-blooded debate, a welcome change from all the “I’m wondering about…” that’s more typical in my area.

Broadbent's Congress audience. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

Congress 2010, day one

Montreal from my hotel room

I’d like to thank whoever organized ACCUTE’s program for our “Runaway technologies” session this morning: three presentations about Canadian science fiction (assuming Atwood doesn’t mind her work being called that now) and its related discourses (see session title) played very well with each other. The session not only prompted keen questions for all of us presenters, but also generated more questions about connections among the papers than about the individual papers: a good sign of well-harmonized topics. The resulting discussion was really productive and engaging for audience and presenters alike. (Well, so I thought, anyway.) And in the process I made some fine new acquaintances.

I also learned at least one new word. Atwood has described Year of the Flood as a “simultanuel” — not sure about that spelling, but it’s for a “-quel” that’s set next to a prior novel’s story (Oryx and Crake), not before or after it. Too bad our time was up before I got to ask if anyone likes Peter Watts’ word better: “sidequel.”

Which reminds me, Watts has generously shared a kind word about my other Congress paper, which goes into more detail about his work, in relation to the copyfight. Meanwhile, Canada’s news media now report that the Harper regime plans to table its latest version of a Canadian DMCA in one week’s time. What Watts’ characters say of extraterrestrial life, we might also say of Big Media’s persistent campaign to digitally lock down culture:
Technology implies belligerence.

Another highlight today was Carole Boyce Davies’ keynote for CACLALS, which explored Caribbean culture’s “transnational black poetics.”

Carole Boyce Davies addresses CACLALS at Congress. Photo courtesy of Boundry.

It was one of those talks from which you can take away enough reading tips to plan a full-year grad course. Her interpretations of reggae and calypso artists and songs were powerful — as evocative as the lyrics she quoted. I’d have liked to hear more of her angle on Caribbean music forms and their meanings. (And I couldn’t help but reflect that here are music forms, like dancehall, which have flourished by flouting conventional copyright regulations. Is there any correlation between a poetics that can go transnational and an IP culture of flexible fair use?)

The ACCUTE sessions I sat in on this afternoon were, first, another very well-choreographed set of talks about US pop culture and the discourse of “healing America”; and, second, the campus reps’ meeting. Acting as proxy for AU’s designated ACCUTE rep, I got a revealing look at the society’s inner workings. (I could tell you more, but then I’d have to kill you.)

And throughout the day there was the welcome experience (culminating this evening in a rammed roof-patio over egregiously over-priced pints) of catching up and comparing notes with colleagues I haven’t seen in too long. (But then again, I work at home, so my bar for “haven’t seen in a long time” might be set somewhat low.)