Tag Archives: technology

Stephen Harper as Killer Robot

“Stephen Harper as Killer Robot” is my new article in English Studies in Canada‘s just-published special issue on the automated body.

shaskillbot-screenshotWhile an article about Harper might seem like a political postmortem, the former prime minister’s popular caricature as a robot speaks to widespread fears about the implications of technology for democracy. These alarming implications have been analyzed recently in tech CEO Berit Anderson’s article “The rise of the weaponized AI propaganda machine.” Anderson’s article is a must-read for appreciating the extent to which digital technology now poses a real and present threat to democracy. Anderson’s article sort of picks up — and dives in — where mine leaves off, as a discussion of how that threat has been growing in Canada for some time now.

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Stencil by “myheadhurtsalot” (https://i.imgur.com/JFfG3.png). My thanks to this Redditor for their permission to reprint their image in my article.

“Stephen Harper as Killer Robot” is currently available online via the Project Muse database, but ESC‘s decent open access policy means the article will be publicly available soon, in 6 months to a year (that’s soonish, for academia). But in the meantime, if you want a copy and can’t access Project Muse, leave a comment below, or send me an e-mail at academicalism[at]gmail[dot]com.

 

 

We watch things on the VCR. (Still.)

I set up this configuration earlier this week and it still weirds me out a bit, seeing the VHS output on the iMac screen.

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The gear is Elgato EyeTV Hybrid, a hardware and software video capture package that translates the analogue video to the digital monitor. It’s received mixed reviews, and it’s too soon to endorse it here (the video did start to lag and get choppy during one screening). I needed to set this up to watch the 1919 silent film Back to God’s Country for a student’s research project; the only version I could source is a VHS tape produced by the National Archives. The film is a fascinating cultural artifact of silent-era Canadian filmmaking … now format-shifted thrice, dragging the ghosts of media past into the digital present, and reminding us of the precarity of cultural history in an economy of planned obsolescence.

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#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: