Archive for the ‘science’ Category

nostalgic media and mediated forms of nostalgia

August 17, 2012

Hey, I did not know that there used to be a superhero, ahem, space ranger called Rocky Jones with television show, comics, merchandizing and all. Makes me proud to be a Jones myself. :-)

Check out the squeaky clean Space Ranger Code: I pledge

  • to obey my parents at all times
  • to be kind an courteous to all
  • to be brave in the course of freedom, to help the weak
  • to obey the law at all times
  • to grow up clean in mind, strong in body

Children actually bought this? How times have changed.

Which reminds me of the conference  “Flashbacks – nostalgic media and mediated forms of nostalgia” coming up on 13-14 September 2012 in Basel, Switzerland. The preliminary program is here*


wonders of the modern world

August 12, 2012

I have always been interested to find out more about Otto Neurath, creator of the international picture language Isotype (International System of Typographic Picture Education) and one of the fathers of is called visual communication today. He was a central member of the Vienna Circle of philosophers. Almost a century ago, in the 1920s he started developing ideas about visualizing social facts, such as statistics on labour and economy in order to make complex ideas about social economics more accessible to all. Read more about Isotype and Neurath here and here.

Like so many other talented Austrians in the 1930s and 40s he had to leave the country ultimately escaping to Britain. He collaborated with designer Marie Reidemeister, who later became his wife Marie Neurath. Just as with other coupes – Paul and Ann Rand and Charles and Ray Eames come to mind – this seems to have been a very creative relationship. After Otto Neurath died in Oxford in 1945 Marie Neurath carried on with the work of the Isotype Institute. Otto Neurath started working on books for children in the 1940s, and the Isotype Institute under Marie Neurath produced many more books for children, notably several series of informational children’s books such as ‘Visual history of mankind’, ‘Wonders of the modern world’, ‘Visual science’, ‘The wonder world of nature’ and ‘They lived like this’. Marie Neurath’s work shows how Isotype, language and presentation can work together in reducing complexity in order to clearly  comunicate ideas to children, putting  ideas for visual education into practice. All materials of the Isotype Institute are now housed by Department of Typography & Graphic Communication, University of Reading.

The books show Marie Neurath’s remarkable contributions: her ability to identify unusual relationships between things and ideas, and to analyze and then synthesize complex information into bite-sized chunks. Her approach to making child-friendly visual explanations included teamwork, consultation with readers, and iteration between experts in a particular field and those making visual decisions.” Read more here


Marie Neurath and the Isotype books.

Read also Austin Kleons blog post on The Simplest Expression of an Object.

merrymaking as political protest

May 16, 2010

In 1775 Austrian Emperor Joseph II dedicated a large piece of  land  for the use of  “all the people for their amusement and merry-making”. The park with baroque garden design is called Augarten and I live round the corner, and so it is close physically and close to my heart too. Over the years there have been various attempts to build on parts of the land, which have been for the most part thwarted. But since a few years, the City Authorities in liaison with private investors have been planning to build a large concert hall on one end of the land. Protesters have been squatting on and off for three years now. Political protest has become more playful and performance orientated in the last decade or so, for example in the form of flashmobs. But only in Vienna I guess, protesters would come up with the idea to do it in such style and in baroque style too. After some of the trees were cut down last year to prepare the ground for the building work the activists staged a funeral procession around Vienna. On May 1st, Labour Day, they arranged for a colourful protest procession in full regalia. You’ve got to love the dresses! Makes me think of the work of artist Yinka Shhonibare.

Also, they do the prettiest leaflets! I fear it will all be to no avail.

participation and creativity

November 22, 2008

David Gauntlett’s Lecture on ‘Participation and Creativity’ given on the 12th of November, the birthday of the world wide web.

Part two is supposed to be out by the 28th of November.

romantic science

August 9, 2008

I have just finished reading Purchasing Power by Elizabeth Chin, which was recommended to me recently as a fine example of an ethnographic study about children. Chin researched two years with black children in a poor neighborhood in New Haven, Connecticut. And it is a good read, almost like a novel drawing you into a certain kind of world, which is foreign, at least to me, except that the author did ethnographic research. I have always found this interesting, books like that, which reach the borderline of genres.

Last year I read Nick Hornby’s Fever Pitch, because I wanted to understand more about football culture, something that is completely alien to me. It is an autobiography novel bordering on the ethnographic ‘thick description’, and I don’t think any serious study or cultural studies paper could have given me a better insight into the world of football fans.

Chin being an anthopologist and researcher, not a novelist, keeps one very emotional scene outside the actual study: In the afterword of the book she descibes the farewell between herself and a child she has been involved with closely for two years.

And she writes: “Love is mysterious knowledge. I knew Tionna as well as I did in part because I came to love her; this, I believe, is crucial to the practice of anthropology and there is no point in denying it. This kind of mysterious knowledge neither replaces objectivity nor renders it impossible, although they exist in tension with each other. Learning to manage love and science in relationships, as a fieldworker must, is a little like having two brains. Not always a comfortable experience.”

In science as well as in art, the work process is always accompanied or even driven by feelings, sometimes they are more in the foreground, and sometimes not; they may be curiosity, passion, ambition, fear, a liking for risk, or love. I have always thought that there is no reason, that love and science should not be able to be reconciled, because as Chin writes, love provides a particular and privileged kind of knowledge. Especially in researching children, I would find it impossible to keep love out of it. Just as loving children will not make you a lesser teacher, loving people should not make you a lesser researcher. It is really about reconciling the ‘two brains’ – the rational, analytical, logical and systematic on the one side and the holistic, emotional, aesthetic, spontaneous on the other.

It was Alexander Nuria, the great Russian neuropsychologist, who sought to reconcile the two, though “a methodology that combines theory and practice through deep involvement in the lives of individuals over time” (Cole 1997). Nuria found it not enough to conduct science in the traditional sense, arriving at a understanding of neurology derived through conventional scientific method, meant to focus on detail and to arrive at general conclusions. He also wanted to understand human beings as a whole, and as individuals, and wrote fascinating case studies of patients with neurological disorders, which tell us more about both the person and the relationship between researcher and researched. He called this “romantic science”.

As Oliver Sacks wrote here Luria was the founder of classical neuropsychology, “yet he also felt, from an early age, that no “classical” science, no reductive approach, could ever embrace the fullness, the reality of a life.” Romantic Science is “a science which embraced the fullness of what it means to be a unique individual”. Sacks himself followed Luria in his way of writing both from “the perspective of analytic, reductive science, and second, from that of a “romantic” narrative and an almost novelistic science”. He says, “Luria’s endeavour – combining classical and romantic, anatomy and art, science and narrative – has become my own.”

Luria’s novelistic case studies took 60 years to publish, Chin put some of her ‘romantic’ observations in the afterword of her work. I am glad they wrote them down.


May 9, 2008

Abby and Erin, by crimfants

Yesterday I found out that I have received the research grant by the FWF, the main body for research funding in Austria, for a project about media literacy in primary schools, which I developed last year. This means my research work will be funded for at least three more years!

breaking the magic circle

April 9, 2008

Playing with Flickr - Breaking the Magic Circle

I have been getting more and more absorbed with Flickr. For the next few days I will be at a digital games seminar called Breaking the Magic Circle in Tampere, Finland and I will give a presentation about my research with Flickr called “Playing with Flickr”. This is, by the way also the title a larger research project, which might turn into my PhD. In any case my prof is very happy with the proposal I wrote up. While I am researching as ‘participant observer’ I am also a fan of Flickr – here is my hommage to Flickr and its ‘squared circle’ group – an arrangement of images tagged with ‘magic circle’.

Reading words and images

March 23, 2008

Gunther Kress
Image: Roman Duszek © 2003

Gunther Kress’ work has been important for my own thinking and understanding of the relationship between word and image. I could not resist nicking this image from Knowledgerepresentation where you can find two of his lectures and a paper on Reading Images: Multimodality, Representation and New Media

Some favourite readings:

Kress, Gunther, Van Leeuwen, Theo (1996): Reading Images. The Grammar of Visual Design. London, New York: Routledge.
Kress, Gunther (1997): Before Writing. Rethinking the Paths to Literacy. London/New York.
Kress, G.R. and Van Leeuwen, T. (2002). Multimodal Discourse: the modes and media of contemporary communication. London: Edward Arnold
Kress, Gunther (2003): Literacy in the New Media Age. London: RoutledgeFalmer

spinning dancer

December 14, 2007


This animation is an optical illusion, made of 34 frames. Depending on the perception or frame of mind of the viewer, the dancer will spin either in anti-clockwise or clockwise direction, and some people are also able to make her change direction at will. If you cannot do it, go here – before you loose your mind. This animation has been blogged and commented upon widely, it seems to make peoples’ heads spin too. Most reports state that whether you see her turning clockwise or anticlockwise indicates a right or left brain dominace, however this is contested in the New Scientist. The image simply does not provide enough information for the brain, so it just fills in the rest, as with other optical illusions. However, they dont give an answer to why many people seem to have difficulties seeing it one way or the other. As John McCrone states here in this overview of research about brain lateralisation, very little about the brain is ever straightforward.

language and city

December 13, 2007

(Fellow Austrian) Ludwig Wittgenstein described language as a large town, grown from an ancient city into a large town including what today would be modern suburbs:

Our language can be seen as an ancient city: a maze of little streets and squares, of old and new houses, and of houses with additions from various periods; and this surrounded by a multitude of new boroughs with straight regular streets and uniform houses. Ludwig Wittgenstein Philosophical Investigations

(a metaphor which Clifford Geertz expanded to “culture” in his essay “Common Sense as a Cultural System.“) The metaphor can also be reversed, and cities may be read as text:

This video could be seen as a reversal of the project Delete! (I blogged about it here).

In “Kapitaal” (Capital) not the signs but the city is eliminated, and all but the signs remain. The video was created by Studio Smack (via Cross the Breeze). I do agree with the comment of a viewer, that the animation would be better viewed on a big screen, or may be for the small low res YouTube version it could be a bit shorter.

This video “The Child” created by Antoine Bardou-Jacquet is a brilliant animation, showing an entire short story set in an urban (New York) landscape, created only with words and typography. Cult video for fonts lovers and graphic designers says the YouTube description. One of the best typo motion /animations I found on Youtube. Worth watching indeed.

split brain

November 27, 2007

I have been interested in the study of the dichotomy of the right/left hemispheres of the brain for many years. Here is a video which illustrates some of the puzzling phenomena.

raining words

October 19, 2007


Here another kind of digital screen made of water, a waterfall screening words picked up via a certain algorithm from the Internet. “Bitfall” is an installation by artist Julius Popp, currently on view on Vienna’s Karlsplatz, but only untill the end of the month. The video is worth watching, because still images cannot convey the sense of transient beauty created by the gentle rain of words, briefly appearing and disappearing in the falling water. And Renauld Huberlant posted a visual poem by Apollinaire from 1916, if I understand right with my poor French, about the sound of rain. Talk about multimodal.


left and right brain conflict

October 10, 2007


“The great pleasure and feeling in my right brain is more than my left brain can find the words to tell you.”

Roger Sperry, Nobel Price Winner

%d bloggers like this: