Beki Grinter

Archive for the ‘crafts and craftiness’ Category

What is Knitting?

In crafts and craftiness on April 1, 2014 at 10:33 am

Now I’ve finally finished Kate Orton-Johnson’s piece on the study of Ravelry, and at the end I find myself asking what is knitting?

Her argument, which resonates with me strongly, is that social media have broadened the experience of knitting. And as I reflect on this, I am inclined to agree.

I don’t really know what triggered the reawakening of knitting for me. Knitting as a child waned in my teenage years. Long before sewing did, I sewed basically up to University. I even made a few garments for my trip to Irvine. But for some reason knitting reappeared. But knitting now isn’t what it was for me. It is strongly changed by social media.

I’ve been a keen amateur photographer, but even I was surprised at how useful the picture-taking skills I learned would be for knitting. One of the most significant changes for me is that picture taking is part of my new experience of knitting. Just like Orton-Johnson describes in her study of Ravelry users (of which I am one), part of participating there (and elsewhere) and to do that photographs are required (of the yarn, of the project in progress, of the completed article). It’s hard to take pictures of yarn. Especially certain colours which are difficult for the digital camera to reproduce (purple-blues seem especially hard). Then there’s also the lighting to manage. I find myself back to all my techniques for handling autumn colors, the hope for bright flat even lighting. There’s technique involved in arranging the finished article to convey size, texture, and so forth. Focusing in on the stitch work brings back memories of many evenings of macro photographic practice.

I didn’t expect my photography and knitting interests to merge.

There’s a whole social world on Ravelry too. One that I am not very engaged with, I have three friends on Ravelry.¬†But, I have had interactions there, not just with colleagues in HCI (although that is very nice, hello W.P. ūüôā Most surprisingly to me, but also rather fun, is that after I knitted my first socks (I was in fear of socks, I really thought that I could never knit socks and then it happened much to my surprise and delight) I heard from the author of the book I had used to make them. She complimented my socks and added me to a group of people who have knitted her patterns. She is obviously straddling a social world, and one in which she professionally promotes and gets feedback about her texts. Its an interesting connection.¬†It felt very similar to being sent a friend request on Facebook by someone whose work you admire and feel that they are a leader in the field. Its professional, but it’s also something else. And I didn’t expect that with knitting.

The transformation of knitting into an online and public experience, not just in meetings or places, but also through Facebook has also been a new part of my hobby. It extends the types of conversations I might have with people. People who knew me as someone interested in ethnographic methods, or as someone they went to primary school with, now know that I knit and do other crafty things. I know it of some of them too. One of my FB friends, and someone I went to high school, makes the most amazing jewellery (you, C.H.), and I hope she’ll start selling it soon. For people that I see face to face its broadened the conversations that I’ve had to include knitting. (Knitters of the world unite, we have nothing to lose except our stitches).

Another dimension of the online experience that I’m not so engaged with, but I have used it, takes me back to some of David McDonald and colleagues work on the role of YouTube and others in its ilk to learn. Orton-Johnson also talks about this in her paper. When you don’t have a peer network of people who can teach you new techniques, how do you learn. The Internet is filling in for where my Grandmother and my Great Aunt. It also translates for me what my mother would show me, but she knits in the Continental method whereas I knit the English way.

Knitting as a child was something I did by myself or with members of my immediate family. It was relatively solitary and only likely to survive if I kept a social network around me that could teach me, and with whom I could share the products. It has returned to a different world, one in which I construct these social circles not via proximity (very marginally at best) but with the help of dedicated and non-dedicated social media sites, each of which plays something of a role in growing, sustaining and nurturing my hobby. And much like the experience of knitting in public, one of the things I find really rewarding about the role that Facebook plays, is that it starts unexpected but very welcome conversations with colleagues who in most worlds I just would never know that they were knitters, or curious about knitting.

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Knitting in Meetings

In crafts and craftiness on March 31, 2014 at 3:38 pm

I was just re-reading a great paper on how sites like Ravelry transform knitting in a variety of ways. One thing that comes up in the paper is a discussion of knitting in public. Knitting is typically not a public act, the paper suggests, and sites like Ravelry through their focus on advertising local events provide opportunities for people to get together and knit outside of the domestic circle.

I’ve been knitting in public for a while now. It’s an interesting experience. I’ve written about it before. I also knit at work. I’ve said less about that. At first I felt the need to explain to colleagues that when I was knitting my concentration was better than it would be without yarn. I tried to explain that for the things I knit in meetings, I don’t have to know the patterns because they are encoded in my finger and hand movements. Its a physical knowledge, not one that requires mental attention. If it does, I have to stop and either deal with the knitting or wait until we have a break to do something like, say, count the number of remaining stitches.

Explaining the presence of the knitting is different from justifying the laptop or phone. The laptop is easy to explain, as a machine with a keyboard it seems obvious that one could be taking notes. Although that’s not the only things that laptops are capable of doing during meetings. The phone/tablet is more curious. I don’t see my colleagues justifying using these devices in meetings, even though its pretty clear to me that they are not note taking devices. Knitting ought to be in the same category as the phone, and yet, I’ve not gotten there with it. I think it’s because I believe it to be unfamiliar to many of my colleagues. Unlike phones‚ÄĒwhere we all share a global understanding of their pros and cons in meetings and what work they might do, or not‚ÄĒknitting is not something I expect my colleagues to know about. I thought that they might wonder whether I was so focused on the knitting that I was essentially not present.

Also, I still have a list of work related meetings I won’t knit in. Obviously, I can’t knit and teach. I could knit during class presentations, but again I feel that the students might not understand that I was concentrating. Their unfamiliarity with knitting (presumed by me of course) along with their unfamiliarity in giving presentations makes me leave the sticks behind. There are also meetings in which I think even the presence of laptops/phones is frowned upon. Meetings about really important topics. I don’t take my knitting there either.

Over time, I suppose I’ve started to think about my workscape in a new way, places to knit, places not to knit. Who are the stakeholders in each setting? What do I owe them? What can I assume about their knowledge? (Interestingly I get far fewer questions about knitting from my colleagues even when I do it in front of them than I do when knitting out in public¬†in Atlanta). Asking, can I knit here has been an interesting way to reexplore the place I work.

Adventures in Yarn

In crafts and craftiness, HCI on April 24, 2011 at 3:50 pm

Last week I went to Stitches South! It’s a yarn convention, there are demonstrations and classes about yarn techniques. I’m used to going to conferences, it’s an occupational hazard in Computer Science. Bring on the tote bag (free) and the t-shirt to commemorate the event (for a price). I’m used to selecting among sessions and also trying to decide what, if anything of the vendors who come, typically with books, I would purchase.

Other than that yarn is quite different. Most strikingly, the gender balance of course. There were some men at Stitches South, I even recognized one of them (he organizes the men’s knitting group at a local yarn store I purchase wool from). But, they were few and far between. As a friend of mine pointed out, they also fall into two distinct categories. Those who knit, and those whose wives knit.

And while there were books for sale, there were other things too. Yarn of course. Lots and lots of yarn. I wish Computer Science conferences had the diversity of alternatives as yarn conventions. It would be like looking among Commodores, Amigas, ZX81, as well as the PC or Mac question. And then there were all the unnecessary things you have to buy to make knitting fun. That’s probably the equivalent of a laptop case (even though you have several, you can be persuaded to buy more, well I can). I’m going to a conference in my professional field soon, CHI, and I wish there were more things to amuse my purchasing interests. After a long day in sessions, I think there’s a target market for the whimsical purchase.

And since I’ve written this much…

…the most ridiculous thing I purchased at Stitches South was a contraption that allows you to wear a ball of wool. It has a bangle like attachment from which a stick suspends with a cap below. You attach the bangle to your wrist, thread the stick through the centre of the ball of wool and then use the cap to ensure that the wool doesn’t fall off. Now I can look like a complete knitting pratt. But it will save those embarrassing accidents in the cinema where you begin knitting with wool on lap and then somewhere, usually during the darkest scene in the entire film, the wool falls off and down into the murky world of “below the cinema seat.” Not only is the process of fishing around for it usually futile, there are all manner of disgusting things below the cinema seat. Old popcorn is among the least offensive. So, I’ll be saving that particular gadget for the next trip to the movies, or perhaps for this Friday when I can recreate cinema conditions watching the Royal Wedding before dawn while knitting.

People, People, People

In computer science, crafts and craftiness, discipline, HCI on January 4, 2011 at 4:13 pm

At both his interview and on the occasion of his arrival,¬†our new Dean gave a talk, and he made the comment that the future¬†of computing is algorithms,¬†algorithms, algorithms. On the second occasion, it¬†happened to coincide with a conversation I’d had earlier in the day¬†(this was a while back). Earlier, I had heard someone propose¬†an argument: What if HCI was the centre of computing, and¬†other disciplines within CS were sub-specialities? To be crass you¬†might say that the future of computing is people,¬†people, people… This caused me to reflect on¬†some recent events.

  1. I am part of a multi-institution grant proposal focused on building network architectures that would support the rest of the world getting online.
  2. Someone asked me about how best to represent where/how a program was running on parallel processors. How much and then how should you communicate to programmers about the parallelism of their program?
  3. I had just listened to a senior HCI¬†researcher give a talk about how Robin¬†Milner’s research was the foundation for his latest¬†HCI/Ubicomp project.

All this happened in¬†the same week. I am struck that I can and do have exposure to¬†a variety of aspects of Computer Science as an HCI researcher.¬†There are some problems with the people, people, people argument.¬†One that strikes me is that it’s easy to get into a situation where¬†you’re arguing that the human experience is central to being human.¬†That’s a statement of the obvious, too high level to be¬†substantive. The second one is that the people, people, people¬†argument was made in jest, so even its proponent doesn’t believe¬†it. That’s also a compelling reason.

But, these reflections borne¬†from a remark did confirm to me that HCI has a place in Computer¬†Science. First, I am still struck by the framing of the problems¬†that Computers are intended to solve. Frequently, those problems¬†begin with a human, even if the solution focuses solely on the¬†machine. I still think there’s a spectrum there, that if a problem¬†is motivated by a human, then at the interface of that machine¬†solution, there’s potential for a human-centered computing problem¬†to lurk. It’s not that there aren’t machine related problems, but¬†just that I think that much of the motivation for Computing¬†includes people and when it does it creates a significant latent¬†potential for human-centered Computing research. Second, and I can¬†imagine that this one might cause more disagreement, but I’ll put¬†it out there anyway. I wonder whether the mechanisms by which HCI¬†constructs legitimate scientific problems aids its ability to¬†connect to other parts of the discipline. My understanding of HCI¬†is that it’s a discipline of understanding how to design¬†technologies to improve the human experience. What we design,¬†whether it be an interface, a system, something networked, some¬†hardware is built, is open to us, it’s driven by the methods and¬†requirements that we demonstrate, somehow, a change in the human¬†experience. I think that gives us quite a lot of latitude in terms¬†of the technologies that we might use, and engage with, to¬†construct our outcomes. This strikes me as different from parts of¬†the discipline that are committed to particular solutions, whether¬†it be a novel architecture, operating system optimization, etc.¬†(Although clearly, we can’t participate in making a contribution to¬†those parts of the discipline without the collaboration of those
who understand the challenges presented in making a machine¬†contribution). One of the reasons I enjoyed the talk about the role¬†of Milner’s bi-graphs in Ubicomp was because it was a partnership¬†between my colleague and Milner.

Another way of saying this is that¬†it places an emphasis on problem discovery as much as on problem¬†solution. How the problem is solved is determined by what the¬†problem discovered actually turns out to be. And I can’t help feeling that that is¬†qualitatively different from other parts of the Computer Science¬†discipline. In partnership with other Computer Scientists now seems¬†like an exciting time to work on hard, interesting problems with a¬†human-facing component.

The Dummies Guide to Buying a Book

In crafts and craftiness on September 24, 2010 at 10:06 am

I’ve noticed a gap in the series Dummies (or Idiots) Guide. While there are several about writing books, there’s not one on buying a book, although obviously they actually all are about buying a book.

So based on my experience with books (I own some and along the way I’ve purchased some) I offer the following points for consideration as the start of a work. I’d be happy to collaborate.

When I moved from San Francisco to Atlanta I went through a house-staging, an experience that was designed to sell my house by stripping it of my life and turning it into the “ideal life” instead. From this ideal, I learnt how the ideal home is decorated with stones, small reed balls, and table coverings while simultaneously stripped of pictures of unattractive destinations. I also learnt¬†a lot about the appearance of books. Up until then I admit my first thoughts had been focused on content, but apparently size also matters when considering which book to buy.

Size. Different sizes imply different places for books. I’d been struggling with the naive assumption that it was the size of the bookcase, I learnt I was wrong. Big books belong on coffee tables. Little books in bookshelves. No, don’t move those shelves to accommodate large volumes, find the appropriate shelving vehicle, the coffee table, place at jaunty angle on top of similar books all arranged to reveal corners. Do not purchase coffee-table size books if you own more than about 4 per coffee table owned. Do not buy an excess of coffee tables to cope with said books.

Colour. When buying a book it’s important to consider the colour. The colour should match other books already owned. There are also more acceptable and less acceptable colours. Orange and yellow, despite being the predominant colours of the dummies and idiots book series, should be considered with caution. There’s only a small amount of bright yellow that any home needs. In general staying closer to colours in the off-white family (sort by Magnolia, Egg-White, Snow, etc.), light blue (morning sky, baby etc..), light green (winter grass, dew) and use accent colors (burgundy, British racing green more sparsely).

Furniture. I’ve already outlined the crucial role of the coffee table, but other furniture is also acceptable for storing books. The bedside table should feature a smaller, jauntily placed book on it. Please do not have multiple books.

Book Shelves. Do not fill them (rookie error). Remember you need enough space to have a couple of books laying full down on the shelf in addition to the ones stacked vertically. And, just like coffee tables, it’s essential not to overload on bookshelves.

I learnt about content criteria as a teacher.

New Editions.¬†It is essential to purchase each new edition. Authors know that it’s important to revise content as things change and preferably swap the chapter order about at the same time (although I can’t find that particular top tip in the guides to getting published). And nothing changes as quickly as philosophies developed by now dead philosophers. For the buyer, it represents an opportunity to spend more time preparing for class.

Just a few thoughts, it’s been a long week.

More on an Academic Blog

In academia, academic management, C@tM, computer science, crafts and craftiness, discipline, empirical, European Union, France, HCI, ICT4D, research, social media, wellness informatics on September 14, 2010 at 9:27 pm

I’ve written about academic blogging before, but recently I was asked some questions.

1) How did you get into doing a blog?
It was quite by accident. A colleague of mine created a private blog to capture her experiences of conducting fieldwork. She was using her blog to create a forum where she could get feedback from others and reflect on what she was learning. So I received an invitation to create an account and I did, and then I thought it would be an interesting experiment. It’s turned out to be an interesting experiment indeed.

Early on, my blog was unread and largely just a private (although entirely public) experiment. When I started pushing my posts to facebook and twitter it got more public. Another way I acquired audience was through timely posts where I just happened to have an early hit in Google searches. Another way, and this turns on my research interests, was to prepare a commentary on a Facebook meme. Using my research expertise I commented on the importance of this.

2) What is your blog about?
My blog is a mixture of topics. I’m aware that this is rather different from other blogs and I wonder whether it affects the readership. On the other hand, it’s a creative outlet and also within the scope of my research, so exploration is important.

Two persistent non-work themes:

  • Cross cultural adventures, for example, being British in the U.S. and encounters with¬†my accent and living in France and coping with¬†culture shock.
  • My family from whom I learnt skills that have morphed into my¬†off-script crafting hobbies and a passion for family history and the way it transforms history from monarchy and war¬†into ones of poverty and survival.

Work-related topics fall into four categories.

3) How much work is doing a blog?
As much as you want it to be!

When I’m writing about non-work related topics, the posts come pretty quickly and the only thing they do is share something with colleagues and friends. Although, like facebook, they start very interesting conversations. For example, the one about the convict in my family started discussions with several work colleagues at Georgia Tech and beyond. I’d written about it partially to document the journey of discovery and detective work that is genealogy, but by sharing it broadly I got not just advice on how to learn more, but also on literature that would help set context.

The work related ones take longer. Some of them do double duty, for example, I needed to synthesize the literature in ICT4D, and I was going to give a report about the workshop so I needed to have some means to collect all that information together. My blog helps me think about making arguments, it complements and extends my two decades of research experience.¬†It’s not just a set of notes I draw on, but because it’s simultaneously unreviewed but read by scholars it improves my arguments.

4) What impact has it had on your professional life?
My colleagues in Computer Science and beyond have enthusiastically responded to my blog. The strength in diversity of topics has been that people have asked me to write on a variety of issues. I’ve been asked to discuss the disciplinary devolution, and asked to review manuscripts on this topic. I’ve written posts on writing for conferences and had others not explicitly invited picked up by the conference organization. I’ve been tweeted and retweeted. While I have not been asked to write about my cross-cultural experiences, I’ve had face to face conversations about them. This is also true of the sexual harassment post, it generated lots of community support.

5) How would you advise a student concerning the advantages and disadvantages of academic blogging?
I tried to answer this, and then decided that I would answer it in the form of some different questions.

What do I write about?
Things you’d feel comfortable with an audience of a) your Dad whose an academic b) your Mum who started her own business (intelligent layman with interest in “application”) c) your community of practice and d) anyone else reading. Perhaps you could explain a paper in your field? Assume that the authors are in your audience and as its been published the members of your community have not deemed to be serious.

Perhaps you could write about the related work in your area. Synthesis is a challenge in academic writing. Related work is not a stream of text that describes each paper in turn. It synthesizes the results from multiple papers, groupings form pro and con arguments that help make your case. The case is a) the aggregate findings that your research builds on and extends b) the novelty of your approach and c) the contribution of your research. Synthesis is also an exercise in being inclusive and humble, how do you engage and invest a community in your results otherwise/

What about your experiences in graduate school? What are your time management strategies? What do you know about the Ph.D. program at various points in the program.

Anonymous versus known?
There are good reasons to write an anonymous blog. Anonymity supports candor. Career experiences can fit into this category.¬†The downside of anonymity is that no-one knows you. When it comes to your research, it’s good to be associated with it! Academic branding requires being able to associate a name to the research brand.

My knitted clock

In crafts and craftiness on June 28, 2009 at 5:39 pm

I made a knitted clock today, well more accurately I finished my knitted clock today. I got started on it a while ago, but then I stopped perhaps I was nervous about whether it would actually work out as I had planned. ¬†Anyway today I finished it and it gives me real joy (I also added a snapper to a bag I had made myself, repaired a pair of shorts, and a bag, and even a toy dog… wow, it was a day for completion).

A pattern of sorts, more of a description, but hey this was what was in my head…

Take one ball of Bernat, knit an oblong, felt it into a 10in square using the shrinking formula (85% wide and 75% long). After felting, and drying (I recommend under books to flatten it), apply interfacing to make it stiff enough to hang without drooping (no-one wants a droopy clock).

Then using Pattons Classic Wool knit two squares, one red, one black, again felt. Cut circles out of the squares (4 in the red, 8 in the black — use a button as a guide).

Cut a hole in the center of the clock face which the clock mechanism can poke through. Assemble clock according to clock instructions. Once assembled, wind clock hands around to determine where to glue on the circles.

Off script crafting

In crafts and craftiness on June 5, 2009 at 10:53 pm

I’ve always practiced a variety of crafts (OMG, this is so cool, collaborative offscript crafting). From an early age I sewed, embroidered and knitted. And then I stopped, knitting first, sewing as a teenager (after the point where modding school uniforms proved useful), and so there was a hiatus.

Until now.

Is it a mid-life crisis? Well I don’t know.

Some of it is motivated by being tight fisted. I refuse to pay hundreds of dollars for curtains. I mean, there are better things to spend hundred of dollars on. The state of curtains in the United States is horrible. Expensive and ugly, ugly beyond belief. Revolting. What were these people thinking?

So, part of it is that sewing ensures that I don’t have financial or asthetic crimes against humanity hanging over my windows.

But that doesn’t explain the skirts, and it sure doesn’t explain all the other fabrics. The fabric I got from IKEA (please imagine a heraldic sound as the word IKEA is uttered because IKEA is a type of religious experience for me, and I only recently heard about the whole take an IKEA product and mod it while you’re making it up… what a brilliant idea). ¬†So, the fabric I got from IKEA to make tote bags for kids (why shouldn’t they be introduced to environmentally friendly shopping, and have bags that reflect what they are able to carry, no, no reason at all‚ÄĒit also doesn’t explain why Mom is using it for her crochet, but that’s a different story…). ¬†It also doesn’t explain the time that my husband went away on business and I chose to spend my time in a pattern store loading up on boat-loads of cheap patterns for skirts. Or the magazine I recently purchased to teach me more about modding clothes.

(It turns out, and this is not so surprising, I hate following instructions… virtually everything I sew starts in my head and not on paper. When I do follow patterns I usually like to customize them. Add a pocket, change the length, do away with the zipper‚ÄĒI hate zippers‚ÄĒand so forth). Sewing is actually a remarkably creative thing for me, and something that gives me significant pleasure when I see the end results. Even if I always rather rush to get there, patterns in my head appear to have a short life span in the head.

Embroidery was like this. I don’t do it now, but I have a shirt. The back features an embroidered elephant. It’s my own creation. An elephant in a ceremonial dress walking along. I made the pattern and selected all the threads to create it. Not embroider by the numbers or within the lines. I don’t wear the shirt often, but I keep it as a reminder of creativity and imagination.

Knitting is the latest one to make a come back. I don’t really know how or when it happened. Well, that’s not quite true. I tried to teach myself to crochet. It was a disaster, how can something like that completely mystify me, I don’t know, I still don’t know. But I know that despite my best efforts I can not crochet. I guess it was Christmas, perhaps last year that I wanted to teach myself. But it turns out I bought a load of wool and then couldn’t actually do it. So I needed to do something else and knitting (as I have mentioned before) speaks to a past, a family, memories of long ago, not just of people but of motions with my hands.

But, I am taking to knitting exactly as I took to sewing. Patterns bore me, well the ones I think I can make do. So, one of my first projects was to reverse engineer a robot. So, that’s how I learnt, the hard way, to do intarsia knitting. I then discovered that that’s considered not what a beginner does. I’m not sure I know anyone whose taught themselves intarsia knitting from the experience of reverse engineering the entire pattern (I had to decide how many stitches, how to knit the piece, etc… there were no instructions, I just thought it out, thought carefully, and then started knitting).

So sewing, embroidery, and knitting are pretty creative me, whether it’s modding school uniforms, making elephants, adding pockets, or imagining a pair of shorts and bag… whether it’s knitting a robot or just knitting a bag… it’s a very creative process, and one that is very visual for me, which is perhaps why patterns don’t work so well for me.¬†It’s about the idea and then a full force of creativity to get there, not being too worried about a mistake along the way, because the confidence comes from knowing that nothing is irreversible, even if you are not quite sure how. How is this different from research? Well it happens over a shorter time span, but it requires the same types of skills, an ability to think outside the box, a degree of comfort with ambiguity while things are “in progress” (and potentially not going well) and a degree of confidence and optimism that things will work out. ¬†It’s like risk taking in the small, but if you don’t craft don’t underestimate what it means to go “off pattern” or the experience of what might result if you go off pattern and then begin the process of innovation.

The Digital-Physical Divide, Blue Collar Work and Hobbies as domains for Interactive Computing

In computer science, crafts and craftiness, discipline, research, social media on May 24, 2009 at 8:38 pm

An interesting post,

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/24/magazine/24labor-t.html?emc=eta1&pagewanted=all

accompanied with a charge, how might this be relevant for the field I work in, Interactive Computing. ¬†I was going to mail an answer, but when I saw the length of my answer, I thought here’s a use for my blog.

He sets up a dichotomy between paid blue collar and white collar work, which is one way to look at the relationship between the physical and the virtual but I don’t think it’s the only way. ¬†And in this way he sort of pushes a split that is physical = blue collar and virtual = white collar. ¬†But surely, if the latter was true then wouldn’t we have achieved the paperless office by now? ¬†I think there’s plenty of physical in the white collar environment, and that efforts that called for the elimination of paper have been naive. But, what drives the way that we think about the relationship between the physical and the virtual are values of productivity, efficiency, information management, etc…

But, he also misses other opportunities that also speak (at least to me) to IC because of this dichotomy. ¬†Hobbies. Steve Gelber has a great book on hobbies. One argument he makes is that they came into the home as a means of replacing the gap that was left when paid labor moved out of the home. Another argument he makes is very cultural, that hobbies were positioned as being a counter-measure against idleness and the corruption that that would bring. That’s a very cultural view, and culture is very much at the bottom of some of the values that we could associate with hobby and the physical-digital that could be explored here.

Hobbies are interesting because they are on the rise, particularly the physical ones (attributed to the recessive economy (e.g., http://www.nytimes.com/2008/12/23/business/23craft.html?_r=1). Hobbies have the same type of physicality but represent design opportunities not entirely focused on efficiency (if efficiency was important, no-one would hand knit surely?).  Instead it seems like an opportunity to explore values associated with things like creativity and accomplishment and of course the arts, since it is also the case that crafts are expressive.

Hobbies though also allow us to explore another dimension of individuality and collaboration.  Presumably some hobbies are collaborative in their making.  Others though appearing individualistic are I think also opportunities to explore collaboration and to take a wider eye to what that means. I wrote about this years ago with respect to photography, while image making is essentially individualistic, for amateur photographers its also collaborative through processes of sharing, mutual reading of each others images, sorting and classifying. So the artifacts are individual produced but collaboratively consumed, and even in production the consumption drives what is produced (this is of course true of many/all of the arts, Howard Becker writes very compellingly).

Another type of collaboration is very visible in knitting. People do sometimes knit things together, like an entire village (oh wait that’s just my mad countrymen). But, there are also a lot of opportunities to get together around individual knitting projects. I live near a boutique knitting shop that has regular knit-togethers where people bring their wool and work and talk, perhaps about what they are knitting, but likely so much more also. At least that’s been the case when I have watched as an outsider. FWIW I want to be an insider, but I lack the courage, because hobbies are also about talent, about mastery, and I have yet to believe that I can publicly “show” my work.

So hobbies to me emphasize different aspects of the physical process than physicality in the paid labor case. Not to say that the process is not important in the paid labor case, but as a livelihood it likely has to attend to questions of timeliness and quality that can be a part of the hobby process, but not necessarily.

I also think that hobbies/physicality raises interesting questions when you consider where it is done. ¬†Some types of crafts have very specialized spaces, the shed, the garage, etc… while others are highly mobile and portable, which might be part of their attractiveness (as a knitter myself, I like the fact that I can take a project to the cinema, tougher if I was doing something like making a robot right ūüėČ

And finally I think there are questions about gender. Hobbies and blue collar work have very strong gender associations. All sorts of questions.

So perhaps in the end, while I appreciate the blue collar work opportunities, I think the space is broadened and deepened by a consideration of hobbies.  Hobbies allow for the pursuit of a significant number of questions that are being addressed across the field of Interactive Computing, and indeed hobbies require particular attention because of the breadth of opportunities that they bring. So they require the best of empirical research, what are the values in play, what is, and could be the relationship of the physical to the virtual, and then the construction of carefully considered systems. Indeed, hobbies likely allow for the exploration of every single possible value that Interactive Computing might contend with in the construction of systems that continue to expand and deepen our understanding of the human-machine relationship

Reflecting on Laundry

In crafts and craftiness, European Union on July 19, 2008 at 9:26 pm

I think of myself as a modern woman.  Mostly.

But, in the last year, I’ve been trying to do laundry in the “old fashioned way.” ¬†No, not the really old fashioned way (Mondays, with other women, a large boiling vat of water and a mangle — that’s the way my Grandmother and her sisters did it, I’m not that hardcore and nor do I think my colleagues in the HCI group would understand my need to reschedule the Monday faculty meeting at noon).

No, what I mean is to do laundry in which the clothes get hung out to dry in the sunshine.  (Interesting how hang out to dry evokes notions of leaving someone to take the blame, not thoughts of fresh unmentionables blowing in the wind).  I live in the metropolis.  And one day of the weekend the laundry goes into the front loader, comes out, and then gets hung on the clothes horse and onto hangers that are compatible with the railings of the fence that keeps us from jumping off the deck.  And there it all hangs, enjoying the Atlanta summer.

So, I have several questions.

1) Will I get any kind of ticket or fine?¬†The reason I wonder is because I notice that no-one else hangs their clothes out in visible sight of anyone else. ¬†No everyone else is busy paying to cool their house with AC so that they can then pay to turn on their dryer and heat up their house. ¬†Contrast this with Europe, where part of the joy of walking through the hood or taking the train is seeing people’s clothes. ¬†Gives you some insight into the owners, and numerous opportunities to pause and take a fashion moment.

2) Does it take longer?¬†¬†So, I began this by saying that I think of myself as a relatively modern woman. ¬†So, of course my concern is whether this saves me any time/labor. ¬†The reason I even ask this is because I have read Ruth Schwarz Cowan’s work. ¬†No, she didn’t say that throwing out technology would make things go quicker… but she did put it into my mind that I should ask these questions…

So, what would I say. ¬†There’s more talk, perhaps in the same way that washing/drying dishes by hand generates talk. ¬†My husband and I talk while hanging things out. ¬†Frequently it’s about the hanging process, but as we mature in our tactics, I think the balance will be towards other conversations. ¬†It also takes longer for things to dry. ¬†And in Atlanta that means attending to the rhythm of the summer day. ¬†It always begins quite clear, but over the course of the day the unstable air produces large clouds… sometimes these become “pop up” thunderstorms. ¬†Air drying is thwarted by intense rain storms that put down a couple inches per hour (sometimes more), so clearly one has to follow the rhythm of the day (and for those of you who know me that’s a real pleasure because I LOVE THE WEATHER, I look at the doppler radar multiple times a day).

3) What do the neighbors think?¬†Since we have a one way relationship with the neighbors, they see our clothes, we do not see theirs, I wonder whether they mind. ¬†I think that this is back to my first question, but they are not strangers, I wonder whether we’ll hear some comments some time, …

So, perhaps you’re asking yourself (if you’re still reading) why I’m doing this?

Georgia has a terrible drought. ¬†Saving water. ¬†The front loading washer is a help. ¬†But, electricity generation in this state also uses water cooling. ¬†But, mainly it’s just that I can’t abide paying for heating and cooling at the same time.