Monthly Archives: January 2014

Foucault part deux — a new thought

So, I started thinking about the definition of Discourse that Foucault is using, and it isn’t the same definition of discourse that many of us would use today. Foucault’s definition of Discourse, and way of looking at language is fundamentally the linguistic one, and he is responding to Chomsky and other structuralists. The linguistics definition from the OED  is closest :

Discourse: 8.Linguistics. A connected series of utterances by which meaning is communicated, esp. one forming a unit for analysis; spoken or written communication regarded as consisting of such utterances.

discourse analysis n. Linguistics a method of analysing the structure of texts or utterances longer than one sentence, taking into account both their linguistic content and their sociolinguistic context; analysis performed using this method.

discourse marker n.Linguistics a word or phrase whose function is to organize discourse into segments and situate a clause, sentence, etc., within a larger context.

So, it seems to me that he was putting forth ANOTHER theory about structure, that structure isn’t a static source of meaning, but a set of variables, units, and actionable items that can constantly be recombined to produce varying meanings, depending on context, and then returned to their individual units. Where Chomsky put the emphasis (if I’m remembering correctly) on phonemic units that combine to make sounds, then words, then clauses, sentences, paragraphs to create a cohesive and coherent system of language and meaning, Foucault seems to put the emphasis on a “statement” a unit where an action is taken.  Statements can be shorthand, like bits of programming, that are combined in a dynamic system, which is not coherent and comprehensive, but contains infinite (or nearly so) possibilities for illimitable meanings. It’s still about structure, but it’s structure in the sense of lack of structure, in the awareness of and comfortability with building the wheel anew every time, although with the knowledge of how wheels have been built before.

So I have a big box of Legos, and I can build many different things, even though I may have received instructions for a certain planned project. And when I’m finished, I take them apart again for recombination later. A new structure may contain the same component parts, but it can (and generally will) look different. Language isn’t a puzzle to solve (like a Rubik’s Cube, where there is a correct way to use it, a single cohesive solution). Language is a dynamic system of interrelated parts that signify by their placement in conversation ( a more comprehensive use of the word discourse) with each other. And “uttering” now has new and varied meanings.

Foucault’s definition of discourse really is a computer science definition, where a “program” is a series of “statements”, each of which carries out an action and together brings a result.  A statement is executable. A definition is a marker, a pointer, to something specific. What travels on the network then, are executables — statements that require something to be done — which are sent to nodes, specific and discernible and addressable actors who process the statement and take action. Thus, discourse, as a connected series of these statements, mitigates and creates action, which is what Bitzer said the purpose of discourse is to begin with. Foucault says that there is no authorial intent or raison d’etre, but who writes the programming? Both the statements, and how the statements are to be interpreted at the nodes? This process HAPPENS dynamically, based on exigencies, but it is predictable because of the series of it/then statements. Disruptions along the network are not tolerated; they are seen as aberrations. This seems to get back at Foucault’s other theories, about authority and discipline. You must do what the statement requires you to do. If you do not, you will be punished or assimilated or removed from the system.

Meanings are still constructed — indeed only are constructs. But unless the nodes are self-aware, all they are doing is following orders of authoritative programmers situated elsewhere and directing action through executable statements assembled for specific purposes. The USER of the statements may still be unaware, and even the WRITER of the statements may be unconscious of all meanings and intents that may result.

Humans are not logarithms, and may return the system to a pre-discursive state (chaos) by introducing or using another mode — an executable that is outside of the discourse. A disruptor — which is where innovation happens.


Road to Nowhere — come on inside

Screenshot 2014-01-28 09.36.46

Since the embed code that worked last week isn’t working today (a change to the network was made by WordPress and now ShockWave isn’t playing nicely, apparently), here is a screenshot of the interactive Popplet. Clicking on the image will take you to the Popplet where you can move around.

So this thing is meant to be a map, but I don’t know where it is going. It seems to going …. nowhere:

But perhaps, like the Talking Heads, and even Mssr. Foucault, it isn’t the destination, but the representation of it that is what it is, that makes meaning.

And, if I believe Mssr. Foucault, then my concerns about the beauty of my map and what it says about the state of my mind are unfounded, since it isn’t designed to represent any other thing or idea, but as itself, nor is there authorial intent or authority. I am liberated from my “empirical consciousness” and instead an agent of the discourse.

I totally forgot to do the mind-map updating amid the various nodes of work this week. This one got left on the periphery, not fully connected to the system I interacted with. I added some nodes related to Foucault and connected them to the others: Foucault connects to Biesecker, but refutes Bitzer and Vatz. I’m beginning to use the terms “discourse” and “network” interchangeably, perhaps poorly. We shall see.

Ceci n’est pas un rhetorical situation

Here is a soundtrack for your reading of this blog post:

Bob Dylan sings about the human tendency to search for comfort, answers, stability, love, in an embodied and unified entity — a person, a lover — and announces that he cannot be that: “it ain’t me, babe, that you’re looking for.” Foucault would argue that not only is it not Bob, it’s not anyone, for that idea of document, something concrete, something embodied with a distinctive meaning, a representation that has a meaning or a role is one that doesn’t fully exist, or at least exist over time. It isn’t about the artist. It isn’t about the meaning s/he intended or the meaning you ascribe. In other words,

Magritte's Pipe

It’s not a pipe. It’s not even a picture of a pipe. It’s not an oeuvre. It’s not Henri Magritte. It’s not a representation of Henri Magritte’s mind. It doesn’t mean “pipe” or “painting” or “art” or “webpage.” It is a set of rules and protocols that we use to call it so. The rules create the event, which creates the thing, which creates the meaning. It’s a monument — a visible marker of a moment in time, a form and manifestation of a concept demarcated in the chaos by discourse.

“Behind the visible facade of the system [the systematic ordering created by language], one posits the rich uncertainty of disorder; and beneath the thin surface of discourse, the whole mass of a largely silent development (devenir): a ‘presystematic’ that is not of the order of the system; a ‘prediscursive’ that belongs to an essential silence. Discourse and system produce each other –” (76).

In this quote, Foucault seems to be saying that discourse does not equal a symbolic system to encapsulate and systematize thought, nor a representation of some purity of thought or original meaning or essence . Discourse, rather, is a set of rules that creates (or attempts to create) a sense of order from a state of “devenir”  or  the potentialities — the possibilities of becoming, of what something might develop into, become or mean. The WORD gives rise to the situation; the discourse creates, becomes, and perpetuates the system that evokes it. So, to Foucault, a “rhetorical situation” seems to happen because someone speaks and the language creates it.  Before, all the parts were there, but the situation is constituted (the parts gathered together) through the act of using language.

He continues this thread with: “Archaeology … does not treat discourse as document, as a sign of something else, as an element that ought to be transparent, but whose unfortunate opacity must often be pierced if one is to reach at last the depth of the essential in the place in which it is held in reserve; it is concerned with discourse in its own volume, as a monument. ” (138-139). This process of archaeology that Foucault narrates is not for the purpose of discovering the meaning behind or the truth within; a document does not signify something else. It is. It exists. It is a monument — a marker that something has happened, been created, left its mark.

And, “archaeology does not try to restore what has been thought, wished, aimed at, experienced, desired by mean in the very moment at which they expressed it in discourse; it does not set out to recapture that elusive nucleus in which the author and the oeuvre exchange identities; in which thought still remains nearest to onself, in the as yet unaltered form of the same, and in which language (langage) has not yet been deployed in the spatial successive dispersion of discourse” (139).  And “The authority of the creative subject, as the raison d’etre of an oeuvre and the principle of its unity, is quite alien to it [archaeology]” (139).  Alors, the premise that language bastardizes or corrupts otherwise pure thought or truth is bogus to Foucault, as is the idea of original intent and authorial purpose.  Rather, a text is  the result of a “network of causalities” (139) that bring it into being (and as quickly tear it apart).

It reminds me of my favorite passage from Jack Kerouac’s The Scripture of the Golden Eternity: ““Everything’s alright, form is emptiness and emptiness is form, and we’re here forever, in one form or another, which is empty. Everything’s alright, we’re not here, there, or anywhere. Everything’s alright, cats sleep.” 

Foucault’s Archaeology of Knowledge seems to be him narrating (often in dialogue with himself, as his own co-creative discursive partner) a process for reading the world. In it, he advocates deconstructing a situation, identifying its constituent variables, isolating them, and then manipulating them into various iterations, each time searching for new ways of seeing and knowing (sight and insight). The original and temporal unity is reconstituted again and again, into new temporary unities, not looking for an original truth or a primal Truth, but for variance and relationships among the constituent parts. He suggests a sort of iterative regression analysis being performed on various combinations of enunciative formations, which I see as delimited strings of meaning, much like an algorithm breaks text into strings or an image into pixels, and each further into a series of zeroes and ones which are then reassembled. This iterative exploration of potentialities and probabilities is  now infinitely more doable with Big Data and powerful computing. We have the capability to break something into smaller and smaller components, and to combine every more variables, and to manipulate in more ways. Our ability to see is technologically enhanced — no longer is this discourse between human and language, but with the mitigation by and enhancement from technology. We see with cyborgian eyes.

Foucault’s notions relate to my Object of Study because live-action role-playing exists in this sort of realm of delimited concepts and enunciative formations. A gamemaster sets up a situation and characters are created. Meaning is derived through the play and interplay in the game. Meaning is constituted temporally and contingently, depending on the discursive practices (and all the relationships, constructs, prior knowledge, etc.) of the characters. It is constructed relationally, not individually. And then it is over, and if one looks to the documents left behind (character sheets, rules, scenarios) one can never recreate or even understand the discourse that was the game. It is a true “you had to be there” situation.  An outcome is an outcome, and that is not to be judged as “good” or “bad” or “real” or “unreal.” It is what it is. It is a set of contingencies enacted.

I leave you with an excerpt form Act 2, Scene 2 of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Hamlet gets Foucault. Foucault gets Hamlet. The two share an idea, but have given it new form:

HAMLET: Denmark’s a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ: Then is the world one.

HAMLET: A goodly one; in which there are many confines,
wards and dungeons, Denmark being one o’ the worst.

ROSENCRANTZ: We think not so, my lord.

HAMLET: Why, then, ’tis none to you; for there is nothing
either good or bad, but thinking makes it so: to me
it is a prison.

ROSENCRANTZ: Why then, your ambition makes it one; ’tis too
narrow for your mind.

HAMLET: O God, I could be bounded in a nut shell and count
myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I
have bad dreams.

GUILDENSTERN: Which dreams indeed are ambition, for the very
substance of the ambitious is merely the shadow of a dream.

HAMLET: A dream itself is but a shadow.

ROSENCRANTZ: Truly, and I hold ambition of so airy and light a
quality that it is but a shadow’s shadow.

HAMLET: Then are our beggars bodies, and our monarchs and
outstretched heroes the beggars’ shadows. Shall we
to the court? for, by my fay, I cannot reason.

And neither, any more, can I.*

*Though there is a whole other entry on savoir and connaitre that I must write. Those words must attempt to form from chaos on another day.


Dylan, Bob and the Hawks. “It Ain’t Me Babe.” Live at the Hollywood Bowl. 1965. Video. Posted by colonslappy, YouTube User. 27 January 2014.

Foucault, Michel, Alan Sheridan, and Michel Foucault. The Archaeology of Knowledge ; and the Discourse on Language. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982. Print.
Kerouac, Jack. The Scripture of the Golden Eternity: Pocket Poets Number 51. Vol. 51. City Lights Books, 1960. Google Scholar. Web. 28 Jan. 2014.

Magritte, Henri. “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” 1948. Web. 27 January 2014.

Shakespeare, William. Hamlet. Web. 27 January 2014.

Has the moon lost her memory?

Screenshot 2014-01-25 15.42.15

This is my quick stab at where I store all of my stuff. The entire page is my brain — it encompasses and accesses all item. My Memory Game is remembering where something is stored (and crying when one peripheral fails … USB jump drives — you’re dead to me).

The memory activity was interesting, as I realized that I have fragmented myself to too large of a degree, constrained by real and perceived limitations of the devices (e.g. capacity in Dropbox, functionality in Drive). Daniel has suggested I funnel all my items through a single Gmail, which I think Shelley does, too. I currently segment VCCS stuff on my VCCS Drive, ODU stuff on my ODU Drive and “other” stuff on my personal Google Drive. I would like to consolidate, but Google doesn’t make it easy at this point, other than sharing among them. I can chip away at downloading and reorganizing over time.

I rely increasingly less on physical items (such as CDs, DVDs, and USB drives) and rely much more on the “cloud.” But I’ve got to figure out some more parameters — currently iCloud thinks I have two iPhones, and I don’t have enough storage space to complete a backup. I haven’t allocated the time to figure out how to fix that. I know I’m playing with unbacked-up-data fire, so I have some sense of urgency, but not enough to prioritize it higher on the list. Blind trust in devices that they will not fail. Playing with fire, indeed.

We Complete ALL the Activities!

This is my map of my social networks, such as it is. Rather disorganized and true to life.
This is my map of my social networks, such as it is. Rather disorganized and true to life.

So, I dabble and muck about in Social Networks. There are probably others. My main one, since I am old, is FaceBook, which is a hub of connectivity for ODU, where backchannels and groups build community. In fact, I don’t think I ever saw the real potentiality for FaceBook until I started using it as a doctoral student at ODU. I also keep in touch with former students, colleagues, high school and college friends, and I follow a few artists, but I don’t use Facebook as a Fan. It never made much sense to me to “like” Mark Twain’s page, when it was just some other bloke who “likes” Mark Twain. I do not play Facebook games and I do *not* post things that dare you to post them.

I use Twitter to follow trends and as my reader. I follow NY Times, Atlantic, Economist, The Nation, Chronicle of Higher Ed, Washington Post, etc. etc. etc. I go to Twitter and scroll through and click on embedded links to read stories. It’s more “serious” than Facebook, where the shares are about quizzes about princesses and Star Wars characters (and God forbid you ask me to challenge you to Candygram or something. No.). Twitter is EXCELLENT for networking and backchanneling at a conference. And good for asking a question and getting an answer pretty quickly!

I am a dabbler in Pinterest, but it hasn’t caught on with me. Maybe it’s the visual format, maybe it’s the consumerism. Maybe both.

I have started with Instagram because I want to be hip, but I’m not a huge picture-taker yet, and I currently follow many of the same people I see on Facebook. So it doesn’t have a lot of extra value for me; however, my younger friends are there more frequently.

My college-aged children do not want me to be on Snapchat. It feels as if I’m snooping. Snapchat is cool for immediate connectivity and organizing people together quickly. But I’m not sure what social capital one gains when things are not archived. The capital is as ephemeral as the Snaps.

I have a YouTube account and favorite channels, but I’m not a big contributor to YouTube.Used to add videos in my former job, but have no time or exigency currently.

I have LinkedIn over all by itself because even though I am connected to many people in LinkedIn that I am also friends with on FaceBook or follow on Twitter, I use it for such completely different things. I put Yammer over there, too, because it is also professional, but I never really use it; I just belong because it looks cool at work to be on it.

The others I dabble in to one degree or another. I don’t really use Google for Social Capital, but I could, I suppose.

Intersum ergo sum — What the Foucault?

Foucault meme -- all your base are belong to us referenceFoucault meme demonstrates the concept that all texts are nodes in a network.

I love me some Foucault. But he’s like a fine French truffle, rich with complex flavors. You have to take small bites and savour. Unfortunately, we are on the American “turn the table” restaurant mentality, rather than the French “it’s yours for the evening” way of dining. I’ve eaten my way through the first part of Archaeology of Knowledge, but I’ve got the post-American Buffet bloat and indigestion from eating too much too fast. Still, I’m going to try to interrogate the “dubious unities” and put together some discursive formations that make meaning. You’ll only be able to discern the meaning by reading my blog in conversation with other students’ blogs, though. If you’re trying to determine “the intention of [this] author, the form of [my] mind, the rigour of [my] thought, the themes that obsess [me] or the project that traverses [my] existence and gives it meaning” (28-29), you’ll have to look elsewhere, for Foucault and I do not broke any of that humanist, psychological nonsense that relies on presuppositions of origin, unity, tradition, text, or oeuvre. What appears here, in this entry, is the product of choices I made, governed by the rules given for this blog assignment, which caused these statements to be made, and not others (27). What is unsaid here is as important as what is said; I am only able to make this particular discursive irruption at this moment in time, given what knowledge I currently have, the constraints of my time, vocabulary, and capacity for understanding, and in the context of the other discursive irruptions that influence my thought and language choices — most recently, those of Bitzer, Vatz, and Biesecker, who each examined the cause and purpose of discourse.

As I was reading the first couple of chapters, I was struck by multiple places where Foucault seems to predict Big Data and algorithmic decision-making facilitated now by our online mouse-droppings and consumption of cookies. Foucault says that “controlled decisions” can constitute “discursive groups that are not arbitrary, and yet remain invisible” (29). Certainly controlled decisions that define conditions are what creates membership in affinity groups, visible online via social networks, but what is invisible is what is economically valuable. The ability to dynamically create discursive groups that are logically and logarithmically constituted based on the interplay of online choices — that potential to subdivide and reintegrate people into groups and analyze them to make predictions about them, about what they will do or say or not do or say — is the basis of Google’s and Facebook’s stock price.

These discursive groups remain invisible, but they are called into being via a query made by someone with a rhetorical purpose.

The situation is created, the entity is constituted into a unity temporally and temporarily via a system of rules and conditions which remain completely invisible — and un-thought-of — by most people interacting with the system. These rules or protocols, such as Google’s algorithms, must be scrutinized, Foucault says, to determine their legitimacy, and never accepted as self-evident (25-26). Much of the worldwide web functions in this semblance of a unity; many web pages do not exist beyond the time that they are served up in response to a query from a user. The page utters its discursive forms, but we do not often question, “how is it that one particular statement appeared rather than another?” (27). How does Google decide which results are at the top, or which word to offer as a translation? And do we stop to consider what is not said, and whether the meaning we seek is in what we did not see, hear, or read, or were even given the opportunity to see, hear, or read?

This same question of how one thing was said instead of another has a huge connection to my object of study and intended research. My friend and I call it the George R.R. Martin question: in a world of fantasy, where one can imagine anything at all, why does one continue to imagine institutionalized and fetishized objectification of and violence against women? Foucault’s “description of the events of discourse” rather than a language analysis can get at the decisions that are made and to look at the connections and situatedness of the discourse to determine how it became so. In my object of study, Live-Action Role Playing Games (LARPs), there are many examples of the George R.R. Martin question, where imaginative games continue to reinforce gender stereotypes, heteronormativity, patriarchal constructs, and other constructs brought into the game world by the designers, players, or both. Foucault states that a language (langue) is “a system for possible statements, a finte body of rules that authorizes an infinite number of performances” (27). Unlike a computer game or a table-top game where choices are forced by the spaces on the game board or the software, in a LARP game mechanics and a character are only a set of protocols. The game itself is a discursive irruption and the live, autonomous players can perform an infinite number of copies or instances using the same protocols and rules and, each will be different and distinct, and unable to be replicated. Foucault’s concept of “points of diffraction of discourse” (65) also seems to bear fruit in looking at a LARP, since it deals with simultaneities of enunciation and “points of equivalence.” A LARP’s mechanics attempt to regulate and mitigate such incompatibilities and potential conflicts which exist within this particular “discursive constellation”, which Foucault recognizes is in conversation withe other discourses. Analyzing the system that surrounds a LARP and what is in place to allow or disallow such reconstituted representations seems to be fruitful.

Foucault is talking about doctors in chapter 4, but this description of how they are situated as subjects in their institution could very well describe the position of a player in a LARP. A player is “also defined by the situation that it is possible for him to occupy in relation to the various domains or groups of objects [other player-characters, non-playing characters, props,  the physical space, his own body within the space]: according to a certain grid of explicit or implicit interrogations [his character sheet, character goals, abilities, status], he is the questioning subject [seeking information] and, according to a certain programme of information, he is a listening subject [in conversation with other information-seekers]; according to a table of characteristics [physical and character abilities] he is the seeing subject, and, … the observing subject; … he uses instrumental intermediaries [questions, actions, gestures, objects, character traits and abilities] to modify the scale of the information” (52). A gamer does this to interact with others, learn the exigence of the scene, further his own in-game (and perhaps, out-of-game) goals, and in order to experience pleasure. His boundaries are circumscribed some by the system (the game protocols), the materiality/physicality (his own and the physical space) and the constraints given him by the Game Master (GM) or the exigence of the scene, or the actions of others. This unfolds dynamically, discursively and ultimately narratively between and among the interactions of the other subjects, who occupy this same theoretical and discursive space, and who, collectively or individually, can derail this game by making choices about what is said and done that are possible, but not necessarily probable, given the situation. When an unexpected discursive act occurs, it is no longer the same game, the unity is broken, and a new unity must be co-created, instantaneously.

My favorite Foucault quote though is that a book is merely a “node within a network” (23), perhaps because it is short, but also perhaps because it brings to mind that a text is only an instance of an idea. It takes me back to my librarian days, when we were discussing the shift from one type of cataloging system (AACR) to the new one, adopted in 2010, Resource Description and Analysis (RDA). It completely upends how a library describes objects in its collection, and is made for the digital age. Items are now clustered under the work, which can appear in a variety of formats. For example, the entry would be Hamlet, by William Shakespeare, and clustered under it would be all the instances that refer to that intellectual work. It could be a print copy of the play, or a DVD, or another DVD of another performance, or an online resource, or a prose translation, a children’s story, a YouTube video, a parody, etc. ALL are instances or expressions or nodes that are part of  the network that is Hamlet. Format doesn’t mean it’s a different thing, only part of a greater whole that all, individually and together, constitute the meaning itself. The relationship and interplay between all nodes/formats can now be visualized with RDA, whereas with AACR, we could only see “a population of dispersed events” (22). Now, these nodes can talk to each other, and those wishing to enter the discourse have a modality that enables them to join.

 Works Cited

Foucault, Michel. The Archaeology of Knowledge ; and the Discourse on Language. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982. Print.
Herman, Alison. “The ‘Game of Thrones’ Universe Is Violent and Sexist — And That’s Not a Bad Thing.” Flavorwire. Web. 21 Jan. 2014.
“Resource Description & Access.” Joint Steering Committee for  Development of RDA. Web. 21 Jan. 2014.

Mindmapping: Bitzer, Vatz, Biesecker

This week I started my Mindmap for the course, albeit reluctantly. I’m more of a list-maker and note-taker, and less of a mind-mapper. The squares and lines everywhere start to make me feel nervous, and I feel compelled to try to connect everything, and to expend energy worrying if I’ve put something in the “right” place. At least with Popplet I have the opportunity to (re)move a node or a section; the virtual format seems less permanent and more flexible than drawing it on paper, where my “mess” is more exposed.  I understand the value of these visualizations, though, and I’m willing to work on it all semester and see if I have additional learnings as a result of the format.

I began with “Rhetorical Situation,” since that seemed the obvious “big idea” that all three articles discussed (green popple). Then I found myself organizing around three main ideas: the status/stasis of the “situation” itself, what travels along the medium (of a network or a situation), and where meaning resides (red popples). The three authors had differing ideas about these three topics, so it allowed me to put them in juxtaposition and opposition. I also incorporated an idea from my “How Stuff Works” reading, which seemed to relate to Networking and to Rhetorical Situation conceived as a relationship among constituent parts. The “status/stasis” of the situation is where I discussed the idea of origin, which differs greatly among the authors: for Bitzer, the situation comes first, for Vatz, the speaker’s intentions, and for Biesecker, there is no origin, just a relationship among the various parts. In all cases, a response — discourse — is demanded, but for different reasons. Bitzer says the discourse must be “fitting” to respond appropriately to the situation. Vatz says the discourse is an act of creative interpretation by the speaker, who determines the salient information to fit his/her needs. Biesecker says that the discourse is what creates meaning itself, that the construction of the text articulates the reality from between and among the constituent parts (e.g. exigence, audience, constraints) and the multiplicity of possible meanings.

This Popplet is a “possibility of conceptuality” (Derrida) and now is the visible structure of the différance that makes signification — meaning — possible. It’s a constructed reality by a rhetor (me) whose creative act of interpretation and choice selection of salient facts is responding to an exigence (the assignment).

How Stuff Works: Computer Networking

Well, since this entire class is about networking, I sure did get a doozy of a first topic to try to read, understand, and explain. It’s far too dense to fully get into, but I’ll give an overview, some key terms (here’s a link to a handy glossary), and an analogy. Let’s start with this short (3:27) video I found that does a nice job with the general idea.  Apparently it’s also trying to sell Netgear routers and switches, but the advertising isn’t too annoying:  How Computer Networks Connect and Work 

Next, if you have 13:01, you’ll really understand what happens inside the network by watching this video: How Packets Travel in the Network (3d animation) Plus, you’ll get to see a network visualized as a sort of campy sci-fi movie, starring “Router” as a very close cousin of an Imperial Probe Droid from Star Wars and “Switch” as a cackling Pinball Wizard. Look for the Windows 3.1 screen shot with the Netscape Browser — a blast from the past! Seriously, the video really does a great job with making this make sense for people who aren’t computer scientists. It’s also a good laugh for some of the rhetorical choices they made. Engineers. 🙂

So, basically, a network consists of a MEDIUM (something that provides a path for the signals/information to travel, such as copper coaxial cable or fiber optic cable, which is preferred because it consists of a twisted pair of wires, one for sending, one for receiving), that is broken into SEGMENTS (also known as “collision domains”; a piece or instance of the medium) which contains one or more NODES or STATIONS, each with its own address. Information moving along the medium, is organized into FRAMES (like a sentence) which consist of PACKETS (like words). A network is governed by a PROTOCOL (rules for constructing the frames and organizing the information; TCP/IP is one protocol, Ethernet {or 802.3 IEEE} is another, token ring is a third, bitcoin is a new one). A network is subject to certain LIMITATIONS, such as the length of the cable, the number of devices, etc. SWITCHES connect nodes to a network segment and direct traffic to various nodes with it.  Using ALGORITHMS, a ROUTER acts as the boundary for a particular network, transferring information from one network to the next (or not, depending on the results of the algorithm). Routers talk to each other (using their own protocol), and can connect networks using different protocols (e.g. from ethernet to TCP/IP). Routers and switches (using their protocols) ensure that the information gets where it is intended and doesn’t have a COLLISION with other packets of information; routers attempt to LOAD BALANCE, much like packing a semi so that there is no wasted space and it doesn’t tip, a network is efficient when traffic moves smoothly, without a bottleneck or a single area working harder than another. The router constantly makes decisions in real-time to facilitate this balance. There exists the ability on any given network to send information from one node to only a single other node, or to send information from one node to ALL nodes (Broadcast). There are various ways to connect to a network, physically (via a cable — a WIRED network) or WIRELESSly (e.g. bluetooth) or a HYBRID, but even if the medium is not visible or known to each node or user, there exists a physicality to every network. You can have networks inside of another network (a LAN, inside a WAN, for example), and the INTER-Net is the connection of many networks that choose to be connected.

Once you’re on a network, you can do various things, such as share, and connect, and allow others to use your computer or your software applications (desktop sharing) or information. The concept of ownership and autonomy become problematized on a network. Someday soon, if Ubiquitous Networking is enacted, then any computer or device within range of you and your smartphone/PDA will become “yours” for as long as you need it. That paradigm shift may just break your brain. It won’t be YOUR brain or YOUR computer;  your autonomy and your hardware is part of the collective.

Phew. So here’s my analogy. See if this helps:

Imagine you are in a restaurant. This restaurant is a network of its own, defined by the boundaries of the restaurant. This restaurant network is part of a larger network of restaurants, but today, you are inside just this one. The floor of the restaurant is divided into sections, each one governed by a waiter (I’m using this word deliberately even though it is somewhat gendered, bc the word “server” is confusing in this context; however I intend the waiter to be gender neutral 🙂 who travels back and forth between each table and the kitchen. The waiter’s section is a network segment.  Inside each server’s section are individual tables, which we will call nodes. A node talks to a waiter, but not to other nodes (tables in the restaurant). The waiter is like the switch, s/he directs information from the nodes to a server (e.g. the kitchen, which serves up  packets, errr, plates, of food/information) and can talk to other waiters. The tables are connected through the waiters, but not directly to each other. The host/hostess is like the router, controlling who comes into the network (restaurant) and the flow of traffic to the various sections (network segments) and tables (nodes).  The host ensures that the guests are supposed to be there, are the right protocol (e.g. have a reservation, are wearing a shirt and shoes, or a tie as needed) and ensures that a single waiter (switch) isn’t given two or more tables in a row (overloading him/her) or causing a collision or logjam in the kitchen (at the server).  If everything runs smoothly, the correct food is made, on time, and delivered to the correct table, and all enjoy the food they ordered and have a positive experience with the network.

Does that help, any? Well, maybe it made you hungry.

So, your activity to help you think a bit about networking and the nested nature of them (networks inside of networks, connections between networks, communications across networks, the language of networks):

  1. Go to
  2. Click Join IFTTT with whatever email and password suits you
  3. Browse the explanations on the site. IFTTT allows you to create Protocols for how to connect your own networks, and what actions should be taken. In effect, it acts as a router between your networks, according to the commands you give it.
  4. Create one or more “recipes” using the site’s graphical interface (for example, I created a recipe that sends me a text message every time a Job ad for an astronaut is posted on Craigslist in Charlottesville. No,  I don’t expect to get many texts. Think about which of your networks you might want to connect, when, how, and why. “Share” your recipe if you like.
  5. Then go to this Google Doc and answer the quick reflection question about your experience with IFTTT and how it relates to networking. Identify yourself before you type and put your text in its own color in order to differentiate. Comment on other peoples’ answers using the comment feature.


How computer networks connect and work. (2013). Retrieved from
How Packet Travels in Network ( 3D Animation ). (2012). Retrieved from
Networking Terms Glossary | Definitions of Network Technology. (n.d.). Retrieved January 19, 2014, from
Pidgeon, Nick.  “How Ethernet Works”  01 April 2000. <>  19 January 2014.

Razavi, Roozbeh.  “How Routing Algorithms Work”  19 November 2002. <>  18 January 2014.

Roos, Dave.  “How Desktop Sharing Works”  13 November 2007. <>  18 January 2014.


Live Action Role Playing Games — Object of Study

Live-Action Role-Playing Games (LARPs) are a type of interactive role-playing game in which the participants portray characters through physical action, often in costume and with props. LARP is distinguished from cosplay, where individuals demonstrate affinity and allegiance to a particular character within a fandom through authenticity in dress and manner; historical re-enactment, in which costumed participants embody and bring to life historical figures and events; and creative anachronism, where participants create their own characters based on history, genre or a particular time period. The distinction arises primarily because LARPing involves elements of a game – plot, goals, conflict, “points”, and stakes for the character – which are regulated through various structures created by game designers, writers, and game masters (GMs). LARP is a live improvisational performance without an audience; everyone present is an active participant and has a stake in the outcome of the game.

Boffer-style LARPs, which use homemade weaponry made of PVC pipe covered in foam and duct tape to enact combat scenes, are more about weaponry, hand-to-hand combat, battle strategy and adrenaline than theater-style or freeform LARP, which focuses more on character-building, and storytelling. Often called Interactive Storytelling or Interactive Literature, theatre-style LARP uses a system of game rules adapted from table-top role-playing games in order to determine position within the game, advance plot points, create more authentic characters and settle conflicts.  These are known as “mechanics.”

Mechanics both limit and augment a person’s natural tendencies, and are used as a means of controlling the large groups of people assembled in a closed space, as well as to create the game world through enhanced verisimilitude and what are intended to be clearly enacted boundaries. Yet these mechanics become objects of negotiation between the GMs and the players, each pursuing their own goals and agendas while maintaining their identity and autonomy within the Ludic System.

Mechanics fashion a common reference point across groups, standardize the methods of conflict resolution and plot points in the game, and provide a model and/or map of the shared game space. They do so to allow knowledge transfer without enforcing a particular shared meaning – which is essential to game autonomy and enjoyment. The mechanics are mediating artifacts that encode etiquette to create a controlled game reality that mitigates aggression, harassment, and other problems that may be brought in from real life and allows for the identity exploration essential to role-playing games.

I see the information movement before, during and after the LARP and the co-creation of the live game by sharing the roles as author, narrator, and character as functioning as a kind of distributed network.

I will study a particular LARP that I will play between February 28 and March 2. I will play three games during that time span; I am currently leaning toward the Jeep Form LARP, which is less structured and more dynamically co-created in the four-hour session via improv and lots of character autonomy and agency. Alternatively, another game is very structured. The Game Master is the “software” of a live-action game, so I am interested in the protocols (rules/mechanics) used to govern the game, which has as its core interactive problem-solving. The game is neither playable nor solvable alone; thus a system or network is needed to experience the reality that is LARP.