The idea was to adopt the point of view of select native organisms to sketch a subjective, fragmented portrait of the island, based on observations during my stay, using perspective, empathy and humor.
++++ palm ++++
i knew it was just a matter of time. but it’s important to keep up appearances, i thought. tall and slim, with my nuts at the top. once in a while, i let one drop. this is my gift to the island. anyone who dares to climb my torso and touch my private parts should know they have it coming. i wonder if the humans who drink my clear milk can taste my bitterness when they incinerate plastics and let diesel seep into the soil.
my siblings and i, beacons of baan mai. soak in the tides, survey the boats, sway with the wind, sweat with the rain. caress the air with feathered digits. and of course, blessed by the big buddha on the hilly horizon. a royal perch for the heavy hornbill. home to the golden tree snake. bejewelled by the translucent exuviae of a reborn cicada. because on the ground, we rule.
the question is, why me? neither an elder nor a sprout, just another misplaced middle child in a clan of kings. four full moons ago, it started with the beetle. she burrowed underground. i could sense her within my roots. me, tickled by her visit. she, searching for the perfect nest. because i am royalty, i thought, she chose me. then, she disappeared. it wasn’t long before i understood the curse that she had layed upon me. dozens of larvae, hatching from abandoned eggs, emerged into my entrails. hungry and blind, they ate their way through my wood. the squirming in my loins went on for days and nights, invisible to the outer world. it’s important to keep up appearances, i thought. finally, the grubs disappeared on six legs.
still, i stood straight, tall and lean. yet, turmoil had grown inside me. and dare i say, other species can sense insecurity. the fungi that grew on my skin started out as friends. we exchanged nutrients; both of us grew stronger together. but once they felt the chemical change under my bark, they too began to bite. mycelium crept into my guts, into the crevices left by raw trails. they spread and settled into patches of poisonous white fur, chewing away at the walls between the tunnels. slowly but surely, i was being eaten alive. ravaged within, savaged without. night after day, from moon up to sun down. until sunday, june 24, at 13 hours 8 minutes and 53 seconds, I crashed. i can no longer keep up appearances, i thought. this is my gift to the island.
++++ colony ++++
major 5736: vertical is now horizontal. pass it on.
major 5860: forwardbound, access to roots. check.
major 5817: trunk end, tunnels rotting, mycelium present.
major 5838: scout black ant seized, quartered, dead.
major 5839: carrying to nest 4.
minor 4072: red honeydew milked from scale insects at pasture 2.
minor 4073: carrying to nest 5.
major 6825: commuting to nest 9.
major 6812: carrying major 6813 to help build new nest.
major 3693: stretching out, can’t reach.
major 3694: climbing over, stretching out, can’t reach.
major 3695: climbing over, linking in, stretching out, can’t reach.
major 3696: climbing over, linking in, bridging up, stretching out… leaf reached.
majors 3693+3694+3695+3696: pull!
majors 3493+3494+3495+3496: pull!
majors 3711 through 3722: staple bite. hold. wait.
major 2561: carrying larva across seam. left, tap for silk. right, tap for silk. forward to next stitch, repeat.
major 9480: intruder at northwest. clamp jaw bite.
major 9488: intruder at northwest. attack stance spray.
major 7261: intruder at southeast. attack stance spray.
major 7269: intruder at southeast. clamp jaw bite.
minor 7200: intruders invading nest 1. all save the queen!
minor 7253: protect our larvae!
minor 7218: citric attack!
major 7264: no use, we’re a delicacy.
major 7237: once licked, twice bitten, all minced into garlic tapenade.
major 7999: nest may be cooked, but colony will survive.
major 8000: bon appétit, humans!
++++ hermit ++++
what are you, blind? can’t you see i live here? i know my jade green shell is drop-dead gorgeous, that’s why i chose it. i like the way it accents my bright red body. my old shell didn’t do me justice, but at least it fit. anyway, i outgrew it last month. this jewel fits me like a gem. i’ve finally found the perfect shell, and it’s mine. so bugger off, little crab, you’re too small. better yet, wait in line with the others. your time will come if you’re patient. the last time a human tried to steal my shell, i pinched so hard she tossed me back into the water on the spot. anyway, i prefer kayak rides. one can travel very far, see many more shells of all colors and stripes. in fact, on the other shore i spotted a sharp black and white shell on a snail at high tide. now that would help me stand out among my peers. not like those entire nudie beaches branded blue and red. and some crabs are so flashy they don’t even need shells. just hiding all that iridescent purple blue pink yellow gaudiness underneath a rock, what a waste. besides, they’re huge. if i want a break from the spotlight i’ll duck into some barnacled coral. block the hole with a slug. as long as a moray eel hasn’t already laid dibs, i’m safe. i mean, i’m not always looking for a fight. those sand-camouflaged cannibals are ruthless. if one of them isn’t brandishing some other crab’s claw like a victory torch, it’s dragging another severed torso off for dinner. i may be a scavenger, but i’m not a barbarian. sand bubblers, on the other hand, they have a sense of esthetics. those tiny critters sieve their nutrients right out of the sand at low tide, then after breakfast they leave us with a bubbly mandala on the beach. all that’s really missing is color. now what would mantis shrimp see? even the little ones reflect color, algae green legs moving like a millipede under the microscope, or so i’ve heard. and peacock mantis shrimp, they see psychedelic rainbows. i mean, they are psychedelic rainbows. but then, color isn’t everything. look at the cucumbers, then look at the urchins: same color, totally different shape. the urchins, however, have pretty blue eyes and a pulsing orange heart. not to mention long and elegant spines. but then, i can’t say i spend much time with the filter feeders in the lower sublittoral. in fact, if i’m not getting run over by a stampede of slater bugs scattering across the rocks at dusk, i’m deafened by the snapping of pistol shrimp popping their prey at low tide. anyway—what’s going on?! egret sees red!? no, let go! put me down! my shell, my precious jade shell!
Thank you — to Andy, for leading and encouraging independent discovery of our immediate natural environment, to Tasneem, for her scientific expertise and optimizing our kayak trip around the island, to all the “dinasaurs” who shared this experience with me.
Recording from our canopy blimp, we report on life above the jungle floor with a couple roboticists. Michael Candy (http://michaelcandy.com) talks about his tree climbing robot (tree yabbie), David Bowen stops by on a drone piloted by a plant, and we are greeted by the idea of a dumpling.
drone plant pilots
plugging into the minds of people
Michael Candy, David Bowen, The Idea of a Dumpling (Ahac Meden), Grace (Fossilized Balut)
Dj Dez (https://dezmediah.bandcamp.com/album/beep-boop)
Success with water-adapted augmented reality (AR). Aquatic AR goggles, immersive AR environments … ImmerSea: Subversive Submersibles built and tested in installation experimentations creative real time overlays for experience alteration. Now tabulating off locus reactions.
We broadcast from our high tech Bathysphere observing the creatures of the deep.
We talk undersea augmented reality vs ecosexuality with Adam Zaretsky, get a visit from hermit crab concerned about holes, and explore concepts of being and undulating with a guest reincarnating telekinetic creature.
Korean Internet Trends by Jennifer Katanyoutanant
Sensory Deprivation via filling ALL your orifices
Adam Zaretsky, Hermes (Jennifer Katanyoutanant), Wowoo (Tordo Sanchez)
Dj Dez (https://dezmediah.bandcamp.com/album/beep-boop)
Coming back from the odd experience of going to a conference while simultaneously running another conference has helped reinforce some of the problems which led me to create this conference in the first place. I will talk about my misgivings about academic conferences I went to, why I will refuse to participate in these types of exploitative practices in the future, and why I decided to personally spend the cost of going to just 2-3 events to put on my own free conference for 130 people.
(Updated Wed June 20, 11:22, 2561 Thailand)
(hahaha not my fault this is a perfect anagram)
Many academic conferences have become a model of exploitation and exclusion. The things I will say here are not news to academics at all, but they bear repeating wide and broadly to help shed a light on how crazy the rituals of the academic conference process have become. It might also help to have people from outside this field view this to see the types of exploitation we are dealing with here.
In fact here is a slide I skipped at my recent talk at DIS 2018 in Hong Kong:
I had originally intended to dedicate half of my talk to discussing the problems with these conferences, but at the last minute I just switched to giving the regular speech about my paper. Perhaps I wimped out, but I felt that the audience wouldn’t even be affected by my words. Through all the talks before, they largely sat solemnly, working on their own powerpoints they would present and be ignored during. These talks had so little impact that the community didn’t even seem like they would be interested in themselves. Instead I tried to just give a nice positive talk about the fun you can have making stuff outdoors to help wake people up and imbue them with a little bit of life. Again, it seems weak to present these ideas here in a blog post rather than through directly confronting folks, but it didn’t feel appropriate then or that those words would have much impact. Instead, I would like to share my thoughts and try to spur other academics to cut out their own contributions to this exploitative system.
I became acutely aware of this problem during an ACM conference in 2017. I had a paper, an artwork, and a “pictorial” I was sharing. The organizers (who are really awesome nice people!) had a workshop created by another person that needed extra help. They wanted to know if I could add some physical computing / hacking components to help out this workshop. I originally was against it because I was crazily overloaded during that time, but agreed because the organizers were my friends and I wanted to help.
When the time of the workshop arrived, hardly anything had been planned. Originally I was under the impression that I was just going to be there do some electronics crafts in addition to all the activities for this day-long workshop. I ended up having to fill 6 hours with improvised activities I had to quickly borrow and adapt from previous projects i had led. In my opinion this was quite irritating and irresponsible. The participants had spent good money and more importantly offered their time to join this event, but thrown together, last minute workshops are quite common at conferences like these.
The kicker came though when the organizer pulled me to the side asking about my registration. “You haven’t registered,” -“oh sorry, I can go sign in” -“but you have to pay the fees too” – “but I am running the workshop” – “well you still have to pay the registration fees.”
Lucky for me this organizer was an extremely nice person who is actively fighting to against the types of absurd exploitation in these conferences. These chairs ended up comping my fee after acknowledging my contribution and help for the conference, but they wanted me to be aware of this BS rule (which they seemed to feel similarly about).
So I was a lucky one to not have to pay for the workshop I organized, but my eyes were pulled wide open to how backwards things were run at these academic conferences. Seriously, the people running these workshops were expected to pay large sums of money to attend their own educational seminar?
I had always had an inkling to try to make my own conference about my research, but this incident fired me up. The ways things currently work was so ridiculous, if anything, i wanted to start my own conference to demonstrate that things didn’t have to be this way.
The Problems with Many Current Academic Conferences
I come from a background in HCI (Human Computer Interaction) and thus many of the conferences I have attended follow these exploitative models, and are run by organizations like the Association for Computing Machines (ACM https://www.acm.org/about-acm/acm-history ). I want to note that the people organizing these conferences are amazing super nice helpful people, and I don’t blame them, rather I blame all of us for perpetuating this system that keeps exploiting us all.
Some may not be aware exactly how this whole weird system works (and why should you!). Here’s a quick run down of how this stuff seems to work from my limited experience:
The first problem – setting the stage to make people thirsty for metrics
Universities are lazy and want quick and easy ways to grade their professors and determine if they should get bonuses or denied tenure.
A basic metric that these academic institutions have adopted is seeing how many papers you publish.
Of course, anyone can publish anything, so the Universities want some kind of lazy way to note what kinds of publications “count” and what do not (and it’s not like the institutions are going to actually read the papers you wrote).
Thus the Universities will create a list of “prestigious” venues where you can publish papers and they will think you are a fancy person if you have these conferences and journals listed on your resume. They will go super deep into pseudo-science here and come up with bizarre algorithms to be able to easily calculate things like “impact factor” made up by people who will do anything possible to quickly rank humans rather than just take time to see the kinds of things they do (inventor of the “Impact factor” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eugene_Garfield#Criticism)
The result is that academics are faced with desperate pressure to publish in these selected journals or else get fired.
The second problem – conferences gaming this broken system
So now that you have a captive audience of people whose jobs are literally on the line unless their publish in your venue, what should you do? Exploit them! Here’s how it works! *Note: in HCI and Computer Science and some other disciplines researchers publish papers that they share in “conferences” which tend to be seen as the sort of equivalent of publishing in “journals” in science fields for instance. So this will describe a typical conference process and highlights the spots where people are being needlessly exploited.
People submit their work to you, typically in the form of a paper.
The entire conference is organized (logistics and everything) by volunteers. They get a budget to actually pay for things like booking venues and catering ahead of time, but they themselves are not paid at all. Instead it is seen as a prestigious position, and members of the community take note of the dedication and work they provide to their field (as they should, organizing these conferences is super hard work!)
The conference organizers have to hunt down more volunteers to run different aspects of the conference (e.g. papers committee, and workshop committee). These folks then get stacks of submissions they then have to find even more volunteers to go review. This creates a full-on pyramid of unpaid labor running all aspects of the conference. Everyone involved is generally extremely busy and has a whole other full time job.
If your paper gets accepted (yay!), you have to prepare it yourself for the publisher. This includes all styling, basic editing, and even the nitty gritty like loading in the copyright notice and making sure your fonts are embedded.
You then have to pay the fees to go to the conference, or else they will cancel the acceptance of your paper. These fees typically range between $400-$1400 USD.
You typically have to also get yourself to the conference to stand up in front of others and give a little presentation about your paper. For an average international conference, I have calculated this to be between $1500-$2500 USD for housing, flights, transport, and food.
On top of all of this, most of these conferences then lock away your work that you gave them for free (and paid to attend) behind a paywall. This means if you or others want access to this article (e.g. https://dl.acm.org/citation.cfm?id=3059486) you generally have to pay to get a copy, pay to make it “open access,” or have your institution pay a subscription to the publisher (or use the wonderful, yet generally illegal https://sci-hub.tw/ )
So an average international conference runs an academic about $2000-$3500 USD, but they often shrug off these costs because they can use grants or institutional funds to cover these fees. This of course shuts off people without grants or institutional support.
I’m not saying that all unpaid work is exploitative or that people should never volunteer their time or money to help out their field. My problem with this system is when the large amounts of money become involved on top of the free labor already provided. Conferences are difficult to run and participants should be expected to chip in money or time to help get the conference going. The exploitation comes in, however, when both of the participants time and money are being demanded in large quantities. If the participants all volunteered and put on a great free conference together that would be great! If participants paid $1000
Where does all this money go? Example Conference Fees
Originally I was upset at these crazy fees charged on top of all the labor everyone in the community did for these conferences because I was thinking, “What is ACM doing with all this money?” If people are paying 1000$ a head and 4000 people show up like at CHI (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Conference_on_Human_Factors_in_Computing_Systems), that’s at least 4 million dollars they are working with.
Are these millions needed just to rent out some rooms people can talk in and some snacks to eat between talks. I figured the organizations were just pocketing it, but academic friends who are much more experienced in all this, like Jofish Kaye, explained to me that one of the real people winning out monetarily is the Hotel industry. According to them, the ACM isn’t growing fat off people’s registration fees, but rather the fancy hotels and venues these events are held at are raking in the dough.
The other people pulling in the money from the ACM are the publishers themselves! This was another thing I didn’t realize. The conference has to PAY money to the publishers themselves. For instance ACM Creativity and Cognition 2017 had a budget of ~$45,000, and $6,000 of that went straight to the publisher Sheridan. This is on top of whatever money the publisher makes in the future off charging for this data they made the people pay for.
The Ill Effects of this Exploitation
When a system becomes exploitative like this, the damage it does does not stop with the individuals, but rather it degrades all aspects of the field. Persons feeling exploited are not able to properly reflect on the work of them and their peers, but rather have to focus on recouping as much lost costs in the publishing Rat race.
The “peer review” done by whatever uncompensated people could be coerced into reviewing a paper becomes unreliable.
Expensive fees cut off interested parties with lower incomes
The pyramid- like structure encourages future leaders in the field to continue similarly exploiting newcomers out of tradition and spite.
Monetary resources go from academics and their grants (potentially from public money) to pay for big fancy hotels instead of research materials, communities, or people.
People are so resource limited and stressed they often miss most of the conference. The conference is full of people ignoring each other until it is their time to stand up and be ignored.
The paywalls and hierarchies limit any kind of true “impact” from a paper.
People are motivated almost entirely out of fear of their institutions rather than love of their research.
Exploring Alternative Ways
Instead of complaining, or passing the blame onto these conferences, I decided the best way to investigate this problem would be to try to run my own conference and see if I can understand more why academic conferences are the way they are, and perhaps find ways they can be better.
A full description of this, and the budget it available here:
But to quickly recap, I took $6800 USD of my own money and rented out a space for people to live and work together for 8 weeks. As interest grew, people donated about $2500 USD directly and another $8000 USD to my collaborator, Tasneem Khan, to help expand the activities of the conference.
From there. we:
charge no registration
Freely share all materials developed by it
have a collaborative peer review system
provide free or heavily subsidized housing
provide multiple small travel grants.
provide tools and physical resources for experimentation, design, research, and documentation.
Provide free professional documentation and editing services
It is halfway through now, but already it seems to be working quite well.
Conclusion: Let’s Stop Perpetuating this Nonsense
Again, many academics are aware of this, but what I am trying to say is, let’s stop this. Let’s break this cycle. It’s more important to stop passing down this broken, exploitative system onto future generations of academics than to worry about your own tenure possibilities.
Here are some take-aways I am making as a personal pledge to myself
I will no longer help recruit “reviewers” for papers if they are not compensated in some way.
I will avoid reviewing papers for exploitative systems, and will transfer my reviewing time to help conferences and journals with open policies.
I will work to set up sustainable events accessible by wide varieties of people to participate.
I will remind myself that the goals of any event should be to help people, explore new things, share ideas, and have fun. The goal should not be to increase an arbitrary metric for self-promotion.
One of the participants in our conference, Kathy Macleod, wrote a lovely comic about her experience at our conference. She describes coming away from the conference with a glow of “self-acceptance” about the work she is doing.
This was one of the proudest moments I have ever had, and I feel this should be the true goal to any conference, gathering, colloquium, or meeting of the minds: People should come together to show each other that their their work is valued, that their time is valued, and how they can use their work and time to explore new interesting or helpful things. If, instead, the priorities of a conference aren’t set to help people, but rather just to increase prestige, then it is utter bullshit.
Our conference gets shipwrecked into a mangrove forest where we meet Brian Huang formerly of Sparkfun and now a teacher at Strive Prep Excel’s program. Deke Weaver (www.unreliablebestiary.org), new media performance professor from University of Illinois, crawls out from under Brian’s foot. They talk fostering empathy, animals and performance art, hacking, cyborg citizen science, webbed feet, and get a visit from a 300 year old Tiger.
Russian party boats keep buzzing by, they have a Weaving-themed “pokin it,” (30:41) and the group chats about making excellent civet cat cuisine.
Brian Huang, Deke Weaver, and Tiger
Dj Dez (https://dezmediah.bandcamp.com/album/beep-boop)
Project : Playable simulation of how plastic waste disrupts ecosystems using the Boids flocking model (cool example here).
Bio : I’m a game developer in Austin. I got Master’s degree in Digital Media and met super cool people at Georgia Tech. I play a lot of video games but as a creator I’m trying to use them as a way to express ideas about myself and the world.
There is an intense, humbling joy that comes from being surrounded by aliens. There are so many different creatures here and they are very obvious about it.
Hornbills swoop past while we are soldering, a treefrog jumps out of an electronics box, weaver ants start crawling all over your loom while you are working.
Importantly, these things are doing their own thing. They aren’t the pidgeons you might encounter in a city desperately trying to fit into the environment we cordoned off for ourselves. They aren’t pets we have strategically coerced to follow our rules. The wildlife here doesn’t give a shit about us, and it feels wonderful!
These wild creatures are scampering over and into anything we set up in their world. The effect is a constant reminder of how massive the world is and how tiny and ephemeral we are. Your brain, a wet, tightened knot, twisting around a problem, dries and loosens upon a wild animal encounter.
They drift in and out of our lives. Bright fluttering passing by for just a sparkling moment we are lucky enough to share. Love could be being immersed in things that aren’t you.