Archive for October, 2009

Spam conferences.

Friday, October 16th, 2009

Today I got an e-mail from Prof. Nikos E. Mastorakis <> with the loong subject line:

Dear Professor Frers, As invited author, you are entitled publication of your paper in the ISI Proceedings, Books and Journals of the WSEAS [my e-mail address] ( reply only to )

How nice!, I thought, Somebody recognized my academic brilliance and is inviting me to a conference!. More flattery follows and then come several lists and promises of how many books I will get for free if I attend the conference, that they will publish my paper in some kind of journal which will be cited and listed in a gazillion of indices etc. By then, I was already pretty suspicious and the effect of the flattery sadly had to subside. There was just too much information about how academically excellent this conference would be, how much I personally would benefit from it, and there were some other, more interesting suggestions: The location they gave for the conference is Penang, Malaysia and guess what the picture on the conference website shows? Yup. A beach lined with palm trees…
When I then went on to search the internet for terms like wseas strange, wseas spam or wseas scam, I had to dig through many, many pages that all were somehow linked to the organization that hosts the conference itself. They are very clever in linking to papers that have the words spam or scam in them, so that you will somehow land in one of their domains when you actually are looking for sources not connected to them. It seems to me they even have pseudo blogs of their own. With a bit of effort you will find the few places that are independent and they certainly don’t have a lot of good things to say about the scheme. (The best that you will find are the CVs and publication lists of people who seem to have attended one of the many conferences hosted by the WSEAS.) The registration fee is between 500 and 550 Euros. On the page where they give information about the conference fee, you see two women in bikinis lounging beside a crystal blue swimming pool… Got the idea?
So you have a strange mix of appealing on the one hand to a huge career benefit in terms of publishing in well-indexed journals and on the other hand of hanging out at a beach etc. Who wouldn’t submit a paper? Well, I haven’t found a report of anyone who actually participated in one of these conferences, but I am quite sure it would be an interesting read. But I guess the incentives for disclosing this kind of information are not very … existent. Good subject for a field study, of course. Other than that, I would be glad if my e-mail inbox could be kept free of this kind of – in my opinion – pseudo-academic money making scheme that eats away my time and attention.

Upperdog – Being away and being bent back.

Tuesday, October 13th, 2009

The title pun of Upperdog is not the most witty thing that I have ever encountered in cinema. It does its job though, since it hints at some of the drama that guides the plot of this movie. Should I face my past even if it is so much worse than the present and does not seem to have anything to do with the now? Should I face the underdog side of me, now that I am part of the upper class? In this film, a passionate affair of the upperdog with a real underdog, a migrant who works as a housemaid for the Upperdog’s parents, is needed to get things into motion.
For me, some parts movie were a bit like the title: a bit too close to the cliché to be really convincing. Maid = passionate affair. Adopting parents = cluelessness about their kid’s real emotions. But luckily, things are a bit more complicated, since there is another plot of almost equal importance, one that involves a Norwegian soldier returning from Afghanistan, where he killed an innocent. He is haunted by nightmares and the anti-war campaign in his home country and he too needs a woman to face his past and take his destiny into his own hands. Writer and Director Sara Johnsen is presenting two male characters that are completely different – on first sight. But a closer look reveals that they are both caught in different kinds of machismo traps, one as a successful and ruthless alpha male, the other as one who wanted to serve the good by taking up arms.
It is difficult for me to say why this movie did not really convince me – the leads are doing very decent or even good jobs and the two plot lines do not seem to be overly dramatic. But somehow there was no spark for me. Well, maybe that is not true – the scenes between the alpha male and the housemaid provoced some reactions in me (I was affected by their exploitative nature). It is difficult for me to make up my mind about this movie – and I guess that is why I would still recommend watching this movie. It raises some interesting issues – but not because of the bland conflict lines, which we all know too well, but because some of the characters are not very easy to place and it is not clear who could be a good guy here and why…
IMDb entry | Trailer

Herausfordernde Materialitäten : Gegenstände, Methoden, Konzepte.

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

Gestern habe ich in meinem Postfach hier in Oslo die neueste Ausgabe der Berichte zur deutschen Landeskunde gefunden. Das mag merkwürdig erscheinen, war aber schon heiß ersehnt, denn es handelt sich um das Themenheft Materielle Welt in der Humangeographie, für das ich einen Beitrag eingereicht habe. Den musste ich nach dem Peer Review noch einmal überarbeiten, aber nun erblickt er das Licht der Welt. Sollte man ein sozialwissenschaftliches Interesse am Themenfeld Materialität haben, dann lohnt es sich sicher, einmal eine Blick in das Themenheft zu werfen – die Berichte sind in den meisten deutschen Universitätsbibliotheken verfügbar.

In this article I engage with the challenges posed by studying materialities on several levels. Firstly, I delineate the potential problems that can arise when one is using a category like materiality which has the potential of becoming a deterministic factor in the analysis. While often being naturalized instead of being politicized, it has to be understood as being integral to social practices. Secondly, using video-analysis, I demonstrate the methodological challenges of working with materialities. Thirdly, I emphasize the importance of temporality. Materialities unfold their specific qualities only in temporal processes that encompass actors, things and others. Fourthly, I present the phenomenologically anchored concepts envelopment and Wahrnehmungshandeln (perception-action), showing how materialities participate in perception-actions. Finally, I investigate how an open approach to the challenges of materiality prioritizes ambivalences instead of dichotomies in the analysis

Die vollständige bibliografische Angabe lautet:
Frers, Lars (2009), Herausfordernde Materialitäten : Gegenstände, Methoden, Konzepte, Berichte zur deutschen Landeskunde, 83(2), S. 177-191.

Upgrading video on website to HTML 5.

Monday, October 5th, 2009

In the course of the last month I have recoded all of my pages with video content to conform to the current working draft of HTML 5. The nice thing is that there already is a code validator for HTML 5, so that I found some things that have changed from HTML 4 to 5 that I would have overlooked. (For example the fact that the <acronym> tag isn’t part of the standard anymore and that <abbr> should be used instead.)
The main reason for me to switch to HTML 5 was the new <video> element. Until now, I have used different hacks to embed video into the website without breaking standard conformance or having to use Flash. Or I have used the official standard implementation, which left users of Internet Explorer in the cold anyway. So I was never really content with the way that I offer video because it would either be really hackish code, or it would not validate, or it would break in one or another browser. (Opera for example did not allow some of the officially validating hacks to work…) So now I am using clear and clean HTML 5 code. The only obstacle that I had to overcome was to get Firefox to display the video. I thought this wouldn’t be a problem since Firefox officially supports the video tag beginning with version 3.5. The first code that I wrote looked something like this:

<video controls src="passage.mp4">
<a href="passage.mp4" title="right click to download the file">video file (24 MB)</a>

This worked perfectly fine in Safari (version 4), but in Firefox I would only get a grey field with an X where the video should be. I did not mind at first, since I was happy to get things running, my code was validating and it was built on an example that I found on the pages of the W3C itself. After a few days, I was bothered by this solution, since about half of the visitors of my website use Firefox and I certainly did not want them to be left in the cold. So I searched a bit and finally found the corresponding bugs on Mozilla’s website (435298 for the Mac and 435339 for Windows) and a general discussion of the issue. In all of these places, the Firefox developers clearly state that they won’t be supporting MPEG codecs and also won’t hook the video element up with the plugin architecture of the respective OSs. Instead, Firefox is implementing the open source Ogg Theora video codec that is not plagued by licensing issues in the way the MPEG-4 codecs are. (There is a pretty thorough discussion about this on Ars Technica.) Well, I never used Ogg stuff for anything so far, but I read that the quality of their video compression improved greatly over the course of the last year. It is open source, which I like, and Mozilla decided to try to push it, so I finally decided to give it a shot. Of course, offering embedded video support to all my visitors using Firefox was a pretty big incentive too… After a lot of experimenting, fiddling around with different encoder settings and comparing encoding results with QuickTime X’s h264 encoded files, it became clear, that the quality of Theora is indeed worse than what h264/mp4 offers, but that it is still certainly good enough for presenting video on my website – only very few people will notice the difference between the two formats (but they will notice that the .ogg files are bigger).

I had to change the code a bit to offer both video formats. I chose to use Ogg Theora as the fallback format because of the better quality (smaller size at same quality) of the h264 encoding. My current implementation looks like this:

<video controls>
<source src="passage.mp4" type="video/mp4">
<source src="passage.ogg" type="video/ogg">
Video file: <a href="passage.mp4" title="right click to download the file">MP4/.264 (24 MB)</a> | <a href="passage.ogg" title="right click to download the file">Ogg Theora (47 MB)</a>

This way, Firefox 3.5 and Safari 4 show the embedded video with controls, while all other browsers (I tested Camino 1.6, Opera 9 and 10, and Internet Explorer 7 and 8) fall back to displaying the direct links to the video files. After doing some more testing, I must say that I prefer Firefox’s implementation of the video element to Safari’s, because Firefox will only download the video file when it is actually activated by the user, whereas Safari will start the download of all embedded video files immediately, thus clogging my internet connection as soon as I open the website.

If you want to check out how I implemented things, you can visit this page, where I also used HTML 5’s new <audio> element: Pacification by Design.