This blog took a backseat for a couple months due to several reasons. One was due to the realisation that blog activity doesn’t equate to coursework or PhD writing activity, and I’m also in the process of rebuilding my website (a major revamp!). I also had a health scare, and I’ve had my first Thesis Advisory Committee meeting and to be frank it feels like the “START OF THE PHD” all over again! Back to the drawing board!
The good news first is that I’ve finished all my coursework for the PhD. I decided to take 3 modules each semester in Year 1 so I could clear it within the first year. My final GPA is 4.92 because I lost a few decimal points taking a cognitive psychology module that was really a neuroscience module (and I didn’t even take “O” level biology, so… it was still enjoyable but quite out of my depth and specialisation). Anyway, I definitely feel like no one has ever looked at a postgraduate level job applicant and nitpicked about their PhD Coursework GPA – it will be the quality of one’s research work that speaks for itself, not the weird bundle of coursework you had to take along the way.
With regards to the health scare, I went to the doctor to get a particularly long cough checked out, and so they simply ordered several tests and a Full Blood Count to get a general picture of how things were. Well, it turns out the cough was literally nothing to worry about, but I was in the Doctor’s office when a nurse in full battle gear came in with a clipboard saying “CRITICAL!” and from the moment the doctor looked at it, a 15 minute timer started running on it. I genuinely thought this was for another patient at the time. But then the doctor looked at it and asked me, “Are you dizzy? Do you feel unwell? Do you have any chest pains?” I told him that besides the cough I was feeling very well. The doctor later said that my haemoglobin was so critically low that usually they send people with this level to the Emergency Room, where the hospital can deliver the IV iron therapy. (Apparently if someone’s haemoglobin was normal but suddenly fell to this level, they’d expect the person to have immediately fainted on the floor) Also, apparently my red blood cells had become very “tiny” because I apparently hadn’t given my body the ingredients they needed in order to manufacture more red blood cells. In short, I was diagnosed with severe iron deficiency anemia.
There’s been the tiktok meme of ✨GIRL DINNER✨ in which women show off their either very fancy snack plates or their extremely bizarre sad snacks which masquerade as meals. People often ask me how I handle being a full-time PhD student AND making art AND being the main caretaker for my toddler. The sad answer is that for some time, whilst I prioritised cooking healthily for my daughter, I allowed some of my own meals to become very meagre or unnutritional. I would eat one bundle of somen noodles with store bought sauce and considered that to be a meal. I had never cooked red meat, chicken, pork or fish in my kitchen.
The good thing about finding out about the anemia after the school term is that I’ve been able to make some serious lifestyle changes which include meal planning – planning to have some meat and protein in every meal and taking time to cook and eat well. I also started making my own kimchi and kombucha, and took some cooking classes to help me get over my mild fear of not knowing how to handle raw meat.
So what have I learnt from my first year of PhD? The PhD is a really long marathon – don’t forget to feed yourself well and take care of yourself so that you can finish the entire race!
Hello my mysterious PhD blog readers! How many of my friends are also pursuing obscure interdisciplinary PhDs? Who are you? What motivated your to read a post with a title like this?
This blog has been on the backburner because I’ve been working on a massive DBBD website overhaul that I plan to launch in May 2023, which is also when my PhD Coursework (for the entire PhD!) is finally completed, leaving me the time and space to focus on the research and practice bit of things.
I haven’t been posting because I’ve developed other “offline” systems for keeping my research work on track. Here’s a bit about my system for researching and capturing data and reading all the literature that I need to read…
Every PDF I have downloaded
Since starting the PhD I have kept an archive of EVERY SINGLE DOCUMENT that I have come into contact with. The files are given a date – for when I first in contact with them, and I collect everything from academic articles, news articles, writing guides, academic career guides, open calls, other people’s CVs on their websites, dissertations and all manner of digital books in PDF form. If there’s an exceptional website resource, I download a PDF of it and also add this to my knowledge base for the month. After that, I file it away into a google drive folder for the month.
The intention of this annotation is to keep a little waypost or link back to a quotable quote, such as a core definition or example I could use in my PhD. I’ve realised how even more “general” readings can be useful in this sense, to paint the wider picture and lend me their wider definitions. But I also am on the lookout for some pretty practical ‘meta-reads’ such as academic writing guides and game publishing guides.
Finally, I’m a huge fan of using Notion’s tables to track everything that I am doing on a daily basis. Tiny morsels and thoughts that might otherwise fall through the cracks are collected here, such as small fragments from conversations I’ve had with people.
I love Notion’s split view which gives me a sense of where I am in a class syllabus and where the threads of thoughts have come from and are going to. As I attend classes I like to scour the internet for images of what the profs are talking about and then paste them furiously into my notion. (Sorry to the profs who must think I am furiously multitasking on something else – but actually! Usually I am just looking at all the alternative images of the work that being discussed in class!)
The question of how much information the student will retain is always a question. I like to think that my capture rate is near total. For me, I do try to take extremely detailed notes from all of my lectures and lessons with this system and I also try to review it at the end of the day and week. I’m writing my notes intentionally in a way that might facilitate me in writing my own teaching material about the topic in the near-future.
Oh and for the last half year my Wiki suddenly lost its default css template for some unknown reason that I failed to properly investigate until last week. Turns out it was just some easily fixable PHP issue on my server that I did sit down and fix and voilah, I will be returning to adding more morsels to my wiki over the course of my PhD as well (especially on the suggestion of my PhD Supervisor to create a concise and detailed glossary of terms that I will use in my thesis).
I had a speed tour of the Educational Metaverses and more at Day 1 of Edutech Asia where I was also doing a Show-and-Tell.
There was the conference on one side, sequestered from the masses by the most massive black curtain you would have ever seen, and then all around my Show-and-Tell stage was a full-on trade fair of educational technology companies: all the big names in learning management systems like Blackboard and D2L (Brightspace), familiar names like moodle and edpuzzle, google cloud storage, endless rows of projector companies, shockproof ipad cases for classrooms, gamification in education, interactive floor, block coding robots, AI tutors, AI courses, AI everything?! But let’s not get lost in this. To be frank, I did have a moment of self-doubt – “am i in a trade show and not a conference?” but I suppose this was all very strategically positioned on the part of the organisers. Who are the target audience who will buy these educational technologies or push for their purchase? Educational leaders, tech champions in their schools, etc. So why not get them to attend by organising several different types of speaking opportunities! I guess that’s why we’re here…
Here are my notes on three of the edutech products I saw which positioned themselves within the so-called “metaverse” space.
Universe by Viewsonic
The first one that I saw near the front was Universe by Viewsonic. How would I describe this? The product is like Spatial meets Zoom – for Education. You’ve got a toony avatar with feet and are assigned fixed roles as Educator/Student. You’ve got concepts largely popularised by Zoom like the sharing screens, meeting ID and breakout rooms. You can’t load in 3D models yet, but according to the people I spoke to, part of this is that users might not load properly optimised models (valid) and another concern was that user models would likely break the aesthetic of the world. If your class just involved slides, youtube videos, and a class discussion, this could do very well.
You might also notice that there’s a webcam on top of the screen and that is because the app is WATCHING YOU. The Educator has a special panel that allows them to monitor if the students are NOT in front of their computers looking at the screen. Additionally, when students are in their breakout rooms, it alerts them if their students are silent inside and not participating in a discussion.
My School by Inventis
The next “metaverse” is really a cute gamification of education. My School by the South Korean company Inventis is “metaverse platform for education” which I suppose I could describe as Animal-Crossing-meets-Scratch. This is targets a much younger age group as it focuses on topics like block coding which has been all the rage. In the example below, you use it to make the bus progress in the world on its merry path.
Sorry if it is quite reductive to describe these apps like this, but you probably instantly get what I mean when I describe the apps this way. As for my thoughts on My School, I think its almost too cute to work in the classroom as a serious solution. It does look like a full-on game design team was brought in to create the cute little interface. I suppose that what I am basically saying that I feel that the classroom has to look like a professional environment. At the polytechnic level I used to tell my students that our classroom was meant to be a rehearsal for professional interactions in the real world, so this idea also should dictate how they dress (as the Singaporean teacherism goes: “plz we are not in a fish market”), how they carry themselves and ought to speak to one another with respect. Anyway, where could i imagine My School fitting in? Maybe in private learning centres and afterschool activities, to expose very young school going children to block coding concepts.
Metaversity / Meta.camp by there
Finally, I saw Metaversity which is powered by “there“. This is another South Korean metaverse company which aims to let users “build school, meet friends, hold meetings, and watch great concerts” in the metaverse. It seems they just hosted an online event called 2022 Koreaz Global Festival in mid October.
(Considering Pluritopia was also a collaboration with many South Koreans, it seems like the South Koreans had a lot of metaverse stuff going on in the month of October!)
If you’re a teacher or educator, is the immersivity of the educational experience important? Would you want to invest time and energy to teach through the medium of the metaverse?
Alright so that’s it from Edutech Asia 2022, till the next week!
Do you like VR and do you like WEIRDNESS? Well then step right up, here’s my attempt to do a speedy documentation of all the projects I’ve been involved in in the last month. To be honest, each of these deserve their own longer extended post, but then it might become too much of a mammoth task for me to document everything on my journey, and I might never record it, so… a speedy documentation it is!
1. Pluritopia Biennale
I went to my first Biennale in VR! It was a week of immersing myself daily in VR, seeing lots of weird and wonderful artworks by artists from Singapore and South Korea. It is really so rare that you get to meet up with real-life people that you know on VR for 7 days consecutively and seeing the diversity of VR Projects made by artists from so many different artistic and technological backgrounds. Thank you to Spang & Lei and Janice Kim for curating the project, and a big thank you to all the artists and as well DUDE.SG and Shao and all the behind the scenes crew – translators, cameraman, ushers, livestream team…
It was an event through which I attended whilst furiously switching between devices. Outwardly, our avatars stood stock still with our hands by our side, gliding silently and peacefully through the worlds, but in the background in real life I was tangled in cables, hollering WHERE IS MY POWER CABLE and WHY IS INTERNET LAGGING. An endless array of hilarious synchronisation glitches, z-fighting, and unintentional avatar clipping were encountered.
Here are some initial impressions from the weeklong festivities. The following are photographs of my PC screen attending the live events. I initially logged in with Oculus Quest 2 but realised that most of the artist worlds were made as PC worlds because there were too many technical challenges for everyone to optimise and publish their worlds for Android, Unfortunately, I am one of those strange people who insist on developing games on a Mac and use the Quest 2 as my “main” device (for practical reasons actually, but I’ll go into that another time). So I completely forgot the screenshot shortcut on my PC so I decided to just take a photo with my phone! But then I found that these live pictures filtered through with the moire artifacts and distorsions of my PC laptop screen also serve to remind you that these are meant to viewed as PC VR worlds and not just PC desktop…
I also contributed my trainworld, “The Commuter”, although I would mostly describe that as an experiment rather than an artwork of mine. I’ll do a more comprehensive post on all the Pluritopia worlds soon.
2. VRChat Safari
Hosted by Cade “Shibco” Diehm and Ellis “Lightli” Jones from New Design Congress, I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have attended 2 of these VRChat Safaris in exploring the Para-Real.
What is the Para-Real? Upon the many technological platforms which we do not control or own, could the organic formation of fringe subcultures and communities, and expansion of creative spaces and alternative models of funding enable participants on these platforms to exercise their own sovereignty and ownership over their identities and to shape the future even whilst relying on these centralised platforms?
The format of these VRChats is simple: the host picks 3 worlds and we visit them. In the first session, Aemeth brought us to some “luxury” worlds – lushly textured, mood lights baked in – worlds like the CyberLove Suites.
I jumped off the building to get a better look at the buildings in the distance and they were exactly as they seemed from afar – hilariously pixelated. There’s only one perspective from which the city seems alright and that is from the god’s eye view above.
Upon closer inspection the illusion of the vastness of the proto-futuristic-tokyo city falls apart. But hey! The world works well in Android (Oculus Quest 2) too! So I’m really not complaining… The glitches of the “lower tier” graphics world is a necessary evil at this point.
Above: An interactive calligraphy world, and a user-initiated art museum using images which have entered creative commons!
The next tour was led by An, who brought us to a series of nostalgic worlds, a world with a ridiculously detailed arcade bar and Blockbuster. We noted how water features greatly in so many VRChat worlds – wet and dark. Before we talked about climate change in the media, we talked about the fear of acid rain or toxic precipitation in the 1990s. So I guess you often seen rain in dystopian depictions of the future; the rain represents a polluted future; nature turning against humanity for our toxic emissions.
The tears and the water always flows, the light on the ground scatters with screen space reflections (*But… PC only, due to the limitations of the post processing stack)
Were you a kid in the 1990s, watching Jurassic Park on rental media? Why yes, that was me, except that in Singapore we had the medium of Laser Discs. Close enough though.
There was an extremely detailed console game museum inside, that’s the only way I can describe it. An enormous amount of work and love has gone into this world for sure.
So many of these highly detailed but claustrophic worlds suddenly open up to a vantage point, an awareness of a wider world beyond.
Finally this is one of my favourite worlds: Organism. I want the things I build next to be like this sprawling madness. I’ll write more about this world another time.
3. Caanart Pioneer Salon
I was recently invited by Moham Wang, a fellow artist-practitioner (with a formidable knowledge of art history!) who is currently a PhD Art Practice student at NTU ADM together with me – to do a sharing at this event for the “Chinese Artists in America Network”.
We had a really interesting discussion about diasporic identities, flaneuring, and interaction – and of course considering the context of the audience, we also talked about the tensions I feel around identifying as a Singapore artist who is ethnically Chinese.
Some of this comes down to language and geographies. China is alien as any other foreign country to me and if anything at all, frankly, I would think of Malaysian Peninsula as the “hinterland” to my Singapore – the motherland. Somewhere in Perak lies a “New Village” which is the closest thing I have to the “ancestral village” where the “Dings” would have originated from. But in itself, the “New Village” was really a transplant from some “Old Village” in China… to which I was unable to find any direct connections to today. So from my perspective, the “New Village” in Malaysia has become my only “old country” that I am aware of.
Additionally, the seemingly innocent term of “New Village” is also fraught with other historical connotations in Malaya’s history since “New Villages” also refers to the villages (with barbed wires around them) used by the British to sequester the ethnic Chinese during the Malayan Emergency of 1948-1960s and isolate (ostensibly Chinese) communist guerillas from civilian populations.
Things are all well and good when I am in Singapore and I admittedly get to enjoy the many privilleges of being part of the majority Chinese race in Singapore and thus get away without having to explain my identity as Singaporean to anyone because as the Kit Chan song goes, this is supposedly “where I belong”. But this means that when I am travelling or living overseas, since I am 100% ethnically Chinese, whenever someone mislabels me as “Chinese” I immediately get a uneasy feeling in my gut… But so often there is hardly time for a heartfelt discussion on diasporic identity!
Anyway, it was amazing to speak to a Chinese audience along with the help of the most wonderful translator, Tiffany. Hearing a Chinese translation of how I describe the work in English really scratches a part of my brain that I didn’t know existed. It must be amazing for polyglots to think of vocabularies and the different associative meanings that come from a language and how the language that we use re-structures your very thinking.
Many thanks once again to the CAANART team for inviting me and Moham for moderating the session!
4. CoHASS Conference 2022
I had the pleasure of presenting my work at CoHASS Conference so I shared about The Collector. When I look back on the notes I had about the project, I see that the seeds for this project were planted as far back as 2016 when I started doing research about The Fame…
From my Abstract: “The Collector” speculates on the possibilities that machine learning affords in constructing bodies of knowledge, and explores the interconnection and interdependency of the world through commodities. What happens to people, objects and ideas as they move (by force or by choice) across unstable spaces such frontiers, borderlands, and borders? Can we see art as knowledge in a permanent state of transit and translation?”
I’m not going to go into the details of the paper because I guess the point of the presentation is a bit like a performance, a recitation of a poem, a live debate conducted with other academics. I also really enjoyed the diversity of the different papers in the session – the topics covered such breadth from film to art history to thinking about climate change. I felt like my paper was the least conventional, but the jury apparently humoured my artistic research and so… this happened:
Best Paper: Art & Society
Thank you so much for the ADM Graduate Student Club for organising this conference for everyone to share their research within COHASS!
5. In-Game Photography Workshop
Most recently, I made an experimental VRChat world which I imagined could be the starter of a virtual classroom space to talk about virtual cameras, perspective and VR in relation to other mediums like photography and cinema. And at Midnight singapore time, together with the fine people at C/O Digital and other artist-researchers, I hosted a workshop in VRChat in the space!
This was the first world that I published on VRChat which has instantly gone Public (out of community labs) and I have to admit I got very excited when that happened because a mere 2 hours after I randomly pushed it online, I fell off my chair when I saw that over 100 random users had visited it. Thanks to my clickbaity cyberpunk thumbnail, I suppose. I still feel shocked when I log in and see that there are literal groups of people in private instances of the world.
The world is taking a life of its own. You would never be able to open an in-person art exhibition and have over 100 random visitors visit your world completely organically INSTANTLY within 2 hours. So… I have to say this experience feels really powerful. It was terrifying for me as a maker.
It was not easy to run the event virtually and to be honest I myself got LOST at some point and I am starting to think that becoming lost is part and parcel of any VR event.
I am still processing all the footage and photos so I’ll write up another dedicated post about the workshop soon. But already I’ve learnt so much from building this workshop world and there are so many interesting pedagogic possibilities within VRChat that I started to imagine after this!…
Welcome back to Debbie’s writing blog after an unexpected one month hiatus! It is Day 75 of my PhD and it has been a super busy month – I have never read so much or written so much in a long while! Because I am embarking on a practice-led PhD, I very much feel as if an enormous amount of making MUST accompany the writing since I certainly can’t be writing in a vacuum! – so I’ve been churning out lots of prototypes in Unity this month.
But how best to allocate my time between writing, completing coursework, AND making lots of new work? I was thinking of what projects I had to prioritise, and the reason why this blog slipped onto the backburner was that I realised that writing a blog can become an all-consuming “project” in itself and a weekly blog does feel like me inventing low stakes work for myself. The blog’s purpose is DOCUMENTATION, and I suppose, you could describe it as a kind of “warmup” for the writing I seriously need to do.
Even though it is “productive” to write a blogpost, it might be also a kind of procastination from the most high impact thing I could do with my time. If I think about it, maybe I really need to dealing with the PhD writing directly as my first priority – and you could say that focusing on writing the PhD is also the most direct route to achieving the objective of… completing the PhD!
PhD Progress: One step forward, two steps back
Well, the thing everyone told me would happen has finally happened. I somehow decided I had to throw out most of the words I had been writing for two months and then I rewrote almost everything from scratch again. But I think it was worth it.
Last month, I thought I was interested in researching about psychogeography in virtual reality and what it means to drift or flaneur in virtual reality, but along the way, I realised that by wanting to write my research about PSYCHOGEOGRAPHY – this would mean I was metaphorically hitching my wagon to a somewhat niche and obscure theoretical footnote in time, a very french 1950s marxist moment in time that I would very likely keep having to justify and explain over and over again to others.
To be frank, I really thought that I would not have to explain “psychogeography” or “situationism” to so many people. But first let’s acknowledge the biases in my previous education. Why is it that I had assumed that everyone would know what I was talking about when I talk about “psychogeography”? As noted in an earlier post, recently the Dingparents revealed to me that they had preserved my undergraduate notes until now (almost 20 years later) and when I perused this time capsule I realised I had archived away many reads which could go towards explains my current research interests today – hello Marx-Engels Reader, hello giant paperweight of a photocopied volume of the Situationist International Anthology, hello psychoanalysis, sociology, and new media studies notes!
I suppose that I had assumed that since I had absorbed many of these critical theory reads in the course of a very normal education in Singapore, I thought them to be generally common intellectual territory. (No, no, but that’s ridiculous, of course this is all extremely niche…)
This month, I think I am becoming more interested in the question of whether it is possible to get lost for real in virtual reality and what are the stakes involved. I’ve also spent considerable time trying to piece together my Literature Review and somehow this has also involved going back to read about cinema and photography and other older immersive mediums, since they too share an intertwined relationship with contemporary digital cartography.
I think I’ll stop here for today’s update. I think writing a full-on blog can consume an awful lot of time that I don’t have, so I’ll keep each post pretty short, just so that it mainly serves the purpose of quickly crystallising my thoughts into words. In the next post I’ll briefly document the projects, events and happenings of the last month!