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September 2006

Call- an exhibition at OAG

An exhibition here in Ottawa by Germaine Koh. As described on her site:

A vintage telephone (resembling a direct taxi-line or service-centre phone) sits on a counter top in a public place accessible to a wide range of people. The phone's dial has been replaced with an LCD screen that informs the viewer that when he picks up the receiver he will be connected with a random participant. Each time the handset is lifted, the phone dials at random one of the project participants, who have agreed to receive calls and have conversations with strangers at all hours of the day. The volunteer participants, from a wide variety of backgrounds and communities, will have been solicited through a variety of local media and means. The interactions are not recorded or otherwise determined in any way.

It's also described as "an open-ended experiment in behaviour between unseen strangers". I am becoming more "artsy" as I age (gracefully I hope) and think this is a fun idea to explore but my science/quality assurance background is asserting itself a bit. This is open-ended, because there is no definite initial hypothesis, plus there is not really any systematic method to gather data - no recordings, no forms, no surveys. Feedback via email is welcome and I'm sure there is a comment book - if more metrics are added, does art then become a social sciences experiment? Or can it be both? 

At any rate, being semi-retired with lots of spare time (ha!) I signed up and got a cell phone from the curator (Emily Falvey). There are 10 of us, and I think some spares on the sidelines in case we don't all last the whole game. Gallery opening was tonight at 5:30, for this and several other shows, so quite a crowd. They were attracted not only by the art but I think also by the yummy trays of nibblies scattered around. Shortly after the opening speeches the calls started, and most were quite interesting. It was a pretty noisy location, with the phone in the crowded hallway outside the gallery rooms, so I wandered off to the Byward market area. Conversations were remarkably relaxed from people, and during normal hours it will be a nice area for a chat, end of the hall, phone on a table, chair by it -all it needs is a glass of wine and an ashtray. Oops - not in Ottawa!! At any rate, people would start off saying they were calling from a phone that was part of a show at the gallery (I knew that), so I would say I was answering from a phone in the Market. That tended to get the conversation going, things like where I was, why I volunteered, then into a bit about them. Some would even pass the phone onto a friend - saying, "Here - talk to this guy." Then I would get to eavesdrop on their attempt to explain to their friend what was going on, before passing me on to them. At the same time I was busy doing my stuff too, so one young lady had to listen while I ordered food at Saigon. The first call was from someone in visual arts actually, that prompted my graffiti personality to the fore so we swapped web sites. His is quite interesting. Of the 6 or so calls I got in the evening, most seemed young, and all quite willing to chat. It is conversation between strangers, but there's the comfort of anonymity the phone gives. One caller did ask if I was the guy that had just told him to f**k off, I said no but if he wanted abuse he could call again and press "2".

Calls will be 9 to 9, Tuesday to Sunday, I think. But it's not as if we're all on a help desk - if I need a break or have something else on, I'll just turn it off. There's no voice mail on the phones- no point really, it's all about the call.

Sept 1 - update. Germaine was nice enough to quote some of my comments on her web site - and a link back to here. I'll just add updates to this post, rather than create new ones.

I've had 1-2 calls a day since last week, most young sounding, more males than females. There are a little more if there is an event going on and more people hanging around the hall. Although, that means more noise, with a lot of "pardon? pardon?." Most start off cautiously, explaining where they are, some joke around to keep the interaction superficial, some are more inquisitive. No lengthy chats so far.

One caller doesn't like using phones in general but he tried it out anyways. We discussed that while it is calls between strangers, one of them (me) is not that strange -in that I'm aware of the concept and ready to make it work. I'm not at the stage yet of answering "Pizza, pizza, may I take your order?".

Another admitted staring at phone for a while before picking it up, because he didn't know what to say. I should drop by the exhibit and see if people have doodled any "things to say" hints on the tabletop. We sometimes worry too much about saying the wrong thing, or sounding silly - we certainly are willing to give even complete strangers "permission" to judge us. I'll have to follow up with the curator if they have any school tours through the gallery, that would certainly extend the range from inquisitive to smart-ass.

Most have been quite polite. I took one call even though I was busy on another phone, because I didn't want to miss my one call of the day. We chatted briefly, and she was quite understanding of my hurry. I certainly haven't found any that were, as R. (another volunteer) found, "obnoxious and condescending"

I did have one young woman that called me just after my lunch and insisted she was calling from China, and that it was a lovely sunny day there. Inventive, but not a science major. 

Sept 28 update - Still here, still getting calls, but less frequent. More like 1 every 2 days, not  1-2 a day. The first week of September was none at all, I checked with the gallery and was possibly because when more (5?) volunteers added my name was accidentally deleted.  Fixed, but means with more volunteers to share the load less chance of getting picked by the random dialer so carry a quiet phone around. A difficult balance, some like me can keep the phone on all day, others have jobs or school so have to leave it off, so visitors to the gallery can get either several unsuccessful tries or connect right away. Part of the Calling a Stranger experience.

Calls have still been quite varied, ranging from a quick hangup to those that chatter about the gallery. Some say they tried several times before getting a live voice. Most explain where they are calling from, and then admit to apprehension over calling a stranger and not knowing what to say. We then discuss the concept, many are quite interested in the details, how does it work, what do other people say, but then seem to run out of steam. They seem reluctant to share much about themselves directly, so I often ask them about the other exhibits there by Germain. Many have seen them, some are intrigued, some are amused, some are confused. A good thing. Some are tourists, so I end up being a mini-tour guide, suggesting they try touring the Market area or Sparks Street mall or a game of Frisbee on the Parliament Hill lawns.  Some are so monosyllabic and shy I give up trying to draw them out.

Some highlights from the dozen calls I received:

  • one call late at night (10:15) surprised me, as the phone normally shuts down at 9. Caller said galleries and offices were all closed down, he was just wandering about. I asked if he was a bored burglar, he admitted he was (note-check with Gallery if they are missing anything)
  • the afternoon of the Dawson college shootings (Sept 12) a young woman chatted for a while, asked where I was from and why I was doing this. I asked her the same, she was here from Montreal with a bunch of friends on a school tour. I mentioned Montreal was a scary place today - she didn't know what I meant. So I had to break the news to her. Gently in case she had friends there - she didn't, but thought it was peculiar that rather than using a new outlet, she picks up a phone to talk to a random stranger and gets the latest updates. A few minutes later, another call, another woman from the same tour group.   

That's it for now - gotta run - Sun newspaper is doing an interview today with the curator of the exhibit, Emily Falvey and they want a pic including a volunteer.   


Legal wall in Orleans

I'm working on this graffiti project again. I've talked with coordinator of Legal Walls in Gatineau to get some ideas, specs, and stats. Ran it past local councilor, he and mayor are open to the idea. Talked with City (Services) on some issues since they will be the ones maintaining it. Got some local writers in the loop and keen to go. Interviewed by a local paper on it. Have material prices. Preparing a project plan with my measurable objectives to run by city and councillor.  This could happen.

In the meantime, posted more pics from the Gatineau program into Flickr.


Hump Day

For those still unfortunate to still be on a 5-day work week, Wednesday is "over the hump" of the week, downhill from here to Friday. Not sure if that refers to quality of work produced, an increase of apparent speed as the hours whiz by faster and faster, maybe for some just means a special day for office sex.

Started the day with Jian on Sounds Like Canada - CBC1 at 10. My normal semi-retired slow start - probably because of catching late night movie gems. Like Alien Avengers, with George Wendt (Norm of Cheers) or something quirky on Bravo. Jian mentioned the site BoingBoing and interviewed one of the contributors, Corey Doctorow. He talked early Internet, Wikipedia, and about his e-books. How by increasing his recognition, does increase sales of "real" books. I made the mistake of downloading his "Someone Comes to Town, Someone Leaves Town" - two hours later I'm still reading! Great stuff, and with my background in sci-fi and origins up North and wanderings in Kensington Market and years at Bell, some scary resonances.  Check him out - lots to read, different formats for PC or hand held - even one that uses RSS feeds to send a page a day to your phone. He did a virtual book signing in Second Life recently - now that's even cooler than Margaret Atwood's remote signings with a machine. He uses Creative Commons licensing (as Flickr does) and has one for developing countries that's different (as in more permissive) than the one for high-income countries. 

Have I mentioned I'm working towards getting a certification by ASQ (American Society for Quality) as Manager of Quality/Organizational Excellence -  basically a leader in process improvement initiatives. Ties together a lot of the QA stuff I've done into a more marketable package so that I can (hopefully) do some part time contract work for way too much money - and fund my many artsy interests.

And here I am with Hump Day fading away - blogging, reading, odds and ends - lots done, just not what I planned at the start of the day. Things like getting my HoP pics up on Flickr, laundry, hanging at my friend's pool. All the more reason to do those plans at the end of the day.

Bloody knackered

A long day.

Volunteered at House of Paint 2006 all day, then went to DMC Canada Championships from 9 to midnight. Too tired now to have the sense to go to bed. Managed to take 90 pics at HoP, and almost 140 at DMC. Yikes - down-loaded them all and now have to backup, then edit, then upload to Flickr. HoP are pretty well ready to load, maybe just need some white balancing since some lighting was shady under the Dunbar bridge. DMC look OK, but very red. Details later on.

I was on the setup crew so picked up Erin and her cupcakes at 8, then headed to Brewer park. I had breakfast stuff for the volunteers so figured I should be early - turned out we were first. Our chief Sabra wasn't even there, to open the gate, she was still chasing down last minuet things. So we went to Tim Horton's for coffee - and found a good deal. Pot of coffee, in a big thermos, only $9 with tax - so grabbed a couple. By the time we got back the team had started to gather, so we chowed down and got to work. Major crisis - while the truck rental DID have our reservation, they didn't have a truck. And was just - sorry, our bad.

Luckily one of the volunteer's boyfriend works at a rental - one phone call and we had a 19 ft van to pick up sound equipment and stage. Lots of challenges all day, but it's a good team with a good leader - so we managed. Music started just after 12, walls got primed, and artists started, bboys and bgirls danced, MC challenges, and workshops on painting, DJ, hip-hop history, and breakdancing. My only regret was I didn't take as many pictures as I'd have liked to, and missed the workshops - but, I did get a lot done as a volunteer so helped things move along. Can't do everything in life, so better to focus on what was done than what was missed, right? I did get names of almost all the writers and some quick pics of them at work. Will go back in a day for the finished works. And I managed to network with Paul McCann of the City of Ottawa about the legal wall pilot project I'm trying to organize for the skateboard park here in Orleans. He's in Services, looks after maintenance (and cleanup of illegal graffiti) but supports legal walls and these hip-hop events - so while my councilor (Monette) and the mayor are for this, good politics to keep Paul in the loop.  Le Droit was there, taking pictures - the reporter made the mistake of asking me about graffiti - why I like it, where I've taken pictures over the years - I certainly filled her ear. (Update - article was in the Aug 8th issue of Le Droit!!)

By 6 I was HoP'd out, so went home to feed the cat and grab a catnap. Then off to DMC national Championships - they're here in Ottawa all weekend, and my cousin and her partner are part of the organization (I think maybe they ARE DMC Canada). It was at the New Capital City Music hall - on York, where the old Spaghetti factory used to be years ago. A great venue, good stage, some balconies with a view. I got on the guest list (yaa!) - had intended to just pop in but had my camera still with me, just in case. Turns out my cousin had seen my pics, liked them, said she could get me up on stage for some close shots. I had an excellent place in the front corner. Lighting is not great at these, but I wanted to try no flash, even though she said flash is OK. My Nikon SB-800 flash is powerful, blinding at times. Plus - look like flash pictures, as I haven't mattered fill flash yet. So I used my 50mm lens - at 1.8 it's nice and fast. Not a zoom, so need to compose carefully - but this was a good challenge to use in these circumstances. I played with settings, ISO 1000 to 1250 seemed to be sensitive enough, with less grain than 1600, and is only 1/2 f stop or so difference anyways. And the setup let me use 1/100sec in shutter-priority, was usually f2.8-3.5. I needed 1/100 since I was shooting with one hand - other was holding onto a stage support so I didn't lose my balance and crowd surf. F-stop range kept the background a bit blurry so it didn't distract, but a bit of DOF for the DJ's themselves. Stage lighting was a mix, a lot of red floods. They show up even redder in the pics - an artifact of the camera, seems sensitive to red. Maybe I would have needed to underexpose a bit - probably can tone down in Photoshop. I'd never seen a live competition - pretty neat. No headphones to cue up, some had little marks on the vinyl, most just knew what was there. Would take the old record off and throw it to the floor, grab the next one in their sequence, and not miss a beat. Two turntables and a mixer - really great stuff. Some teams, some solos - wish I could have stayed and danced once the real music started but feet and back were fading - it's those 5 dozen years kicking in.

Lots of great pics. This is the DMC set, HoP also in here.