Comments on Tampere University Research Strategy Panel, 23.9.2022

I prepared some comments for the research strategy focused panel discussion which took place in Tampere today. The actual discussion was lively and diverged slightly from these notes of mine, but gist of the comments below are still relevant. Thanks to all fellow panelists, and to Professor Johanna Kujala who acted as the Chair, and whose questions gave direction to the panel.

Meaning of the university strategy?

It is the umbrella – a way to ascertain that there is a shared vision of the direction where we are heading in this university. It is mostly relevant as a very general level communicational tool about our identity as a university. It is also useful in some cases where you need to communicate the general character and direction of the university to some outside stakeholder, funding organisations, etc. The crucial problems we have faced are not really at the level of strategy, but in the level of ‘tactics’ – how the strategy is actually implemented in practice. If the university makes radical cuts to the key support service personnel, and decides to give away university buildings, it directly hits into the ability of research and teaching staff to do high quality teaching and research. Constant structural changes, managerial language and tactics also have negative impacts to the trust, sense of community and commitment of staff, which are keys for making strategy real and operational, not just a nice decorative element.

Is it ok for Tampere University to be in the “middle-class” as a research university?

There is important foundational work particularly in education of new generation academic professionals, experts and knowledge workers that our university needs to fulfil for the Finnish society. We cannot simply discard those needs, and just put all our resources to doing cutting edge research in areas where we could have potential for it. We can aspire to do our best with the resources that we have. There is an underlying, urgent need for research funding reform in Finland; meanwhile, there is room for using external research funding and basic funding (which just about covers our basic teaching and admin costs) more smartly. I particularly see potential in providing early stage career researchers more opportunities for creating new university courses from areas that they currently do research on. Investments into building the foundation in education and research are crucial for the long-term goal of making the whole university prosper. I am not in love with the various common metrics-based rankings of which universities are best, and which are mediocre. The reality is more complex and nuanced.

What is the unique profile of Tampere University, and where we should aim in next 10 years?

From my perspective as a researcher of culture and society, Tampere is internationally known and special as a leading centre for studies into technical-cultural changes, societal transformations, new media, games, health and multidisciplinary innovation. In 10 years, we can aspire to have achieved significant outcomes and contributions by building on the existing strong areas, but also expanded and provided opportunities for growth in new excellent openings of research.

How about the role of societal impact vs scientific quality?

I believe we can combine the scientific and societal impact, and that is also the strategy that our Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies follows. We work in close contact and collaboration with cultural and societal stakeholders in our area (e.g., game museums, game developers, player organisations, libraries, grant organisations, ministries, educators, etc.) and implement research in a manner that both produces new insights and breakthroughs in science, theoretical and historical frames for understanding the new phenomena, as well as practical interventions that hopefully contribute to ongoing changes in game culture and society in a positive manner. (See the CoE-GameCult Impact Stories for more of our work in areas such as: game cultural literacy and agency in society; play in public spaces; getting ‘demoscene’ recognized as UNESCO cultural heritage; well-being and e-sports; opportunities for inclusive game creation.)

Balance between teaching and research?

Research-focused professors can of course be relieved from teaching altogether. However, I think that contact with students and professors is highly beneficial for both. As I already implied above, one way to balance teaching-research workloads is to actively engage the project researchers, PhD researchers and young postdocs into teaching – preferably from their own research areas, so that the teaching is enriched by the latest work in the field, and young researchers will get important teaching experience into their portfolios and skill base.

How can we get the best people to come and stay at Tampere?

If we create an academic environment which we ourselves enjoy and thrive, it will have positive impacts on our output, as well as to the manner we communicate to our international colleagues. One of the key elements in creating sustainable excellence in research is stability and continuity. We need to have trust in organisation to continue developing university into directions that make sense to academic experts working in the fields where we specialize, and create prospects and outlooks that span decades, rather than a year or two. This is crucial for good people with their families taking the risk of taking root in Tampere. Strategy thus needs to emphasise the value of our working staff and put the people first.

Role of multidisciplinarity?

Multidisciplinarity can take many forms, and it can lead into a confusing cocktail of slightly incompatible approaches and elements, as well as to genuinely transformative science and scholarship. The contemporary world is complex and, in many cases, the joined expertise of researchers coming from several fields is needed to gain a comprehensive picture, develop new methodologies, and to make sense of this all. However, true multidisciplinary excellence is based on solid foundation in disciplinary excellence: the collaborating experts need to have excellent background in the theories, methodologies, tools and implementations of their own, native fields, before they can play reliable roles in multidisciplinary collaborations. We cannot disregard the foundations, as those are needed to train people for working in inter- and multidisciplinary world.

Strategic roles of basic vs. external funding?

As I said, the serious problem we have is that the research in Finland has excessive reliance on external, competitive project-based funding, as compared internationally to other countries with leading-level science. The resources put into endless rounds of application writing are hitting us hard and taking the key staff away from doing the actual research and results. This is something that universities should more actively push into the public discussion and political agenda. With more long-term, solid basic research funding we could achieve more, and make more sustained contributions to both science and society. Such persistence and continuity are crucial for truly high-quality research achievements. As to the current situation, we can do our best to align and use the basic funding in a manner that supports concerted and long-term efforts in building staff, teams and research agendas that carry over short, externally funded project periods.

Basic research vs. applied research?

I see fundamental or basic research and applied research best as mutually supportive: the other provides the foundation from where to make more focused and applied research interventions into innovative directions. In our field, the interventions and interactions with multiple stakeholders provide us with better, and more in-depth knowledge about the ongoing developments, allowing us to make better theoretical and fundamental research. On the other hand, the sustained interactions “in the field” are also crucial for the dissemination and quality-control of our outputs.

How about global challenges and trends (sustainability, internationalization, digitalization) as keys to our future strategy?

If we do not shy away from societal discussions, those development trends will inevitably be informing and integrated into our research and daily work in multiple ways. Strategy should not try to force everyone to study the exact same topics and themes, but a good strategy is inclusive and diverse enough so that it can show how multiple disciplines and academic fields of research can all make valuable contributions, in their respective areas of expertise and application.

More information about the current Tampere University strategy and values: https://www.tuni.fi/en/about-us/tampere-university/strategy-and-key-information.

Transition to Mac, Pt. 2

I got the first part of my ‘Transition to Mac’ project (almost) ready by the end of my summer vacation. This was focused around a Mac Mini (M1/16GB/512GB model), which I set up as the new main “workstation” for my home office and photography editing work. This is in nutshell what extras and customisations I have done to it, so far:

– set up as the keyboard Logitech MX Keys Mini for Mac
– and as the mouse, Logitech G Pro X Superlight Wireless Gaming Mouse, White
– for fast additional ssd storage, Samsung X5 External SSD 2TB (with nominal read/write speeds of 2,800/2,300 MB/s)
– and then, made certain add-ons/modifications to the MacOS:
– AltTab (makes alt-tab key-combo cycle through all open app windows, not only between applications, like cmd-tab)
– Alfred (for extending the already excellent Spotlight search to third-party apps, direct access to various system commands and other advanced functionalities)
– installed BetterSnapTool (for adding snap to sides / corners functionality into the MacOS windows management)
– set Sublime Text as the default text editor
– DockMate (for getting Win10-style app window previews into the Mac dock, without which I feel the standard dock is pretty useless)
– And then installing the standard software that I use daily (Adobe Creative Cloud/Lightroom/Photoshop; MS Office 365; DxO Pure RAW; Topaz DeNoise AI & Sharpen AI, most notably)
– The browser plugin installations and login procedures for the browsers I use is a major undertaking, and still ongoing.
– I use 1Password app and service for managing and synchronising logins/passwords and other sensitive information across devices and that speeds up the login procedures a bit these days.
– There was one major hiccup in the process so far, but in the end it was nothing to blame Mac Mini for; I got a colour-calibrated 27″ 4k Asus ProArt display to attach into the Mac, but there was immediately major issues with display being stuck to black when Mac woke from sleep. As this “black screen after sleep” issue is something that has been reported with some M1 Mac Minis, I was sure that I had got a faulty computer. But as I made some tests with several other display cables and by comparing with another 4k monitor, I was able to isolate the issue as a fault with the Asus instead. Also, there was a mechanical issue with the small plastic power switch in this display (it got repeatedly stuck, and had to be forcibly pried back in place). I was just happy being able to return this one, and ordered a different monitor, from Lenovo this time, as they had a special discount currently in place for a model that also has a built-in Thunderbolt dock – something that should be useful as the M1 Mac Mini has a rather small selection of ports.
– There has been some weird moments recently of not getting any image into my temporary, replacement monitor, too, so the jury is still out, whether there is indeed something wrong in the Mac Mini regarding this issue, also.
– I have not much of actual daily usage yet behind, with this system, but my first impressions are predominantly positive. The speed is one main thing: in my photo editing processes there are some functions that take almost the same time as in my older PC workstation, but mostly things happen much faster. The general impression is that I can now process my large RAW file collections maybe twice as fast as before. But there are some tools that obviously have already been optimised for Apple Silicon/M1, since they run lightning-fast. (E.g. Topaz Sharpen AI was now so fast that I didn’t even notice it running the operation before it was already done. This really changes my workflow.)
– The smooth integration of Apple ecosystem is another obvious thing to notice. I rarely bother to boot up my PC computers any more, as I can just use an iPad Pro or Mac (or iPhone), both wake up immediately, and I can find my working documents seamlessly synced and updated in whatever device I take hold of.
– There are some irritating elements in the Mac for a long-time Windows/PC user, of course, too. Mac is designed to push simplicity to a degree that it actually makes some things very hard for user. Some design decisions I simply do not understand. For example, the simple cut-and-paste keyboard combination does not work in a Mac Finder (file manager). You need to apply a modifier key (Option, in addition to the usual Cmd-V). You can drag files between folders with a mouse, but why not use the standard Command-V for pasting files. And then there are things like the (very important) keyboard shortcut for pasting text without formatting: “Option + Cmd + Shift + V”! I have not yet managed to imprint either of this kind of long combo keys into my muscle memory, and looking at the Internet discussions, many frustrated users seem to have similar issues with this kind of Mac “personality issues”. But, otherwise, a nice system!

Nature Photos Update

During the Spring Term of 2022, I have taken (according to my last count) photos of 129 different species of birds. Here is featured a selection, along with some random other samples of my nature photos. Excellent summer, everyone!

Transition to Mac

Apple’s M1 Processor Lineup, March 2022. (Source: Apple.)

I have been an occasional Mac user in the past: in 2007, I bought a Mac Mini (an Intel Core 2 Duo, 2.0 GHz model) from Tokyo where I was for the DiGRA conference. And in November 2013, I invested into a MacBook Pro with Retina Display (late 2013 model, with 2.4GHz Core i5, Intel Iris graphics). Both were wonderful systems for their times, but also sort of “walled garden” style environments, with no real possiblity for user upgrades and soon outpaced by PC systems, particularly in gaming. So, I found myself using the more powerful PC desktop computers and laptops, again and again.

Now, I have again started the process of moving back into the Apple/Mac ecosystem, this time full-time, with both the work and home devices, both in computing as well as in mobile tech being most likely in Apple camp, at some point later this year. Why, you might ask – what has changed?

The limitations of Apple in upgradability and general freedom of choice are still the same. Apple devices also continue to be typically more expensive than the comparably specced competitors from the non-Apple camp. It is a bit amusing to look at a bunch of smart professionals sitting next to each other, each tapping at the identical, Apple-logo laptops, glancing at their identical iPhones. Apple has managed to get a powerful hold on the independent professional scene (including e.g. professors, researchers, designers and developers), even while the large IT departments continue to prefer PCs, mostly due to the cheaper unit-prices and better support for centralised “desktop management”. This is visible in the universities, too, where the IT department gets PCs for support personnel and offers them as the default choice for new employees, yet many people pick up a Mac if they can decide themselves.

In my case, the decision to go back to Apple ecosystem is connected to two primary factors: the effects of corona pandemic, and the technical progress of “Apple silicon”.

The first factor consists of all the cumulative effects that are results from three years of remote and hybrid work. The requirements for fast and reliable systems that can support multitasking, video and audio really well are of paramount importance now. The hybrid meeting and teaching situations are particularly complex, as there is now need to run several communications tools simultaneously, stream high-quality video and audio, possibly also record and edit audio and video, while also making online publications (e.g., course environments, public lecture web pages, entire research project websites) that integrate video and photographic content more than used to be the case before.

In my case, it is particularly the lack of reliability and the incapability of PC systems in processing of image and video data that has led to the decision of going back to Apple. I have a relatively powerful thin-and-light laptop for work, and a Core i5/RTX 2060 Super based gaming/workstation PC at home. The laptop became underpowered first, and some meetings are now starting maybe 5-10 minutes late, with my laptop trying to find the strength needed to run few browser windows, some office software, a couple of communication and messaging apps, plus the required real-time video and audio streams. And my PC workstation can still run many older games, but when I import some photo and video files while also having a couple of editing tools open, everything becomes stuck. There is nothing as frustrating as staring on a computer screen where the “Wheel of Death” is spinning, when you have many urgent things to do. I have developed a habit of clicking on different background windows constantly, and keeping the Windows Task Manager all the time open, so that I can use it to immediately kill any stuck processes and try recovering my work to where I was.

Recently I got the chance to test an M1 MacBook Pro (thanks, Laura), and while the laptop was equal to my mighty PC workstation in some tasks, there were processes which were easily 5-10 times faster in the Mac, particularly everything related to file management, photo and video editing. And the overall feeling of responsiveness and fluency in multitasking was just awesome. The new “Apple silicon” chips and architectures are providing user experiences that are just so much better than anything that I have had in the PC side during the recent years.

There are multiple reasons behind this, and there are technical people who can explain the underlying factors much better than I can (see, e.g., what Erik Engheim from Oslo writes here: https://debugger.medium.com/why-is-apples-m1-chip-so-fast-3262b158cba2). The basic benefits are coming from very deep integration of Apple’s System-on-a-Chip (SOC), where in an M1 chip package, a whole computer has been designed and packed into one, integrated package:

  • Central processing unit (CPU) – the “brains” of the SoC. Runs most of the code of the operating system and your apps.
  • Graphics processing unit (GPU) — handles graphics-related tasks, such as visualizing an app’s user interface and 2D/3D gaming.
  • Image processing unit (ISP) — can be used to speed up common tasks done by image processing applications.
  • Digital signal processor (DSP) — handles more mathematically intensive functions than a CPU. Includes decompressing music files.
  • Neural processing unit (NPU) — used in high-end smartphones to accelerate machine learning (A.I.) tasks. These include voice recognition and camera processing.
  • Video encoder/decoder — handles the power-efficient conversion of video files and formats.
  • Secure Enclave — encryption, authentication, and security.
  • Unified memory — allows the CPU, GPU, and other cores to quickly exchange information
    (Source: E. Engheim, “Why Is Apple’s M1 Chip So Fast?”)

The underlying architecture of Apple Silicon comes from their mobile devices, iPhones and iPads, in particular. While mainstream PC components have grown over the years increasingly massive and power-hungry, the mobile environment has set its strict limits and requirements for the efficiency of system architecture. There are efforts to utilise the same ARM (advanced “reduced instruction set”) architectures that e.g. mobile chip maker Qualcomm uses in their processors for Android mobile phones, also in the “Windows on Arm” computers. While the Android phones are doing fine, the Arm-based Windows computers have been generally so slow and limited in their software support that they have remained in the margins.

In addition to the reliability, stability, speed and power-efficiency benefits, Apple can today also provide that kind of seamless integration between computers, tablet devices, smartphones and wearable technology (e.g., AirPod headphones and Apple Watch devices) that the users of more hybrid ecosystems can only dream about. This is now also becoming increasingly important, as (post-pandemic), we are moving between home office, the main office, various “third spaces” and e.g. conference travel, while also still keeping up the remote meetings and events regime that emerged during the corona isolation years. Life is just so much easier when e.g. notifications, calls and data follow you more or less seamlessly from device to device, depending on where you are — sitting, running or changing trains. As the controlling developer-manufacturer of both hardware, software and underlying online services, Apple is in the enviable position to implement a polished, hybrid environment that works well together – and, thus, is one less source of stress.

Luontokuvat, nature photos 2021

I selected some of my favourite nature photos of 2021 / Alla on valikoima omia suosikkejani luontokuvista vuoden 2021 varrelta.

Happy New Year 2022! / Onnea uudelle vuodelle 2022!

Avoimen tieteen palkinto 2021

Eilen Turussa Avoimen tieteen syyspäivillä Pelikulttuurien tutkimuksen huippuyksikölle myönnettiin Avoimuuden edistäjät -palkinto 2021: https://avointiede.fi/fi/ajankohtaista/avoimen-tieteen-palkinnonsaajat-2021

Tässä on lyhyt kiitospuheeni tilaisuudessa: Haluan Pelikulttuurien tutkimuksen huippuyksikön puolesta lämpimästi kiittää saamastamme tunnustuksesta!

Meille Pelikulttuurien tutkimuksen huippuyksikön tutkijoille tieteen avoimuus on itseisarvo. Kyse on sekä pyrkimyksestä tuoda tekemämme tutkimustyö mahdollisimman laajasti saataville ja tunnetuksi, myös eettisestä valinnasta: haluamme edistää tieteen tasa-arvoa, madaltaa raja-aitoja ja sitoutua laaja-alaiseen yhteistyöhön.

Umpiossa tai kapean tiede-eliitin piirissä pysyttäytyminen ei sovellu pelikulttuurien tutkimuksen tekijöille siksikään, että tekemämme tutkimus on jatkuvassa tiiviissä vuoropuhelussa ympäröivän yhteiskunnan kanssa. Tutkimme ajankohtaisia ja moniulotteisia ilmiöitä ja pyrimme ymmärtämään niitä merkityksiä, mitä liittyy peleihin, pelaamiseen (tai pelaamatta jättämiseen), pelien luomiseen, tuottamiseen, seuraamiseen ja niiden ympärille kehittyneisiin moninaisiin ilmiöihin – eri ihmisryhmille, eri aikoina ja erilaisissa kulttuurisissa konteksteissa.

Huippuyksikön strategiassa pyritään löytämään oikeat tavat julkaista ja vuorovaikuttaa aina kunkin tutkimuksen ja tarkasteltavan ilmiön erityispiirteistä lähtien. Avoimuus on meille myös moninaisuutta ja erilaisuuden kunnioittamista. Tuemme esimerkiksi uusissa tutkimuskanavissa julkaisemista, sekä englannin lisäksi myös esimerkiksi suomenkielistä tieteen tekemistä – vertaisarvioitu Pelitutkimuksen vuosikirja on syntynyt huippuyksikön tutkijoiden aloitteesta ja on edelleen meidän toimittamanamme ainoa suomenkielinen pelitutkimuksen tiedejulkaisu. Yhdessä nämä erilaiset toimet edistävät bibliodiversiteettiä: monikanavaista ja monimuotoista julkaisukulttuuria, missä kullekin osatutkimukselle ja julkaisulle pyritään tunnistamaan sille paras yleisö, ja oikea, spesifi julkaisukanava.

Julkaisujen avoimuuden lisäksi strategiamme siis kattaa myös pyrkimykset avata tutkimusaineistoja ja dataa mahdollisimman laajalti hyödynnettäväksi, sekä suuren joukon erilaisia kumppanuuksia ja tapahtumia, joiden avulla tähtäämme entistä vaikuttavampaan, avoimempaan ja relevantimpaan tutkimukseen. Olemme esimerkiksi vuodesta 2009 lähtien säännöllisesti toteuttaneet kansallisen Pelaajabarometri-tutkimuksen, jonka perusteella olemme voineet julkaista avoimesti perustietoa siitä, kuka pelaa, mitä pelaa, kuinka paljon – kaikki sellaista tietoa, jota on aktiivisesti hyödynnetty pelillistyvästä yhteiskunnasta käydyssä julkisessa keskustelussa, mediassa, ja esimerkiksi pelejä koskevan mediakasvatuksen linjauksia pohdittaessa.

On hyvä nostaa esiin yhteistyön merkitys tälle työlle. Kansainvälisen tiedeyhteisön lisäksi tärkeitä kumppaneita löytyy kotimaasta, esimerkiksi useiden tahojen yhteistyönä ja joukkorahoituksen tuella perustetusta Suomen pelimuseosta. Tässä yhteydessä kuuluu lausua kiitos myös kaikille näille toimijoille: tutkijoillemme, opiskelijoille – koko suomalaiselle pelikulttuuriyhteisölle!

Nyt meille myönnetty tunnustus toivottavasti tekee pelikulttuurien tutkimusta entistä laajemmin tunnetuksi, ja tarjoaa meille lisää mahdollisuuksia edistää tieteen, kulttuurin ja yhteiskunnan avoimuutta ja tasa-arvoa. Kiitokset!

Lisätietoja / more in English:

Adding Full-Frame to the Toolkit

Aglais io, the European peacock/neitoperhonen (an EOS R5 test).

With my focus on nature and bird photography, I have long preferred APS-C format cameras, due to the better “reach” (narrower field-of-view, with the same optics) that is important for photographing shy, far-away birds and animals particularly. Said that, several producers, Canon included, have put most of their research and development efforts into the full frame camera systems. I discussed the Canon EOS R System earlier in this blog (in February 2020), and while at that point I was committed with the EOS M line of APS-C cameras and lenses, I was also growing frustrated at the bad ergonomics and other limitations of EOS M cameras. However, there were also several downsides as well as possible long-term benefits in the more “professional” full frame EOS R System that left me hesitant at what to do in the long run. This summer, after rather lengthy consideration and research, I finally made the leap into the new, “full-frame era”. Or, more appropriately (as will explained below), I just decided to add one more tool into my toolkit.

EOS R5, with Sigma 150-600 mm C (shot late at night, with my EOS M50 and the old Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L USM).

When EOS R5 camera was introduced in summer 2020, much of the attention was focused on its amazing 8K video capabilities. However, as I am not a cinematographer, my interest was at the side of still image photography. The main “sales points” of R5 in this area include a 45 megapixel, full-frame sensor, up to 20 fps speed in continuous shooting (electronic shutter, and up to 12 fps mechanical), a built-in image stabiliser (up to 8 stops, with some selected modern lenses), and – perhaps most importantly for me – a really good autofocus system trained with machine-learning to pick up the shapes and even the eyes of animals and humans alike. There are additional benefits when moving from smaller, APS-C cameras, such as a really nice, deep grip to hold on (with M50 only two or three of my fingers, in addition to thumb, can touch the small body while carrying it), the full set of three rotary dials (enough for setting dedicated controls for both ISO, aperture and shutter speed, each with a dedicated physical control), longer-working batteries, better weatherproofing, dual card slots, less noise in low light, etc., etc. It is also worth noting that R5 uses the same processor (DIGIC X) as the more expensive, professional flagship DSLR camera EOS-1D X Mark II.

Muscicapa striata, the spotted flycatcher/harmaasieppo (testing R5 in a low light, fast situation inside a forest).

There are also significant downsides in a full-frame camera system, when compared to APS-C ones. The financial one is the most obvious: this is a much more expensive camera than any I have owned before. It is also worth noticing the camera body is just the first part of the investment, as the new, R system lenses are also generally expensive. They are robust, of high optical and physical quality, large and heavy. Going to a casual camera walk or run around a new city while on tourist mode, I will definitely rather prefer carrying the compact EOS M50 (387 g), coupled with e.g. the small and light EF-M 55-200 mm (260 g), rather than R5 (738 g) and RF 70-200 mm F2.8L IS (1070 g); there is also several thousands of euros/dollars price difference. Not to discuss the price and weight of any full-frame glass which reaches into the 400-600 mm area, which is where the true bird and wildlife photography generally tends to start. Thus, to sum up, I will not give up my EOS M camera and lenses anytime soon. There are uses and needs for both the large and the compact system. A serious R Series camera and lens setup is something that you would particularly take out when you are working for some particular, photographic goal or project. (This is why some people are actually paid to use these things. That is what “professional” means, after all.) The small system is good for those long walks.

Delichon urbicum, the house martin/räystäspääsky (a collage of shots testing the animal AF tracking of R5 with a very fast moving, flying bird).

In the actual bird photography, comparing ASP-C and R5/full-frame in the field, there are similarly plusses and minuses. The main strength (and one of the key reasons why I made this investment in the first place) of R5 is that the large, 45-megapixel sensor coupled with the image stabilisation and powerful AF system allows taking more, and more sharply focused images to start with. With very fast-moving objects like flying and bush-jumping birds, only a small fraction of photos is generally usable. A fast-shooting, fast-focusing camera-and-lens system makes a great difference in an actual wildlife photography situation. There is a “crop mode” in R5, which will narrow down the field of view into the same as the APS-C camera (applying Canon’s 1.6x crop factor, in-camera). But the full-frame image of R5, when cropped so that it would represent the same field of view as my old M50 APS-C camera is “only” 17.3 megapixels (my much cheaper M50 has 24.1 with that same field of view). However, the experience of shooting birds and wildlife with R5 is indeed better than M50: it is much easier to keep e.g. a flying falcon or swallow within the large image frame of R5, and the powerful AF system does a really good job in keeping the bird sharp in the image – as long as the photographer is capable of taking care of the targeting and composition at somewhat decent level.

Asio otus, the northern long-eared owl/sarvipöllö (it was almost completely dark, at midnight, at this point – testing the animal AF tracking of EOS R5 at the ultimate ISO 51200, f/6.3, 600 mm focal length, exposure 1/2000 s.).

In the 45-megapixel images there is room for cropping in many different ways. The optical quality does not magically change, of course, with the upgrade of camera body if one is still using same lenses as before; though, the reduction of noise and better low-light capabilities mean that it is possible to shoot birds with even pretty “slow” lenses (like my Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 C DG OS HSM), while going rather high ISO sensitivity values, and still come up with frames that can be used, particularly if software tools like Topaz DeNoise AI and Sharpen AI are applied in the postproduction. The main benefits of this upgrade from a crop-camera to a full-frame one in the end come from multiple areas, mostly ones related to the art and craft of composing and creating images, while it needs to be emphasised that the baseline optical image quality remains at the domain of lenses used.

A far-away osprey (Pandion haliaetus, kalasääski) fishing – EOS R5 does excellent work in tracking in harsh light, yet my zoom lens is also showing its limitations here, at this distance and with a lot of cropping applied.

There is apparently an interesting learning curve that comes with the transition from Canon’s entry-level into a full-frame/professional cameras. After couple of weeks, my automated procedures and reactions are still largely coming from the APS-C world, and, for example, I even still occasionally try to find the power switch from the old location (at top right; in R5 the switch is at top left). There are no pre-programmed “easy” photography modes such as the sports, macro, or portrait modes in the EOS R5 (there is the fully automatic, “smart” A+ mode, however). The idea seems to be that a photographer who wants to use a “pro” camera must understand the underlying logic of photography technique enough, and be able to set up different aperture, exposure etc. priorities according to the subject matter, scene, and desired effects.

It is nice to have a fast-focusing camera when e.g. a flock of Eurasian oystercatchers (Haematopus ostralegus, meriharakka) suddenly appear overhead.

The full user’s manual for R5 is 921 pages, and I have the feeling I have only just scratched the surface of what this camera can do, and how it should be set up. But I have at least started personalising the main settings, such as customising three back buttons for quick access into my three key wildlife focusing modes: animal-eye autofocus, spot AF, and single-point AF. The logic here is that when I can see the animal/bird relatively clearly (or, e.g., when I try to photograph a flying bird), I use back-button AF technique first with the AF-ON button set for “Eye Detection AF”. Secondly my asterisk (AE lock) button is now set for spot AF mode, and the last (AF point selection) button for single-point AF. These two are normally used when the focused subject is half-hidden, hiding among branches as is often the case; after the initial AF lock, the system usually is able to follow by tracking, so the focus stays locked, when the target has initially been pointed and identified. For this initial selection, there is both a joystick and a large LCD touchscreen that can be used for moving the focus point around. Currently, I find myself using the touchscreen more.

Falco tinnunculus (the common kestrel, tuulihaukka) – again, it was great to experience how effortlessly EOS R5 was able to keep the focus on the far-away falcon, while it was hunting.

There is more learning to be done, and I expect the possibilities opened up by the new system to challenge me for several years to come, in search for both better – or just more interesting – pictures and more improved photographic techniques and new ways of photographic thinking. However, my old cameras and lenses still remain in my toolkit, and they also have their times, places, and uses.

This common sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos, rantasipi) was captured late night while at lake with SUP / paddle boarding – this time again with my lighter EOS M50 camera.

Have a happy photographic summer!

Birds: 99/100

Naturephotography, and bird photography in particular has been an invaluable part of my life during these stressful pandemic times. The constantly changing and surprising nature has been there, at all times, challenging and providing gradually more and more also sense of achievement, as my understanding of both birds and their behaviours as well as of techniques of nature photography have evolved.

Soon after the start of this year I began tracking the species I have photographed more systematically. There is a challenge (supported by BirdLife Finland and other organisations) of trying to observe 100 different bird species during one year. I have followed a version where I also need to take a photo of such new bird species.

If my calculations are correct, I am today at 99 different bird species photographed, out of those 100. Exiting times. I will add below some collages of those 99 bird photos – there are probably some duplicates, as well as some species missing, as I did not make this in very systematic and careful manner. But there were a lot of important moments and happy memories packed in these photos, so it was a delight to go through and revisit them.

Update: I got photo of the species number 100 on the following day
after writing this – Osprey! Photo added as the last one, below!

My bird species number 100, on year 2021! Osprey (Pandion haliaetus).

Critiques of Purity – Two Studies on Player Agency & Game Studies’ Politics

[This is cross-posted from the Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies’ website]

Two recent studies of Professor Frans Mäyrä, both published in the open access journal GAME, deal with a key research theme of CoE-GameCult – the cultural agency in games. The first article is titled “The Player as a Hybrid – Agency in Digital Game Cultures” and it outlines how the power relations informing the agency of players have evolved into increasingly complex and hybrid directions. The second article is titled “Game Culture Studies and the Politics of Scholarship: The Opposites and the Dialectic”. This study deals with the socio-cultural character and agency of game studies more generally, in an intellectual and disciplinary historical context, providing also a historical framing for the agenda behind the Centre of Excellence. Both articles have in common that they deal and emphasise the role of cultural and historical understanding, focusing on dialogue and interplay between elements that are often perceived as discrete or even oppositional.

Articles:

Image of the two articles by professor Frans Mäyrä

The separation of player and the game is not as clear and unambiguous as everyday thought might tell us. German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer theorized already in Truth and Method, his major work published in 1960, how an individual must surrender certain freedom of agency and start following the rules outside of their volition while playing games: in a sense, the game plays the player – or, as he writes, “All playing is a being-played” (Gadamer 2004, 106). The article connects this fundamental realisation about the complexity and intertwining of game and player in game cultural agency with several other orientations in game studies; firstly, with the work of David Sudnow (1983) and Brendan Keogh (2018) analysing the micro-level power dynamics of embodied-bodily relationships of games, players and game controllers.

Secondly, in the ambiguous positionality of players’ mental and physical relation to player characters in games: like Bob Rehak (2003) has analysed, players are simultaneously “using” the cursor-like character as a tool (external to their selves, yet as extensions of their agency) while also facing ambiguous potentials for identification and imaginative immersion with the in-game characters. The situation of playing and the constitution of game cultural agency emerges as a complex and tensioned phenomenon when all these analyses are brought together. The player agency is simultaneously human and non-human, connected both with the liberating and empowering potentiality of games being used for developing players’ skills while playing subjects become engrossed in the challenge and in-game fiction – while simultaneously also being defined and delimited by both the technologies, game rules and other in-game elements that largely determine the nature of this evolving complex of agency.

This mixed and tensioned agency is theorized further in the first article within the framework of cultural-technological hybridization: connected with Haraway’s cyborg theory (1988), anti-essentialist theories of extended selves and work in Platform Studies, “The Player as a Hybrid” article concludes by connecting a cultural history of technology perspective with contemporary concerns with physical-digital playful technologies and the growing awareness of multi-layered structural power relationships that saturate the contexts where game cultural agency is constructed and critiqued today. Thus, the “Cartesian dualism” of clearly separated mind and matter, physical and virtual dimensions of players and games do not provide functional foundations for studying game cultural agency without nuanced analyses into the related anti-essentialist and hybrid dimensions of agency.

The second recently published study, “Game Culture Studies and the Politics of Scholarship” continues on this realisation that a better understanding of power analyses is needed, in order to position the project and contributions of the cultural game studies. Set within the context of special issue of GAME on “Taboos of Game Studies”, the article turns an eye towards “culture wars”, “theory wars”, “ludology-narratology debates” and asks where this confrontational dynamic is coming from, and how it is related to the cultural study of games.

Adopting a long-range intellectual history perspective, the article discusses how even in the Antiquity there were fundamental disagreements between Idealist (later “Rationalist”) and Empiricist thinkers. There are good reasons for seeing “real knowledge” both as something that is based on humans’ internal, cognitive and cultural categories of thought, as well as for finding knowledge in the opposite direction, in the external reality. As knowledge is also power, there is a long history of power struggles underlining certain key fundamental positions that have informed science, scholarship and also the emergence of contemporary game studies. The article discusses in detail the postmodern (or post-structuralist) awakening in 1960s and 1970s, dealing with the (often rather slippery) capacity of language and conceptual thought to “produce” the reality it aims to represent or unravel. The conflict between two philosophers, Jacques Derrida (1988) and John R. Searle (1997), is highlighted in order to show that there are strategically different ways “To Do Things with Words” (rephrasing here John L. Austin and his work on “speech act theory”). In the end, the article argues that both philosophers are “doing violence” against the complexity of their topic, in their drive to make their theoretical position clear (that is, non-hybrid or “pure”). Theoretical priorities and political strategies appear as inextricably intertwined in the analysis.

The clear, pure and theoretically uncompromising positions are discussed also in the context of analysing game studies’ roots in literary studies’ theorization. The “New Criticism”, a formalist movement in the first part of the 20th century is discussed in the article for clarifying how formalism in art and cultural studies emerges with strategic motivations for separating the “pure” text or work of art from experiential, historical and bodily realities of human beings – as the classic “Intentional Fallacy” and “Affective Fallacy” papers (Wimsatt & Beardsley 1946; 1949) showcase. The early game studies’ emphasis on developing formalist tools for games as the isolated subject of study appears as a logical continuation of this project. The political consequences of this became soon apparent, as some early “ludologist” positions declared irrelevance of all representational and storytelling related dimensions of games, thereby willingly ignoring the obvious displays of sexism, stereotypes and political toxicity in games and game culture more generally. While upholding “pure” and uncompromising formalist position, this phase of early game studies was revealed to be unable for providing game scholars with solid foundation, at the latest when there was an urgent need for responding to #GamerGate attacks (as initiated in 2014).

The article concludes with some self-critique and re-reading of An Introduction to Game Studies: Games in Culture textbook (Mäyrä 2008), from the politics of scholarship perspective. While having its limitations, the main emphasis of this book is on emphasising the contextual character of meaning-making, and that at least still appears as valid and valuable: we cannot erase the player, nor the power structures and conditions surrounding both the development and uses of games, while making sense of games. The focus of game studies should be on the operation of these rich interactions, including structural, representational as well as dynamic, process and performance related dimensions, discussing also critically the effects of cultural, particular and systemic contexts for the agency, meaning making and research itself. The ensuing dialectical and inclusive research agenda is then discussed with the concrete example of The Centre of Excellence in Game Culture Studies, established as a multidimensional and multi-voiced site for doing cultural game studies – and one that can hopefully help to move the scholarly attention from dramatic oppositions and war-derived metaphors into the long-standing tradition of dialogue and dialectic in game studies.

References:

Derrida, J. (1988). Limited Inc. (G. Graff, Ed.; J. Mehlman & S. Weber, Trans.). Evanston (IL): Northwestern University Press.

Gadamer, H.-G. (2004). Truth and Method. London & New York: Continuum International.

Haraway, D. (1988). Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective. Feminist Studies, 14(3), 575–599.

Keogh, B. (2018). A Play of Bodies: How We Perceive Videogames. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Mäyrä, F. (2008). An Introduction to Game Studies: Games in Culture. London & New York: Sage Publications.

Rehak, B. (2003). Playing at Being. In Mark J. P Wolf & Bernard Perron (Eds.), The Video Game Theory Reader (pp. 103–27). New York: Routledge.

Searle, J. R. (1997). The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Free Press.

Sudnow, D. (1983). Pilgrim in the Microworld. New York: Warner Books.

Wimsatt, W. K., & Beardsley, M. C. (1946). The intentional fallacy. The Sewanee Review, 54(3), 468–488. Retrieved from JSTOR.

Wimsatt, W. K., & Beardsley, M. C. (1949). The affective fallacy. The Sewanee Review, 57(1), 31–55. Retrieved from JSTOR.

Life in winter forests

This year, we had a full week of “hiihtoloma” (Winter Vacation) – a very welcome break into the busy schedules. I took the opportunity and challenged myself to go out into the nature and look a bit closer at the nature this week.

Firstly, it was interesting to notice that even the “common birds” can provide new experiences and look indeed very different, depending the time of day, weather conditions and particularly light affecting the composition in different manners. Endless opportunities for improvement and experimentation there.

Secondly, during this week I learned to appreciate the winter feeding of birds better. There are people who dedicate countless hours every winter (and indeed considerable sums of money – which some of them have very little) into e.g. forest feeding of wild birds. For many birds this is the only way they can make it through the hardest, coldest parts of the winter alive.

In winter feeding spots it is possible to take photographs of even some rather rare and elusive bird species, if you are patient, stay still and quiet for long periods of time (sometimes in freezing temperatures) and respect the disturbance-free, peaceful environment that such birds require for getting their daily nourishment. Unfortunately it seems that as nature photography is getting increasinly popular, some rare winter birds (such as herons and kingfishers in Finnish winter) attract so many photographers that the huge interest can even endanger the survival of some of these birds. There are only few hours of light and milder cold time every winter day, and the birds need all that time to find the food they need to make it through the next, very cold night. Note though, that no doubt the majority of experienced nature photographers behave responsibly, respect the safe distances, and keep the well-being of the birds as their top priority.

I did not personally visit any sites of such “super rarities” this winter. There was a lot of interesting things to photograph, even without risking the rare ones.

There are many places in Finland, such as our national parks and many hiking areas that have paths that are accessible also in winter time. And when the crust of snow is hard (“hankikeli” is Finnish), one can rather easily walk over marshland or at lake shores, sometimes spotting interesting bird species, but primarily to enjoy the nature and beatiful winter weather. I also visited e.g. Siuronkoski rapids, where white-throated dipper (Cinclus cinclus; koskikara) lives – there is a popular walking path going just next to the rapids, and the birds are so accustomed to humans moving in the area that it is possible to photograph them without disturbing their feeding.

One delightful theme that appeared this week was encountering woodpeckers. There are nine woodpecker species that one can theoretically see in Finland – though some of them are super rare (like Picus viridis). Visiting local forest paths and some winter feeding spots, I managed to photograph four woodpecker species this week, which really delighted me: Dendrocopos major (Käpytikka), Dendrocopos minor (Pikkutikka), Picus canus (Harmaapäätikka) and Dryocopus martius (Palokärki). Previously I had only met the great spotted woodpecker (Dendrocopos major), so this was three new species for me – in just one week. This proves the value of getting our of one’s common paths and trying exploring some new, also less-visited areas every now and then.

The 2nd of March was a particularly excellent day, as it was rather warm, sunny, and we made a longish trip with the entire family, exploring some Pirkanmaa and Satakunta region nature areas together. There were fields where a number of whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus; Laulujoutsen) had already arrived – a sure sign of Spring! While driving home in the evening, we had another surprise encounter: a white-tailed eagle (Haliaeetus albicilla; merikotka), accompanied by an inquisitive and plain greedy crow. These eagles are are the biggest birds of prey in Finland, and also the biggest success story of our nature conservation efforts: in 1973, there was only 35 nesting couples in the entire county, and the species was facing extinction due to chemical pesticides and other factors (in the early 20th century, there was even bounty paid for killing the eagles – and negative attitudes towards birds of prey persisted for a long time). WWF Finland volunteers started winter feeding the eagles, carrying clean and safe meat into islets and rocks where birds could find them, for two decades. Today, it is estimated that there are 450 nesting couples living in Finland. One of the main remaining threats is the use of lead birdshots particularly in Åland islands, leading to lead poisoning of eagles eating carcasses. A third of young eagles continue to die of lead poisoning in Finland every year (see https://yle.fi/uutiset/3-7889294).

To sum up this week of nature experiences: there is so much to see, experience, study and learn in nature – both next door, in one’s own yard or city park, or in the surrounding nature areas. One thing that I became also aware, was that I was using our petrol-powered family car to drive into some of these, more far-away nature locations. I have now started planning of upgrading into an electric vehicle (EV) – but more about that perhaps later. Let’s enjoy and study the nature, responsibly!

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