cgbrooke: April 2005 Archives

Nitpickety

| | Comments (4)

A little TV on in the background this afternoon, and at one point, I am urged to rush out so that I can "Own this Oscar-winning movie on DVD today!" The movie in question is Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events. I didn't see it, but I might want to--I've got nothing against it per se. And yet, across the screen in small print as I hear this exhortation, I learn that LSSUE won the Oscar for Best Makeup.

I don't object to Academy Awards that reward the hard work of all the people behind the scenes--it takes a village to make a movie. But c'mon. How far are we away from the day when some studio literally hires some guy named Oscar, whose job it is to "nominate" movies for something meaningless, so that every movie they advertise is "Oscar-nominated"? If the studios are hiring the same marketing flacks responsible for telling us about the varying amounts of flavor present in the largely flavorless bottles of water that pass for American beer, then it shouldn't be too much longer.

That is all.

Blessing or Curse, Part 2

| | Comments (8)



a webcomic about mnemonics

Sometimes I don't know whether to laugh or cry, but I can't help but feel a little bit smug about this. Will tipped me to an essay from a week ago by Jon Udell, whose "heavy metal umlaut" screencast, you'll recall, both appeared here and at the tail end of my CCCC presentation last month. The essay is called "The New Freshman Comp," and in it, among other things, he emphasizes the importance of writing for software developers. And it's not difficult to imagine many of my colleagues being willing to follow him this far. We are often outspoken in our claims about the importance of writing across all disciplines. But Jon's turn is equally important; he writes,

If you're a developer struggling to evangelize an idea, I'd start by reiterating that your coding instincts can also help you become a better writer. Until recently, that's where I'd have ended this essay too. But recent events have shown me that writing alone, powerful though it can be, won't necessarily suffice.

And here's where many of my colleagues will pull up short. Our emphasis on writing, and this despite the work of some really smart people, is really an emphasis on writing in the narrowest scriptural sense. I can't tell you how many times I've heard otherwise sensible people fall back on the excuse that creating a web page isn't really writing (unless we focus primarily on that Strunk-ated crap that passes for Winning Web Writing! Wow!™), that we don't have time to teach technology (as though writing weren't itself a technology), that technology is just one more burden added to their classrooms.

To be honest, though, from my perspective, the inertia with which we constantly fend off the idea of technology is far more burdensome. It's like that 100-lb. backpack that David Weinberger talks about in Small Pieces, only ours is packed with the ideas that the typeset page is the only medium for writing, that essay writing is the only real writing, and perhaps most importantly, that we're somehow in charge of writing, that if we just ignore media like screencasting, they'll leave us alone.

We're just scratching the surface of this medium. Its educational power is immediately obvious, and over time its persuasive power will come into focus too. The New York Times recently asked: "Is cinema studies the new MBA?" I'll go further and suggest that these methods ought to be part of the new freshman comp. Writing and editing will remain the foundation skills they always were, but we'll increasingly combine them with speech and video. The tools and techniques are new to many of us. But the underlying principles--consistency of tone, clarity of structure, economy of expression, iterative refinement--will be familiar to programmers and writers alike.

On the way to this conclusion, Jon makes a suggestion that I'd like to flip around:

Would I really suggest that techies will become fluid storytellers not only in the medium of the written essay, but also in the medium of the narrated screencast? Actually, yes, I would, and I'm starting to find people who want to take on the challenge.

Would I really suggest that first-year composition take up the challenge of meeting those techies halfway, and the challenge of questioning our assumptions about the scope of writing?

Hells yes.

Jon, I don't know if you'll swing by here or not, but if you do, you should understand that there are plenty of us already teaching FYC who are more than willing to take on these challenges. And it helps that we're not the only people who believe that what we do is important. What would help even more?


  • Good applications: inexpensive, cross-platform apps whose development includes our concerns, instead of presuming to dictate them to us. (see FlackBoard, e.g.)

  • Partnerships: we're pretty much horrible at making contacts and working with people outside of academia. Okay. I am. But writing programs are historically (and woefully) underfunded--I hold a full-time position and teach in a very affluent department, and I still struggle with resources. The vast majority of my colleagues are not so lucky. There are plenty of people who would if they could but can't so they don't.

  • Conversations: I'll be honest. As lucky as I am, I simply can't afford to attend the marquee events in the industry, nor do I imagine I'll be invited anytime soon. There are some places that are doing a nice job of making space for academics in their conversations (MS, e.g.), but my guess is that there are precious few even then who have ever taught a section of freshman comp. Our field is not populated with jet-set A-listers, who can afford to hit SXSW one week and ETech the next. If you want to have conversations with us (and I can guarantee that there are plenty of us who'd love to have conversations with you), you're gonna have to do some outreach, learn more about us, and most importantly, work with us.

Easy, right? Actually, it wouldn't be too tough--there are lots of ways I can imagine these conversations and partnerships taking place, and a lot of upside if they did.

All right. That's all for tonight.



a webcomic about intertextuality



a webcomic about earworms

Pass it on

| | Comments (3)

Dylan, I think you underestimate the resources that I am capable of bringing to bear upon any attempt at making me feel guilty. But, like a magic trick that loses its luster if performed too often, those resources are for emergencies, and I'm willing to hold them in check in the interests of allowing the meme to spread.

But just this once, mister.

So, lest I be accused of simply taking memes at face value:

Who would be your top 5 people, living or dead or cinematic, that you'd want to see blog?

1. Leonard Shelby (Guy Pearce) from Memento. I don't know that his blog would be all that interesting, but at least he wouldn't have to blog on his skin anymore, right? The big question, then, would be whether you'd need to read a second, black-and-white blog in forward chronological order, just to understand his...

2. Roger "Verbal" Kint (Kevin Spacey) from The Usual Suspects. But only if he promised to blog from a laptop, and never to blog from the same place twice. Oh, and of course, it would have to be pseudonymous.

3. John Doe (Kevin Spacey) from Se7en. A Spacey double shot? Has there ever been a more accurate portrayal of just how messed up you have to be to write that much every freakin day? And to think that these two performances came in the same year. There's your orality and literacy.

4. The Landlady (Qui Yuen) from Kung Fu Hustle. In blogspace, no one can hear your Lion's Roar.

5. Lola (Franka Potente) from Run Lola Run. I can't think of a better example of someone who could have used a cameraphone, a Flickr account, a GPS tracker, and Googlemaps to better advantage.

So there's your five. And I didn't even have to resort to Star Wars jokes about escape podcasting.

Redesign

| | Comments (9) | TrackBacks (1)

I'd like to say that my redesign was inspired by the fact that I saw Kung Fu Hustle last night (review to come), but the fact of the matter was that I was just feeling like it was time for a change. And I had this new graphic in mind for some time. Expect various tweaks over the course of the week as I get the colors and layout to where I want it...

Draft Day!!

| | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)

I was going to throw a post up here praising the cosmetic engineers at ESPN, who must have worked overtime for the past couple of weeks wiping the drool off of the chins of the on-air talent during commercial breaks. For the past couple of weeks, there's been hype layered upon hype leading up to today's festivities, the made-for-TV event known as the NFL Draft. In addition to being Christmas in April for all of those afflicted with Male Sports Answer Syndrome, ESPN has turned the event into one of their biggest (and most self-congratulatory) annual productions.

I have to confess that I did indeed tune in, so that I could see who the Bears were picking at #4, and I'm glad I did. The Bears drafted Cedric Benson out of Texas, and Benson was clearly overcome with emotion. After they did the obligatory League promo shots, ESPN interviewed Benson and it was pretty clear that his tears weren't tears of joy, but rather of relief. I give ESPN a little credit for letting the interview run as long as it did, but what Benson told perennially perky Suzy Kolber was that the entire process was demoralizing, manipulative, and abusive.

The fact is that we still exploit the hell out of these kids--at the top of the NCAA heap, there are a handful of "student athletes" who are making money hand-over-fist for their schools, and never seeing a dime of it. And after that exploitation, they go through a process where a (largely white) group of scouts, head coaches, and owners poke and prod at them and treat them like meat. Benson had to endure having his character questioned, not because of anything he's ever done, but because he was an African-American running back from Texas, and the last high-profile RB from UT was Ricky Williams, whom you might remember as the guy who recently committed the heresy of publicly admitting that football wasn't the most important thing in the world. After spending 4 years proving himself against the best teams in college football, Benson got to go through psychologically manipulative interviews (where his willingness to work hard was questioned because he had to reschedule an interview), artificial tests that are only fuzzily correlated with actual playing ability, and weeks and weeks of having his potential picked apart for no more reason than a couple of hundredths of a second in a 40 yard dash without pads.

Yes, these kids are lucky. Benson will make more money next year than I will make in my lifetime, but the Bears ownership will make more money next year than Benson will over his entire career. I don't suffer from illusions about the purity of sports, but I don't think that fans fully appreciate the degree to which the business of sports can psychologically abuse these kids, turning them into pawns or puzzle pieces. It's a process so dehumanizing that, at what should have been one of the happiest moments of his life, Cedric Benson was just relieved that it was over.

And of course, Boomer and the gang just moved on to the next pick, as though they weren't all complicit in this abuse.

I'm not sorry I tuned in, because it was that rarest of rarities on ESPN, an honest moment, one that said a lot about Cedric Benson as a person. He could never take a handoff in a Bears uniform, and I'd still be rooting for him.

Don't think that it's escaped my notice that lots of folks lately seem to be switching over to WordPress to manage their blogs. I've managed the spam pretty easily through a combination of Blacklist and MT-Close, and I've been thinking about adding a keystroke captcha as well, or as a substitute. Bottom line, though, is that I think it's just a matter of stalling the inevitable--maybe someone who knows more about than I can tell me if it's just that WP has flown under the radar of the sp4mm3rs thus far, or if there's something genuinely better about it? If the former, then the very quality that is drawing people will ultimately draw the fungus too.

Dissertations: I would be remiss if I didn't send a shout towards Mary Queen, who successfully Defended her Dissertation toDay. CongraDulations, Mary!

Dat's gonna get olD fast.

I have other things I could report: I haven't been Dreaming much lately, I got to see former colleague Dana at the Defense, I've been a little Depressed, the site will soon undergo a reDesign, etc., but perhaps I'll just close with the observation that D is 500 in Roman numerals. Which should be explanation enough for all you clever people.

That's all.

Habemus Plotam!

| | Comments (4) | TrackBacks (1)

I feel like my patience with Alias is slowly starting to be rewarded. Three moments from tonight's show worth mentioning:

I'm willing to forgive them for not making Arvin Clone Sloane's brother. I've got my suspicions about how this particular subplot will unfold, but for the moment, I'm just willing to ride out the fact that we have a villain now who is as villainous as Sloane himself was in Seasons 1 & 2 (and literally so).

The scene where they all spill their codenames for the dopplesloaner was a hoot. Arvin Clone. Marvin Sloane. Etc. High. Larious.

Finally, in what was for me maybe the best scene of the entire season, Ron Rifkin was capital-b Brilliant tonight at the tail end of the episode. They telegraphed the ending of the episode way too much--and in that sense, they're still dumbing it down too much for my tastes--but Rifkin carried off Sloane's transformation really well. He just goes bonkers. And I don't know that there's been a more chilling moment this season than watching Sloane speak calmly to Nadia with blood all over his face. Creepy. Gruesome. Genius.

Ok. Amidst all of this goodness, we have:

The colossal xanthium-powered dodgeball, which Syd wants to blow up, and Sloane clearly covets.
Jack, slowly dying from radiation poisoning.

Maybe they'll fool me here, but it did seem pretty obvious which way the plot will turn next week. And that's why they gave Carter (couldn't they have given Paul Ben-Victor a couple of episodes before knocking him off?) the lines that they did.

What we don't know, though, is exactly where Arvin Clone fits into things. And that's where I'll hang my hope for the next few eps. Oh, and Jacquelyn. That's the Alias I know and love, where they just keep dropping clues, all of which eventually make sense, but do so really unpredictably.

Oh, and ABC? Don't you dare run one of those damn fake, montage episodes where you "explain" the show for a week. Please please please please. How utterly sad is it that we've gotten to the point where shows with plots that last longer than one or two shows now have to be explained? At least when they did montage episodes on sitcoms, they were montaging funny moments. This is just dumb, and it's an insult to those of us who actually watch your shows. I mean, really. How many people have trouble following Desperate Housewives? Really.

That is all.

That was like the 2nd thing out of my mouth this morning. I spent a couple of hours today--if by "couple," I mean "as many as I could squeeze out of my day"--working over "The Hand that Feeds." And I should have a variation good enough for sharing in the next day or two. But what I learned was that I need moremoreMORE computing power.

Believe me or not, but I'm not really a power user. I tend to go with middle of the road specs on the machines I get, mainly because I'd rather spend what money I get on software and my attention on a broad range of things. I've found it exceedingly rare that I'll bump up against my capacity. But when Reznor says that he works on a laptop with a couple gigs of RAM, well, he's right to do so. I'm having to take some shortcuts to work with his file. I'm managing, but only just barely.

And oh yeah, I know next to nothing about music, and I have more respect daily for those who do. It's really opened my eyes, getting to unravel a fairly simple 3+ minute song.

And it's a whole lot of fun. Really.

It is poetry month, right?

| | Comments (4)

(Tip: Alan)

You go to HTTP in tha House, give them a URL, and a couple of seconds later, their script "read[s] the page and shout[s] out some dope rhymes." Heh.

I must confess that "we might consider t whatever/me to offer rule of sever" actually stuck in my head for a couple of minutes.

a whole horde of
edu cgbvb archives dove
there learning about grokster please
fact that trapeze
we might consider t whatever
me to offer rule of sever
posts to
t feel an lu

exciting a html
travel a cell
trackbacks trackback
dc identifier http wrt flay
george rhinehart a
us forgetting the home runs yea
incoming students are held to
im plagiarists ward churchill etc woo

The Trent that feeds

| | Comments (1)

(Tip: GZombie)

I can't really say that I've ever been a particular fan of Nine Inch Nails or Trent Reznor, save for the fact that I always thought his name was vaguely cool. I have a passing familiarity with some of the music, but otherwise, I haven't spared NIN much attention. That's about to change. Reznor has decided to release a track from his upcoming album in GarageBand format, with the idea of giving fans "the ability to tinker around with my tracks - to create remixes, experiment, embellish or destroy what's there." That's from the readme file that comes with the download. Here's a little more:

What I'm giving you in this file is the actual multi-track audio session for "the hand that feeds" in GarageBand format. This is the entire thing bounced over from the actual Pro Tools session we recorded it into. I imported and converted the tracks into AppleLoop format so the size would be reasonable and the tempo flexible. So... Drag the file over to your hard disk and double click it. Hit the space bar. Listen. Change the tempo. Add new loops. Chop up the vocals. Turn me into a woman. Replay the guitar. Anything you'd like.

I downloaded the file, and anticipate at least a few hours of unbridled GarageBand fun. If I have the chance and/or put together something interesting, I'll post it here. For the moment, though, Reznor has my "Utterly Cool!" vote for the month of April.

CHATS

| | Comments (1)

I would have blogged this yesterday, if I hadn't had to wake up before the sun to hitch a ride to Albany with Derek and Madeline in order to provide audiential support for their appearance at a regional conference. As it was, and as you'll note if you visit the site, the organizers failed to include one crucial piece of information: the actual, physical location of the conference. This was not good. We:

  1. Checked the Humanities building, since the English department was one of the hosts
  2. Checked the Library, after being sent there by someone in the Humanities building
  3. Checked the Arts and Sciences building, after failing to acquire any information in the library (with the exception of the fact that there is no weekend switchboard)
  4. Checked the bizarre subterranean area
  5. Checked the student center, whereupon a poster outside the GSO office tipped us to the location of the keynote address
  6. Determined that the Life Sciences building was best accessible through the Biology building
  7. Felt like lab rats, until
  8. Finally locating the conference, with approximately 10 minutes to spare before their panel was set to start

All of which leads me to offer Rule #1 of Conference Hospitality:

Rule #1: Design all materials for an audience that includes at least one person who has never been there before.

In a small fit of revenge, I didn't register for the conference (which goes against my general rule supporting these kinds of conferences) and went ahead and ate lunch anyway, so as to recoup some of the caloric debt they incurred by not telling us where the thing was happening.

And as tends to be the case with small conferences, I was one of two people who stayed for the entire session, not counting the moderator and panelists. It brought back fond memories for me of all the tiny conferences I've attended where I presented more for the practice of presenting than anything else.

Oh, and I finally got to inter-f2f with Alex, whose talk--you guessed it--was scheduled directly opposite Derek and Madeline. At least he's got a transcript of his talk available...

And I would have blogged all this yesterday, had I not fallen asleep at 6 pm. That is all.

A. Sloane

| | Comments (1)

That's A as in Another. Or Arthur, or Alvin, or Andy. Doesn't matter. If tonight's episode was any indication, the producers of Alias have finally returned to form, and added an honest-to-goodness, LOD-style, criminal mastermind into the works. And true to their roots, it's a heretofore unknown member of the family.

Rock. And. Roll.

In other news, I was interviewed today by Jeff Young (I think--I forgot to jot his name down) for the Chronicle. We had a nice conversation which began from the changing circumstances of university presidents, many of whom try to respond to all mail and email they receive. As you might imagine, with IM plagiarists, Ward Churchill, etc., they're getting a lot more correspondence these days, and it's exacerbated by the fact that most of them are accessible now via a simple web search and an email message. Events that at one time would have been covered by the campus newspaper and precious little else can now cascade into national news in a matter of hours. As slow as we've been to take up blogging in the academy, there are plenty of people out there blogging campus speakers, leveraging extra or intra-campus networks, etc., all of which makes it a lot more difficult to keep track of (or keep a lid on) what's happening on a given campus.

This kind of transparency cuts both ways. On the one hand, we might argue that it forces universities, from the president or chancellor on down, to be more responsible to the people (be they parents or legislatures) who are helping to fund them. On the other, though, as these presidents with an "open inbox" policy are quickly learning, it can be crippling. We're reading some introductory essays about SNA (social network analysis) in my course this week, and something that Valdis Krebs has to say is directly relevant:

The secret to network benefits is in the pattern of direct and indirect connections surrounding a node. It is the pattern of relationships, that a node is embedded in, that either constrains or enhances the ability to get things done in the organization. The goal is to obtain wide network reach without having too many direct ties. It is the indirect ties that provide network benefits. Research has shown that both individuals and groups who are central in organizational networks, yet are not overwhelmed by direct ties, are very effective in getting things done.

The benefit of being at the top of a hierarchy is that the entire organization exists in part to solve problems and handle things before they ever cross your desk. The drawback of making that hierarchy transparent is that everyone outside that hierarchy starts at the top when it comes time to (a) blame and/or (b) flame. It's far easier to simply start at the top than to try and figure out how far down you have to go to find the person or persons responsible for whatever it is one disapproves of. And every one of those emails, from the hundreds of people who criticize you for uninviting a controversial speaker to the hundreds from the other side who criticize you for not doing sooner, is a direct tie. And even if you have 2 boilerplate statements, one for each side, and you just skim to figure out which one to use, responding to each of those direct ties can be utterly paralyzing.

Combine this with the shortcuts and connections that are multiplying--thanks in part to blogs but also in part to telecomm more broadly--and the next move, one you can already see in some places, will be to talk about management rather than growth. Smarter cats than I are already talking about the Dunbar Number as a ceiling to the size of effective social groups. Seems a small leap to me to suggest that there are analogous Dunbar numbers for direct ties, where ties include people, emails, projects, etc., and that this idea will be used to justify a return to some degree of opacity in the upper echelons.

If I'm lucky, then some of what I said today on the phone approached this level of coherence. And if any of it was quotable, then you'll be seeing my name next week (ideally, attached to something that doesn't sound too utterly dopey) in a Chronicle near you.

That is all.

"Behind"

| | Comments (3)

Ok. If I don't say something, this'll just fester. I'll lie in bed tonight, and think of all the things I could say, get no sleep, and be grumpy tomorrow.

I won't pretend, however, that ranting wasn't cathartic.
And I won't apologize for adopting a consciously polemic tone last week.

But I do feel obligated by both Sharon's and Mike's posts to say a couple of things.

In the comments over at Composition Southeast, John writes:

Steve Krashen at USC argues that at whatever level we encounter students, the work we provide should be L + 1. By that notation he means we should present work one increment greater than the student's current language competency. That's easier said than done, but it's a useful formulation.

I think as faculty we might consider T + 1. Whatever our current level of technology literacy, we should be working one increment beyond it. Obviously, we are limited by the current state of our hardware and network, but most of my colleagues don't come close to using the resources we have, even though we could certainly use more resources.

As my students can probably tell you, this is a lot closer to my default position than the word "behind" suggests. For instance, this is from the course I'm teaching now, under expectations:

I do have one more thing, an assumption that I carry into every technologically-inflected course I teach. I expect you to be frank and unapologetic about your level of tech expertise, and I expect you to push yourself in that regard during this course. I will help as best as I can, but you are responsible for being able to say at the end of the semester that you know more about this stuff than you did when you started. Don't be afraid to try something new or different, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you get stuck.

In my courses, nobody is behind. Everyone is simply where they're at, and in a course focused specifically on technology, I expect each of my students to push themselves a little further, to T+1.

I hold myself to a higher standard--I fully expect of myself that I'm able to say, at the end of every semester--that I know more about technology than I did when it began. It's not a race. And it's not a search for a final "answer." Mostly, for me, it's simply an ongoing process of raising questions, and in some cases new questions about writing, communication, knowledge, thought, culture, various professions, et al. In some cases, too, they're old questions--I'm a writing teacher, after all, and I don't believe that we've "answered" or "fixed" the fundamental questions and problems that lurk at the core of our field.

And ultimately, I don't feel an ounce of guilt over the implication that other computers and writing specialists should feel similarly obligated. Nor do I believe that the obligations to ask hard questions of these technologies, to innovate, to theorize, and to experiment are incompatible with the obligation that Mike raises at the end of his post, where he asks what we should make of Charlie Moran's (in some ways equally) polemic essay on access.

It's a question that both he and Sharon raise, in different ways. My first answer is that the question of material access should be no less of an issue for anthropologists, microbiologists, and historians than it is for us. Material access to information technologies should be no less a public good than transportation, health care, etc. There is no reason to single out writing teachers as particularly responsible for this problem--we are all obligated in this fashion.

My second answer is that, in computers and writing, we have behaved as though access is our particular cross, and there's a weird sort of arrogance lurking there. A couple of weeks ago, on WPA-L, there was a post by a writing teacher who described himself as "misinformed" and "elitist" because he expected his students to turn in word-processed papers?!?!?! And this is where I take issue with Moran--the notion that "access is the issue that drives all others before it" has been taken up as a trump card, to be slapped down indiscriminately in discussions of technology. I am most emphatically not suggesting that Sharon or Mike is doing this, but I see and hear this move happening regularly--the logical extension of this position is that, until everyone has access to the same technologies, any kind of innovation is elitist. I reject this position categorically.

Let me say this again. I don't believe that Mike or Sharon is saying this. I don't believe Moran is saying this. What I do believe is that the will-to-access is used on a regular basis to forestall discussions of technology and it is used just as frequently as an excuse not to engage with technology, in the guise of an ethical objection, invoked by people who otherwise don't give access a single thought or a moment of their time.

My third answer is that part of the gap between haves and have-nots is unquestionably economic, but there is also a part of it that is simply volitional. No, I am not blaming the people who can't afford access for not having access. But I would echo John's claim that there are plenty of places with resources where there is no desire for, interest in, or curiosity about these things. The cost of a computer with an internet connection is not an insignificant one, I know, but the cost of a lot of the things I named is minimal. The sound program I used to podcast my CCCC paper? Free. Blogger? Free. Bloglines? Free. It costs nothing but a little time to learn that John Holbo is one of the bigwigs at the single most popular academic blog out there. Learning about Grokster? Please. Heck, even Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture is available at no cost in pdf format. I know not everyone out there is a Mac person, but iMovie can help you put together a slide show, set to music, with voice overs, and save the whole caboodle as a QT movie, and it's a pretty simple program (and came pre-installed).

Every single one of those "behinds" I mentioned, and plenty that I didn't, can be managed with relative ease by someone with an internet connection and a copy of iLife (an $80 software suite from Apple) or an assortment of shareware apps. But more important is the fact that these and other technologies are shifting the way that large segments of our population are thinking about culture, about property, about politics, about journalism, and yes, about writing. It costs us nothing but a little time and attention to get access to these ideas, and to work with them when and where we can. When a whole species of public writing receives more column inches in Time and Newsweek than it does in the pages of our journals, then yes, I do think we are behind. When our incoming students are held to higher standards of technological literacy than we ourselves are, then yes, I think we're behind. When the best we can do to explain online research is to point students to the help pages at Google, we're behind.

I say none of this out of a desire to leave "them" behind--I say it out of a desire to catch "us" up. This is an obligation which is both intellectual and collective, and it is neither pre-empted by nor mutually exclusive with the broader social obligation towards material access.

Yeah, so, three hours later, that is all. Sigh.

"Behind"

| | Comments (6)

Ok. If I don't say something, this'll just fester. I'll lie in bed tonight, and think of all the things I could say, get no sleep, and be grumpy tomorrow.

I won't pretend, however, that ranting wasn't cathartic.
And I won't apologize for adopting a consciously polemic tone last week.

But I do feel obligated by both Sharon's and Mike's posts to say a couple of things.

In the comments over at Composition Southeast, John writes:

Steve Krashen at USC argues that at whatever level we encounter students, the work we provide should be L + 1. By that notation he means we should present work one increment greater than the student's current language competency. That's easier said than done, but it's a useful formulation.

I think as faculty we might consider T + 1. Whatever our current level of technology literacy, we should be working one increment beyond it. Obviously, we are limited by the current state of our hardware and network, but most of my colleagues don't come close to using the resources we have, even though we could certainly use more resources.

As my students can probably tell you, this is a lot closer to my default position than the word "behind" suggests. For instance, this is from the course I'm teaching now, under expectations:

I do have one more thing, an assumption that I carry into every technologically-inflected course I teach. I expect you to be frank and unapologetic about your level of tech expertise, and I expect you to push yourself in that regard during this course. I will help as best as I can, but you are responsible for being able to say at the end of the semester that you know more about this stuff than you did when you started. Don't be afraid to try something new or different, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you get stuck.

In my courses, nobody is behind. Everyone is simply where they're at, and in a course focused specifically on technology, I expect each of my students to push themselves a little further, to T+1.

I hold myself to a higher standard--I fully expect of myself that I'm able to say, at the end of every semester--that I know more about technology than I did when it began. It's not a race. And it's not a search for a final "answer." Mostly, for me, it's simply an ongoing process of raising questions, and in some cases new questions about writing, communication, knowledge, thought, culture, various professions, et al. In some cases, too, they're old questions--I'm a writing teacher, after all, and I don't believe that we've "answered" or "fixed" the fundamental questions and problems that lurk at the core of our field.

And ultimately, I don't feel an ounce of guilt over the implication that other computers and writing specialists should feel similarly obligated. Nor do I believe that the obligations to ask hard questions of these technologies, to innovate, to theorize, and to experiment are incompatible with the obligation that Mike raises at the end of his post, where he asks what we should make of Charlie Moran's (in some ways equally) polemic essay on access.

It's a question that both he and Sharon raise, in different ways. My first answer is that the question of material access should be no less of an issue for anthropologists, microbiologists, and historians than it is for us. Material access to information technologies should be no less a public good than transportation, health care, etc. There is no reason to single out writing teachers as particularly responsible for this problem--we are all obligated in this fashion.

My second answer is that, in computers and writing, we have behaved as though access is our particular cross, and there's a weird sort of arrogance lurking there. A couple of weeks ago, on WPA-L, there was a post by a writing teacher who described himself as "misinformed" and "elitist" because he expected his students to turn in word-processed papers?!?!?! And this is where I take issue with Moran--the notion that "access is the issue that drives all others before it" has been taken up as a trump card, to be slapped down indiscriminately in discussions of technology. I am most emphatically not suggesting that Sharon or Mike is doing this, but I see and hear this move happening regularly--the logical extension of this position is that, until everyone has access to the same technologies, any kind of innovation is elitist. I reject this position categorically.

Let me say this again. I don't believe that Mike or Sharon is saying this. I don't believe Moran is saying this. What I do believe is that the will-to-access is used on a regular basis to forestall discussions of technology and it is used just as frequently as an excuse not to engage with technology, in the guise of an ethical objection, invoked by people who otherwise don't give access a single thought or a moment of their time.

My third answer is that part of the gap between haves and have-nots is unquestionably economic, but there is also a part of it that is simply volitional. No, I am not blaming the people who can't afford access for not having access. But I would echo John's claim that there are plenty of places with resources where there is no desire for, interest in, or curiosity about these things. The cost of a computer with an internet connection is not an insignificant one, I know, but the cost of a lot of the things I named is minimal. The sound program I used to podcast my CCCC paper? Free. Blogger? Free. Bloglines? Free. It costs nothing but a little time to learn that John Holbo is one of the bigwigs at the single most popular academic blog out there. Learning about Grokster? Please. Heck, even Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture is available at no cost in pdf format. I know not everyone out there is a Mac person, but iMovie can help you put together a slide show, set to music, with voice overs, and save the whole caboodle as a QT movie, and it's a pretty simple program (and came pre-installed).

Every single one of those "behinds" I mentioned, and plenty that I didn't, can be managed with relative ease by someone with an internet connection and a copy of iLife (an $80 software suite from Apple) or an assortment of shareware apps. But more important is the fact that these and other technologies are shifting the way that large segments of our population are thinking about culture, about property, about politics, about journalism, and yes, about writing. It costs us nothing but a little time and attention to get access to these ideas, and to work with them when and where we can. When a whole species of public writing receives more column inches in Time and Newsweek than it does in the pages of our journals, then yes, I do think we are behind. When our incoming students are held to higher standards of technological literacy than we ourselves are, then yes, I think we're behind. When the best we can do to explain online research is to point students to the help pages at Google, we're behind.

I say none of this out of a desire to leave "them" behind--I say it out of a desire to catch "us" up. This is an obligation which is both intellectual and collective, and it is neither pre-empted by nor mutually exclusive with the broader social obligation towards material access.

Yeah, so, three hours later, that is all. Sigh.

Joy in Wrigleyville

| | Comments (1)

Well, some joy anyway. There are a lot of teams, it seems, who are starting out the '05 season with a 3-3 record. And the Cubs joined their ranks today, with a 12th inning, 6-5 victory over the Brewers, the second 12-inning game of the series.

Jeromy Burnitz (Sosa's replacement) tripled in the 12th, and after an intentional walk to Derek Lee, Todd Hollandsworth (Alou's replacement) singled him home. I don't think that either of them are going to have us forgetting the 80-100 home runs we could expect out of Sammy and Moises anytime soon. Still, it was nice to see them pulling a game out, and that the rubber game of the series.

From the Department of Bad Signs comes the fact, however, that Glendon Rusch, who's appearing in relief right now, has 2 of the Cubs' staff's 3 wins (Zambrano picked up the other yesterday, and was yanked for Rusch in Arizona in his first outing).

I know, I know. 6 flippin games. But getting to watch Hawkins blow a save a couple of days ago didn't leave me in a good mood. It'll be interesting to see what happens if Prior gets the start on Tuesday. If he and Wood aren't right and soon, the Cubs are going to be spending a lot more time this season battling the Brewers, even if they're not playing each other.

You are here

| | Comments (0)

Not much to write about today. Spent way too long mucking around with Google Map's new Keyhole-enabled satellite function. The building circled below is our beloved Huntington Beard Crouse Hall, home of the Writing Program. The big white thing to the southwest is the Carrier Dome, just a hop, skip, and a jump from my office...

Syracuse University campus

Must. Not. Post.

| | Comments (5)

I've been fighting the urge to elaborate on my rant for the past couple of days, and I think I've nearly got it beat. In what I'm hoping will be the final nail in the coffin, I wanted to link to a post over at Will's that isn't directly related, but ends up connecting in my head.

Will takes the kernel of James Surowiecki's talk at ETech:

"Paradoxically, the best way for a group to be smart is for each person in it to think and act as independently as possible."

and connects it to the ways that we teach collaboration to our students, namely, the way that we encourage them to seek consensus (and there's a whole horde of evidence, both theoretical and empirical, to suggest that this is the case).

One of the places this resonates for me is at the level of discipline. One of the notions with which I've increasingly lost patience over the years is what I'd call the leap to community, the fact that we don't really have a vocabulary to describe what happens when we go beyond a random network (a crowd, mob, etc.) but before we get to a fairly ordered network of the sort I envision when I hear the word "community."

You could say that I'm a member of the composition & rhetoric community, or the computers & writing community, but that suggests a unity of thought and/or purpose that I'm not sure I'm completely on board with. My ties to the people similarly identified are certainly stronger than the ones that connect me to, say, Anthropology departments, but they're not nearly as strong to the ones that connect me to my colleagues (both faculty and grad students) at Syracuse, or the ones that connect me to my cohort from grad school.

There are literally thousands of people in the comprhet "community" whom I will never meet, which seems to me to stretch casuistically the word itself almost beyond recognition. And certainly, I feel that community far less than I do the one that Will talks about. He and I have never met, and yet, in the past couple of days, each of us has cited and referred to the other's ideas and writings, lending the tie between us much more reality and immediacy than those connecting me to thousands of people who may never even know my name.

And maybe it's because I just came off a good, long conversation with Lori, partly about the topic of virtual collaboration, that I'm thinking that there's something to collaboration that involves working alongside or in parallel that's just as collaborative (and easily as valuable) as the consensus model. Maybe I'm just thinking that community can be a result of collaboration more broadly defined, whereas we tend to think of community as a prerequisite.

There are other dots to connect here, but that is all from me for the moment.

Dear Stacey,

I just wanted to write and thank you for your work as part of ESPN's studio team for the NCAA Women's Tournament. I haven't followed the women's game very closely since I left ODU, and so on the couple of occasions that you and Lisa Leslie provided analysis, I was listening.

And so when you told me that you really liked Baylor as a dark horse for the Final Four, I went ahead and penciled them in all the way to the Championship, and as a result, I absolutely crushed the other competitors in our office pool. In fact, it would have really helped me out if you could have sprinkled in some advice on the men's side, where I spent most of the tournament in last place. But hey, one for two isn't bad at all.

I know you're busy and all, but if you're ever in the area, I think I owe you a cup of coffee or a little Dinosaur BBQ. Seriously. Just let me know.

Thanks again,
Collin

Booles rush in

| | Comments (14) | TrackBacks (5)

I expect that this will be a less playful version of Jeff's entry. Sorry about that.

Back in the day, back when Lingua Franca was still printing issues, they did a series of special turn-of-the-mill essays. One of these was a top-20 list, a list of those people in the academy who were doing innovative work with technology. I didn't see this list until a year or so later, in part I suppose because no one in my "field," computers and writing, was talking about it. And no one in the field was talking about it, in part, because no one in the field was represented on it. There were people from a broad range of disciplines on that list--not just tech ones--but despite the fact that my field had (at the time) an almost-20-year history of work with technology, despite an annual conference, despite a journal, despite a semi-professional organization, despite all of that, there wasn't a single member of that field represented on that list.

It was kind of depressing. But more depressing was the fact that there really wasn't anyone in my field who deserved to be there, myself included.

Flash forward to the present. Today, there's a "View" called "Hypertext 101" appearing over at Inside Higher Ed, which represents pretty conventional thinking in my field. I could snark up and down, believe me, but I'm going to restrict myself to two main points:

First, there is not a single thing I see there that couldn't have been written 7 or 8 years ago, and in fact, was being written then. With the possible exception of the "web in a can" reference (and the mistaken assignment of Blogger to the same category as Blackboard and WebCT), there is nothing new here. The examples with which this article closes? Using HTML editors to design web pages.

Second, and somewhat relatedly, I present to you a version of "net research" that was feeling its age back in the days of Gopher and Lynx:

However, research on the net means much more than typing a few words in to Google.  

A more sophisticated approach to teaching students how to do Internet research involves showing students some of the ways online searches use Boolean logic, and this is simply accomplished by visiting the Google Guide.

Ah yes. Research on the net means typing a few words into Google as well as Boolean operators. That's the ticket. I don't know what it is about this ridiculous field I'm in, but for some reason, every handbook we write testifies that Boolean operators are some sort of magic bullet for research. That, somehow, Boolean operators and a "credibility checklist" will actually result in research.

This is research that elementary school children are capable of doing. This is not "innovative" or "critical" thinking about research, or technology. This is the 5-paragraph theme of net research, an outmoded formula for gathering information that lacks any sort of nuance and actually discourages critical thought.

This is embarrassing.

Okay, a third point. Call it the bonus round. We are well past the point where it is kosher, in any venue, to issue these bland, pointless "calls for thinking critically." Put up. Give me some examples of the kind of innovation that you're calling for. Here's a few, completely off the top of my head: Will Richardson is doing more at the primary level than most college instructors are willing or capable of doing at the college level. And he's looking at the ways that weblogs, wikis, & the read/write web are challenging a model of schooling that's grounded in the narrowness of print literacy. Why not look at his work? How about EPIC 2014 as a new model for the argumentative essay? How about John Udell's study of the emerging professionalism and credibility at Wikipedia? How about, how about, how about?

Bottom line: it's not time to start thinking about technology. If you haven't started yet, it's time to catch up. If you don't know how to put together a QuickTime movie, you're behind. If you haven't futzed around with sound tools, you're behind. If you're still thinking about how to do web pages, you're behind. If you don't "get" blogs and wikis, you're behind. If you don't think that the Grokster case has anything to do with you, you're behind. And I could keep on going. There is nothing wrong with writing an essay, a view, a site, whatever, addressing those who are (by now) late adopters, but why in the world would exhortations to think critically about technology have any effect on those people when they've been hearing the same song for years now? The net is changing education, journalism, politics, science, culture, etc etc etc. If you're not keeping track of those changes, you're behind. Pure and simple.

Let me close with a passage that John Holbo cites over at his new blog The Valve. (By the way, if you don't know who Holbo is, you're behind.) Anyhow, it's from Lionel Trilling, and I've just been itching to use it:

From the democratic point of view, we must say that in a true democracy nothing should be done for the people. The writer who defines his audience by its limitations is indulging in the unforgivable arrogance. The writer must define his audience by its abilities, by its perfections, so far as he is gifted to conceive them.

"Hypertext 101" counters with this:

Computer technology has swiftly become our key writing tool but it’s too easy to imagine everyone “gets it.”

And hence the essay. But I work in a field which is frozen in this moment, the moment of assuming not only that "not everyone gets it," but also that "no one gets it." And this assumption frees many of the people in my field from ever having to really "get it" themselves. Instead, they can simply call for us to try harder to "get it."

Fact is, it's not "easy" to imagine the audience that Trilling describes. It means being willing to be ignored, which is hard. It means trading academic microfame or microcelebrity for the sake of good, meaningful, productive work. For years and years now, we've defined our work in my field as primarily pedagogical, and there's a real questionable ethic at play here, because I believe that behind that definition lurks the arrogance that Trilling describes. In other words, we've believed it easier to define the primary audience as students, the archetype in my field for an audience defined "by its limitations." So what happens when Will Richardson's students come to our classes, having learned by age 10 not only how to do Boolean searches but having been blogging, both in and outside of formal schooling, for upwards of 10 years. What are we going to have to say to them that they didn't know before they got to our classrooms?

What we need to start doing, right now, is to conceive of an audience capable of understanding what it is we have to say. We're already that audience, and sooner rather than later, our students will be, too. We need to start writing articles that take for granted the "critical thinking" that this essay calls for.

Clancy, with a quick question regarding celebrity weblogs, reminds just about every one of us who blogs in academia exactly where we land on the food chain:

Total number of comments on the March 21st entry at Zach Braff's weblog: 1296
Total number of entries and comments generated in over a year and a half at my blog: 1292, counting this one

I don't mean to make it sound like Clancy's question was purposefully humbling. I was just struck by the "closeness" of the numbers.

And no, I'm not pinging Braff's site to see if I can inch ahead of his entry. I'm just sayin...

That's all.

Tale as old as time

| | Comments (3)

In the words (and diacritical marks) of Gawker, I present to you "Theory župeržtar Slavoj Žižek and his žexy new bride." There really is nothing I could add that would make the photo spread any more entertaining. Except perhaps to say that this doesn't appear to be an April 1 post. Oh, and the commenter at Every Morning... who asks for Z's email address--I always get a little chuckle out of those...


That is all.

Love, Exciting and New

| | Comments (1)

Fellas, grab your sweeties! The cinematic treat destined to go down as the "date movie" of the year just hit theaters today, and so naturally, I just hit the theater today to see it. I'm talking about Sin City, Robert Rodriguez's adaptation of the classic graphic novels by Frank Miller.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, "But Collin, how in the world can you call that a date movie?! I've seen the trailer, and it looks like a non-stop festival of violence, as we might expect from the guys who brought us Kill Bill and From Dusk to Dawn..." That's what I thought, too, at first. But then I went to see it, and I realized that the trailers were more than a little misleading.

Rodriguez's bold decision to film SC in black-and-white evokes a simpler time, far from the violence and corruption of the present day, and it gives us a chance to get to know the characters as individuals. In many ways, SC is driven by dialogue--you may find yourself at times getting lost in the peaceful rhythms of the characters' everyday lives, as they live and learn and grow as people. In this sense, Sin City is reminiscent of Merchant and Ivory in its ability to capture and represent both the contentment and growth that suffuses the lives of its characters.

And the romance--oh! the romance! From Marv's unwavering (albeit at times confused) devotion to Goldie, to Dwight's almost primal respect for Gail's strength, to Hartigan's 8-year correspondence with Cordelia/Nancy, Sin City is almost a movie where we might say that even the main characters themselves support the invisible protagonist Love. Even in the opening scene, Josh Hartnett (in a cameo) sets the tone with a heartfelt vow to protect Marley Shelton from the demons that haunt her, a vow that, as we see it culminate, can't help but last forever. In some ways, Miller's novels represent our generation's contribution to the great love stories of all time, and this cinematic adaptation cannot help but cement that reputation.

Perhaps you will see some reviews that refer to the occasional outburst of violence, but truthfully, those rare episodes are overwhelmed by the sensitive characterization that Rodriguez manages to evoke in this film. At the end of the film, it was all I could do to choke back tears as Hartigan finally manages to resolve his differences with the man that loved Nancy before he did. Marv's single-minded pursuit of the truth, even in the face of resistance, is inspirational. And Gail's struggle to maintain her independence is nothing short of a story about the stirring triumph of the human spirit.

Sin City is a movie that just might change the way you think about movies. And it's a movie that, as part of an evening that begins with a quiet, romantic meal, can't help but provoke lively interchange afterwards. Really. What more could you ask for?

Archives

Pages

  • images
Powered by Movable Type 4.1

About this Archive

This page is a archive of recent entries written by cgbrooke in April 2005.

cgbrooke: March 2005 is the previous archive.

cgbrooke: May 2005 is the next archive.

Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.