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April 29, 2004

A fresh start

Two nights ago, it snowed. (only for a little bit, and it didn't stick)

Last night, it started out cold, and then remembered that it's almost May.

Today, it felt like early summer. And so, today, in honor of what I hope will finally be spring-like weather, I shaved my head. There's something kind of fun about starting a head of hair from scratch. Most summers, I use clippers and take it down as low as possible, but I don't usually shave it--it's really way too much bother to maintain, and the scalp tends to be pretty sensitive and nick-prone.

But today, I felt like changing things up a bit. I'm sure it'll freak a few people out when I show up at school tomorrow, but that's a price I'm willing to pay to feel the breeze on my head for a few weeks...

April 28, 2004

So many reasons, so little blog

Johndan has a post today titled "Why I Hate Blackboard," wherein he details his struggle with nigh-unusable "OK/Download" menus that Blackboard offers. I'm sure that there are sites out there that do nothing but complain about good old BB, but until I find them, allow me to offer my #1 pet peeve about the system which is standard at SU.

I taught on BB this summer, against my better judgment, and had much the same experience that Johndan did. The painstaking, multiple acknowledgement process by which any change (no matter how small) drove me positively insane. It's a perfect example of what's wrong with one-size-fits-all software.

My particular tick, though, lasted a good 6-7 weeks into the 12-week session. I wanted my students to swap drafts, respond to each others' writing, etc., but for some reason, several people in the course would post their work, it would appear on our course bulletin boards, and then be impossible to download.

The solution was simple. Every OS that I know of allows users to use spaces in file names. Upload it to the web however, and when someone else tries to access the file, it stops reading the title after the first space. Basic HTML: no spaces in file names. However, none of my students, and I would estimate some 95% of the instructors in our program, have no way of knowing this. Maybe it's changed, but at the time, there was nothing in the Help menus or FAQs to solve the problem, and the tech people in charge of the system had no clue.

And the results? Students couldn't access each other's writing. Often, I had to ask students to resubmit their work to me over email (i.e., circumvent the system). I looked like a twit who couldn't exercise any sort of control over my virtual classroom. And Syracuse locked themselves into perpetual upgrades and thousands of dollars per year in fees for a system that desperately needs a usability overhaul. Lucky us.

April 27, 2004

Whereupon the author contemplates the various uses for a brick

This will surprise just about no one--my octometric creativity graph:


Now, of course it's a self-assessment. But I don't really have that much stake in being thought of as more creative than the average bear, so it's probably pretty accurate. And it would make sense that abstraction and complexity were my strengths (and boldness my weakness, for that matter). The test is courtesy of a site from a company called Creax, home of Innovation Suite 3.1, "tools to systematize your creativity."

No, I wasn't able to type that last bit with a straight face.

April 26, 2004

Singularly moronic

There was an article and a colloquy last week about "Singular Mistreatment," which recounts research by someone named Bella DePaulo about how academia privileges married academics at the expense of singles. A number of my regular reads are talking about it, and so...

I'm going to leave aside the obvious distortion of including 15-year olds in the graphic so as to make the statistics seem more dramatic, since someone in the Colloquy already called them on it. I'm also going to set aside a lot of what's already been said on the topic, particularly the "children are our future" arguments about why we all should care about other people's children. Most of us, I suspect, already do to the degree that we can set aside our selfishness. Also, having never been set up on a date by a colleague, I'm not going to comment on the "single male colleague fetish."

Two things. One, I hope that everyone reads and thinks about Samantha's question, which went unanswered in the Colloquy, about the implications of describing single people as an "underrepresented minority," particularly at a time when an actual minority is struggling for the right to do what I could do tomorrow if I so chose. The most shocking line for me from Wilson's article:

While her proposal does not offer lots of detailed solutions, Ms. DePaulo believes that colleges should stop treating single professors like second-class citizens. "I don't just think about this as identity politics," she says, "it's about human rights."

This is perhaps the most misinformed, narcissistic nonsense I've ever had the pleasure of coming across in the Chronicle. She doesn't just think about this as identity politics, but I suppose that's because she doesn't seem to have gotten the memo about what identity politics actually is. And then to go on, and claim that it's a human rights issue? Please.

Second, this is off-topic, but bear with me:

"I was no longer content to try to squeeze this passionate interest into the crevices of my professional life," she wrote in a proposal for a book -- called "Singled Out" -- that she began sending to publishers in January.

So let me get this straight. The Chronicle of Higher Education, which refuses to acknowledge rhetoric/composition as a discipline (despite sending representatives to our conferences, taking our money for job ads, and the presence of dozens of grad programs, journals, conferences, and thousands of practitioners), is happy to acknowledge a one-person discipline, one whose "formative text" hasn't even gone through a peer-review process?

My point here isn't to bemoan our ill treatment at the hands of the Chronicle, though. It's simply to point out that it seems like their chronicling has become increasingly provocative in the past few years. I don't mean provocative-good, either. I mean that it seems like they are trying harder and harder to simply provoke response, and this feels to me like a great example. This kind of anecdotal stuff has no business being in the Chronicle, and I doubt it would be, if it weren't riling people up. Maybe DePaulo's book is better, with some sort of actual work that allows for local context but identifies some statistically relevant patterns nationally (ones that don't include 15-year olds in her stats about married people in the U.S.). Let's hope so, because stories about being asked to teach night classes or being set up on dates don't tell us a whole lot.

April 25, 2004

Everything I need to know I learn from TV

There is no one--dead, alive, or as of yet unimagined--that does not have something to do with Rimbaldi.

I'm sure that people with their fingers on the pulse of pop culture already know this, but it's become increasingly clear that David Kelley's next lawyer series will star James Spader. The Practice ended tonight in classic Ally McBeal fashion, and far too much script is being devoted to characters that otherwise would only last two more weeks, for this not to be the case. And the edges on Spader's character are being sanded down very quickly.

Again, I'm sure there are many who know more than I about this, but I spent some time this weekend with Food Network's new Iron Chef America, and I wonder they'll actually go serial with it. Plusses? No William Shatner, no Las Vegas, and a commentator (Alton Brown) who seems genuinely interested in commentating rather than trying to be as kitschy as the voiceovers for the original. Fox's short-lived version was almost unwatchable. Minuses: I've only seen the first two of four so far (I'll catch the encores this week), and in each, I was able to identify ingredients (daikon radish, benito broth) before the commentators. For those of us who watch the original, these are not "mysterious Asian" ingredients--they're staples of Kitchen Stadium. I hope that they treat this not as a one-off special event (also a drawback of the FOX series), but as a regular series, one that introduces people to some of the "culinary diversity" of the country.

Also, I understand why it's important for them to have the American chefs win, but I get the impression that Sakai and Morimoto already know that this is the case. I would have thought, after years in this country, that Morimoto at least would have come a little closer to winning over American palates than he did. Doing it as a series, inviting the judges to actually be critical on occasion, inviting chefs who aren't already celebrities, getting rid of the stupid 5-dish rule, and using ingredients that aren't "special!!!" would go a long way towards making the shows seem a little more authentic. And it would give Food Network (not to mention US chefs) a way to tap into a pretty loyal audience. It's cool to watch "battles of the masters," but it's cool in a different way to be able to make a reservation at a restaurant bc you've seen the chef in action.

Update: Dana Stevens has a review that is good in places, but perhaps a little obvious in others:

I can't weigh in on what made Iron Chef so popular in Japan, but its success as an American import has everything to do with language and with the mysterious gulf that separates one culture from another. Sadly, everything that was charming, exciting, and moving about the original show has been, quite literally, lost in translation.

I guess that last bit was too good to pass up on. But I suppose I'd disagree that its only success was on account of that "mysterious gulf." Part of the success has to do with taking an everyday activity and making it larger than life--for me, that's the universal appeal of the show. Sure, the Japanity of it is cool, too, but I'm also interested in the food. I'm fascinated by the idea of extemporized menus, different styles and approaches, and having a chance to actually watch them work. Most cooking shows are talk show formatted, and I find them as claustrophobic as Stevens does. At the same time, I think that there is some appeal to the show that might be translatable--I'll never have a chance to visit the restaurants I see on Iron Chef, but if Food Network really threw genuine effort behind ICA, it'd be a boon for the chefs who work a level or two below people like Flay and Puck.

To date, though, both attempts at Americanizing IC have reminded me of the first fight in Rocky IV, the one with Apollo Creed dancing with James Brown. It seems really Vegas to me, and that's not what made IC work. Odd ingredients (milk?!), theme shows (V-Day dessert battles), and opponents who really seemed to be invested in competing (think Kandagawa, e.g., or some of the competitors who were trying to rebuild their careers as chefs) make the show more than just an Event. I'm not quite cynical enough to believe that it was all sham--and until there's a version of ICA that seems genuine, I don't think it'll even come close to the original. But I'm still hoping...

April 24, 2004


Liz Lawley's got a nice post from a couple of days ago, in response to full-time academics asking her "how/why I started blogging."

Nice, because it details a number of the reasons why academics (particularly in rhetoric/writing studies) should be both paying more attention to weblogs and trying them out. Among them is the feedback looping that weblogs allow--we tend to portray our scholarly activity (publications) as participation in a conversation, but that's only true if it's the slooooooooowest conversation ever imagined. Even if I only occasionally participate in the conversations that animate the blogosphere, paying attention to them has gradually eaten away at the time that I spend on listservs, and reading journals, for that matter. There's a lot of energy to weblogs, and Liz captures that sense well, I think.

The invisible college that she talks about, too, strikes me as one of the ways that weblogs might transform the academy for the better. Reminds me some of what Alex Halavais had to say a few weeks back re accidental and intentional communities. I've been struck more and more in the past year by how accidental I feel in the context of my own discipline sometimes--does that mean that I've been seeking out weblogs to block out that accidental feeling, or has seeking them out led to that feeling when I turn my focus back to my more immediate colleagues?

Hmm. I think the answer's yes.

April 22, 2004

I'm so vain

I bet I think the web is about me (via Googlism):

collin is my cousin
collin is an md specializing in adult medical care with emphasis on nutritional and alternative medicine
collin is now the first
collin is the author of the bestselling altered state
collin is a senior majoring in mass communications with an emphasis in electronic media
collin is emeritus professor of history at the university of new orleans and the author of the new orleans underground gourmet and theodore roosevelt
collin is a frequent lecturer on the topic of secured transactions in the united states and canada
collin is the 7
collin is most often associated in the public mind
collin is our technician
collin is one of the boys on our waiting list
collin is everyone and everything
collin is strange
collin is a performer in the truest sense
collin is our service manager
collin is forbidden to reconstitute
collin is on a specialized diet due to an intolerance to gluten
collin is now running a low grade temp and is pretty cranky
collin is here
collin is a salesman and entrepreneur who started as an engineering trainee
collin is the best bet for a control the park victory
collin is one of the best at singing ballads that make you laugh
collin is sure to bounce back and have some more hit songs on radio
collin is a bona fide star
collin is a member of the national advisory council for environmental policy and technology
collin is actually quiet for a moment
collin is all about
collin is the bang behind the beat and the motion in the groove
collin is the best musician in the world and he will never be forgotten
collin is now over 17 pounds
collin is in many ways the main catalyst of the story
collin is a freshman catcher who has tremendous potential
collin is back in school in sulphur springs surrounded by his friends and classmates
collin is taken by the beauty and serenity of the town as the well as the charm of its natives
collin is much more of an idiot than he had previously been aware of
collin is not excelled as an agricultural county by any other county in any other state
collin is doing great
collin is a chicago
collin is a good example of double up boards
collin is whole
collin is one of a limited edition of twelve
collin is a very personable performer
collin is an internationally experienced speaker and is a member of the usa based nsa
collin is found dead in his washington
collin is having an exhibition at the stewart gallery in johannesburg at present
collin is still in the icu at edinburgh royal infirmary
collin is the posse x genius
collin is a gracious host and a top quality chef
collin is intrigued with the townspeople
collin is the owner and principal designer of cogneo
collin is passionate about professionalism and is a safe pair of hands for your training and consultancy requirements
collin is from tucson
collin is a freelance columnist and an expert on all aspects
collin is secretary
collin is the president of core consulting services
collin is a dark man dressed in arabic robes
collin is happiest when he's playing in the sea or on the snow
collin is baby 194
collin is the patrolman working this route
collin is the happiest baby
collin is no exception
collin is the author or coauthor of more than 150 technical papers and five books on electromagnetic theory and applications
collin is joining in the fun and getting healthier every day
collin is one of france's top
collin is the first of the townsmen to enlist
collin is involved in this and he swore to her that he had nothing to do with the shooting
collin is doing as well as can be expected
collin is a sophisticated skincare range from paris
collin is due to have a further colonoscopy this year and the programme is running behind due to current capacity constraints
collin is serving his first year on the orchesis board
collin is by no means alone in taking this position; indeed
collin is feeling better i'll introduce him to you

April 21, 2004


"Expressive and dramatic, no one can tell a story like you can. You have a great imagination and a verbal flair that people seem to remember you by. Many people born on this day have had a lot of success in the sports world. It is actually the challenge and the achievement of goals that really turns you on. Dusk Blue reminds you to stay balanced and to understand that moderation can be a helpful tool, not a boring prescription."


Oh. Okay. What's your birthday color?

April 19, 2004

As is almost always the case

there's far more eloquence out there on the subject of blogging as/and/or/not journalism than I'm able to muster. Dave Winer writes,

I don't see why we have to say what blogs aren't and why you need to say it so many times.

and the comments that accompany that post (from the BloggerConII site) are worth working through. I also came across Jay Rosen's introduction to the session he did at BC2, where he writes

When there are many debunking the claim ["blogging is journalism or it's nothing"], and it's hard to find any bunkers out there, something is up with that claim and you have to drill in. In fact, "blogging only counts if it's journalism" is not being stated by anyone. But a great many bloggers think it's implied in subtler ways, (perhaps the journalism track at BloggerCon is one) and they react to this. Why?

Rosen's answer(s) are worth reading in their entirety. His conclusion ends up being something like "Blogging is not journalism. But if each imagined itself as the other, some good might come of it." I think that this may ultimately prove to be true of a number of other genres and media as well.

The answer to the immediate question, though, is that mainstream journalism is where the attention's come from, and more often than not, weblogs are considered in light of journalists' own trained incapacities. And so the "bunkers" are almost always implied rather than explicit. When more academics pick up on blogging, I suspect that we'll be having similar discussions about its relationship to more traditional forms of scholarship. There'll be the same sorts of comments that imply that blogging is a deficient form of writing when compared to the reasoned, careful writing demanded by our various fields' journals, and then there'll be a slew of debunkers who compare trackbacks to footnotes, parenthetical cites to links, etc etc, and argue that blogging is the "new scholarship."

I hope that conversation is much shorter. I suspect it will be, given that there are far fewer of us with a stake in doing both blogging and scholarship. One can only hope.

April 18, 2004

The future, Conan?

Nico Macdonald writes today in the Register of BloggerCon II and "The future of Weblogging," an article that's worth a glance. A couple of quick notes.

I think Macdonald does a nice job of contextualizing weblogging in a longer history of technological development than is typically associated with it. And unlike some who take a critical approach to the phenomenon, he seems to understand its development:

It is one of those developments – like easy Internet access – that one knows is possible but couldn’t quite imagine happening. And then it slowly dawns on you that although you were only aware of small steps being taken, a milestone has been reached, and something significant has been achieved.

The problem with significance, of course, is that, once it happens, the pundits step in and start pronouncing--I don't exempt myself from that, btw. In Macdonald's case, it's to argue that

Irrespective of its provenance, it is certainly a wonderful thing that many more people are able and have chosen to be self-publishers. However, we need to encourage more people to be journalists. Journalism involves actually interviewing people, doing thorough background research on a subject, presenting a rounded and dispassionate overview, and reasoning through substantive arguments.

I've got some ambivalence here, because I think that the definition of journalism he's working with, and the ideals that it reflects, have been abandoned for the most part, at least in this country. I know that there are good, careful writers blogging, who actively and vocally aspire to the "new journalism" that is often the rationalization for the importance of weblogs. More power to 'em. And more power to Macdonald's vision for how weblogs might change the way that the journalistic establishment works--check the last section of the article for more on this.

To be fair to him, Macdonald sees blogging changing journalism at least as much as the other way around. But I'm still struck by the degree to which his argument seems to rest on top-down assumptions. Here are all these crazy people, spilling their innermost secrets, exposing themselves on-line, and enough of them do it that everyone's now taking notice. It's hard not to feel like he's suggesting that it's time for the experts to take over and make something useful out of weblogging.

There is much to celebrate in the development of Weblogging – but the discussion of it is often uncritical and un-ambitious. If Weblogging is the answer, as so many claim it is, what was the question? [...] I am not arguing that all technological developments must answer a known question. Rather that we shouldn’t invent questions where they were never posed. We should avoid the habit of the man with a hammer who “always sees nails”.

"The man with a hammer" is rapidly becoming an unbearable cliché to me, but I agree with what he says here. So why has it become so important to suggest that weblogs are the answer to the question of informing the populace, civic engagement, or indecent self-exposure? The problem that any claim about the "future of blogging" is going to have is that it will inevitably isolate a small portion of the phenomenon, treat it as the whole, and discount a huge number of people who have little interest in practicing journalism (or publishing their most private thoughts, or whatever), be it new or old. That's the nail that articles like this can't seem to stop hammering, the one whereby a distributed, diffuse phenomenon is reduced in scope, packaged up, and translated through a medium that (as Macdonald admits) operates according to an "out-dated model of knowledge development and discussion."

April 17, 2004

The other 40

While the attention of FOX and all the Yankee and Red Sox fans was on Fenway tonight, my attention was assigned to WGN this afternoon. There's an old baseball adage that goes something like this: every season you're going to win 60 and lose 60--it's the other 40-odd games that make the difference between the cellar and the playoffs. In other words, most teams tend towards the middle. There are a few really good teams (winning more than 100) and a few colossally bad ones (losing 100+), but most are in the middle.

Today was one of those 40 for the Cubs. They trotted out Sergio Mitre, who's filling a spot in the rotation while Prior's on the shelf. And despite a pretty haphazard pitching performance by Mitre, Wuertz, et al., they came back in the bottom of the 9th on back-to-back jacks by Sosa and Alou to win, 11-10. I know that it's too early to tell, but last year, the Cubs won no games when they were trailing going into the 9th. They were like 0-72 or something. This year? They've already had two 9th inning comebacks for victories. They're playing like a team that knows it has a chance, regardless of where they are in the game.

Makes it even more fun to watch them.

Update: And of course, today's game saw Kerry Wood give up two runs in the top of the 9th to lose to the Reds, 3-2. Of course. For better or worse, that's probably another one of the 40.

April 16, 2004


It's not like I don't have plenty of other things to do.

A link to the classic Peep Research site came across Boing Boing a few days back. To that, I am compelled to add Eric's Peep Challenge (via Metafilter), whereupon his friend Kerry attempts to eat 100 Peeps in a single sitting.

Is it just me, or are Peeps one of those bizarre phenomena where there are literally millions of fans, all of whom are embarrassed to admit to anyone else that they actually are fans? Peeps belong in the gummi/jello/circus peanut food group, but it seems like everyone loves them. In private, at least...

April 15, 2004


Via Kairosnews comes an article from Tech Central Station The Blogosphere: All Grown Up Now. It's a remarkably un-selfconscious discussion of the capital-B Blogosphere. Leaving aside the mock-snotty title ("My, don't you look all grown up!"), which may not have come from the author, there are a number of things worth objecting to.

Chief among them are the notions that (a) there is such a thing as "the Blogosphere," (b) the Blogosphere is an institution, (c) this thing aspires to the status of Big Media and as such, should be treated as a child of said media, and/or (d) the test of the maturity of media is its participants' ability to critique themselves. I could go on, I suppose, but I'd rather let the article speak for itself:

Ask most bloggers why they decided to put thought to pixels in the first place, and they will tell you that they were -- and are -- quite disillusioned with the inability of certain Big Media outlets to correct and criticize other outlets for at times putting out patently false information, making fallacious arguments, or allowing ideological or institutional bias to color their reporting. Because Big Media has so often fallen asleep on the job when it comes to self-criticism, an outside institution like the Blogosphere is better suited to serve as a sort of ombudsman for Big Media. The overwhelming majority of blogs are not connected to any Big Media institutions, so it is easier for blogs to take on Big Media when it makes an error.

Where do we even start with this? "Most bloggers"? The fact that, in a description of blogs, the phrase "Big Media" appears more often than the thing being described? I'm not sure why "it is easier for blogs" (and why not "bloggers"?) because they're not connected to BM, etc. etc. Perhaps the worst problem going on here, though, is simply the assumption that blogs (or bloggers or the Blogosphere) represents some kind of univocal phenomenon with clear motivations, relationships, values, etc. To be fair, the article speaks of decentralization, but even then, it's in terms of the "inherent decentralization of the institution," which may be a rare 3-term oxymoron.

Treating "the Blogosphere" as a "grown-up" because it's "self-correcting" seems to me to miss out on a lot. It's not that there's any lack of self-correction, self-obsession, or narcissism on the part of Big Media; indeed, that's one of the biggest reasons that I for one am turned off by a lot of it. The predictable cycle of news, coverage, overcoverage, then self-critique of overcoverage is tiresome, tiresome, tiresome. Big Media directs our attention, and often in ways that we ourselves resist (and this despite their frequent, self-interested, and ultimately false claims that they're simply giving us what we want). If there is a Blogospherical institution, it's not because we all hope to become part of the Next Big Media--it's because blogs offer some of us a chance to tap into conversations, networks, issues at a level where we get to choose our own cycles, to direct our own attention.

April 10, 2004

Creative Computing

Adrian Miles and Jeremy Yuille have released "A Manifesto For Responsible Creative Computing v.0.3," and while I'm tempted to reproduce it in its entirety here, Adrian deserves the hits. Here's a smattering:

  • Creative computing is being creative with a computer/network, not being creative on a computer/network.
  • Network literacy is not the same as knowing how to Google.
  • This literacy is demonstrated in the responsible use of computers which understands that the network includes social, ideological, legal, political, ethical and ecological contexts.
  • Breaking, gleaning and assembling is a theory of praxis for these literacies.

There's more, so take a gander. If there's one thing that I would add, it's that there's an analogy to be drawn here between what the Manifesto describes as "creative computing" and the way that "creative writing" has been taken up in the academy here in the States. Creative writing is a misnomer, implying that "other kinds" of writing aren't creative on the one hand, and ghetto-izing many valuable lessons about language on the other.

Miles and Yuille contextualize their manifesto by explaining that "We teach students who work in the creative industries," but I'd like to hope (even as I'm mindful of the impracticality of this) that we don't take the word "creative" to mean something other than what we do here. Ours is a field that still maintains ties to a tradition that spoke of rhetoric as poesis and techne, that still has much to think about with respect to the production of discourse.

Let me put it this way. It feels naive to me to suggest that "all computing is creative," but I'm tempted to say this nevertheless. I think of a couple of conversations I had in San Antonio with David Blakesley--it's important to understand that he's focused on digital production in a way that will have profound implications for our discipline. In fact, I'm coming to believe that he may be one of our best examples of someone who is actively engaged in the production of the discipline. And I'm thinking of Jeff's recent post (and WPAJ article) on producing our own software and systems. And I'm even thinking of blogs in general, where a handful of us are producing language and selves on a daily basis.

The only sad is that manifestos like this are far more likely to come from outside our field than from inside it. In fact, if I'm feeling frisky tomorrow, perhaps I'll do a little close compare-contrast with the Manifesto and the recent CCCC Position Statement on Teaching, Learning, and Assessing Writing in Digital Environments (posted by Steve a while ago). Some of the differences, I'm sure, are generic--there's a difference between organizational policy statements and manifestos. Of course. But still.

April 9, 2004

Demolition, man

It's probably been upwards of 10 or 15 years since I've heard the Police song "Demolition Man," but my favorite line from the song was "I'm a walking nightmare, an arsenal of doom/I kill conversation as I walk into the room." I'm not sure why I latched onto it--something about the idea of killing conversation just stuck in my head.

I think about this again tonight because last night at about this time, I de-lurked on one of our professional listservs, and apparently managed to kill the conversation. Without getting into too many of the details, it was a thread on how sprawling our field has become, and how difficult it is to keep pace with everything that comes out, given so many different areas of study and venues. As you may gather, it's an interesting problem to me because it's an inevitable feature of any organization that grows beyond a particular size--the visible horizon for any single member stays relatively constant, but once the organization grows beyond that horizon, it has to respond in ways that help orient its membership to the sprawl.

Did I say I wouldn't give too many details?

Anyhow, my post offered what I thought was a fairly elegant mix of a centralizing vision combined with broadly distributed responsibility. The problem is a laughably simple one to solve, honestly, with a small change in collective behavior and a little bit of organizational leadership.

Yeah. If I were teasing myself, I'd say that they were all stunned by the profound simplicity of my proposed solution. Truth be told, though, I think the real problem, the conversation killer, was that I had a solution at all. The thread wasn't about coming together to solve a problem in our field; it was about identifying YAAH ("yet another academic hardship"), with which we could all hop on board, about which we might pat ourselves on the back, and regarding which we could commiserate. Silly me.

In this, I am a boy. My gut reaction to a discussion of a problem is to consider how that problem might be fixed. Sometimes I am sensitive enough to recognize that fixin isn't what someone is after (not always!), but I still have to stifle that gut reaction.

Even now, I know that this will probably get back to some of the people on that list, who (a) won't recognize my description of the conversation, (b) will resent me for poking fun at YAAH, and/or (c) treat my attempt to speak of our organization as an organization (as opposed to a club or community) as evidence that I'm a socially purposeless, amoral te(a)chnocrat. Don't laugh. That's a near-quote, although not a recent one. And I know that the way to "fix" those reactions is simply to delete this entry before I post it.

Who am I kidding, though? Most of them will just glide on past, and in six months or a year, the issue will come up again, and they'll run the cycle of permissible responses, and that'll be that. And who knows? Maybe I'll bring my arsenal of doom along again...

April 8, 2004


I'm chairing a thesis defense at 10 am tomorrow for a student over in the Communication and Rhetorical Studies department, and rather than reading back over the thesis itself, I've spent the last hour or so over at Timothy Burke's site. He's one of those academic bloggers whose name I've seen around, and I've even read a couple of entries of his here and there, but this is the first sustained read I've done of his site.

Won't be the last, either. One of the first posts I looked at was his discussion of student writing "Beyond the Five-Paragraph Essay," a nice collection of some of the persistent, "perennial" problems that occur in the writing students do for him. Over the past couple of years, I've grown more and more interested in analysis as a genre/strategy, and most of what he describes are issues that I've taken up in my own classrooms as well, although perhaps not as crisply as he does here. I'll probably start linking to this entry in my online syllabi, and not just the first-year courses, either.

Okay. Back to that thesis...

April 7, 2004

Expertise, anyone?

Jill Walker has a post today about signing up to serve as an expert EU advisor, for reviewing proposals, programs, et al., and it put me in mind of another of my pet peeves with respect to our own organization here in rhetcompville.

One of the persistent themes of my discontent is the tendency to think of our field/discipline/organization as being smaller than it actually is. This shows up most often, I suppose, in the way that we abuse the term community to speak of ourselves. More concretely, I think that our organization is of a size that we often fail to appreciate the implications of the choices we make. The overuse of conference themes in papers and panels that have little to nothing to do with said themes is but one example. Jill's thoughts raise another for me, and that's the process by which proposals are selected and/or rejected.

My understanding of this process may not be entirely accurate, but that in itself only serves to prove my point--it shouldn't be opaque to someone who has been in the field for more than a decade. Anyhow, my understanding is that the Chair in a given year selects proposal reviewers, period. How is this done? As far as I can tell, the criteria for selecting proposal reviewers are two: the Chair knows you (or knows someone who knows you); and/or, you reviewed proposals in a given area the year before.

My guess is that if you were to study the qualifications of these reviewers over a ten-year period, you would actually not find that they weren't qualified. But you probably would discover that the vast majority of them have connections (either positions at or degrees from) a small percentage of schools. And back in the day, when this handful was pretty much all there was, that made some sense. The conference was smaller, the range of topics narrower, and it was conceivable for a Chair to come to the position with a pretty good idea of who was qualified.

This is no longer possible, however, and in a field where so much emphasis is placed on our flagship conference, it would be nice to see some effort expended to adapt the proposal process to the actual size and composition of the field, rather than an outdated, utopian, who-you-know network.

And yes, there are some sour grapes operating here--insides and outsides abound, and the closest I've come to being inside was to take a position in a department where a CCCC Chair once worked (although he was gone by the time I arrived). The answer to this insider problem, though, isn't for me to simply figure out a way to get inside--it's to open the process up to the kind of system that Jill describes. If I'm a qualified scholar, and I'm interested, there should be an easy self-nomination process whereby I might be (at least) considered. There are plenty more qualified than I, but certainly not all of them, unless we stick to the FOAF criteria that currently operate.

After a certain point, the size of a network prohibits any one person (or even program) from being able to stay abreast of all the network's members and their various expertises. It is no longer possible to assume that if one hasn't heard of someone, then that person isn't very important or qualified. When the network hits a particular size, that assumption tips, and unless changes are made, importance and qualification end up depending on whether or not someone at the core has heard of you.

In case you're not feeling me here, that's the process by which A-Lists are made, and the rest of us grumble. We're goaded by the spirit of hierarchy, to quote KB, even as we claim to resist it. And I could easily imagine solving this issue with a small change in policy and a database.

April 6, 2004

Nobody cares but me

Trolling on ESPN to find that the Cubs don't play again until tomorrow, I come across the following headline:

"Navratilova loses first singles match in decade"

I know that this is nitpicky and anal and simply identifies me as one of those geeks who falls square into the worst stereotypes of English teachers, but I can't help but observe that this headline could mean two different things: Martina played in her first singles match in a decade, and lost (this is what it actually means); or, that she's been playing tennis and hasn't lost for at least ten years. It's either a headline about a comeback or one about total dominance.

I'm completely aware that I'm opening myself up to all sorts of ridicule by admitting this, but it's an unfortunate fact that I notice bad writing, almost by reflex, and I care more about it than is probably healthy for my own publishing aspirations.

You may commence

April 4, 2004

The smells of freshly mowed grass and of the collective hopes of Cubs Nation can only mean one thing...

For those of us whose baseball seasons don't begin and end with the performance of the Yankees, it's just about that time again. And when November rolls around, will I remember the Bartman curse, the curse of the billy goat (WTF), the Sports Illustrated curse, the Peter Gammons curse, or perhaps something even more conspiratorially intricate?

For those of us who can't quite bring ourselves to believe, or who find the field-of-dreaminess of early April a little much, I submit for your perusal the McSweeney's Guide to the upcoming baseball season, in two separate flavors (AL and NL). Perhaps my favorite entry of the bunch:

Milwaukee Brewers After a horrific start, the Brew Crew sign free agents Brook Fordyce and Robert Machado to become their catching battery. They two combine to bat for .450, hit 124 HRs, and knock in 230 RBIs. Brook and Robert become co-MVPs and lead the Brewers to a second-to-last-place finish.

After the season the two put an unprecedented "siamese twin" addendum into their contract, ensuring they will always platoon at catcher with each other. Long after their careers are over, the two retire to a small midwestern town to co-manage a minor league team while dabbling in amateur crime-solving.

April 3, 2004

il n'y a pas de hors-blog

Was there an article before the blog? Or was the article in some sense already blogged? Already blogging itself in the play of blogging and hyperlinks? Trying to get to a "before" of the blog, we find ourselves continually confronted with the primordiality of the blog.

If you're not already chuckling, then don't follow me over to Adam Kotsko's page for the most Derridean blog post I've ever seen.

[via Crooked Timber]

April 2, 2004

CCCC, put to rest, with lots of links

Since I've seen at least one reference to my as-of-yet unfulfilled promise to report on the sessions I saw, and I did promise again last night to do this, and I need to do more with this space than whine about being depressed, and confronting the mess in my apartment is even more depressing to contemplate, I present to you my personal CCCC. For better or worse, my own account will be necessarily briefer than Mike's and others', and necessarily more oblique.

In part, this is because I only went to sessions where I knew at least one of the panelists, and in three of five cases, the entire panel. After a certain point, that's inescapable, I'm sure, but for most of us, it's intentional. It takes quite the panel and paper titles to get me to a panel where I don't know a name. And this runs up against one of my personal rules of thumb re blogging: never type anything that you wouldn't be willing to say to a body's face. I violate that rule from time to time (who doesn't?), but personally, I hate stumbling upon criticisms of myself, and I try to honor that with respect to others as a result.

My panel habits raise another issue. With one exception, I refused to attend a session whose title made reference to the conference theme. CCCC proposals are actually read by qualified reviewers, folks, and everything I've ever heard about this process supports two related conclusions: a theme-referenced title will not help a subpar proposal get accepted; the absence of such a title will not sink an otherwise-acceptable proposal. It may be that my patience is simply thinner than it was when I was a starry-eyed graduate student, but listen to me closely: none of us (myself included) is as clever as we think we are--if you can think of a way to reference the conference theme, chances are that there will be 100 other panels that do the same thing. The result is a swarm of really poorly titled panels. If you don't believe me, check out past years' programs, and see how embarrassingly bad so many of the titles seem. Takin' it to the street, anyone? Ugh.

Anyway, as I was saying, I go to panels where I know people whose work I'm interested in hearing, and for me that raises the issue of whether or not I feel comfortable being critical in public. I'm not. And part of that is that my own dread of public speaking is so great that I appreciate anyone who does it. Even an otherwise mediocre talk gets credit from me if for no other reason than that.


Okay, here's what I saw:

B.06 The ‘Edge Of Chaos’: Complexity and Emergence in Networked Composition

Michael Lasley, SU; Joddy Murray, WSU (TriCities); Joseph J. Williams, SU

You'll forgive if I don't do paper titles as well--you can always look them up. Mike talked about the role that ritual plays in the spread and emergence of cultural norms. Joddy discussed the way that working with multimedia helps students invent by situating them on the edge between order and chaos. Joe's paper I don't remember as well, in part because it was drawn from a larger project, but it seemed to me that he was talking here about redefining the notion of event in terms of complexity and networks. He can correct me if I'm off--I'm one of his readers.

The papers took on a pretty big task--referencing complexity in a field that hasn't really come to grips with it yet. On the one hand, this probably narrowed their audience--it wouldn't have surprised me to learn* that one of the questions after the session was simply "what is complexity theory?" I thought that each of them did a nice job within his particular focus, but audience members without the context that I have might have found it a little overwhelming.

C.24 Questioning Author(Ity)

Susan Adams, SU; Justin Bain, SU; Tracy Hamler Carrick, Colby College; Jonna Gilfus, SU

This panel was an iceberg tip; all four presenters were contributors (as was I) to a collection on authorship theory in composition, and their papers were condensed versions of their chapters. There was a fair amount of overlap and cohesion to the panel itself, but each of the talks was distinct. Justin talked about writing centers, Susan about gender and sexuality, Jonna about the way that our writing textbooks position students authorially, and Tracy's talk worked through a range of ideas on ownership and authorship in the classroom.

The book from which these presentations were versioned is coming out in the fall, I think, and will be well worth it. I don't say that (only) because I've got a chapter as well...The panel itself was much more intensive than the first I saw (which was very extensive)--much more overlapping, fitting together, etc.

E.26 What’s the Matter with Whiteness?: On Seeing the Interface

Laura Gurak, UMinnesota; Michelle Kendrick, WSU (Vancouver); Kris Ratcliffe, Marquette; Kathleen Ethel Welch, UOklahoma

Tough panel to summarize, because it was pretty broadly conceived. Kathleen's talk was engaging, but ranged widely and I only remember pieces. Kris talked about the challenges of getting mostly white students to acknowledge and work critically with "whiteness" in the classroom. Laura's talk revolved around the competing models of proprietary technology and open-source. Michelle focused on interface design, but I may be projecting when I say that she was drawing a connection between the "don't make me think" school of interface design and the "don't make me think" response of white students to thinking about (their own) race as a category. That's the connection I came away from her talk with, regardless.

Kathleen ran a little long, I think, and as a result, both Laura and Michelle felt rushed to me. If I hadn't already been on my feet all day, I would have been better able to draw some of the connections among their papers, and this would be more informative than it actually is. Sorry about that.

H.11 Weblogs: Exploring Contexts, Community, Collaboration, and Practice

Charlie Lowe, FSU; Clancy Ratliff, UMinnesota; Terra Williams, FSU

Lots of folks have written about this panel, either directly or obliquely, and I find that I have little else to add. It was probably the most well-attended that I attended, and it was pitched very effectively for a CCCC audience. That probably sounds like a back-handed compliment, but I don't intend it that way. My experience with technology presentations (after 10 yrs of them) at the Cs is that there's a lot of good to be found in the first couple of years' worth of papers on any phenomenon. I expect next year's blog panels to be very good, after which more advanced work will probably have to appear at C&W as the CCCC new-member-skew takes over.

Terra addressed using weblogs in the classroom, by asking students to alternate between individual and collective blogs, Charlie provided an overview of blogs as personal knowledge management, and Clancy detailed the results of a study on the gender dynamics of the "A List." I'd be less terse if their presentations weren't already linked above.

I.23 Writing Peace: Beyond the Trope of Advocacy

Diane Davis, UTexas; Cynthia Haynes, UTexas-Dallas; Victor Vitanza, UTexas-Arlington

There's no way I can give any of these three papers justice in a single sentence, so I'm not going to try. I'm sure that there were a number of audience members who had little idea what they let themselves in for by attending. Each of the papers was intricate, and carefully theoretical in different ways. The kind of presentations not for the faint of mind.


*I should note, parenthetically, that I find Q&A time nearly unbearable. Yes, I'm one of those who gets up and leaves right after the papers are finished. Yes, I'm one of those who sits in the back specifically for that purpose. My friends by now know that this is the case; anyone who is surprised and/or offended by this shouldn't be--it's a reflection not on the panel but on my own preferences...