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September 30, 2004

Oklahoma hills

Oklahoma hills

I know, Ansel Adams I am not, but Oklahoma didn't look so bad to me once I was just about to leave it.

As promised

As promised

This was the view back towards the road from the "scenic turnout" about 40 or so miles from the Texas border.

Plain ketchup

Or rather, playing catch up, which is what I've been doing over the last couple of days. And now, ta-daaa, my Bloglines feeds are back at a manageable state, I did a little blogroll updating, and I'm feeling like I should be able to balance the travelogging with a little bit of your regularly scheduled programming.

I'm probably the last person on Planet Blog who (a) cares about this Guardian article from last week and (b) hasn't yet posted on it, but that's okay. The article mentions several of the people in my 'roll, and that's worth a post if nothing else.

Like Clancy, I thought that the portrayal of a resistance to blogging that somewhat missed the mark. McClellan writes

But many more traditional academics are suspicious of taking their ideas public in this way. For some, the blogging academic is the latest incarnation of the media don, ready to simplify complex ideas in return for a few minutes of fame. Others are wary of sharing ideas before they are ready - or of seeing original theories stolen before they are published.

Well, yes, there's a little of that, but far more important, I suspect, is the fact that daily writing is difficult. It requires a pretty deep commitment to a process that carries no guarantee of reward in a profession whose members are hyper-conscious of what meager rewards there are to be had.

I guess I'd put it like this: academia has operated for centuries according to a particular ratio between intrinsic and extrinsic motivations, and that ratio has its own rhythm. We are self-motivated to the degree that we sacrifice various portions of our lives to the pursuit of knowledge--no one enters academia believing it to be a fast track to any sort of "success" as society defines it. Our extrinsic motivation comes in the form of publications and/or presentations, recognition from a small circle of colleagues perhaps a couple of times a year. We internalize this model: writing is something we do "behind the scenes" and every once in a while, we derive some small bit of recognition for that work.

Blogging changes that ratio and that rhythm, period. It has changed the way I write, the frequency with which I write, and the reasons for which I write. Some of those changes are positive ones, while the jury's still out on others. Asking members of a highly conservative profession to simply chuck their customs and take up blogging is to fight against a great deal of inertia, both personal and professional. That's not to say that I don't see some benefit, particularly when it comes to abandoning some of academia's more absurd customs. But still...

To McClellan's credit, much more of the article discusses what is being done with weblogs rather than focusing on the faux-binary, and even that section is a pretty mild nod to the constraints of the genre. All in all, it was nice to see an article, even if it was written on another continent, that attempts to make some sense of just what it is that we do.

September 28, 2004

Austin-tatious

Miles: 1113
Miles to Date: 2109
Casino billboards: 18
Southbound billboards for "Robertson's Ham Sandwiches" in a 1-mile stretch: 5
Number of seconds I was tempted by Robertson's Ham Sandwiches: @30
Number of States visited: 10

Mileage-wise, I spent more time in Texas yesterday than I did in Oklahoma. Karma-wise, however, it felt like I was born, raised, and died in Oklahoma before I got out. I now have an answer to the question of whether there is any more godforsaken stretch of road than I-65 from Indianapolis to Chicago. There is. It runs for about 200 miles, right after you get off the Kansas Turnpike, and about 50 miles before you get to Texas. Bad roads, no rest stops, and brown grass as far as the eye can see. Yuck. And unlike other states, where there are things like gas stations and restaurants, in Oklahoma, there was one place that actually advertised its "convenient I-35 access"--it was within sight of the interstate, you see. Every time I refueled, I had to drive 3-4 miles out of the way to get to a grungy place, stocked almost entirely with Dr. Pepper. Cases and cases and shelves and shelves of Dr. Pepper. I've got nothing personal against the good doctor, but he doesn't make my travel beverage of choice.

Well, at least it's over. I'm now in Austin for a spell, and once I get my laptop to recognize my camera, I'll throw up a couple of shots taken from the "Scenic Turnout" that I took in celebration of having made it through the grim of central Oklahoma.

September 27, 2004

A slightly longer leg

the third leg of my trip

Forgot to post this yesterday, but better late than never. I'm currently in the middle of this leg, somewhere just past Emporia, Kansas, in a Holiday Inn Express with free wireless (or rather, with wireless built into the room price when compared to nearby competitors). Close to the halfway point. I think this leg will just about double my miles to date, but I'll know for sure when I hit Austin tomorrow.

Parents

Parents

I think my dad would look happier here were he not scanning the backyard anxiously for chipmunks. The backyard is basically a hill, which he's terraced with walls, and which the chipmunks constantly undermine. Okay, so maybe he doesn't look that anxious. This was on Saturday, by the way, before we went out to eat. We'd just finished watching Iowa embarrass themselves on national TV. Ugh. One other note: Brent Musberger is the biggest front-running homer of an announcer I've ever had the displeasure to listen to. Iowa's Ed Hinkel had a spectacular one-handed end zone grab, so spectacular in fact that it was one of ESPN's top 10 highlights of the weekend. It wasn't, however, a sufficiently high enough light to be considered as one of the big plays of the first half. It would have interfered with footage of the Michigan cheerleaders, the Michigan band, the Michigan fans, or Musberger's praise of the Michigan players, I suppose. (Don't even talk to me about Syracuse's performance on Saturday, btw.)

the Mississippi

the Mississippi

Here's that view I referred to in my last caption. To the right of the house (as you face it from the street) they've got a side patio, and that's where I'm taking this picture from. It's also where I took the obligatory parental photo that follows this one...

The house I didn't grow up in

The house I didn't grow up in

Here's the Mayoral compound, home to my dad and other mom, who have just recently discovered that I have a blog. What you'll be able to see from the next picture is that they have a truly spectacular view of the Mississippi. What you won't be able to see is that they've renovated this house from top to bottom, back to front, and done amazing stuff with it.

September 26, 2004

Utopia?

Utopia?

In addition to these handy plaques detailing Iowa's history (in this case, the various "utopian experiments" in this part of the state), Iowa rest stops are supplied with wireless networks, which is where you're getting both this photo and the commentary. Very strange. It's hard for me to imagine that someone would be so desperate for a connection that they'd actually trot out a laptop at the rest stop. Then again, that's what I'm doing now. I'm on I-35 S, a hop skip from the Missouri border....

September 24, 2004

Theo's Java Hut

Theo's Java Hut

This was my first coffeehouse, or at least the first one where I became a regular. This was back during the early 90s, when I was deciding whether or not to return to grad school (having been pretty burnt out by my first stint). In fact, one of the baristas here, Robin, became a really good friend and talked through it all with me, ultimately helping me decide. I think Robin has since gotten married, and may still live in the QC, but I don't recall her last name (it used to be McAteer, I think).


Anyhow, Ted (the owner) was one of the first people to try and open a new business in what at the time was a pretty depressed downtown area. Now, downtown D'port thrives, with all sorts of new construction, and the tearing down of all the old, dark, brick buildings replacing them with much lighter, more modern looking structures. New restaurants, new shops, new life. It's a much different place from the one I left about ten years ago...

The Mom I grew up with

The Mom I grew up with

I think I've mentioned that my mother is the Marketing Director for the local symphony here in Davenport. Well, this is my mom, and my mom's office. I went downtown today to have lunch with my other mom (my dad's 2nd wife), and stopped off at the Symphony office to (a) park, and (b) do a little photographing...

The house I grew up in

The house I grew up in

The two windows in the upper right corner? That'd be my room, for as long as I can remember. We moved here when I was two or so, and it's interesting to see old photos of the neighborhood, which was pretty undeveloped at the time. We used to be on the developing edge of Davenport, but that's long since moved on to other parts of the city...

September 23, 2004

Iowa

Total Miles: 254
Miles to Date: 971
Speed Zones: 11 (counting Peoria)
Dairy Queens: 6
Chicago traffic related headaches: 0
Number of States Visited: 6

Got in last night, although the graphic of my trip was a little off. I ended up taking state highway 24 almost due west out of Lafayette, and avoided both the interstate and Chicago altogether. Ended up catching 74 outside of Peoria and winding up to the QC that way. Mileage-wise, it was a little shorter, but time-wise, about the same length. I'd much rather slow down for small towns than for teeth-grindingly slow rush hour gridlock, though, so it was a pretty fair trade.

I'm in D'port for a couple of days, and then it's down to Texas. More soon...

September 22, 2004

We say slumber, you say party

the 2nd leg of my trip

I must be getting old. Three nights with Thomas and Jenny, and each night, I think I fell asleep before midnight. It's not like I was getting up all that early or anything. Part of it, I suppose, was the fact that they both teach morning classes. But the W. Lafayette police weren't receiving any complaints from the neighbors about late-night rowdiness, that's for sure.

Next up, in just a little bit, is one of shorter legs of the journey, from Lafayette to Davenport, which should only take me 5 hours or so, depending on how bad the traffic around Chicago is. It's never that great, but some times are worse than others...

Oh, and the previous two entries are courtesy of my new FlickR account. Let me know if you're interested, and I'll send you an invite...

Thomas & Jenny

Thomas & Jenny

Thomas & Jenny's house

Thomas & Jenny's house

September 20, 2004

Indiana

Total Miles: 717
Miles to Date: 717
Number of States Visited: 4
Number of State Troopers Avoided: 7

Arrived in Lafayette yesterday evening at around 5:00 or so. I left Syracuse Saturday night, but didn't end up driving through the night--my sleep schedule has actually cycled back to something resembling normality, and so late-night driving wears me down faster than usual.

First visit to Thomas and Jenny in their new house on Sandpiper Ct. Maybe later today, I'll try out my new FlickR account and post a photo or two. Right now, I'm blogging from Purdue, where I just ran into Charlie, who sounds like he's taken to the professional writing program here like a fish to water. He's working on really interesting stuff here.

Not much else to report. We're hitting a coffeeshop this afternoon, where I'll probably put in a couple of hours of reading and note-taking while Thomas and Jenny work on the stuff they've got to do. Maybe an entry from there if I'm in the mood.

September 18, 2004

Coming soon to a state near you

the 1st leg of my tripSome time today, I'll be departing on the first leg of my roadtrip, the one where I leave Syracuse in the rear view and visit Thomas and Jenny at Purdue.

Psychologically, I think I've been ready to go for almost a month now. Of course, in every other way, it's taken me a bit of time to prepare, not the least of which has been "finishing" the manuscript. Figuring out how much stuff I'll need for a 2-month trip has also been something of a challenge, as has figuring out how little planning I can get away with. It's been tough not to commit to specific dates, but I think I've held out pretty well in that regard. I don't really know yet where all I'll go, what all I'll do, or who all I'll see, but I can say with near certainty that I won't be here, and that it will be fun.


September 16, 2004

4C's the day

I know that the discussion is pretty well over by this point, but like Jenny, I found myself today with a couple more thoughts that I wanted to throw up here. Jenny's right, I think, to ask what's going to happen when the organization moves up from what I think is its current plateau. There have been a number of recent initiatives designed to get the organization growing again, but not a lot of reflection (that I've seen, anyway) about what's going to happen if those initiatives succeed. If the conference doesn't grow (or change), I don't think they will, but at the very least, the issues are closely related.

I also wanted to shout out to John, whose replies (esp. over at Clancy's) were remarkably measured, fair, and informative. It would have been really easy for John to take offense at all of our bitching, or to take it personally, and he didn't. Instead, he provided some really good background on the organization and encouraged us to turn our critiques into positive contributions. The problems I have with CCCC are problems with the system, and problems with an organization that began as a tight-knit community, grew to become much larger, without changing its policies to match that growth.

Anyhow. Jenny asks:

And here's the big question that I wish someone would actually say publicly (and not just in the bars): When was the last time you went to a panel--NOT because you knew the folks or you wanted to see a star--and actually walked away with some seriously valuable ideas? When was the last time you went to a panel and walked away feeling like it was a waste of time? Which one happens to you more often? (I'm going on a limb here and saying that the first one isn't the more frequent.)

Isn't this a problem?

Oh yes, yes it is. The problem, and forgive me if this sounds too harsh or cynical, is that our flagship conference is not about valuable ideas. It's about "getting on the program," so that our home departments will underwrite a trip for us. That's not to say that people don't try (myself included), and it's not to say that there are no valuable ideas being circulated, but the fact of the matter is that, and I said this in a CCCC presentation a couple of years ago, the scholarship that most of us produce for the conference is disposable. I can't count the number of times I've been to sessions where presenters bragged about writing it on the plane or changed their topic entirely. The problem is that I'm at the point where it's not worth the potential waste of my time to go to a session on the off chance that it'll be valuable--I've lost that bet almost every time I've gone to one.

Lest I be accused of complete pessimism, though, here are three modest proposals for addressing that problem, for potentially improving the quality of the conference:

Book of the Year: Every year, several books in our field are nominated for a book of the year award (and one or two receive it). Plan a series of sessions, each of which focuses on one of the BOTY nominees. Allow the author to hand-pick 2-3 people to give presentations about the book and then the author would be a respondent. Participants in the BOTY series would be allowed to do a second presentation (assuming that their proposal had been accepted).

CCCC Yearbook: Publish the best conference papers, say 3-4 from each major area, annually as a conference proceedings. Make the deadline for submission a month before the conference itself. The review process for this wouldn't have to begin until after the conference, but my guess is that the desire for publication would result in far fewer people willing to write it on the plane.

Graduate Student Awards: This isn't too different from the proceedings idea. Create a handful of awards for best graduate student papers. Put the deadline at the tail end of the fall semester, and for each area, award one full ride to CCCC: travel, hotel, meals. And label the award winners within the body of the program (i.e., not just a list at the beginning).

None of these are earth-shattering ideas. But they have one thing in common to my mind. If we're all sick of a system that seems to be getting more and more cynical and less and less valuable, then let's rethink some of what we do, and imagine ways to reward the people who don't waste our time. But we're not stupid. We put effort into our presentations commensurate to the perceived return on that investment, and perhaps a little more, but that's it. If the only "return" is a slot on the program, then small wonder that people don't take the presentations seriously. If we hope to change that, there need to be incentives to do so.

September 15, 2004

Where I realize I spoke a day too soon

Some of you already know this, but I finally decided today that the returns on my writing have declined to the point where I need to take a break, a winding, two-month, hop-in-the-car-and-go kind of break. And so while it's not exactly "done," my manuscript is now over at Kinko's, getting copied and bound in the next day or so. It still needs work, in some places more than others, to be sure, but it's complete enough (I hope) to benefit from some constructive outside review.

I like to think that Rilo Kiley is at least partly responsible for my decision. I bought their new album about a week or so ago, but have been overdosing on it lately. It's a much different and much more varied album than The Execution of All Things and I wasn't sure I was going to like it. A couple of the songs hooked me though, and brought me round, and so I'll probably lead off my trip with it.

And as I got back from Kinko's, I went through my apartment and gathered a bunch of the books that I'll be taking with me as I travel and as I move on to book project #2, the one I've been chomping at the bit to work on for the past 6 months or so. Since I'm teaching a course on the topic in the spring, I'll probably end up being far more productive than my road trip would seem to indicate. I've realized tonight that psychologically, I've been preparing to leave for about 3-4 weeks, and now that I can, I'm not going to waste any time. Tomorrow, I'll figure out exactly how I want to set things up here for maximum blogging convenience from the road. Well, that and pack.

September 14, 2004

Pace

Plenty of stuff out there that I've been thinking I might comment on, but for whatever reason, I just haven't worked up the energy to put a post together. I've been thinking over the past couple of days how strange it is to be on leave. This is the first regular season semester since 1994 that I haven't been teaching, haven't been attending committee meetings, etc. And the result is that my academic biorhythms are all messed up.

I know, I know, we should all be so lucky. But it's not as though I'm not still working. I'm a handful of pages away from finally having a full draft of the manuscript, and the last couple of weeks have been a real grind in that regard. I've really had to force myself to write every day. Part of it is that I'm still getting used to that kind of writing pace--my personal process is more like think for a couple of weeks, then write for a couple of intensive days, then think some more. Writing every day has been much more of a challenge, and not one I'm anxious to repeat for some time.

The ironic thing is that, although I've fallen off a bit lately, that's exactly what I do here. But when I look back through a couple of months' worth of posts, I see my preferred rhythms peeking through my everyday writing. I can only be so serious so often--I admire those who can be serious more often, but that's not me. I don't have the language to distinguish between the different kinds of writing that I do here--all I can say is that, every so often, I feel like I'm Writing, and in between those times, it's more of a lowercase w writing that I do.

All right. Time to stop staring at my navel and instead to start staring at my manuscript...

September 11, 2004

Meltdown, the final chapter

I finally figured out the problem, and in fact, it was a little of both. When the server melted down, and our folders were restored, the backup was from a time before I upgraded to MT3.1. As a result, the MT2.6 installation that I had wiped from my account was back. I've kept a few of the older achived entries, so as not to 404 other peoples' links to them, and so, when the comment spammers hit, their comments were triggering 2.6 rebuilds of the entries and the indexes. And all of my 3.1 files that shared filenames were being overwritten as a result. I wasn't losing data, but my index pages and style sheets were being "restored" to their 2.6 versions.

The solution? Re-delete MT2.6, and go through the old archive pages, removing the comment forms. Now the spammers have to get through my active Blacklist installation, and even if they do, the rebuilds will come from 3.1.

(It makes sense to me, even if it's painfully obvious to some, and cryptic to others. I'm happy.)

The Usual is Suspect

As I wrote a few days ago, it's the season to be hearing about whether or not our proposals for our field's flagship conference (CCCC) have been accepted or rejected. Jeff and Jenny submitted a panel that wasn't accepted, and there's been a little grousing about the rejection. Like Jeff, I've had very good luck with proposals--I've only been rejected twice, I think, out of 11 or 12 proposals. And yet, every year, I know of very good people who have proposed interesting panels who don't get accepted. I know that this is probably the case for most people--we all think that our friends are the ones getting overlooked unfairly--but I thought that I might take a crack at explaining just what I find suspect in the whole CCCC process.

I'm not a disciplinary historian, but I know a few things. CCCC has grown subtantially in the past 20 or so years, and as a result, certain steps have been taken to insure fairness in the selection process, namely:


  • "No Multiple Submissions" - thousands of people submit proposals, and restricting them to a single proposal gives each person an equal shot at acceptance

  • Blind review - again with the equality. Insofar as a review process can ever be blind, proposals are ranked on merit rather than brand name recognition

So far, so good, or okay at least. Both of these measures exist for defensible rationales. What I find to be a lot less defensible, however, is the opaque process by which the reviewing takes place. Each year, the process is overseen by a new person (the CCCC chair), and that person is responsible for assembling the team of reviewers who make decisions about acceptance or rejection. As far as I can tell, though, there are three major ways of meeting that responsibility, i.e., choosing reviewers:

  • Knowing someone who has expertise in the necessary area

  • Knowing someone who knows someone who has expertise in the necessary area.

  • Finding a person from a previous year in an area and asking that person to repeat.

The problem here is that, in basically each case, reviewers are ultimately chosen because they know someone. I don't dispute their qualifications, but I dispute the idea that this process results in a team of reviewers that is representative of the field. More likely is that it represents a given Chair's socio-professional network. And it rewards those people who "know someone." The system we've got carries a great deal of "insider inertia," and inevitably, that inertia is reflected in the program each year. I haven't done this research yet, but it wouldn't surprise me at all to learn that there are certain graduate programs disproportionately represented among the reviewers. I know for a fact that there are certain schools that are underrepresented, believe me. And this has an effect on the kinds of scholarship that are more or less likely to be accepted.

Whether this effect can be demonstrated or not, I don't know, because the materials necessary to do so are not made available for research. I know how I'd do it, though. More to the point here, though, is that the inside/outside quality of the review network means that the "fairness" they've achieved in the process is more limited than most people think. Reviewers may be "blind" to individual proposers' names, but they are not blind to the rhetoric of the proposals themselves, which is influenced by the training those proposers have received. And as a result, I've ended up doing well by retraining myself to write CCCC proposals in a certain way, by not appearing to come from a particular school. I've learned to perform my proposals in a way that's proven pretty successful.

Unquestionably, it's an ideal to say that I shouldn't have to do that. But there are ways that this situation could be made fairer. First, the process itself could be more transparent. I work to make it as transparent for our graduate students as I can, but there are certain policies that work against me here. Second, the selection process should be opened up to the membership--at the very least, as someone with 10 years of experience in computers and writing, regular participation at the conference, and fairly frequent publications, I should have the option of reviewing proposals, an option I won't have until I "know someone" who's Chair. And that's not right. There are lots of people who have the expertise, but lack the connections, and those people (myself included) are shut out of the process. No mechanism exists by which we might volunteer to be reviewers. It would cost very little to assemble a database, a qualified pool of potential reviewers from which Chairs might draw each year for given topics. It will ultimately be their choice, of course, but the rationale for those choices should be available for scrutiny, and should be based on more than acquaintance.

I'm not criticizing specific Chairs here, but rather the system. Since CCCC has grown to its current size, the fact of the matter is that there is no single person who can know the entire field. Reviewers are shortcuts in this regard. Without any kind of formal process, those shortcuts are based on the best available information. So why not make that information genuinely the best available? Rather than assuming that a Chair is omniscient upon election, provide that person with the data from which s/he can make informed selections. There was a time when the current process made sense, when it was possible for a Chair to "know" the field well enough to select reviewers. That time, however, is past--and it's time our processes caught up with our disciplinary realities.

September 10, 2004

Server Meltdown, revisited

For some reason, the restoration process keeps reverting my blog files to their August state, pre-upgrade to MT3. This is not pleasing me one bit, but I think I've ruled out a number of possibilities. And so, if you visit this page and find that it's got my old page design, that's what's going on. Every time that the pages get "restored," I basically have to go in and rebuild the site through MT.

And I'm 99% sure that this is a meltdown/restore issue, rather than having anything to do with the fact that I've upgraded. The two events coincide, but the problems associated with each have been separate.

At least, I think they have.

September 7, 2004

Happy Birthday, Pixel

Over at GTxA, Nick provides a link and some commentary on Wired's publication of Robert Pinsky's poem in honor of the 50th anniversary of the pixel. It's called...umm..."Pixel." Nick notes:

The philosopher of the poem, discussing the artists role and the engineers, is Rudolf Arnheim, author of Film as Art and one of the first to argue that film has an artistic dimension. By analogy to the arts of film and tapestry, Pinsky makes the poetic case that videogames are art, too, just as he argued that the experience of computing is truly material in "The Haunted Ruin."

Nick also notes the passing of Czeslaw Milosz, whose work Pinsky helped to translate into English.

What you don't know about Pinsky is that I had the chance to "interview" him. I put that word in quotes because, although I was there and I did the transcription, the interview was largely a conversation between Pinsky and a professor of mine at the time. I was in no position to ask the right questions. But I've carried with me ever since the image of Pinsky as someone who cared deeply about language, a care I was familiar with from reading Irish poets like Seamus Heaney, but also one that I didn't think existed in contemporary American literature. Obviously, I was wrong, but at the time, both his reading and that conversation changed both my attitudes towards American poets and towards poetry in general, which I stopped fearing after that.

I also remember him telling stories about having studied with Yvor Winters, and one of the things I took from that was the importance of tradition, even when one hopes to break from it, transform it, or reject it altogether. Oh, and I also took from the experience the fact that I will never ever ever again do something that results in transcription. Talk about a pain. Anyhow...

So pixel plural and singular knits fixed vision
To pics in flux: either a seeming motion

Or the seeming stillness of a billion dancing dots
Choreographed like the tapestry's grid of knots

Dyed rose, blue, green in a map of subtle shades

September 6, 2004

There goes the BCS

I certainly didn't think that we'd win or anything, but I hoped that it'd be close.

Instead, SU got shellacked by Purdue yesterday, 51-0. Over the summer, the Athletics department has been posting schedules and posters all around campus, one of which touted RB Walter Reyes as a potential Heisman candidate. His line on Sunday? 12 carries, 31 yards, and a fumbled kickoff. Bad news.

Tell me again when basketball starts?

September 5, 2004

Scale

NYT RNC/DNC buzzword visualization

Johndan beat me to this graphic, which is from the NYT (the thumbnail is linked). It's a visualization of keyword frequency from the RNC and DNC speeches, along with a chart that shows mentions and frequencies by various key speakers at each. And it makes for a really nice example of both information visualization and the kind of data that can be achieved through aggregative methods. In a country with only two "viable" parties, the idea of a political party is itself an aggregate, and one that translates incompletely when you move to the levels of region, state, city, neighborhood, household, and individual.

I've been thinking about scaling, which is that process of translation up or down to various levels of organization. I've finally added Piers Young to my blogroll, who, in addition to helping me fill that gap between the M's and S's, blogs about many of the same things that I'm interested in. In other words, it's taken me way too long to add him. Almost a month ago now, he raised the idea of fractals in relation to debates about emergence and personal v. collective KM. It's interesting to me right now, in part, because I've been drafting some of the preface to my book. It's called Lingua Fracta: Towards a Rhetoric of New Media, and the first part of the title is a triple pun that's the only thing left from my dissertation that will make it to the book.

Triple? Yes. First, there's "lingua franca," a bricolage language cobbled together from a range of sources that allows communication across borders or boundaries, implying connection. And then, there's "fracta," past participle of "frango," which is the Latin verb "to break." And then, there are fractals, which for me, more than anything, spotlight the question of scale. It's not a question that we don't already ask, but we haven't had the vocabulary (at least in comp/rhet) for understanding it as a particular kind of question. "Think globally, act locally" is a slogan that assumes scale, for instance. The classic line in KB's Rhetoric of Motives about the shepherd who cares for sheep at the same time that such care ultimately prepares them for market is an example of behavior that doesn't scale. And more recently, the discussion being held variously at Derek's, John's, and Jeff's blogs raises for me another question of scale: to what degree should the the national range of sites for composition be represented disciplinarily in the form of a canon or locally in a graduate course on composition?

Scale doesn't answer that question, of course, but to my mind, it gives us a slightly different vocabulary from which to think about it. The assumption that composition scholarship scales to insitutions of all sorts without anything being lost in that transposition is one that John questions rightly, I think, and as some people have already observed, there's a parallel between this assumption and the assumption made by many graduate programs about the universality of the positions their students will end up taking.

That's me: I don't have any answers, but by golly, I've got lots of ways to re-ask the questions...

September 4, 2004

San Francisco, March 2005

That's where the Conference on College Composition and Communication will be next year, and my co-presenters and I were officially informed yesterday that we'll be part of the program. Notification is always something of an odd season around grad programs--on the one hand, CCCC is selective enough that you expect a little bit of congratulations; on the other, no one really asks anyone else, for fear that they didn't get accepted. Weird. Last year, since I hadn't proposed, I was fearless about asking--I didn't have to worry about being accepted when someone else wasn't.

So anyway, here's the proposal that we put together. Bear in mind both that we were predicting our interests (proposal due May 2004, presentation delivered March 2005) and that we were limited to 500 words (ours came in at around 440, I think.)

The Aftermath of Access: From Critical to Creative Computer Literacies

Access is a crucial topic for anyone who works with information technologies, as many scholars in rhetoric and composition have pointed out (e.g., Selfe, Moran). While it is certainly vital that we continue to work as a field to provide technology access, it is equally important that we avoid the trap of thinking of access as a purely material or economic issue. Despite our tendency to nominalize the term, "access" is a verb, one that raises questions about what is being accessed, how it is being accessed, and what the consequences of that access are.

Technology scholars frequently make a distinction between functional and critical computer literacies; in fact, our preoccupation with the issue of access is a result of the latter. This panel will argue that it is time that we add a third term to the first two: creative computer literacy. Following Adrian Miles and Jeremy Yuille, authors of the 2004 "Manifesto For Responsible Creative Computing," this panel will argue that we need to see technology as more than another site for critique, that information networks are new sites of cultural production as well. Miles’s and Yuille’s “Manifesto,? with its emphasis on network literacies, provides an intriguing set of topoi from which to rethink our discipline’s approach to computer literacies and access. The individual speakers will each respond to one or more of the "Manifesto" planks, exploring their implications for both scholars and pedagogues in rhetoric and composition.

Speaker 1 will assert that network literacy is based on the explorations, endeavors, and satisfactions emerging from amateur computing, rather than professional practices and standards. Network literacy involves the revaluation of “professional/amateur,? and this in turn forces us to rethink how we approach the literacy skills we attempt to instill in our students. Speaker 2 will focus specifically on the ways we represent ourselves on and engage with networks, examining the phenomenon of weblog "A-lists." Often the object of scorn and/or critique, A-lists also provide us with invaluable insight into how networks function, insight that can help writers rethink their approaches to online audiences. Speaker 3 will focus on the ways that computer programming languages extend our opportunities to teach writing in networked environments. Specifically, loops, conditional statements, and object-based methods or functions will be discussed as the basis for recognizing how code is writing. Speaker 4 will argue that, while we often valorize our ability to multitask, the “back channels? and underlife provided by networks may overwhelm our ability to engage in so-called “central? tasks. This paper raises the question of when the convenience of networks tips over into interference.

That's me checking in as Speaker #2, by the way.

September 2, 2004

The Great 2004 Server Meltdown

I'm not exactly sure what happened, but the long and short of it is that, for a couple of days, I haven't had access to our MT installation. No posting, no comments, no pings, nothing. And no small amount of panic on my part, which proved to be unfounded. Should be back to normal, and fully upgraded, shortly.