« July 2005 | Main | September 2005 »

August 31, 2005

Have you seen Andy's dignity?

This week has begun in much the same way that last week ended: a lot of advising, a fair bit of panic, and a lot more face time at the office than I generally prefer. And before you get on me with the "professors working 6 hours a week" bullshit, let me explain that "more time than I prefer" included being here on Saturday and Sunday, from roughly noon to 10 pm both days. The last day that I wasn't in the office for 6+ hours was some time around the middle of August.

Anyway, last night I managed to work free a little earlier than that, and I got home in time to catch the end of the 2nd set of Andy Roddick's 1st round match at the US Open. I'm much less of a tennis fan than I used to be, so I don't watch much more than a little bit of the majors, just enough to know the names for the most part. And even then, I watched the Cubs close out the Dodgers first.

To my point. I watched Roddick get swept in straight sets, in the first round, at a major, by some random guy off the street from Luxembourg. And then I flipped over to Jon Stewart, just in time to see the new American Express commercial. In the commercial, Andy decides not to go out (the US Open's coming up, you see) and while he's sleeping, some dorky looking guy, who is "Andy's mojo," separates from his body, goes out on the town, and takes Andy's AmEx card. Andy gets up next day, and can't play tennis very well, because he's missing his mojo. And apparently, there was a whole campaign planned around the idea of him squeaking through the tournament and trying to get his mojo back.

This may be one of the all-time biggest sports jinxes in the history of sports jinxes. If only the Cubs could get all of the other NL teams to cut mojo commercials for American Express, we might still have a chance this year...

August 29, 2005

Now Listening

Picked up a copy of the new New Pornographers album Twin Cinema the other day, and it's pretty much on endless repeat on my iTunes right now. I happened across Electric Version a few years back, and went nuts over it, picking up their first album and releases from A.C. Newman, Neko Case, etc. By now, it's gotten to the point where I don't understand how everyone isn't listening to them. EV is one of my favorite albums of the last 5 years, and TC is as good if not better (Pitchfork gave EV an 8.1 and TC a 9.0).

I tend to find one song that hooks me, and then build my impression of the album around it, using the hook to keep me listening to the other songs as well. And right now, I'm grooving on "These are the Fables." It's not "typical" of the whole album, but then, one of the things I like about the NP is that most of the songs aren't typical of the whole. So anyhow, give it a listen if you have the chance...

August 28, 2005

"Reading" without reading

I asked Lotaria if she has already read some books of mine that I lent her. She said no, because here she doesn't have a computer at her disposal.

She explained to me that a suitably programmed computer can read a novel in a few minutes and record the list of all the words contained in the text, in order of frequency. "That way I can have an already completed reading at hand," Lotaria says, "with an incalculable saving of time. What is the reading of a text, in fact, except the recording of certain thematic recurrences, certain insistences of forms and meanings..."

Italo Calvino, If on a winter's night a traveler

Derek and I have been laying the full-court press on all things related to CCC Online this week, in the hopes of rolling the site out publicly with the release of the first issue of this year's volume (57.1), and we're getting pretty close. Upon its release, the site will have archived the past four years of essays, and while that doesn't sound like a lot, believe me when I say that it has been. There's been a great deal of information to compile, and we've also had to design a workflow in the process, one that will enable us to continue working backwards in time.

Anyhow, one of the major features of the site is ready to roll. In addition to publishing the metadata on each article, we've been generating some additional material in the form of keywords. Beginning with this year, CCC authors will supply a set of keywords for their articles, but as you can imagine, trying to track down the authors of 50-odd years of articles and get keywords didn't strike us as a winning proposition.

And so, like Lotaria above, we looked for technological assistance. Inspired in part by the work of people like Cameron Marlow and Anjo Anjewierden, what we needed was a way to "read" these essays, reducing them to a set of 10-15 keywords, a way that wasn't prohibitive in terms of time or labor. After much searching, despairing, tweaking, and yes, whining, we ended up with a couple of Perl scripts that seem to be doing the trick. You could almost hear the relief, I imagine.

The results of our text parsing are valuable in and of themselves, I think, and they show up for the individual entries on CCC Online, under the heading of Tags. While they can't fully account for a given article's complexity or nuance, we're operating according to a principle a lot like the power law--our attitude is that the majority of an essay's message is concentrated in the handful of words that appear just below the threshhold of articles, pronouns, prepositions, etc. They represent that "thematic recurrence" or the "insistences of meaning."

For instance, in Diana George's essay, which I mentioned a few days ago, we isolated close to 1600 nouns and noun phrases, appearing a total of 3500 times. (These are really rough numbers, for reasons that I could explain if anyone's really interested.) Now, the top 1% of those noun/phrase/s, or about 16 of them, account for around 500 appearances (approx. 15%). Expand the selection to 5% (80 nouns), and the appearances jump to 1200 (almost 33%). 10% of the words (160) gives us a little less than half at 1600 (about 45%). And 20% (320), a magic percentage for power laws, yields 2100 instances, or around 60%. This may not be interesting to anyone but me, but while it doesn't quite match up with the power law, it's close enough to be suggestive. And the roughness of my numbers is rough in the right direction for the claim I could make.

Here's where it gets really cool, though. We've generated lists of keywords for all of the articles published in CCC over the past four years, and placed those keywords on the individual pages themselves. Because we're using MT to publish these entries, though, we've made them available for services like CiteULike and del.icio.us. And so, we've established a CCC Online account at del.icio.us (http://del.icio.us/ccco/), where we've first bookmarked all of the articles from the last four years, and then used our keywords as tags for the articles themselves. And the keywords on each entry at CCCO are links to our del.icio.us page for that tag.

For those unfamiliar with del.icio.us, I recommend scrolling down and finding Options at the bottom of the right-hand column, and starting with "View as Cloud," "Sort by Alpha," and "Show Bundles." The option that appears in black is the one that's active. The cloud uses color and size to indicate which tags are most frequent, and we've separated out the issues themselves into a separate bundle. We also added tags for CCCC Chair's Addresses and the Braddock Award winners. Spaces aren't permitted, and so you'll notice that we're doing the WikiWord thing for phrases.

Tags at the top and bottom of the frequency list are less than optimal, of course. "Students" appears as one of the top 10 in 69 of the 84 essays we've tagged thus far, for example, which isn't particularly useful except as an example of the kinds of concerns most likely to appear in CCC. And at the bottom are a mix of tags, some of which will probably rise as we expand the range and others which will end up being something like Amazon's statistically improbable phrases (SIPs). The range in the middle, though, we hope will help researchers in our field by seeding their bibliographic work (it is only a single journal, after all).

More importantly, though, I think that del.icio.us provides us with the beginnings of a map of the journal--whether it's extrapolable to the field as a whole I'm reserving judgment about, but I'm excited about the possibility. It's an eminently searchable map, as well as one that permits the kind of exploration that isn't nearly as convenient otherwise. There's plenty more to say about it, I'm sure, but right now, I kind of want to just sit back and feel a little pride.

So, yeah, that's part of what we've been up to.

August 26, 2005

While you wait

Good vs Evil, Flickr-style.

Reverse Psychology

This can't be news to anyone who works in academia, but it's rapidly reached the point where I'm anxious for the semester to begin, if only because that way, I can be sure that all the week before events will be over.

This week has been graduate program orientation, advising, advising, department orientation, and a dissertation defense (congratulations, Dr. Baca!). I'm running on minimal sleep, even less energy, and I don't have much blogging to show for it.

And honestly, not much more to say until I get some rest. Look for me this weekend.

August 22, 2005


Or something like that.

One of two things happened today: either I was better prepared somehow than I thought I was, or I've somehow learned to be a little more comfortable with my intrinsic lack of organization. If I had to lay money, I'd probably bet on the latter. I ended up doing what I could to sort of shrink the scale of my talk a bit, from the Discipline to the textual networks that make up both the discipline(s) as well as our experiences of it. And this segued nicely into a quick show and tell about CCC Online. Most of the work that we've done on the site has been this summer, and so most others in my department haven't seen what we've accomplished, much less heard me make the case for why it's important.

I'm still working the kinks out in terms of my ability to articulate the needs that the site fills and the way that it goes about filling them, but I figure that'll come with practice. So last week-ish, I talked about doing the keyword parsing of each article and each issue. Today, one of the things I showed off was our attempt to provide what we're calling reversible bibliographies, or "works citing" as opposed to "works cited."

Since we're managing the site through Movable Type, one of the things we're doing is to place links in the works cited to other CCC articles. Makes sense, right? Well, MT allows us not only to place links to those cited works, but to make them trackbacks as well. So articles that have been cited will themselves contain links to the essays that cite them. We're only four years deep so far, so we don't have lots of examples of this, but you can see what I mean by looking at the entry for Diana George's From Analysis to Design, which is, in the pages of CCC itself, the most frequently cited CCC article from the past four years. And it's only been twice.

(And that's something that I didn't talk about today, but could have. It's interesting to look at what I'd called insular citation patterns (CCC articles cited in CCC articles). The two most citation-heavy articles from the last three years have both been CCCC Chair's Addresses, for example. There are roughly 61 CCC articles cited in the most recent Volume (4 issues), but half of those are accounted for by Kathi Yancey's Chair's Address (21) and Richard Fulkerson's article (10), with 12 of 20 essays citing either zero or one. That's up from the year before--in Vol. 55, there are only 37 CCC articles cited in 20 essays. These are rough estimates, though, because there are some instances of Cross-Talk citations that I haven't traced out to their origins.)

As we get deeper into the archives, though, the idea of including a Works Citing list as well as Works Cited will become more relevant, I think. It would also be improved if/when the scope of this project expanded beyond CCC. But that's a concern for another year...

August 21, 2005

And panic sets in...

I'm only slightly closer to figuring out what I'll talk about tomorrow, but thanks to some timely advice (and Ethiopian food) from Derek, I think I'll talk mostly about what I'm trying to accomplish with CCC Online, which is, if nothing else, my most concrete attempt to have an effect on this discipline where I find myself. And I'd be surprised if a paragraph or two doesn't come out of the essay that I've been working on as well.

My initial claim, I think, is going to be that our discipline is less than the sum of its parts. Now all I have to do is to think of a clever way to make that sound eminently reasonable, and I'll be home free. If I have time tomorrow afternoon, I'll blog the results of my thinking...

August 20, 2005

Whine not?

I'm going to break from tradition here, and fail to bemoan the fact that summer's over. When I gaze back fondly on that time so quaintly misidentified as "summer break," I find that I

  • Presented at both Computers and Writing Online and the Penn State Conference;
  • Drafted and submitted one essay and drafted another for publication;
  • Got seriously moving on my manuscript revisions;
  • Prepared and taught a graduate seminar that was, by all accounts, a pretty good course.

I managed to visit with lots of friends and family also, so it wasn't all work and no play. I'm sure I'll miss the summer, because among other things, it gave me the occasional excuse to ignore work-related requests and plenty of opportunity to sleep in. But by and large, I can't say that there was work to be accomplished this summer that wasn't. And that's a pretty good feeling.

Monday is our program's orientation day, aka Community Day. We plan a short day with a couple of formal-ish panels around a particular theme, some orientation for the grad students, capped by a potluck in the evening. Seeing everyone refreshed after the summer and raring to go? That'll be nice. Having to be in charge? Yeah, not so much. At some point in my administrative career, I'm going to have to develop a certain level of comfort with speaking at and planning public events. We're still working on that part of things, though.

Either that, or I'm going to have to hire myself a figurehead.

That's all.

August 17, 2005

Devil vs. Deep Blue Sea

I'm trying to decide which recent commercial disturbs me more:

Target's use of "Baby Got Back" for their new back-to-school campaign, or

Lee Iacocca and Snoop Dogg appearing together in the latest Chrysler campaign. For shizzle, Iacizzle?! Oh. My. God.

August 13, 2005

Coming soon to a screen near you...

We're not quite ready to roll out CCC Online officially yet, but this summer, Derek, Madeline, and I have been laying the groundwork for the site, and experimenting with the kinds of data (and metadata) that the site will provide.

A few weeks ago, I was complaining about having to work from scratch with Perl, but it looks like we're now in business, thanks to D. One of our challenges has been figuring out how we're going to tag articles in the absence of abstracts (which are a relatively recent phenomenon in the journal) and without having to do close readings of 50 years worth of journal articles. Compared to that latter task, Perl sounds like a walk in the park, yes?

Anyhow, we're getting closer to having a workable system for parsing an article, isolating nouns and noun phrases, and applying a relatively systematic set of rules for generating keywords on the fly. It still involves a fair amount of intensive labor, and I may end up having to learn how to write Excel macros to get it working a little better, but I'm feeling comfortable with the results. They won't be absolutely accurate--there will always be problems with synonyms and diverging meanings (for example, "of course" and "writing course" are treated as 2 equal instances of the word "course")--but I'm hoping that as tentative snapshots, some of this data that we're generating will be of use to the field.

For example, here's a keyword list from the latest issue of CCC. I've tried to collapse when possible (e.g., "students" combines both "students" and "student"), and the number in parentheses is the number of appearances. We've stripped out articles, pronouns, prepositions, etc., and tried to stick to "significant" terminology.

Students (604), Writing (265), Courses (245), Papers (208), Composition (163), Portfolios (139), Summer (107), Textbooks (97), Work (78), Teachers (74), Assessment (69), Approaches (67), Authorship (67), Process (65), Studies (65), Essays (64), Class (63), Part (59), College (58), Teaching (57), Classes (55), Time (54), Author (52), Study (50), Writers (50)

These are the top 25 terms of more than 7000 total, and a word count (remember, minus a lot of other words) of around 18,000. And there are some obvious spots where specific articles are skewing the issue's rankings (White's article on assessment accounts for 137 of the 139 appearances of the word portfolio(s), and Ritter's responsible for all but one appearance of the word authorship). In the five articles, "students" is the top noun in 3 of them, and no lower than the seventh most frequent in the other two.

Of course, where this information will become more useful, I think, is when we've gathered data for a broad range of issues. Patterns, I'm hoping, will emerge over time (as the field itself has), perhaps shifting from one editor to the next, with certain terms waxing and waning in the journal as their relative fortunes in the field have. And so on. Over the next couple of months, I'll probably be posting about CCCO more often here, and sharing some of these speculations.

If anyone is interested, we'll most likely be doing a small-scale usability study on the site as well, probably in the first half of the fall semester. Leave me a comment or drop me an email if you'd be interested in participating...

All groaned up, or, My blog has two mommies

It's important to understand that, for most of my life, it never ever ever occurred to me to keep a journal or a diary. When I was assigned journals for courses, or even weekly reading notes, I always did them all at the last minute. And like so many of my students, I had talked myself into believing that I was really skilled at writing at the last minute without ever having tried anything else, much less something as radical as writing every day.

And so, you'll forgive my utter astonishment at the fact that cgbvb is two years old today. That's right--welcome to my blogiversary.

The festivities include a shout out to the Jennies:

Jenny Bay, when I visited her last week, made sure to remind me how much shit I gave her when she first told me that she was spending time each day reading blogs. Blogs?! Who has time to read blogs when there are articles to write, classes to teach, meetings to attend, books to read, etc.?! Umm, yeah. Apparently, I do. And as she tried to tell me, I think, what I learned was that keeping a blog didn't take away from those other activities so much as it reorganized them and in some cases made me more efficient (and certainly more accountable).

If JennyB laid the mental groundwork for the eventual emergence of the site, Jenny Edbauer was my spark. She's on the 3rd iteration of her own space since I started, but it was reading Jenny from the Blog on a daily basis that convinced me to do the techwork necessary to get myself up and going.

So, thanks, Jennies.

As my blogiversary approached, I went back and cringed at some of the nonsense I wrote during my first couple of months, but I thought I'd reprint one of my favorite entries from those halcyon days of bloggerly innocence and joie de vivre:


From Wave Magazine via MeFi, I am happy to endorse one of the funniest top ten lists I've come across in a while: Decade of Rad: The 10 Eightiest Movies. Here's the review of The Toughest Man in the World (1984), starring Mr. T:

It�'s as if this movie sprang directly from what is probably the awesomest place ever: Mr. T�'s mind. Bruise Brubaker, played by Mr. T, is a bouncer who spends his spare time helping troubled kids at the youth center. As if I need to tell you, the city is threatening to close it down. Mr. T and the kids try a fund-raising carnival, but through a miracle of unexpected plot twists, it doesn�t work. He then goes to plan B: training to become the Toughest Man in the World while listening to rap music also performed by Mr. T. That sound you just heard was probably you having an orgasm. Oh, T�'s plan works by the way. He totally becomes the Toughest Man in the World.

The other sound you just heard was me cracking up. And lest you think I spoil your fun, TMITW is only the #4 eightiest movie. There's plenty more fun to go around.

I'll see if I can't throw down something a little more serious tonight, but in the meantime, enjoy the list, and see if you lay claim to being eightier than I am.

The link is still live, and the orgasm line still makes me laugh, two years later.

August 12, 2005

Cat & Girl

Cat & Girl

Design and Gender

Over at Misbehaving, Liz posts a link to a CNN report on a study done on web aesthetics and usability. The CNN headline ("Web site's appearance matters"), in addition to being grammatically incorrect (singular/plural) and questionable (web site = two words still?), doesn't quite get at what's interesting about it:

Women seemed to like pages with more color in the background and typeface. Women also favored informal rather than posed pictures.

Men responded better to dark colors and straight, horizontal lines across a page. They also were more pleased by a three-dimensional look and images of "self-propelling" rather than stationary objects.

With those standards in mind, the researchers checked out the Web sites for 32 British universities and determined that 94 percent had a "masculine orientation." Two percent showed a female-favored arrangement.

Not in itself a particularly shocking result, I suppose, but reading this shortly after DP's search for visual rhetoric readings for an FYC class made me think that a study like this would make for a potentially interesting research project for a group of FYC students. There's not a whole lot of question in my mind that gender plays a role in aesthetics, but it would be possible to design a project that tried to achieve similar conclusions about what some of those differences are and/or one that looked at a variety of institutional sites to see what sort of aesthetic they practice and whether it's gendered. And that might make for a nice introduction to visual rhetoric for the students.

Update: Upon further reflection, I'm willing to cede the singular/plural thing. I still think that the story is about how the appearance of sites matters, but I can see how the headline itself makes sense (a website's appearance matters). I still think website is one word, though.

The end of the road

It's been one of those weeks where, every day it seems, I think of about two or three things I could blog about, either individually or in a miscellany post, and I don't quite get around to it. Let's face it, when my reason for choosing not to blog is that Shiva is sleeping in Jenny's desk chair, clearly I'm not all that interested in blogging to begin with.

The problem with these kinds of weeks is that you hit a point where the number of things you have to blog about simply exceeds the energy you have to devote to the process, and that also keeps me from doing it. I got into town on Wednesday night, and went to my apartment, newly carpeted and painted during my temporary relocation. That was nice, but the downside is that my entire life is boxed and stacked against various walls. Nothing was in the right place, and I have enough stuff (and a small enough place) that arranging it is almost an all-or-nothing sort of deal, one of those "in order to move this, I have to move that, which means I have to move that, which involves moving that" and so on. Ugh. This means at least a week and maybe more of heavy lifting and shoving just to return my living and working spaces to a state where I can start to feel comfortable.

Needless to say, I celebrated by basically ignoring this situation for two days. And by not blogging about it. I don't typically use this space to work through my various mood swings, so the fact that I'm here now probably means that I'm slowly starting to overcome the depression-inducing, warehouse-resembling qualities of my apartment. Last night, I moved 20 boxes of books into semi-storage, having marked the ones while packing that were most immediately unpackable. Maybe tonight I'll arrange bookcases where they're supposed to be so I can empty some boxes. This is made more likely by the fact that my cable appears to be turned off at the moment.

And of course, the upshot of all this is that it's been exceedingly difficult to put a happy face on when people ask me how it feels to be back after my trip. Umm...

That's all.

August 7, 2005

You catch more flies with Collin...

From the department of Largely Useless Observations, I should note that, for the past two days, both trips to coffeeshops have entailed virtually non-stop harrassment of me by flies. Apparently, the more annoyed I get, the sweeter I taste. If this is the case, then I am rapidly approaching Death by Chocolate status.

Only slightly less frivolously, I'd like to officially second Ze Frank's recommendation of Imogen Heap's "Hide and Seek." If you're like me, and you don't see the harm in a 99-cent tryout at the iTunes music store, then you should go download it. Now. I'll be picking up the album soon, I'm sure.

That is all.

August 6, 2005

He being brand new

You would think, given how little I tend to appreciate the Chronicle's effort to scare up attention when it comes to technology, that I might be thrilled to see an article (Michael Bugeja's "Master (or Mistress) of Your Domain") that appears to take a more generous approach to matters technological. And you would be right, to an extent. You would have to set aside, temporarily, the allusion that the title of the article summons up for me, an allusion to a particular Seinfeld episode.

A larger issue for me, I suppose, is that there's something about this essay that feels a little off. At first, I thought it was the degree to which the piece itself, about the virtues of self-promotion, is itself engaged in a great deal of self-promotion, touting the author's own work, his colleagues, his websites, etc. I'm a little turned off by the paternalism implicit in statements like "I'm responsible for the academic fates of some eight assistant professors hoping to earn tenure," I suppose, or the offer to turn a related domain over to Tim Berners-Lee.

My broader issue is that there's something subtly crass (if that's not an oxymoron) in the way this process is described here. I don't necessarily disagree with many of the points that Bugeja makes, but the whole process feels backwards to me. Instead of thinking about how the net might challenge the processes by which academia operates, what's offered is a description of how the net can extend the system and/or exploit it for as long as our colleagues remain unaware of how it works. Some of my regular reads (Chris Anderson, David Weinberger, Hugh MacLeod, et al.) are doing exactly what Bugeja advocates, but they're not doing it to promote sales of already-completed books--they invite us to participate in the shaping of those books.

I think this is my point, and my sticking point, with the language of branding to describe the transmedia strategy offered by this essay. The people who are using the net in genuinely innovative ways are using it to change the ways books are written (not to mention challenging the value of "books" in the first place--see Lessig & Gilmor, for example), while this feels to me more like an attempt to preserve a print economy. Here are a couple of the reasons that Hugh writes that branding is dead:

"Branding" is backwards looking. It's all about capturing past associations. It's never about what the business could become, but protecting what came before.

"Branding" is all about articulating top-down, hierarchal control of the conversation. "This is what it means." It's EGOlogy, not ECOlogy.

Come to think of it, these two points pretty much capture the sum total of my unease with this article. I think I'll just stop here.

[via Becky, Steve, & John]

August 5, 2005

The velvet rope?

IHE makes note of a study published this month in Academe by Stephen Wu, called "Where do Faculty Receive Their PhD's?." It's notable for me mainly because it's an initial stab at a network analysis of the largely invisible prestige economy that operates in the academy.

The results aren't especially surprising: top schools hire from top schools:

This study shows that graduates from the top-rated PhD programs continue to hold an overwhelming share of faculty positions at leading colleges and universities. Still, there is a fair amount of variation by field as well by institution type. The reasons for these disparities are unclear, but they merit further investigation.

One of the reasons for disparity is the blunt instrument that Wu uses for his data, namely the USNWR rankings. English is one of the "fields" that he looks at, and English departments include all sorts of areas that aren't articulated by those rankings. The presence of comprhet in most departments guarantees, for example, that the percentage of faculty from the Ivies will decrease. The absence of comprhet from USNWR rankings means that our program at SU is basically invisible.

I have more to say, but I wanted to jot down the observation that what "merits further investigation" is the degree to which the USNWR rankings (among other, similar, "objective" tools) function as a velvet rope to keep subdisciplines and interdisciplines marginalized and unrecognized. I like the basic direction of Wu's piece, but there are really fundamental problems with treating English as monolithically as he does, and even though it's the initial fault of USNWR, he perpetuates it here by not inquiring into the powerful ways that those rankings help to produce his results.

The Pilgrim's Regress

The return trip to NY began yesterday with nary a hitch. As is almost always the case, though, I overestimated my ability to time my trip with any sort of accuracy. I never quite get going when I think I will, and as a result, I'm always a little behind my estimates in terms of arrival times.

Ah well. It's worth noting that, in some bizarre, cosmic instance of symmetry, on the way through Illinois to Iowa, I stopped to visit Deb H (Holdstein) in Dekalb for what would have been lunch had I not been so late. And on my way through Illinois to Indiana, I stopped to visit Deb H (Hawhee) in Urbana for what indeed turned out to be lunch. Is there anyone other than me reflecting upon the fact that Illinois has a monopoly on Deb H's in our field? Maybe not.

Although I was running late out of Urbana, I got to Lafayette just in time for the dinner plans: Jenny, Thomas, and I had dinner with Janice Lauer last night. The place we went was a little loud, but the food was good, as were the stories.

And so now, I'm in IN for a few more days. There are a couple of posts out there that I was thinking about commenting on, but we'll see. I'm going to try and do some writing over the next couple--whether any of it will show up here is uncertain.

August 3, 2005

What everyone should know about...

I've seen a couple of links recently to the nonist "public service pamphlet" on blog depression, "the more insidious, prolonged strain of dissatisfaction which stays with a blogger, right below the surface, throughout a blog’s lifetime." Definitely worth a read, if only for the fact that I suspect we all go through this kind of stuff on a regular basis.

For a more optimistic take, though, esp for those of us in academia, I recommend Alex's recent post on scholarly blogging:

So, The Scientist writes up a story that says “This has the potential to change the world, why aren’t more people doing it?? and the answer is contained right there in the question. This has the potential to change the world, and not everybody loves world-changing. Those who do are probably already blogging.

There's not a lot that I have to add to Alex's account, because his three reasons are pretty darn close to my own. I've thought a little recently about how I feel less inclined to evangelize about blogs. One possible reason for this is that I think I feel pretty secure in how blogging has fit into my own writing ecology. It doesn't make sense to me anymore not to do it, but I'm not so far gone that I can't see how it might not be for everyone. But I say that guardedly, because I still believe that the habits I've developed here are crucial for success as an academic writer. I still believe that there's a shift in the kind of writing that we do in graduate school, a shift from the event-based model of the seminar paper to the process-based model of the dissertation, and that blogging has helped me continue to develop my skills at the latter kind of writing.

This is not meant to be a blanket claim about how bloggers write better dissertations, books, or even articles, but it's probably at least a hypothesis. When I'm not writing here, it's because I'm writing emails or working on a manuscript, but the thing that blogging has helped me to accomplish is that writing is something I do every day. The event model encourages us to decide whether to write (until the "night before" arrives, at least), while blogging has helped me instead to think about what to write. And as a writing teacher and scholar, it makes a tremendous amount of sense to me that writing itself is no longer a question, but a given.

I've accrued all sorts of benefits as a result--new friends, new colleagues, better contact with people old and new, new ways to think about things, advice, sympathy, accountability, visibility, etc.--but all that is gravy. It makes me a better writer, and that's good enough for me.

Okay, so maybe I'm not quite past the point of evangelism...

August 1, 2005


This is a call for help from all you rhetcompers out there. This fall, I'm going to be teaching our introductory course (CCR 601), which bills itself as an introduction to scholarship in composition and rhetoric. The course has been taught in a number of different ways--never the same way twice, in fact--and while I'll probably be drawing somewhat on past incarnations, I feel a little bit of extra pressure as the grad director to do the course in a way that accounts for some of my concerns about the preparation that our students receive.

That's not really a critique per se, because it's silly to imagine that a single course could address broad curricular questions, but at the least, I'm conscious about the opportunity to intervene a little more directly. And I should add that this course is an introduction to scholarship, which distinguishes it somewhat from our other core courses (methodology (which they'll be taking at the same time), 20th century rhetoric, and modern composition studies).

I'll be porting some of the readings from my summer course, as well as the mapping assignment I blogged about a couple of months ago. I'm also planning a couple of other 3-4 week-sized assignments (as opposed to a big semester-end one): we'll probably do some practical exercises on what John Swales calls "occluded genres" -- conference proposals, abstracts, etc. -- for one of them, and I may ask them (as a way of leading up to the mapping project) to do some kind of genre thingamajig where they take a topic and locate essays on the topic from several different journals, paying specific attention to differences in style, research, scope, audience, etc.

So far, I'm a little shorter than I intended to be at this point in the readings department. I'm thinking strongly about Olson's Rhetoric and Composition as Intellectual Work, for instance, but haven't gotten much further than that. I would have liked to get copies of Culture Shock, but I'm not sure it'll be available.

And so, I'm looking for suggestions. The students will come from a fair range of background, and they'll be getting training/mentoring both in pedagogy and methodology elsewhere. What kinds of texts would you suggest for someone relatively new to the field, specifically aimed at preparing that person to join the field as a scholar, researcher, & writer?

What do you say?

Update: Here's the somewhat minimalist catalog description:

CCR 601 Introduction to Scholarship in Composition and Rhetoric Contemporary theories and practices of scholarship. Methodological debates and controversies. Connections between composition and rhetoric.

Happy Joe's

Kate, Matt, & Natalie

Happy Joe's Pizza and Ice Cream Parlor is a Quad-Cities institution. It's a regional pizza chain, and when I was growing up, it was the place to have a birthday party. Anyhow, when I was in junior high and high school, our family used to join one or two others for a weekly Sunday night trip to HJ. Needless to say, as kids started leaving for college, the tradition kind of fell by the wayside.

Last night we had something of a Happy Joe's reunion, even though most of the "kids" are still elsewhere. We took over a corner of the place with about 16 or 17 people, zipped through several large pizzas, and had a lovely time. The pic above (which links to the Flickr set of our evening) is of my sister-in-law's kids (my step-nephew and nieces?) Kate, Matt, and Natalie. Oh, and that's Happy Joe himself who's staring out at you from the menu. And the beverage cups. And the pizza dish. And the napkins. It's hard not to feel that Happy Joe is still watching me as I write this....