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December 31, 2005

Collin 3, Winter 0

I must say that I never realized just how many "Icy Pavement Zones" there are in between Syracuse and Binghamton, and I would have continued in my ignorant bliss but for the fact that it was night, there was a light snow drizzle, and it was about 25 degrees.

Despite the adrenalin rush that this weather prompted, the drive was pretty easy, as I completed the 3rd of my 3 holiday legs without incident. In fact, driving to the store today, I encountered more snow in that brief trip than I had over the 2000 miles (and change) that I drove in the last few weeks.

And now I can begin the year-long process of steeling myself for next year's MLA. Unlike this year, where we had no one on the market from Syracuse, it's possible that we'll have as many as 7 or 8 next year, and so I'll have other duties to attend to, in addition to any potential interviews that I might have (up for tenure = on the market).

All in all, from the perspective both of a potential interviewee and the chair of our program's Placement Committee, it was probably a good thing for me to be there this year as part of an interview team. You never "forget" the experience, but it doesn't hurt to freshen up the memory...

Oh, and a happy new year to all...

December 29, 2005

what does it say?

What does it say that Debbie is blogging my MLA experience in more detail than I am?

We completed our interviews today, and in the interests of ethics, I'll keep my damn blog shut in that regard. Except to say that my conference hotel has not been extremely conducive to the interview process. One poor soul endured multiple interruptions ranging from housekeeping to someone knocking on our door by mistake, etc. etc. It's been a solid 6-7 years since I both attended MLA and participated in an interview marathon, and I must say that my goals in the interim have diminished. Nowadays, I just look to get through them without becoming an "MLA Interview Story," both personally and collectively.

Personally was a close thing. Last night, after meeting up with Debbie, I got good and properly Mucklebauered, which may become my permanent term for the (often poor) decision to drink too much, stay out too late, and suffer for it the following morning. I didn't get home until 2:30, whereupon I lied down, rolled over once, and found that 4+ hours had passed. Copious amounts of water, coffee, and Aleve managed to resuscitate me sufficiently for the 9 AM interview, but only just. Only just.


  • I can state with certainty that I feel no more at home at MLA than I did as a noob and an applicant.

  • I haven't yet managed to scan the tag of the One Woman I Inexplicably See All the Time, so I can't send her a thank you note yet, although Clancy and I had a funny conversation about this.

  • I'm more and more convinced that all it would take is for several of our leading programs to decide to interview at NCTE, and within 4-5 years, we could dispense with MLA altogether. I don't think that this is likely to happen.

  • I've still never been to a panel at MLA, although I dropped by to say hi to Clancy, Dave Blakesley, and Kris Blair following theirs.

  • As I listened at the door, I was reminded of why I don't really care to attend MLA panels--I've mentioned a time or two before my aversion to Q&A, and MLA may be the worst for this: questions that are really 3-4 minute presentations...

  • Back to Syracuse tomorrow...but I've got a mixer to drop in on, a friend to dine with tonight, and a couple more friends to break fast with in the morning.

That is all.

December 27, 2005

MLA! Hooray!

Okay, so maybe not.

Since I drove out to IA for the holidays, I had to drive back, detouring in DC for MLA. Yes, that means that, rather than a full-fledged Christmas dinner, I got to sate myself Sunday night with 200-odd miles on I-74.

But I'm here now, for whatever that's worth. And unlike Clancy, I promise no blogging. Or rather, I'm not going to promise any blogging. Our interview schedule is mercifully light, and I hope to catch up with a friend or two, and I hope that's all I have to report.

One nifty surprise was seeing Byron in the lobby of my hotel and catching up with him for a spell. In conversation with him, I realized that this is the first MLA I've attended since 1999. That's a streak I wouldn't have minded continuing, but alas.

Good luck to those who are interviewing for positions...

December 20, 2005

Five Holiday Treats Appearing on a Gift/Plate this Season

  1. Chocolate Crinkles

  2. Golden Cookies

  3. Holiday M&M Cookies

  4. Homemade Toffee

  5. Peppermint Bark

It's mostly old standbys this year, as arriving in Iowa last Friday night doesn't leave me with loads of time for baking. But baking I've been doing, with more to come.

The house I grew up in is finally sold, and so this is the last holiday that I'll spend in this kitchen. It's been a little bit of a challenge, because most of the kitchen gear is sitting in boxes at the new house, and I've had to make do a little more than usual, including a supply trip for new cooling racks, sifter, spatula, pan, etc. And that trip included the obligatory encounter with someone who was astounded that I do the baking 'round here.

Oh, and I think my wrapping's done for the most part. Not bad at all.

December 14, 2005

A CCCO status report

As promised. My clothes are still drying, and I'm at a stopping point in various other tasks, and so...

Over at CCC Online, we've been making steady progress on archiving back issues. We've reached the point--Volume 50 in 98-99--in the archives where CCC began adding abstracts to every article. From now on, we'll be generating abstracts ourselves, and that promises to slow us down a little. In fact, if there's anyone out there who's interested in writing abstracts for us, drop me a note.

But that means that we're 8 years deep into the archives now, and we've got a pretty solid work process established. Some of the work is unavoidably time-intensive, but it's gotten a lot easier than it was, say, last summer, when we were still figuring out exactly how to manage it all. One of the things that Derek and I talked about tonight was starting up a development weblog for the site, a place where we could solicit feedback, talk about some of the work that goes on behind the scenes, try out ideas for new features, experiment with some alternative visualizations, etc. It might also be a space where we could invite (and/or carry out) some collaboration. Not a week goes by where one of us doesn't say that it would be cool to do X, Y, or Z, but we don't always have a clear sense of how valuable (or not) X, Y, or Z might be, or whether or not someone might make use of it.

So look for that.

With the release of the latest issue of CCC, we feel like another piece of the CCC Online puzzle is starting to take shape. On the front page, the upper right hand section was originally billed as a "feature space" and to this point, it's been occupied by a truncated version of the "about the site" statement that I wrote. Today, it went "live" in the sense that we've got a few different things added to the site meant to enhance the reading experience of the journal:

  • "Performing Writing, Performing Literacy" (by Fishman et al.) argues for the connection between student perceptions of writing and performance, and makes reference to videos of two of the article's authors, which we've placed on the site.
  • "Who Owns Writing?" was Doug Hesse's Chair's Address at the 2005 CCCC, and included not only video elements in the form of a PP deck (whose slides appear in the print version), but also certain audio features unavailable in print form, so we've included a video of the Address with the slides spliced in at various points.
  • We've also made Kathi Yancey's 2004 CCCC Chair's Address available on the site, as it is referenced in the Interchange between her and David Laurence.

It's overly optimistic to imagine that there's going to be digital content with each subsequent issue, although I do hope. And maybe these kinds of hybrid publications will start to encourage all of us not to think of paper and electronic publications as an either/or situation. One of our early Spring projects will be to develop a fixed location for such content, including some essays/sites developed for the first iteration of CCCO.

That's about it for right now. One of the things that we're hoping to accomplish in the next year or so is to update the "feature space" on the front page with a little more frequency, and we've got a few ideas in that regard. Any suggestions you might have are welcome.

December 13, 2005

I have an agenda

and for the most part, it involves being relatively silent in this space until after the turn of the year. So let me just get all my apologizing out of the way now. Sorry. Really. I know that you like it when I write here every day, but I'm just too busy right now, and so you're going to have to entertain yourself in the meantime.

If I have the time, though, here are the things that I may or may not blog about:

  1. Going to see Narnia last week
  2. Going to MLA in a little more than a week (read Steve's post re MLA, btw). I'm going to MLA for the first time in 6 or 7 years.
  3. The Holiday Spirit™
  4. The first full week of my new year
  5. The new "issue" at CCC Online

Actually, I may go ahead and do that last one tonight while my laundry is drying.

That's all.

December 6, 2005

On this day in history

The Irish Free State is declared (1921)
Kitty O'Neil sets a new women's land speed record (1976)
Comedian Steven Wright is born (1955)
The US gov't standardizes the size of license plates (1955)
Agnes Moorehead (Endora on Bewitched) is born (1900)
A federal judge rules that Ulysses is in fact not obscene (1933)
The Great Halifax Explosion! (1917)
Ira Gershwin is born (1896)
Orange County goes bankrupt (1994)

And for good measure, on my own 25th birthday, Elián González was born in Cuba (1993)

Just so's you know.

December 5, 2005

Who's feeling old?

I spend roughly one week of any given year contemplating my relationship to time, calendars, and age. For me, it began on Saturday. I woke up a little earlier than normal that morning, and zoned in front of the television, taking in what felt to me like pretty sparse programming. VH1's "Top 40 Videos of 2005" seemed like as good a choice as any.

You might think that I'm about to wax nostalgic about how I used to recognize most of the videos and/or artists on such a show, but in fact, I'm not. I still recognize most of them, and while I don't consider myself particularly attuned to the pop scene, I do still keep an ear open now and again. Instead, I want to talk about the show itself. In most cases, we got maybe 10 seconds of video, and then 2 minutes of random J-list celebrities (including a disproportionate number of unemployed comedians) literally explaining the videos to the audience.

Here's my question, which betrays my age, I fear: on what planet are there people who want to watch random pseudo-celebrities explain music videos to us rather than just watching more of the videos themselves? It's not like videos are a genre given to excessive narrative intricacy in the first place--I certainly don't need someone to explain them to me. It's as though Exposition has been elevated to the level of programming.

Maybe I'm just being curmudgeonly. I'm allowed, given that tomorrow I begin a year-long transition from my mid-30s to my late-30s.

That is all.

Thinking Tools

I'm not prone to much Mac evangelizing, but I'm more than happy to drop a link when someone else does it. To wit, from James Fallows in Sunday's NYT comes an article about state-of-the-art "thinking tools," all of which are Mac-only:

These programs are of obvious interest to the Mac community, but the much larger community of non-Mac users also has good reason to keep an eye on them. Some are simply better than their current Word counterparts, illustrating features and approaches that PC users will want once they have seen them. The companies making two of the programs discussed here have announced forthcoming Windows versions.

Others may follow next year, when Apple Computer begins producing Macs based on Intel processing chips like those that PC's use. That change will make it easier for software vendors to create both Mac and PC versions of their programs; the introduction of the Mac mini, discussed here two months ago, makes it easier and more practical for users to switch back and forth between platforms.

It's still a cultural commonplace that "Macs are better machines," but "PCs have all the software I'll need" or "PCs are more competitively priced." If you find yourself making that argument, you may want to bring your evidence up to date.

I don't doubt that there are specific pieces of software for which PCs are necessary, and yet, slowly, it's beginning to work both ways, and maybe evening out a bit. And if anyone wants to compare help desk experiences with me (having never needed to call Apple's help desk in 20+ years owning their various machines), let me know. Heh.

That is all.

[via 43]

December 4, 2005


I haven't been much for talking college football this season, for two reasons. One is the train wreck that plays in the uniforms of the Syracuse Orange(men), and the second is that Iowa's season hasn't been as promising as it could have been, with really crummy losses to N'western and Iowa State. I definitely don't mind that they're playing Florida in the Outback Bowl again, though. I include this link mainly as a taunt for certain Gator friends of mine, and to explain the "again" part of the last sentence.

The real reason I have for returning to this slightly sore subject is to commiserate with all those Nittany Lions fans out there. Penn State has the 3rd best team in the country, according to the rankings anyway, and their reward for coming out of nowhere to win the Big 11 10 title? A matchup with 4-loss afterthought Florida State. And the "buildup" for this game? Why, it's Joe Pa versus Bobby Bowden! Who wouldn't want to watch a game with two coaches in their 70s staring across the field at each other?

I keep hearing the BCS apologists talk about how, under the old system, we wouldn't have gotten to see USC v. Texas, and that's certainly true. What they're not talking about, though, is how we also wouldn't have had to see Penn State v. Florida State, or Georgia v. West Virginia, neither of which is a particularly compelling matchup.

For that matter, they're also not talking about how a playoff would not only presumably result in the same game, with the added benefit of making sure that #'s 1 and 2 weren't there just because they happened to go undefeated in their respectively mediocre conferences. I don't necessarily disagree with USC and Texas being there this year, but I would have liked to see either or both have to get through the grind of the SEC conference schedule unscathed.

Granted, Tommy Tuberville can tell you that even that's no guarantee. As little business as I think Congress has in sticking its nose in BCS business, there's a little part of me that's pleased that they're doing so. There's still too little of college football being won and lost on the field for my tastes.

That's all.

Update: Well, there's a surprise. A(BCS)PN offers the following insight:

The other common complaint is the BCS doesn't create compelling matchups beyond the title game. Well, it all worked out for this season. Even before a bowl game is played, the BCS can declare victory.

and it does so in an article that barely even mentions one of its "compelling" matchups, and proceeds to ignore the late-season tailspin that Bobby Legend's team endured. Oh well.

December 1, 2005

D-fence! D-fence!

Two of our extended ABD family returned this week, to complete the final step in the process that involves moving them from our program's student page to our alumni page. Which is to say, somewhat euphemistically, that we had two students return from their positions elsewhere to defend their dissertations, and both did so successfully. Congratulations to both of them.

The dissertation season tends to be driven by graduation deadlines, and so typically, we look at the end of July and the end of November as our peak times in that regard. And as these events have rolled around, my attention is more easily grabbed by references to dissertation work than they might be otherwise. The latest issue of Academe, for example, has an article misleadingly titled "How to Grade a Dissertation." I say misleadingly because the article is really less about "how to grade" one than it is the results of a study that attempts to make more explicit the standards by which dissertations have been graded.

Attempts, and largely fails. While there's a mildly interesting chart or two at the back of the essay promising "criteria" by which dissertations are graded, these criteria are entirely predictable, and even a little insulting in their predictability. For example, would it surprise you to learn that "outstanding" dissertations

  • are original and significant, ambitious, brilliant, clear, clever, coherent, compelling, concise, creative, elegant, engaging, exciting, interesting, insightful, persuasive, sophisticated, surprising, and thoughtful;

  • are very well written and organized

  • are synthetic and interdisciplinary

  • Connect components in a seamless way

  • Exhibit mature, independent thinking

Probably not so much. Heck, we all sit down with most of the above as our goals when we write. The subtitle of the article asserts that professors "owe it to their students to make those standards explicit," which is only half true. The standards that we use are only half the story, because for the most part, they are the standards that our students themselves use to evaluate writing, whether their own or others'. A more accurate claim, I think, would be: we owe it to our students to teach them to be able to achieve these standards. And I'm not sure that we are any more explicit about how to achieve these standards than we are about the standards themselves.

Part of the difficulty with a study like this is that professors' self-reporting is going to be no more accurate than any self-reporting--by and large, we are going to offer up what we believe to be the appropriate criteria rather than the ones we use.

And this article bears this out. "The focus groups indicated that most of the dissertations they see are “very good,? which is the level of quality the faculty members said they expect of most graduate students. Consequently, they had less to say about very good dissertations than about the other quality levels." Ahh, how nice. Most of the dissertations fall into this category, about which the faculty studied have the least to say. (Also, the lowest number of criteria for this category are offered.) "Very good dissertations are solid and well written, but they are distinguished by being “less?—less original, less significant, less ambitious, less exciting, and less interesting than outstanding dissertations." If I were still a graduate student reading this, I'd be both a little depressed and a little angry--the majority of dissertations these faculty read, and all they can say about them is, "well, they're not quite outstanding"?!?!

I'm pretty sure I have a finger for that.

It'd be a lot more useful if the "criteria" offered here didn't basically parallel the categories themselves so completely:

  • Outstanding: Is very well written and organized
  • Very Good: Is well written and organized
  • Acceptable: Is workmanlike
  • Unacceptable: Is poorly written

But in order to gather any sort of meaningful data about dissertations, these criteria would have to be triangulated with the dissertations themselves, and they'd have to be studied by people who don't already have a vested interest in the answers being sought. And I suspect that the results would have to be separated out by discipline a bit--the study above surveys faculty in "four science disciplines (biology, electrical and computer engineering, physics or physics and astronomy, and mathematics); three social science disciplines (economics, psychology, and sociology); and three humanities disciplines (English, history, and philosophy)." I'm pretty sure that an electrical engineering dissertation looks a little different, say, from one in philosophy, and that the corresponding faculty mean very different things even when they're using the same language.

There are a few interesting tidbits in this article, but they come in the form of asides more than they occupy center stage. My colleagues in writing studies will find fascinating, I'm sure, the heavy emphasis placed on rubrics, both as a teaching tool and as a way of archiving dissertations. I don't disagree that making expectations explicit is worthwhile--far from it, in fact--but it's curious to watch yet another instance of current-traditional writing pedagogy being offered up, in a nationally circulated publication, no less.

Because, you know, I gave this article a 5 for clarity, a 5 for coherence, a 3 for compelling, and a 4 for concise. How that information would help improve the article or provide a record of anything other than my own opinions I do not know. Ah well. I'm being snottier about this than I'd originally intended. I think that there are good intentions behind a project like this, but an unrealistic estimation of what an aggregation of self-reported, unverified criteria can accomplish.

That is all.