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November 30, 2006

NaBloNoMoMo just a day away!

Okay, so December will probably not end up being National Blog No More Month, but I'm sure that the pressure of NotADayGoesBy, combined with the end of the semester and the joy it brings, will lead to something of a dip in traffic round Blogademia.

As for me, the pressure of finding something to say every day has kept my mind from the fact that in less than a week, I'll be celebrating the completion of yet another annual step towards old age, also known as the anniversary of my birth. Luckily, I'm getting dangerously close to the "new 30," which brings with it a little extra hop to my step, or so I've heard.

I can pretty much guarantee, though, that it won't mean daily blogging through the month of December. I've got a fair bit of travel ahead of me, and a little bit of work on top of that. Somewhere in there, I'll need to summon up a little holiday spirit as well.

Fare thee well, November. I blogged thee pretty well, if I do say so.

November 29, 2006


Fully realizing that this implies some sort of big payoff tomorrow, I thought this an appropriate link to lay down today:

The Silent Penultimate Panel Watch

29 down, 1 to go.

November 28, 2006

Making myself laugh, one snarky comment at a time

You don't get to know the context, or the direct objects of this comment, but in conversation with Derek, I just referred to somethings (or someones) as "speed bumps on the road to interesting." And while I suppose it's bad form to laugh at one's own jokes, it came out of nowhere, and so quickly, that I cracked myself up.

Nothing wrong with that.

Crazy Delicious Fish Sticks!

Here's how you can have an impact on one of the MLA panels I'll be seeing next month. And yes, meme propagation is a perfectly valid activity when you're in the home stretch of NotADayGoesBy.

The skinny:
Scott Eric Kaufman is conducting an experiment on the propagation of memes, the results of which will be part of his talk at said panel. He's asking people to post entries about his entry, link back to the original entry, and then ping Technorati (if your blogging platform doesn't already do so automatically). That's all. And to make it easy, all you really need do is to copy and paste this very paragraph, formatting in the links to Scott's entry and to Technorati, then visit Technorati and enter the URL for your own entry. That sounds like more work than it actually is. And the reward is that you'll be contributing to Science™.

Scott's URL: http://acephalous.typepad.com/acephalous/2006/11/measuring_the_s.html
Technorati Ping Form: http://www.technorati.com/ping

We now return you to your regularly scheduled program:

Snip, snap, snout.

November 27, 2006

Folks on Folksonomy

You'll recall that last week I promised to visit the following in more detail:

Elaine Peterson, Beneath the Metadata: Some Philosophical Problems with Folksonomy
David Weinberger, Beneath the Metadata, a Reply
Tom Vander Wal, Beneath the Metadata - Replies

Well, here I am. David and Tom have dealt pretty substantially with Peterson, and I haven't been following the discussions sparked by the pieces, so forgive me if I repeat someone else. I'm not going to write a full-scale essay here, but I'd like to make a few points.

First, a little context. One of my all-time favorite essays is Derrida's "Structure, Sign, and Play in the Human Sciences." It's one of the more accessible pieces of Derrida's writing, and tips the attentive reader off to a number of the themes that JD would revisit throughout his career. But it's always been a fave of mine because it lays out a particular rhetorical strategy that I've since seen repeated many, many times. Although it's not the sole focus of the essay, JD distinguishes between mythomorphic and epistemic discourses. I don't have the essay beside me, or I'd serve up some quotes. Mythomorphic discourse is fuzzy, messy, vague, imprecise, while epistemic discourse is much crisper, focused, organized. Think, as I think JD does, of the bricoleur and engineer, respectively.

The rhetorical strategy that the essay calls my attention to is a two-fold one. First, epistemic discourse emerges from the mythomorphic; one analogy I've always found helpful is the way that some slang eventually finds its way into "official" accounts of our language. The second move is that this latter discourse effectively seals itself off from its mythomorphic origins. You can see this 2-step as an early version of deconstructive reading, particularly of philosophical texts--much of JD's time is spent examining textual seams to find the messiness that has been disavowed by logocentrism. There is no small advantage for defenders of a system in disavowing its emergent origins--if a given system is simply "the way things are," rather than "the way things have become," then anyone seeking to change that system has that much more inertia to overcome.

I've spent a fair shake of time on this pattern because I think that Peterson's essay provides a fairly textbook example of the relationship that Derrida is working through in that essay. Like Vander Wal, I consider folksonomies and taxonomies "co-dependent" in that both are vital. But I think he underestimates the extent to which that position, which seems common sense to him (and me) is threatening to those who are consciously invested in taxonomy. It would be child's play to look at a given taxonomy, and to examine all the ways that it emerges folksonomically--Peterson's appeals to authorial intent ("...the goal is to recognize the author's intent over others' interpretations.") overlooks a vast network of classifications that emerge after "authorial intent" could play any sort of role. We don't categorize aesthetic movements, for example, prior to their instantiation by a given set of artists. But those categories ultimately become something akin to first principles, frames through which we understand the artists and works placed under its aegis, whether by "authors" themselves or by those who follow.

Peterson's essay, if it has one overarching blind spot, is that it cannot conceive of folksonomy in terms other than "A is not B," what she calls "the most important philosophical underpinning of traditional classification." And so, she doesn't see folksonomies and taxonomies in relation to one another; they are alternatives, from the first sentence introducing the former ("...folksonomy has emerged as an alternative to traditional classification."). All of the so-called weaknesses of folksonomy are weaknesses only if folksonomies are seen as an attempt to arrive at the goals of taxonomies through another means. Relativism is a Really Bad Idea when it comes to laying out a library, but pretty innocuous as an organizing principle for my home library, which tends to sort itself out according to how recently I've used a particular book.

I guess the point I'm working towards here is the assumption that Peterson uses to disavow the relationship of taxonomy to folksonomy: that because we can appeal to philosophical underpinnings when it comes to taxonomy, there must be corresponding underpinnings to folksonomy. The underpinnings of folksonomy, however, are rhetorical. Tags are about language-in-use, not about abstract definitional categories. They are addressed, even when the addressee is one's self at a later date. Folksonomy is bricolage, and so Peterson's conclusion that it makes for poor engineering is at once self-evident and a little inconsequential. Folksonomies are not "bad taxonomies"; rather, taxonomies are themselves folksonomies that have achieved a certain level of stability and intersubjectivity (this latter of which is mistaken by Peterson and others for objectivity). And part of the way that stability is achieved and defended is by denying the role that folksonomy plays in the origins of any taxonomy.

One more point, and I'll sign off. This is a point that I've been working at ever since my NFAIS talk last fall. There is no such thing as "search," at least not in the generic sense. The idea that all searches have the same premises and the same goals is mistaken. As you read Peterson, you'll see reference to categories, subject headings, search engines, etc. All of these references assumes a uniform model of search, one that I think of as "cold search," where you have nothing, and want something, and use the tools of taxonomy to locate it. (I think of this as the equivalent of cold call telemarketing.) And we search that way, sometimes. When we do, taxonomies are important.

But there's a different kind of search, which I'll call "social search," for wont of a better term (I'm open to suggestion). I also think of it as lateral search. I have something (some sources, a book, a favorite movie, song, whatever), and I want more of whatever I already have. So when I see a cover blurb on a novel that compares it favorably to something I've already read and liked, I'm more likely to buy it. When my friends with similar tastes recommend to me movies or music, I'm more likely to look into it. If I want more information about folksonomy, I can go to the Wikipedia entry on the subject, bookmark it in del.icio.us, and then trace out the network of others who have marked and tagged it. I don't need to start back at square one, break out Google, and try to narrow my search terms sufficiently.

The problem is that 90% (and maybe more) of discussions about "search" only think about cold searching. And honestly, folksonomies don't have much to contribute to the cold search, other than chaos. But for the stuff that matters for me, the culture I consume, 90% of my searches are lateral. My tastes aren't organized by the section headings in Barnes and Noble. The innovation of sites like Amazon, iTunes, del.icio.us and others is their ability to aggregate folksonomy (and yes, folksonomies are the Long Tail of classification) in productive ways beyond one's immediate social network. I never search Amazon using their taxonomies. I hardly ever find sources for my academic work by cold search. Most of my life is conducted easily and efficiently via folksonomies.

Damn. Every time I start an entry claiming that I won't write a full-scale essay, I write an entry that's far longer than normal. So I guess I'll stop here, and go work on other stuff. Although I will say that this has got me thinking about expanding this into a full-length essay. Not tonight, though, or even this semester.

That is all.

November 26, 2006

On Blogging

I'd heard about this a while back, but Lilia's got a fully linked TOC to the new special issue of Reconstruction, on "Theories/Practices of Blogging." In addition to her own piece, the issue features writing from Michael Benton, Craig Saper, danah boyd, Tama Leaver, Erica Johnson, Carmel L. Vaisman, David Sasaki, Anna Notaro, Esther Herman, and Lauren Elkin. Also check out the issue's "Blogroll," which includes brief "Why I blog" statements from all sorts of folk. I haven't had time to look the whole issue over yet, but it looks like a good mix of topics and approaches.

Craig Saper's "Blogademia" in particular was one I found worth reading. From his conclusion:

The challenge of blogademia is to focus on this translation process of scholarship and knowledge into the currently disparaged and debased sociopoetic form of blogs. Beyond apprehending the issues at stake in using this form, one can begin to articulate the advantages of research that uses the blog, not as an object of study, but as a vehicle to comprehend mood, atmosphere, personal sensibility, and the possibilities of knowledge outside the ego's conscious thought. The blog, podcast, and wikis may hint, fleetingly, at the future tools of academia.

And I recommend it not only because a few of us from Jeff's blogroll appear there. It's a nice extended reflection of what academic blogging might have to contribute to the production of knowledge--a question that has too many answers right now to be quickly or comfortably resolved.

So go take a look. And enjoy what's left of the Thanksgiven weekend. That's all.

November 25, 2006

Tapped out

Less than a week to go in NotADayGoesByVember, and to be honest, I'm pretty much running on fumes as far as blogging goes. Not that I don't have things to say or anything. But it feels like the last few weeks have slowly built up other parts of my life, parts I can't really blog about right now, such that it's tough to see over the surrounding junk to topics for blogging.

So rather than working harder for a post than I want to, I'm afraid I'm going to just let this entry stand, and then go off to work on some of the unbloggable stuff. I've got a two-part entry I've been meaning to write, but I need to put it off while I unload some of the backlog. So that's all for now. If I'm in a mood later tonight, maybe I'll show back up.

November 24, 2006

Blake Friday!!

Shoppers, shoppers, burning bright
In the stores while it's still night,
What immortal want or need
Could spur this desperate show of greed?

Not a lot of clever coming across the television yesterday, with the single exception of the Ebay commercial reminding everyone that today is "National Sleep-In Day."

In other news, I've shut down trackbacks on the site, thanks to the concerted nuisance of our friendly sp4mm3rs, who have been plugging up my site with hung processes. Thanks, fellas, for making blogspace that much less friendly.

Happy Thanksgiven. That's all.

November 23, 2006

Turkeys beware!

I don't have a great deal to add to yesterday's good wishes for the holiday today, although I would note that it's rare for me to be awake in time to see the beginning of the Macy's Parade coverage. I'm pretty sure that this is just a function of my jadedness, but I definitely don't remember the extent to which said coverage was infused with network promotion.

I mean, yeah, the Today show folks always do the NBC version, etc., but geez. Less than 15 minutes into the coverage, and we're meeting cast members from Heroes, and Al Roker demonstrates how difficult it is to remember the 6-word tag line from the show. Ah well. I'm sure that it was the same when I was growing up, only I wasn't cynical enough to notice.

May your own holiday be relatively free of corporate sponsorship. Check ya tomorrow.

November 22, 2006

No longer able to root for Rutgers,

I find myself supremely uninterested in the various debates over the BCS Championship game, and whether or not Michigan should be allowed to rematch. There's a little bit of me that's rooting for Arkansas, but the rest of me is bored by most of the rest of it all.

In the absence of a playoff system, the problem with college football is that there aren't enough matchups among the best teams of each conference. Put in network terms, the college football schedule is marked by a high degree of clustering (densely interlinked opponents in-conference) with minimal connections across clusters, and often those are too indirect to be used as evidence. Without a higher degree of connections among (rather than within) conferences, claims regarding the best or 2nd best teams in the country are nothing more than educated guesses.

And so, I don't know if Michigan, Florida, USC, Notre Dame, or Arkansas is genuinely the 2nd best team, or even really if Ohio State is the best. What allows us to genuinely compare the quality of these various clusters are the bowl games themselves, and the BCS in particular. When West Virginia clubbed Georgia last year, it injected some doubt into the "SEC rules, Big East drools" narrative that we suffered through all last year when VaTech, Miami, and BC bolted.

And so, I'm actively uninterested in watching a replay of a game that I'd just as soon see both teams lose (too many years of watching them clobber my Hawks--sorry). I'm more interested in seeing these two teams meet the best teams from the SEC and the Pac-10, so that we can see who the best conferences are, and who the best teams are.

Mostly, I'm interested in seeing it decided on the field (as OSU-Michigan already has been, in my mind), rather than in the hearts and minds of a whole bunch of sports information directors whose inertia keeps the same old teams at the top year after year, and makes it unnecessarily difficult for teams like Auburn, Utah, Arkansas, and others to break through when they deserve it.

That's all I got today. Happy thanksgiving, all.

November 21, 2006

All your feed are belong to us

One of the telecoms is running commercials featuring the myriad conversations that might be ruined by the dreaded "dropped call"--you know, like when you start singing "Jimmy cracked corn and I don't care" to Jim, your future father-in-law. Boy, I can't tell you how many engagements that's ruined for me personally.

Anyhow, I was feeling like my calls had all been dropped this weekend. When I recommend RSS readers to folks, I recommend Bloglines almost exclusively. I've been using it for years now, and never had much call to complain. Until this past weekend, where a day or two's worth of feeds weren't picked up. And in the land of NotADayGoesBy, that puts a serious crimp in my inventional processes. I rely upon the ecology of feeds I've developed to supplement my more immediate life, particularly when it comes to topics for blogging.

And so I'm flirting with Google Reader right now. I'm already seeing ways that it may change my reading habits, based on things like download/upload times, refresh intervals, etc. We'll see how it goes. I can manage two different readers for a spell, switching back and forth and using liberally the "mark all read" feature on each.

It's funny, though, how all it takes is a little hiccup in a service to start me down the path of looking at other options. Bloglines has benefitted from its relative invisibility for me over the past couple of years--as long as it worked just fine, I had no reason to think about changing. I don't really use it to its fullest capacity, so if I'm going to be looking at the full capacity of a reader, it doesn't really cost me much to shop around. And in the meantime, I'll be checking individual sites more often than normal, just to see what I've missed in the past few days.

That is all.

November 20, 2006

Isn't data "beneath the metadata"?

For the most part, this is just a placeholder for links to Elaine Peterson's Beneath the Metadata: Some Philosophical Problems with Folksonomy, to David Weinberger's reply and Tom Vander Wal's reply as well. I've got some work and at least one meeting before I can turn to them, but turn to them I will. It shouldn't take too much sleuthing to figure out where I'm going to weigh in...

November 19, 2006

Information Literacy redux

We're coming up upon a rough stretch in the land of NotADayGoesBy, at least in its academic neighborhood. Not only are we looking at a short week with a holiday in the middle, but as the semester nears a close, this weekend marks the official beginning of Panic, as folks realize that there are only a few weeks left and thus only a few weekends left.

But that's not the information literacy that my title refers to, although it very well could be. No, I wanted to join whatever juice this little blog generates to the project noted by Will and initiated by Tom Hoffman:

Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr.

Hoffman makes some great points, not the least of which is the problem that so-called "information literacy" experts create by using a particular site as the example of what happens when you just take the first Google hit as representative of a particular search. In the process of demonizing this particular site (which I won't name here), they actually guarantee the problem that they're arguing against.

A couple of interesting comments at Hoffman's site raise the question of this particular tactic:

I am just not sure that google bombing is the way to raise one’s voice. It makes me think that we are shouting down the opposition rather than eviscerating their arguments. It does point out an interesting problem with the web–it is a level playing field where one may intellectually defraud with near impunity without serious consequence.

A couple of thoughts occur to me. First, I think that this ignores the degree to which any kind of search, as long as the results are ranked, constitutes an argument about the relevance of those results. And in that sense, the binary offered here, between shouting down and refuting, isn't as clear-cut to me as it's presented. Given the stakes of search engine performance, stakes that the site in question makes quite explicit, I'm not sure that Google bombing isn't just as valid as an argument.

Second, and more importantly, I think that we can describe the web as a level playing field in one sense, but in another, it's heavily inertial. Yes, we all have an equal crack at the venue itself, but in a very practical sense, my site about King would have an uphill battle to find itself on the front page of a search. Power laws privilege early entry, and with all of the reinforcement provided by info lit talks and sites, misinformation crowds out valid information.

It's an interesting question to me whether or not the G-bomb is a tool of "spammers and pornographers" and thus is out of bounds for the responsible among us. This is a question not unlike that of rhetoric more generally, though. In fact, it's Lanham's "Q Question" writ digitally. Lanham distinguishes between two positions:

  • the Weak Defense of Rhetoric holds that rhetorical strategy reflects the values of its users, such that a strategy used by spammers is thus tainted by that fact.
  • the Strong Defense of Rhetoric holds to a constitutive model of rhetoric, where those values are produced through rhetoric

I'm a big fan of that bit of Lanham's. From the position of a Strong Defense, Google bombing is still gaming the system, but it's not a priori wrong as a result. The question for me is less the strategy itself, but the uses to which it is put and the consequences of those uses. And if the consequence of this and other posts is to undo some of the wrong, I'm satisfied with that.

That is all.

November 18, 2006

Trending againding

Along the same lines of my entry about Chirag Mehta's Presidential tagclouds, Alex shares a graph generated by a student of his, which charts yearly the number of times that the phrase "civil rights" has appeared in the NY Times over the past 150 years or so.

Interesting on its own, but it's also suggestive of all sorts of similar work that could be done on the same scale and/or smaller scales, as a means of charting the relative success or saturation of particular buzz phrases and words. Alex notes the dip in usage of "civil rights" right after 2001, and I would guess that similar kinds of language patterns might be tied to all sorts of events.

Cool stuff.

November 17, 2006


My favorite part of this is the "cover" of Tears for Fears' "Shout." Well, that and the background progress in the game.

And yes, I'm fully aware that this is only marginally better than posting an image. At least you get to limber up the arrow keys.

More soon.

November 16, 2006

So that's where my sweater was

Like it was yesterday, you remember my pseudo-move? The one where I had to move out of my apartment so that I could move back into it a month later?

Well, as it turns out, I had taken some shirts and sweaters to the cleaners, and not picked them up--no sense picking them up and giving myself even more to pack up, right? I forgot, however, that I did it, and I lost whatever ticket/receipt existed to remind me. Last week, the cleaners called me to let me know that my May 2005 (!?!?!) order was ready for pick-up.

So I got a bunch of shirts and a couple of sweaters yesterday. It was just like going shopping for clothes, except cheaper and except that I had to pay for clothes that were already technically mine. As someone told me, it was like breaking out the winter coat and finding a twenty in the pocket.

Oh, and as I was going back into my archives looking for the pseudo-move entry, I came across my favorite Photoshop job of all time, the Spuriosity. It still makes me laugh. And it occurs to me, if things get slow blog-wise around here that, instead of posting the results of my Google Image Searches, I could go back and nominate some Post-of-the-Month candidates from the archives. That might be kind of fun, in fact.

That is all.

November 15, 2006

Idiocy of some sort, yes

Hard to ignore the shot across the bow disguised as an IHE story this morning: Are College Students Techno Idiots?, where among other things, we learn that

A new report released Tuesday by the Educational Testing Service finds that students lack many basic skills in information literacy, which ETS defines as the ability to use technology to solve information problems.

Well, if by "report," they mean a PowerPoint deck that is stuffed with generalizations and bullet points, and atrociously designed in places, then yes, a report happened. I remember taking a little trip over to ETS to see what they were defining as Information Literacy™, and it all came rushing back to me as I revisited their Flash demo. My personal favorite is the task where a body is asking to take an email and to compose a single, persuasive PowerPoint-ish slide to present to a faculty advisor.

A persuasive slide? Umm. A healthy part of information literacy is, in fact, knowing that a single-slide PowerPoint is unlikely to be the best way to persuade one's faculty advisor. And there are similar difficulties all the way through the demo questions that I saw. There are some pretty weak attempts to instantiate "IL principles" that ignore the fact that most of what we do as "literates" is heavily context-based. I'm not sure that generic test scenarios are going to be the best way to assess this. Nor am I convinced that many of these "skills" can be reduced to right/wrong sorts of answers.

And of course, the folk who are supporting this study are those who have direct, vested interest in convincing us that there's some sort of IL crisis. Of course. Doesn't take a great deal of information literacy to suss that out.

Too much of this strikes me as Critical Thinking! With Computers! I suppose. Maybe that explains why it just leaves me feeling sour.

Snip snap snout.

November 14, 2006

The Ethics of Fit

Like Donna, I've been finding myself blogging in the evening. More to the point, and a point I hope to change, I've been blogging each day in the 24th hour of the day, as the clock hits 11, and I realize that NotADayGoesBy Month will only be satisfied if I blog that very hour. I'm not sure that it's the best of strategies for me. But here I am again.

When I read Nels talking about searches yesterday, something he said stuck with me a bit. To wit,

It's hard to know who really wants to live in this area, who might have family they want to move closer towards (or further from). That's the stuff that really shapes who will fit here, but no one can know what all that stuff is. Even candidates don't always know. I mean, some people move expecting a certain kind of life (spouse finding a job, starting a family, hitting a certain kind of social scene) but finding something else. Some people end up happier in the process than they expected.

I wrote a while back about how I was only applying to places that I would seriously consider, but as I think I mentioned then, that's a luxury that far too few of us can afford. In other words, I think it's no secret that most of us must cast our nets widely in searches. Until academia's stripes change substantially, finding a job must take priority over finding the right job (and that's assuming that the "right job" is any less mythological than finding the "right partner," which I'm not sure about).

The problem with this, though, is that it leads to the kind of speculation that Nels talks about. This isn't a slam on him, because it's speculation that I've engaged in as well, and I presume that my applications at various times have been the object of such thought. But I want to suggest that this is a fine ethical line, one that gets crossed more often than we'd probably like to admit. Most of us harbor few illusions about the relative place of our institutions, and that may lead some to narrow down the mountainous stack of applications by engaging in a little prognostication.

And some forms of prediction have been rationalized approvingly in the field. Applicants to smaller liberal arts schools are advised to downplay their research, lest they be perceived as uninterested in teaching. At some places, "tenurability" is used in the same way that commentators at the NBA draft speak of "upside potential." I'm not sure, though, that these kinds of approaches to applications are all that different from more personal kinds of speculation. And I'm torn about the ethics of thinking in these terms.

I'm not suggesting that we can't bracket such speculation when we're making hiring decisions, or that it would be possible to avoid it altogether--I think it's natural to think in those terms, if we begin from the perspective that we're not hiring brains on sticks. But I also think that this kind of speculation is too far-ranging sometimes, that in the interest of making the "right choice," the concept of departmental "fit" is stretched to the breaking point. A lot of times, you can't know that you've made the right choice until a year or two into a person's time in a particular place.

For me, that's not justification to try and get it right during the search by trying to determine if a particular applicant will fit perfectly, and more importantly, it's not justification for deciding that certain applicants are applying just to be applying rather than out of genuine interest. It's natural to wonder, but impossible to answer. I've been thinking about this recently for reasons other than Nels' entry--I don't think he's crossing any sort of ethical line there. If anything, I think he's right to be honest about the kind of speculating that goes on in every search. I don't think we gain anything by pretending that it doesn't go on, or that we don't take some of these things into account as we make our hiring decisions.

I think it boils down, for me at least, to the conviction that if I'm not qualified for a position, so be it. But I'd just as soon not have strangers deciding that I wouldn't be interested in a position before I've had a chance to consider it. Even when we know that not every application that goes out or comes in is as serious as we might like, I think we're obliged to take it at face value, and to treat it as an expression of genuine interest. Anything less gets into real trouble, really quickly.

And no, I'm not talking here at the end about Nels' entry, about my own apps, or a search that we're doing (since we're not this year). I'm just saying.

November 13, 2006

Reading v Talking

I wonder if it wouldn't be possible to pull up all of the blog entries about the horrors of reading one's conference presentations, aggregate them, and thereby arrive at a pretty solid map of the major conferences in the humanities. Seems like there are pretty predictable times when such complaints make their way across the blogosphere. With NCTE, NCA, and MLA on the immediate horizon here in Rhetopia, perhaps I'm just more sensitive to these kinds of posts.

You see, I'm a reader, even though I've experimented in the past couple of years with actually talking in lieu of reading. But I'm also a writer who understands the difference between writing something to be heard and writing something to be read. Rather than the regular calls from converted science types (who express their utter astonishment at the dearth of presentational skills among their humanities colleagues) to be more like them and less like ourselves, it'd be refreshing to see more posts that plumbed the depths of that middle space between speed reading an essay intended for eye-not-ear on the one hand and stand-up scholarship on the other.

As snoozy as it can be to hear 3 20-minute reads from folk unprepared for listeners, it can be no less frustrating to hear a breezy talk that never dips below the level of PP slides, generalities, and sound bytes. There's a lot that is in between, and I think that we'd be better served in general by finding some happy medium.

I'm a big believer in trying to create opportunities for practice, particularly in our graduate program where some students may be attending conferences for the first time. It's not enough to just tell them to practice, practice, practice. Every year, we invite several of our current students to practice their presentations during a session that's part of annual recruiting weekend. That means that at least part of their audience is made up of strangers, that they have a deadline prior to the week of the conference, and that they have a head start on visualizing their presentations. I think of this as a program responsibility.

Sharing the best practices that we (who have been around the presentation block more than a few times) have discovered wouldn't be a bad thing either. I try really hard to restrict myself to 1 major claim support by 2-3 points in my talks. I generally don't spend time delivering evidence in presentations (saving it for followups). And I find real value in narrating the presentation as part of the presentation (aka signposting). In recent years, I've turned more towards visual aids (either Keynote or handouts), but that's partly because my interests have turned more towards visualizable work. In some cases, I use Keynote to compose, which helps me think in terms of pacing.

But I think the biggest cause of bad presentations has nothing to do with rhetorical skill or inexperience, and isn't addressed by advice like this. I think that there's very little space in our academic priorities for presentation zen, and so we tend to prepare at the last minute, and underprepare. Then, when we're mediocre (and believe me, that's more often than not for me), we engage in the kinds of distancing practices that our students do (like waiting until the last minute, so that we can "excuse" our mediocrity). It's a cycle, and I think it stems in large part from the disposability of conference presentation scholarship, from the way that "getting on" the program is more important than what one does once one is there, etc.

I have to admit that a turning point for me was when I attended CCCC in Denver. I wasn't on the program, and thus had to spend my own money to get there and hang out. Without someone else footing the bill, all of a sudden I was hyperconscious of the fact that I'd spent more than a thousand bucks to be there. When I went to a panel, I was paying for the experience. And when I saw a bad presentation, and I saw a few, I felt no guilt whatsoever about standing up and leaving. I'm not always perfect about this, but I try and write for the person who's spent hir own money to attend my session--that's what I try to live up to when I prepare a presentation. It's not a bad goal, all things considered.

If that ethic were instilled in us as part of our graduate training, to treat our audience as though they'd paid to see us, I bet conference presentations, read or spoken, would be less of a problem.

That's all.

November 12, 2006

all praise to the flex schedule

Maybe the single best thing about Sunday night football is that NBC's contract allowed them to choose their 2nd half games based on play during the 1st half of the season. Which makes for far less stinkers (I'm looking at you, Seattle and Oakland). A few thoughts from tonight's NFC proto-championship game:

1. I thought the Bears were nuts to draft Hester as highly as they did in the spring. I'll be the first to admit I was wrong. How many other teams have 3 return TDs so far this season?

2. I like Heroes all right, but "Save the Cheerleader, Save the World" has got to be the dumbest tagline in the world. It's a good thing that they didn't trot that out before the show began, because I wouldn't have watched.

3. When your team hits a snag, you hope that they get over it during the week. Clearly, the Bears didn't--the first half tonight was as ugly as any game they've played. But beginning from the final 2 minutes of the first half, they did as much as they could to regain their swagger, and it was a joy to watch (as a Bears fan).

4. The problem with "trademark" celebrations is that, unless you're planning on winning and all but shutting teams out, you're going to get to watch other teams mock your trademark, ad nauseam. No more with the jump shots, please.

5. Speaking of ad nauseam, my channel changer of the year has to be that series of commercials from Coors Light, where they show clips from Bill Walsh's and Dick Vermeil's press conferences, spliced with fake footage of frattish fans asking stupid questions. (Ex: Fan: "Did your placekicker make this onion dip?" Dick Vermeil: "He didn't appear to make it from where we were standing.") The worst part of these commercials is two-fold: first, it's an incredibly tired idea, and has been done 100s of times, and second, they don't even do it well. The clips are generic enough that lots of questions could be asked, but the questions themselves are written to the answers in an unnatural way. They're not stupid-funny, which I could live with. They're stupid-stupid. Someone made the decision to pay someone else thousands upon thousands of dollars to cut commercials that, given some footage, I could do in an afternoon in iMovie. And guess what? Mine would be written better.

And yes, I'll be closing the comments here soon, so that I don't have to wade through dozens of astroturf comments. The thought that some of that wasted money goes to drones who cut and paste dumbass comments on all the blogs that mention their commercials makes it even worse.

That's all.

November 11, 2006

Playlists - The NBT?

It may just be a matter of confluence. I've come across a couple of blogposts talking about playlists in the past week or so, 43F has featured a couple of tips and tricks entries about iTunes playlists, and Bloglines just announced a playlist feature as well. Seems like I'm seeing them a lot recently.

My first thought was that it's one of those metaphors (taken from radio?) that's quickly becoming stretched beyond its original meaning--my fave example of this is Jakob Neilsen's complaint about the shopping cart metaphor. But I'm more of a descriptivist than a prescriptivist.

And playlists have more than a little in common with tagging. In a lot of ways a playlist can be little more than a unique tag. In iTunes, you drag a song over to the playlist and add it, but this is only superficially different from adding a tag to the songs you want on the list, and then opening up the page of all items tagged thusly. The music doesn't move or anything.

It's interesting to me because one of the things that I didn't really get to a few days back in talking about tagging was a quibble that I had with defining tagging as the addition of "descriptive" terms. Reason for that is that one of the first uses for del.icio.us that ever made sense to me was when I saw Jill Walker use it in a talk (at the MEA conf) as a quick way of gathering up the links for the sites she was talking about.

In other words, my first "click" moment with del.icio.us was seeing it used as a way to gather certain bookmarks into a playlist.

In the strictest sense, this isn't descriptive tagging, since the playlist/tag refers to a particular context rather than anything intrinsic about the resource itself. More and more, I've been thinking about making a distinction between descriptive tagging and what I think of as procedural tagging, or tags that function in some way other than simple description.

The best account of this I know of (and there may be others, certainly) is Bradley's discussion of using del.icio.us as a teaching tool. I tried something similar in my networks course, but I didn't really think it through to the degree that Bradley does there. In other words, procedural tags can be used to set aside certain bookmarks for course reading (and not others), they can be tagged for particular units (or multiple, to indicate connections), with due dates for reading the texts, etc. You can tag a set of resources for a talk, as Jill did, tag them with someone's name if you want that person to find them easily, etc. Right now, the Teaching Carnivals are assembled every couple of weeks (in part at least) through procedural tagging. None of these particular tags are descriptive in the strictest sense, although the Carnival tags come fairly close. They point outwards, connecting the bookmark to some additional context.

Over at the CCCOA, we use tags as keywords for CCC essays, but we also have some hybrid tags, so that you can look at all of the articles from a particular issue, or see which of the articles are converted CCCC Chair's Addresses or Braddock Award for the best in a given volume. What del.icio.us calls tag bundles, we might also call playlists.

What's got me thinking tonight, though, is the place where the smart playlists of iTunes go beyond descriptive or even procedural tagging. Certain of the tags in iTunes are variables. For example, "Play Count" is a tag that increases by 1 every time the particular song is played, and "Last Played" and "Date Added" are simply automatically attached to the song by iTunes itself, as opposed to the 5-star "My Rating" a user can apply. Where the playlists go beyond this is in allowing users to set rules for the playlist that are based on these variables. Merlin's entry is focused on keeping an iTunes collection manageable, but I find myself wondering about how much of the smart playlist idea is transferrable.

Here's where I'm stalling out a little. I have a sense that there's something to this, but I'm having trouble figuring out how it would function outside of my head. Part of me thinks that there's a degree to which sites like digg already accomplish what I'm talking about. In other words, I think about the variables that could be assigned to a blog entry or essay, and how a playlist might incorporate them, and digg does some of what I'm after. I could also be creative with the RSS feeds from interior pages of del.icio.us users (add something to the playlist when User X tags it with Y). But it seems to me that there are other functions that might be of use as well. It'd be interesting to have a smart list that captured bookmarks on topics that had crested a certain number of users, or that had attracted steady attention (a combination of Date First Tagged and Frequency). Or even one that fed resources tagged with a user's top 5 tags, but allowed that top 5 to change over time, so that as that person's attention shifted to new issues, so would the feed.

No grand conclusion here, except to say that there's something here in the mix of procedural tagging and playlisting that may be worth pursuing. And I would, given time enough and skillz. As it is, though...

November 10, 2006


I need to get caught up on BSG, which I've been missing lately in favor of putting in late night, Friday stretches in at the office.

The one problem with the onset of basketball season is that they think nothing of basically locking down campus for three days solid (Syracuse vs. St. Francis vs. Penn vs. UTEP this weekend), making it difficult to get to my building. Almost all parking within a certain radius is surcharged, an especially galling fact when I already shell out $500+ to park 15 minutes away as it is.

The upside of this is that, not being able to go in until late tonight, I had a chance to watch BSG. I need to catch up.

So say me all.

November 9, 2006

Quiet reboot

I've been a little under the weather lately, as my sinuses are all but ruled by certain segments of the meteorological. So today, suffering only from a low-ebb headache, I took its edge off, and engaged in a little rebooting. Despite complaining about not having time to read yesterday, I made some time today to make a start on Marisha Pessl's Special Topics in Calamity Physics. And despite having a pile of stuff that needs whittling away, I took a nap in the afternoon.

Whenever I say that, my reflex is to add that afternoon naps help me make better use of the hours between about 10 pm and 3 am, hours which find me working probably 6 days out of every 7. I don't sleep more or work less than anyone else--I just distribute the hours differently from most.

Defensiveness is actually something of a good sign--takes energy for me to feel defensive (as opposed to indifferent). So maybe I'm turning the corner on this sinus stuff that's basically taken over my week.

That's a welcome bit of news.

November 8, 2006

Money I don't have & books I can't read

Spending the former on the latter, although to be fair, it's not that I can't read them, but rather that I simply don't have the time right now.

But for whatever reason, all of the books I'd ordered over the last while saw fit to arrive in the last day or two. Thus, freshly unwrapped on my office table you will find:

1. Thomas Sloane's Oxford UP Encyclopedia of Rhetoric, which normally I wouldn't have bought, but for the fact that Oxford lists the book at $150 and had it on sale for $40 through November 1st.

2. Lisa Gitelman's new book from MIT, Always Already New: Media, History, and the Data of Culture

3. Mark Hansen's new book from Routledge, Bodies in Code: Interfaces with Digital Media

4. Anna Munster's Materializing New Media: Embodiment in Information Aesthetics (the 3rd or 4th book in Dartmouth's relatively new visual culture series)

5. Rob Cross, Andrew Parker, and Lisa Sasson's Networks in the Knowledge Economy

6. A relatively fresh reprint of Manuel DeLanda's Intensive Science and Virtual Philosophy

The last two I caught at about 1/3 their normal price on sale through Labyrinth, but the others (2-4) are just new and relevant to what I do. And their relevance will mock me, from my office table, in the weeks to come, I am sure.

Happy New Book Wednesday!! and/or Happy Unopened Book November!!

That's all. I'm saving all my clever for the Lost "Fall Finale" tonight. Whatever the Finale that actually means.

November 7, 2006

Turnitinica Mars

It was probably only a matter of time, what with Veronica Mars headed to college and all, for plagiarism to find its way into the plot of at least one episode. And tonight it did, as Veronica's paper for her Criminology class is "lit up like a Christmas tree" by the "plagiarism scanner" used at Hearst College to police its students. Don't read on if the episode's sitting on your TiVo...

Perhaps the most interesting part about the the episode is the fact that the "plagiarism" is engineered by the TA of the course and one of Veronica's classmates. The classmate "reports" the cheating because V has blown the class curve as the only person in the class to get an A on the paper. There's more to the story than this for the purpose of the episode, but the questions of how much security such "scanners" have and to what degree an enterprising student might be able to game them are questions that I haven't seen raised much. Now, part of that is that I don't pay a whole lot of attention to those discussions, as I'm pretty much solidly on the side of better teaching, but still, I'd be surprised if our enterprising, privatized plagiarism police spend a lot of time advertising the weaknesses of their systems.

At one of the schools I've been at, there were groups of students who used their student work positions in campus offices to reserve spots for their friends in certain courses, so it doesn't exactly strike me as beyond the pale that people interested in preserving the curve could sabotage classmates if they so chose. There's a lot of money to be made, and not just in terms of plagiarism, in centralizing and aggregating educational administration, but these kinds of systems are much more vulnerable to this kind of manipulation. The further away these "scanners" are moved from the site of instruction, the less likely it is that teachers will exercise any sort of judgment, and the more likely it is that vulnerabilities will be exploited.

That's pretty much it--time to watch the Midtacular.

November 6, 2006

Pick a season already

Yeah, I know that this amounts to a blog entry about not blogging, but I have little to say tonight. We're currently enduring weather limbo, that stretch where the temperature swings wildly, sometimes as much as 40-50 degrees in the space of a day or two, and the pressure does as well.

What does this do for me? It turns my head into a rampaging ball of sinuses, makes it difficult to breathe, makes it difficult to sleep, and makes it difficult to think, much less write. So that was my day today, most of yesterday, and probably for another a day or two yet, unless the weather levels out a bit. And there's no telling.

In any other month, today would be a day I'd have just let pass by with commemoration. That's all.

November 5, 2006

For example, trending

I've seen this link crop up in several places over the last week or two, but you never know who's seen it or not. So...

Chirag Mehta's Presidential tagclouds

Chirag Mehta has generated tagclouds for Presidential documents/speeches (State of the Union Addresses and others), going back to 1776, and offered them for your perusal. (Usability note: I found it a lot easier to use the arrow keys to move the slider back and forth one at a time, but didn't figure out that I could use them until the fourth time I visited the site...)

It's an incredibly cool project, and what we're doing over at the CCCOA is obviously related, although our output is structured in different ways. Although we've got other things occupying our front burners at the moment, this site has definitely got me thinking about how we might build on our work there. More broadly, and perhaps relevantly, it's also got me thinking about how visualizations of trends in language usage might be folded in to some of the work we do in our field.

That's all.

November 4, 2006


So yesterday, Liz posted a request for discussion in anticipation of a session she's doing at a CSCW conference on folksonomies:

Is this a reasonable statement to make?
  • Tagging is the process of adding descriptive terms to an item, without the constraint of a controlled vocabulary
  • Folksonomy is the aggregation of tags from one or more users
Yes? No? Discuss.

I spent some of the day yesterday first figuring out what I thought, and second figuring out that it would be better expressed here than in the form of an overly long comment. And in the meantime, many of the things that I thought eventually appeared in the comments (of course). Even so, I thought I might wax a little old school here (since this conversation is actually almost 2 years old), and just write through some of the stuff I'm thinking about. I use the terms tagging and folksonomy without thinking about them much, and so reading through the comments thread and contemplating my own response has me teasing out my own terminology in a way that typically stalls me out --things get complex quickly enough to the point where I have to turn to other, more pressing demands on my time, and this has been much the same way. We'll see if I can place the pieces into something resembling a sensible order.

So, what is a folksonomy? One of the ways that I approached this question is to think about what folksonomy's other is. In other words, what is the term (or terms) or idea that folksonomy differs from? At first blush, that's an easy enough question--most descriptions of folksonomy make note of the fact that it blends folks and taxonomy, and the latter is its point of comparison. Taxonomies are top-down, folksonomies bottom-up. Taxonomies are consistent to the point of inflexibility, while folksonomies are fluid, dynamic, etc. So far, so good.

As I was browsing around (Weinberger, Vander Wal, et al.), though, I think one of the things that tripping me up is this apparently simple binary. Like DW, my assumption about folksonomy was that it referenced the order that emerges from the process of tagging ("I had been thinking that a folksonomy is one way order emerges from such set of tags"), as opposed to the kind of order that is imposed upon a set of data from above. In other words, I think that I've been assuming, ultimately, that taxonomies and folksonomies are two paths to the same endpoint.

But I think it's important (now) to note that the two paths lead to very different ends, a point that TVW's use of the term has slowly moved me towards. There's some overlap, to be sure. Taxonomies are forms of organization, but they are often also placed in service to other goals. DW has a nice riff on the Dewey Decimal System, for instance, that makes note of the ethnocentrisms and nationalism involved in the DDS, cultural asymmetries that are "necessary" because the DDS isn't meant as a mapping of all human knowledge but as a means to map out various libraries in this country. There is some practical value to spreading out call numbers evenly across the books on the shelves, even when those books reflect (and to be fair, construct) a partisan perspective. However, there's an extent to which taxonomies are (or strive for) an optimal representation of whatever data are being classified.

From a recent presentation, TVW explains that "People are not so much categorizing, as providing a means to connect items (placing hooks)," and that helps me get at what I'm looking for here. At the risk of trotting out another binary, there's a product/process difference here. Folksonomies involve order on at least two levels. One is the personal vocabulary of a given user; folksonomies are intrinsically social to the same degree that language is, but they need not involve multiple users (although they often do). This is TVW's distinction between broad and narrow folksonomies, I think. A narrow folksonomy is likely to express order only at this first level, in terms of a user's vocabulary. The second level of order comes from the broad, more social folksonomies, where many people are tagging the same object so that particular patterns emerge. For example, the top 10 or so tags for the article I just linked are folksonomy/folksonomies, tagging, tags, del.icio.us, flickr, metadata, socialsoftware, classification, taxonomy, and article. The tags across users (250 or so in this case) acquire a certain amount of stability.

These two "levels of order" I'm describing correspond, I think, to TVW's two "triads" (slide 32 of the presentation linked above)--one grounded in "identity" and the other in "community." The trick, I think, is that for taxonomies, there is no corresponding "identity triad," and so setting the two in simple binary form predisposes me to see only the second level of order as being "properly" described by folksonomy. And thus I was initially tempted to say that folksonomies are necessarily social (in the multiple user sense).

In a sense, then, I guess I'm working around to the idea that folksonomies are activities rather than systems or products, despite the fact that things like tagclouds, as visualizations of those activities, offer a static impression of those activities. A lot of the analysis that I see in TVW's work speaks of the trending that folksonomies allow, and that works for me with defining it as an activity--there's an extent to which a single tagcloud, produced in a given moment, only has value when it can be compared synchronically (to other clouds) or diachronically (to other versions of itself).

That's probably enough for now. I've got 3 or 4 wiggling threads that I want to pull on a bit more, but it's getting late. And before you say it in my comments, yes, I realize that I'm arriving here at ideas that have been circulating for more than a year. My point here hasn't been so much to say something new as to say it for/to myself.

And to satisfy the demands of November 4th.

November 3, 2006

Cringeworthy revelations

Okay, maybe not. But I hope that you all remember what happened the last time someone tapped me for a meme: the Great Bumper Sticker Brainstorm™ of 2005! Normally, I'd pretend not to read the entry in question long enough for people to forget I'd been tapped, but it is NotADayGoesByWithoutMeBlogging Month, and the longer entry I have planned probably won't be ready until after midnight, so here are 5 things that almost all of my readers will not have previously known about me:

1. Had soccer and tennis not happened during the same season while I was in high school, I was good enough as a young'un to play varsity tennis. I stopped playing regularly in jr. high, but could hit around and hold my own with most of my varsity friends, without any real practice.

2. When I was in grad school for the first go-round, I had the good fortune of a local radio station that (a) played music I liked, and (b) allowed the overnight DJs to hold call-in contests as often as the daytime crews. So, I might be the 2nd, 5th, 8th, and 10th caller, but I won a bunch of music that way. To this day, the only boxed set I own is the collected works of the Clash, won in a call-in from WOXY.

3. There's more to it than this, of course, but one of the main reasons I ended up going to UTArlington for my PhD was Milan Kundera. (Mysterious...!)

4. Our house growing up bordered on a creek, and when it would flood, it would occasionally leave deceptively thick mud deposits on the bike path that parallelled it near my house. One year, in jr. high, one such patch sent me flying head over heels off the front of my bike. I tore up my hand and wrist pretty thoroughly, but rather than returning home or going to the nurse at school, I kept my hand in my sweatshirt pocket almost the whole day until I could take care of it at home. In my head at the time, it was more important to not admit that I had fallen off my bike than it was to get medical attention. The sweatshirt was dark enough that the blood didn't show.

5. Until last year, when I helped my mother clear out the house I grew up in (in anticipation of her move to a smaller place), I had kept every award, debate trophy, high school letter, etc. If I'd wanted to, I could have kept that stuff, but it was strangely liberating to part with it. I kept a few things, like yearbooks for example, but mostly, I couldn't conceive of any scenario where that stuff would be even remotely valuable to me. On the off-chance that someone someday will biographize me, I made their job a whole lot harder.

So there you are. Most of this will be news to most people. And some of it I hadn't thought about for years.

Snip, snap, snout.

November 2, 2006

Nary a hair

I was turning back and forth last night between various shows and the opening night NBA matchups. In addition to watching the first installment in Chicago's sweep of Miami (Bulls d. Heat last night, Bears d. Dolphins this weekend), I noticed a little something as I was catching half-time and post-game on TNT. They're all bald.

Doubtless this has something to do with EJ's health problems, but all the same, Magic, EJ, Kenny, and Charles are all sporting domes. I realize that there's a lot less stigma attached to a lack of hair than there used to be, but even so, it was kind of surprising to see them all side-by-side in a studio show like that.

I don't really have more beyond that observation. TNT's studio show is one of the best things about watching the Association and that, combined with the fact that the Bulls seem to have finally turned the corner on their rebuilding, means that I may be watching a little more ball this year. We'll see.

That's all. 2 down, 28 to go.

November 1, 2006

First Year Spamposition

This is the first entry of the November 30. And I'm stamping it 55 seconds shy of midnight, November 2nd. So there. And I'll almost certainly double-post tonight to get Nov 2 out of the way as well.

Anyhow, over at Doug Rushkoff's joint, he relays to us a story of a recent email bombardment:

So for the past week or so, I've been getting all these weird emails from people with Richmond.edu return addresses. Most of them are in the form of short essays, either agreeing or disagreeing with some of the points I make in the introduction to my book Screenagers (formerly, Playing the Future).

Problem is, most of them aren't aware that they've only read a brief excerpt from the book, and thus "They kept referring to it as an 'essay,' and wanted to know why I hadn't brought up points that end up being made (or refuted) in the book itself."

Wait. It gets better. Rushkoff writes back to each of the students, which in some cases is far more than they deserve, and

The weirdest part, though, is that the most obnoxious ones seemed surprised - almost insulted - that I wrote them back. These ones told me that they were forced to send their essay to me by their teacher, that they don't care at all about my book or essay, and that I shouldn't have responded to their emails.

Rushkoff's being an incredibly good sport about it. A quick web search on the domain and his name unearths the syllabus and the teacher's name, along with an email address. A quick rule in Mail preferences will redirect all those emails back to the instructor. A quick note to the Chair of the English Department...and so on.

What's sad about the whole debacle is that neither the instructor nor the students seem to have given sufficient thought to:

1. the fact that most writing texts excerpt long pieces by the authors they publish (I'd be surprised if the intro to the excerpt didn't make that abundantly clear)
2. responding directly and critically to a writer without first checking to see if s/he has written more extensively on the subject, excerpt or no, is not a great idea
3. sending an email to someone, unless the address is fake, actually sends an email to someone
4. failing to pay attention to 1-3 and pressing ahead will make you, your students, your department, and your school all look moronic

There are lots of great examples of published authors corresponding with groups of students about their work--the connectivity allowed by the net can be a great source of interaction--but what strikes me about this whole episode is just the colossal disrespect shown by the instructor and subsequently by the students to Rushkoff:

And the only ones who write me back - just two of them, so far - have written to say it's crazy for me to write them back, and they either didn't mean what they wrote or just didn't care.

Wow. I can't say much more than that. Wow.

Oh, all right.

Having been hailed, although not in so many words.

And no, I'm not counting this as my Nov. 1 post, although I could.