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November 30, 2007

Re/Visions are Live

I'm assuming that the issues themselves are going into the mail soon, but if you visit the NCTE site (which I seem to be doing a lot lately), you'll find the most recent issue of CCC available, which includes the Re/Visions piece from Anne, Jeff, and I.

The issue index is here, and the article itself is available here. You'll need to be a subscriber to download it, though. If you want a free copy of the Janangelo article, it's available on the front page of the CCC Online Archive.

I'm just heading out; otherwise, I wouldn't violate the rule against deictic linking. Sorry about that.

Words and Pictures

There's a nice entry up over at if:book by Nancy Kaplan, on the topic of the recent NEA report about reading. I can't say much about it (the report, that is), as I have many better things to read with my own time. Kaplan does a nice job of taking on the NEA's graphic "representations" of their findings, which don't support their conclusions. For example, the decline in reading? It's actually at the same level it was in 1971. The NEA report starts from a later date, so as to make it look like more of a decline than it actually is. And so on.

It's a nice, contemporary example of the kind of analysis that Edward Tufte has been doing for years with respect to information design--too bad that kind of reading proficiency is neither advocated nor practiced by the report.

Anyhow, her conclusion:

Because of changes in the nature and conditions of work, declining proficiency in reading among American adults might cause some concern if not alarm. It is surely also the case that educational institutions at every level can and should do a better job. Yet there is little evidence of an actual decline in literacy rates or proficiency. As a result, the NEA's core argument breaks down.

That is all. Go take a look.

November 28, 2007

CCCC Snapshots

One of the downsides of electronic acceptances for our annual convention is that I always (ALWAYS!) forget to write down exactly when my session is. And I feel bad about contacting the NCTE folk with questions when it's my own damn fault that I don't have the information.

So I went there today to see if I could find out when I'll be speaking in the spring (Friday at 11 am), and lo and behold, not only was that information there, but the searchable program is up and running. As you may recall from last year, I took the abstracts for certain area clusters, added them all together, and ran them through TagCrowd to provide quick snapshots of different areas for that year's convention. Here's the link to my description of the process, and a link to my poorly labeled FlickR set containing the tagclouds I'm making.

And without further ado, here's the cloud for the sessions in area 106, information technologies, for the upcoming CCCC (2008):

Area Cluster 106 (Information Technologies), 2008 CCCC

November 27, 2007

2nd to last

Last night was the second-to-last meeting of my course on research methods in RhetComp. Needless to say, it's not been a normal semester, but the course itself has gone fairly well (I think). It's a course that should be 2 or 3 semesters long, I fear, in order to provide time for both exposure to the variety of methods and time enough to actually test some of them out. So it's been an exercise in compromise, figuring out how to make it manageable and comprehensive at the same time.

Anyhow, the final two meetings diverged from the normal formula of providing some how-to readings alongside some examples of implementation. Next week, we're reading a piece by Clay Spinuzzi ("Lost in the translation: Shifting claims in the migration of a research technique" (LEA)) and Raul Sanchez's The Function of Theory in Composition Studies (Amazon ), with an eye towards some meta discussion about method in the field. This week, though, we did something else that I conceived as meta--we read Shepherd, St. John, and Striphas' (eds.) Communication as ...: Perspectives on Theory (Amazon ):

comm-theory.jpg It's an interesting book, on a number of levels. Growing out of an NCA panel, the editors asked a number of contributors (27 total, inc the editors) to compose short, citation-light, polemic essays about their preferred metaphors for communication. The editors argue specifically in their introduction about resisting uncritical pluralism, and so the chapters make the case for communication as relationality, ritual, transcendence, vision, embodiment, raced, dialogue, diffusion, dissemination, articulation, translation, failure (!), and many others. The quality of individual contributions are uneven, of course, some taking the task more seriously than others, but the overall impact of the book is an interesting one.

One of the challenges for us last night was that the book makes an argument at one scale (stake a claim for your preferred metaphor) while performing at a different one (aggregating these various claims). The result is something of a buffet, even as the editors disparage that very approach. The irony of Sonja Foss's blurb for the book ("Communication as is an excellent way to introduce students to various perspectives in the discipline. It makes the point that there is no right or wrong way to study communication but that the different perspectives are all legitimate and useful.") is that, in fact, the editors do suggest that some ways are better than others. Or rather, it might be more accurate to say that while they don't advocate for the "one, true metaphor," they find some value in asking their contributors to write as if--to write as if they were required to make a choice, unburdened by extensive citation, torturous qualifications, and/or empirical methods.

So while the book is perhaps operating under a performative contradiction, I found it to be a really refreshing and productive book. It's a book about method in one sense--my original inclination was to pair it up with some stuff from Lakoff and Johnson on conceptual metaphor--but more importantly, I think, it's a book that points to the value and importance of conceptual stylistics. The point I wanted to make with the book is that it matters which terms we use to describe our conceptions of rhetoric, composition, writing, communication, etc. Those terms stake claims, and they do so whether we adopt those positions consciously or not. It's rare, though, that those claims are made as directly as they by the contributors in this book.

I think some of us were left last night wishing that a similar book existed for our own discipline. The relationship between theory and method in communication studies is a different one than pertains in our neck of the woods, owing at least in part to our closer association with the humanities and with English in particular. The differences aren't stark enough to make this book less valuable to us, but they're present enough to raise the issue.

In all, though, this was a really productive way to end a semester on methods, and I could see the value of a book like this for a gateway course in the discipline as well. It'd need a couple of caveats, but in the absence of an analogous project for RhetComp, I think that a book like this has something important to say to us.

Go read it. That's all.

November 24, 2007

We didn't start the fire...

Okay. The gauntlet has been thrown down. How best to talk about Kindle without falling prey to "snark, ennui, [or] carping about the DRM?"

It's not too bad. I've been interested for almost 10 years in the possibility of a reasonably priced, portable screen reader. When I was at ODU, I remember having conversations with colleagues about the possibility of a Kindle-like machine upon which students could store texts from multiple courses, allowing them to search across course materials, link between them, annotate, et al. And it's genuinely exciting to see that Amazon is putting serious weight behind it--there's been little incentive, I fear, for the book industry to do so (and this despite some warning signs). My gut reaction, when I saw the announcement on the Amazon page, was to figure out whether I could get my hands on one, and how soon.

I've owned 3 or 4 iPods, including the very first model, and I'm happy with my iPhone, and that's not to mention my wireless keyboards, mice, presentation clicker, iTrip, etc.--I'm a fiend when it comes to gadgets. Adding the Kindle to my repertoire seemed like the next logical step.

And yet. One of the problems that I don't see a great deal of discussion about is that the book is an incredibly mature (and thus highly variegated) technology. Think about it. You can talk about the innovations like spaces between words, standardized fonts, apparati like TOC's and indices, etc., but fact is that our books today haven't changed that much from those in circulation centuries ago. And most of the real changes have been of degree rather than kind.

In that time, so many different rituals, habits, and dispositions have emerged with respect to books--the variety of ways that we use them is one of the keys to the success of that medium. And it's why the "death of the book" stuff in the 90s was so overblown. It's not just a matter of happening on "better" technologies, because they already exist right now. The book has had hundreds of years of cultural, social, personal, psychological, and aesthetic embedding--and that's not going to be dislodged overnight.

Contrast that with the emergence of the MP3 player. This could be oversimplifying, but there are 3 basic milieu for music in our lives: home, office, and car. For the vast majority of music consumers, the only thing wrong with the CD is that most collections exceed the bounds of easy portability/storage. The computer solves the storage issue, the MP3 player solves portability. But the experience of listening to music isn't really that varied. I might listen to it in a range of places, but the basic action is the same whether I'm rocking out on a road trip or want some soothing background in my office.

The uses to which I put books vary much more. It could be argued that I'm a power user of the sort that I disallowed above in my music analogy, but I don't think that I'm that unique in that regard. I think a lot of people use books in a range of ways, although perhaps not as often or as intensively as I.

So my trouble with the Kindle is quite simply that it only really targets, in pricing, restrictions, and promotion, one of the kinds of reading that I do. First, at 10 bucks a pop, I'm only really saving money if I'm a big hardcover bestseller reader (which I'm not). The books I buy that are more than $10 are those least likely to be prioritized by Amazon, like academic books. And I'm certainly not going to pay for blogs, but even then, most of the content is A-list, which is not where I hang out anyway.

Second, 200 books, which is what Amazon is claiming it will hold, is nothing. Seriously. If indeed someday academic books are part of this, the Kindle is really only the size of a decent bookcase. Last time I counted, I had 8 or 9 in my apartment, and that's not counting the wall in my office. And that's where the DRM will begin to drive me crazy, I fear. I already avoid the iTunes store when possible because I hate having to figure out which machine stuff is okay on. And given that I upgrade machines every couple of years, even a 5-machine permit is going to run out on me fairly quickly.

Third, "it's like an iPod for books." Well, no. I'm trying not to snark here. It's actually like an iPhone for books--the iPhone is a much more restrictive, expensive gadget, problems offset for me by what it does well. But I don't use the iPod features on the phone--can't sync with multiple machines. The iPod is really just a portable hard drive, running one piece of software, with a minimal interface. And it answered a complex of needs: the obsolence of tapes, the convenience of the Walkman, the fragility of the CD, and the size of the personal computer. The iPhone was a feature-heavy entry into an already crowded market, relying upon flash because the substance is pretty standard.

There are a lot of good posts out there about Kindle, and some of the other models that people have suggested are intriguing. In the absence of competition, though, I don't see Amazon moving too far away from the model they're currently working with. Which is too bad, because I'd still like to take it for a test drive. But I just can't see myself spending four or five hundred dollars for something that meets such a small portion of my reading needs. At the very least, I hope they think about embracing the epub standard.

At the very least, the Kindle is worth watching, and I hope that someday I'll think it's worth owning. That is all.

And only a little bit of carping.

November 23, 2007

It was a dark and snowy Friday

One day a year, the world goes topsy turvy, and transforms into a place where everyone abides by my sleep cycle rather than vice versa.

Yes, it's Black Friday, and JCPenney opened at 4 am in what must have been a pretty punishing schedule for JCP employees. Me? I was up anyway, so I decided to go. I got new sheets, a nice blanket, and stocked up on some winter gear. I did indeed bust down the door to savings.

My plan was this: rather than go right at 4, I figured I'd wait a bit, until after 5, when many other stores (Macy's, Best Buy, Sears) were opening. That way, reasoned I, the JCP crowd would have thinned out somewhat. Maybe it did, but damn, it sure didn't seem like it. The parking lots were packed to capacity, the lines were slow and long, and there were a lot of worn-out looking people dashing about.

Two women wore matching red and green elf costumes. Nothing I could say or write would make that funnier than it actually was.

I got 60% off of everything I bought, so that was good. But in all, it was kind of claustrophobic, and there was already a fair amount of rude going on. Not an experience I'm likely to duplicate soon.

That's all.

November 22, 2007

Unclog the blog!

A few notes, each of which could be a longer entry, and may still be, depending on my mood this weekend:

-Kindle rhymes with swindle: why I won't be indulging my gadget fetish on Amazon this holiday
-Poster sessions at MLA: a good idea whose time may not be here yet
-The likelihood that 3 or 4 of my least favorite NFL teams will be vying for Superbowl spots this year
-The gratitude that the Texas Rangers must be feeling for Scott Borass, now that they no longer have to subsidize the AL MVP's presence on another team
-Communication As..., my new favorite book
-Web3.0? Seriously? (A strong maybe)

We'll see. Happy Day of the Turkey.

November 21, 2007


If there was a silver lining to returning to Iowa for my father's funeral, it was that I got to reconnect with that side of the family. I don't often coincide my trips with "family" events, and I live far enough away from most of them that it had been several years (and many in some cases) since I'd seen many of them.

In this picture, we're all wearing clip-on bow ties in honor of my dad, who often wore the real thing. (I don't think there was enough daylight left for us all to manage real ones, although I never had trouble tying them myself.) It was a gorgeous day, and this is taken on the back steps of the Outing Club in Davenport, where we had the reception and which was across the street from the church where the service was held.

November 17, 2007

So no firing the unmagic missiles?

LARP!Apparently, one of the criteria that the Israeli Defense Forces use to determine whether incoming recruits are worthy of high security clearance is whether or not they play Dungeons and Dragons:

"These people have a tendency to be influenced by external factors which could cloud their judgment, a military official says. "They may be detached from reality or have a weak personality - elements which lower a person's security clearance, allowing them to serve in the army, but not in sensitive positions."

I feel like I should be offended, but honestly, it probably says more about said military officials than it does about RPGers. I wonder how low a body's clearance would go if e confessed to a World of Warcraft addiction.
On the other hand, think of how much better our world would be if the militaries were restricted to particle board shields, foam swords, and imaginary spells.

That's all.

[tip: orgtheory]

November 16, 2007

The man is hard of steel!

As angry as I was a while ago, Return to Supermans cheered me up. True justice, it seems, involves stones.

VerveEarth = Assholes

It's funny what it took to get me back into the saddle. I haven't really blogged for about a month now, but I was going through my comment filters to make sure no one got caught there, and what did I find? I found spam from a company called VerveEarth, some faux compliments about my site along with obligatory links to their work. You can slap a com after their name to go look at it. I won't link it here.

I just want to be clear: VE could have the BEST site ev0r. But my new "friend" Clayton came to my site and left his shitty spam on an entry I wrote to honor the passing of my father. If the Internet broke down tomorrow (all except for his site), and I were in a foreign country surrounded by people who didn't speak English, and bleeding out of my eyes with my only hope for life my ability to locate a hospital, and the only way I could find it was by using their site, I would die by the side of the road.

That is how angry this makes me.

So thanks, Clayton, for prompting me to blog again. I hope your company and your product goes belly-up faster than the time it takes your front page to load.

That is all.