Main

May 21, 2004

Bill 'n' blogs, sittin' in a tree...

Steven Johnson offers up a link to a Reuters story, "Now, Gates has a crush on blogs." Apparently, Microsoft is holding its annual CEO Summit (no, no invite for me), and Gates spent a fair chunk of time explaining to his audience just how useful blogs could be as a communications tool for businesses.

The latter part of the essay features an interview with an industry analyst who predicts that blogs will become the next "battleground." Truth be told, though, I'm a little dubious--inflammatory comments suffixed with "analysts said" don't exactly inspire me much.

May 22, 2004

My new screensaver?

Found this via the Eyebeam Reblog: I'm relatively certain that it would be easy to duplicate in Flash, but for whatever reason, my mind hasn't quite wrapped itself around how just yet.

In other news, my blogroll columns are now even. DaveR has decided that his infrequency doesn't justify the Typepad subscription. Sorry to hear it, but certainly I understand...

July 20, 2004

iLust

the new iPodI know that I should be saving my nickels and dimes for the trip this fall, but I couldn't help myself. Really. I've got one of the first-generation iPods, purchased the first week that Apple was rolling them out. That rollout happened to coincide with the technology budget that I'd received as a new hire at Syracuse, and of course, the ability to use my iPod as a portable drive allowed me to add it to my wish list.

And I've slowly watched the damn things improve, to the point where a lot of the accessories are simply incompatible with my pokey little 5 gig, first-gen pod. Heck, I've stopped downloading iPod software upgrades, for fear that I'd mess it up somehow.

And so, I placed my order this afternoon for a new "click wheel," 4th gen model, along with car adapter, extra dock, etc. The works. Couldn't help myself. And as I was poking around at sites checking out accessories, I came across the following article about an NEC project, called P-ism (P as in Pen). Oh. My. God. Here's one of the promo photos:

pen-based computing
The design concept uses five different pens to make a computer. One pen is a CPU, another a camera, one creates a virtual keyboard, another projects the visual output and thus the display and another a communicator (a phone). All five pens can rest in a holding block which recharges the batteries and holds the mass storage. Each pen communicates wireless, possibly Bluetooth.

Let me say that again. Oh. My. God. Of course, the prototype cost about $30K to put together, and realizability is sketchy on a couple of the pens, but damn. It's enough to make me go out and buy a pocket protector.

August 18, 2004

The Miller Lite Hole Cam?

After weeks of showing us final tables from all of the smaller tournaments at the 2004 World Series of Poker, ESPN has finally started airing episodes from the 2600-person, 5 mil grand prize main event. It's not as though I need something else to do with my time, but I must admit that it holds my interest a little more persistently than watching 1 or 2 pros take on 7-8 no-names at the final table of pot-limit Omaha or Razz. No offense or anything, but after a while it just blurs together for me.

Anyhow, what I wanted to remark on was the advertising. If you've watched any of the WSOP this year, you've noticed that Miller and Toyota are stamping their brand across everything and anything they can think of. I'm not going to whine about the purity of the old broadcasts--televising poker and showing the hole cards pretty much lets the cow out of the barn in that regard. Instead, I wanted to note that Miller and Toyota basically have it all wrong. Maybe I was predisposed by this discussion over at Crooked Timber to notice it, but for my money, the most successful advertiser at the WSOP didn't pay a dime. Several of the top players, and the younger set by and large, wear headphones to their tables, and attached to those headphones, you see distinctive, white iPods.

You don't see Annie Duke tossing back Miller Lite, or Phil Hellmuth parking his brand new ForeRunner. Instead, you see top-notch poker pros listening to iPods. I have no idea if this was a plan on the part of Apple, or if it was just convenience that so many iPods showed up--Apple is either brilliant or damn lucky. One thing that's not luck is that the iPods are instantly recognizable, in a way that almost no other brand of mp3 player is. By the end of the broadcast tonight, I was pretty surprised that I hadn't seen an iPod commercial. Or rather, that I'd seen one long iPod commercial. Either way, I can't help but think that Apple will benefit from it...

September 7, 2004

Happy Birthday, Pixel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

October 6, 2004

Red Facebook?

Just got a tip from Derek about a story in today's Daily Orange about theFacebook.com. Registration is required beyond the first page of the story, but it's free.

Apparently, the creators of ConnectU are suing the Facebook:

Winklevoss and his partners first envisioned in the winter of 2002 a Web site where students could post personal profiles and pictures as a way to improve the social life at Harvard University, Winklevoss said. Since none of them were experienced programmers, they enlisted several other Harvard students to help with the logistics and in November 2003, they approached Zuckerberg for assistance.

Winklevoss said that his group discussed details for the site and exchanged vital information with Zuckerberg under the assumption of an oral agreement "that he would become part of the team in exchange for a share of the benefits, glory, fame and money that would have occurred with the site's success."

How exactly Zuckerberg is to have "stolen source code" from people without programming experience is unclear. Heh. My guess is that the ConnectU folks are going to find that the "assumption of an oral agreement" isn't exactly binding. My second guess is that Zuckerberg took one look, figured out that he didn't really need them, and struck out on his own. The idea of a facebook is pretty public domain--lots of schools do it, and have done it since well before the Net--as are the various affordances offered by these kinds of sites. If Zuckerberg is an adept enough programmer to cost the CU people 2 months of delays, he's almost certainly adept enough to sufficiently adapt source code as well.

And it looks like the CU people realize this:

"We're moving on," [Winklevoss] said. "We'll spend as little time on the lawsuit as we can. The product will continue to grow and that's what we want to focus most of our energy on."

December 1, 2004

(b)light at the end of the tunnel

Ten years from now, my professional biographer will look back at Nov. 30, 2004 as the day I took my first baby step back into the flow of the Writing Program, the first concrete sign of the impending conclusion to my sabbatical.

Okay, but I did actually spend the day at school yesterday, from about 11 to 6, give or take. My primary mission was to visit Steve's graduate course and to share a little of my tech-spertise with the students. That sounds much more top-down than I actually meant it to. They had read portions of The Geopolitics of Academic Discourse, and spent the first half of class talking about the implications of globalism for composition--I was the second-half attraction, responsible for the implications of technology.

I was more than a little scattered, I fear, but oh well. One of the things that I did talk about was something that I had thought about in a different form, an essay that Paul and I put together a while back on the role of technology in graduate programs. There, we argued that departments need to move away from making technology hires that become, in recent parlance, the programs' "tech support generation." The default position of too many departments, in our field at least, is that technology is presumed to be an area of coverage, and too many departments feel that their commitment to technology is fulfilled by the hiring of one or two people in that "area." One of our major claims was that the integration of technology necessitates moving from a model that locates responsibility for technology with the individual to one that treats it as a collective responsibility.

Yesterday, I came at this issue from the question (that I raised myself, but have heard time and again) of where individual instructors can possibly find the time outside of class to learn technologies and inside of class when they've already got so much to accomplish. For me, this question is a symptom of this individual/collective problem, one that manifests itself in a great deal of wasted time and energy for those of us who are proficient. Here's one example: each year, as part of preparing our students for the market, we hold a workshop for the candidates to work on their web presence--initially, that workshop was public, and inevitably, the only people who showed up were those who felt the individual urgency of getting pages up. That urgency has yet to trickle down to students who aren't on the market, however, nor am I especially optimistic that it will. The end result of this is that those of us who are capable of putting up sites end up repeating the process each year for a small group of individuals rather than initiating a process that the program itself might take up and maintain.

The answer to this problem is not that every one must know as much as I do about technology--that would be unrealistic and ultimately it would defeat the purpose of hiring me in the first place. But it's also not the optimal use of my skills and resources to expect me (and I'm speaking generically here and not of my program specifically) to focus solely on the basics, to exist in a constant state of evangelizing for each new group of students and faculty that enter the department. It is worth asking what a program's baseline expectations are, and asking further whether those expectations have changed in the past 5 years--if they haven't changed substantially, then something's wrong. Technology specialists commit themselves to a difficult task, which is made up of departmental support, personal innovation, and an obligation to track the conversations going on in the fields/industries related to technology. Too many departments hire technology specialists with only the first of these in mind, without thought about how neglecting the other two will ultimately affect his or her ability to provide the first. Individuals can't be responsible for an entire program's innovation; assuming that they can is a recipe for stagnation, pure and simple.

Back in the day, my first encounter with "instructional design" people was largely a bust. I told them: tell me what's possible and I'll design a course around the possibilities. They told me: tell me what you want to do, and we'll make it possible. But the more I've thought about it, the more I've realized that both stances are important ones. I'm interested in finding the possibilities, and imagining what they might look like or how they might help us reconceive our roles as writing teachers. But there also needs to be a collective interest, one that isn't simply "tell me what to do" but actively takes an interest and pushes the specialist to seek out possibilities. But it can't just be a reaction to insititutional course outcomes or market expectations--reactions like those entrench the idea that technology is something that individuals take up rather than groups.

I don't really have a grand conclusion to all of this--it's just what I was thinking about. That is all.

December 4, 2004

Googlacy

Three entries in a single day?! I must admit that I've thought about pre-dating one or two of them so as to fill in my calendar--and I'd admit further that I continue to mock this impulse as a way of trying to break myself of it. I'll let you know how that works out for me.

Anyhow, yesterday I had a couple of different conversations based on my post from Wednesday about individual/collective commitments to technology, and as is almost always the case, I found myself distilling my point even further and wishing that I had taken the time to do so as I was writing it. So what's my point? Here it is: it's a mistake to think that you get to choose when to become part of the network, and this is particularly true of academics. Here's the question that I wish I'd asked the students in Steve's class on Tuesday:

What happens when you Google your name?

This is not a technical question, nor does the actual answer matter all that much. It's a question, first, of knowing how you are represented to/in/by the network, and second, exercising what agency you can over that representation. By and large, I'm with Jeff when it comes to the largely mythic nature of literacy, but I'm tempted here to suggest that knowing the results of an egosurf (Googling your name) is to new media/electracy what being able to sign your name is to literacy.

The obsession over tracking data is a bit of a joke among bloggers, and goodness knows, there are tools a plenty that feed that particular addiction, but there's a serious side to being able to speak of one's site traffic with some degree of accuracy. In the grand scheme of things, my Ecosystem ranking or my Technorati report may not mean a great deal, but they give me some sense of my place, some barometer of connectivity that can be articulated in broad terms. In many ways, this is the new version of the curriculum vitae--when I sit on a search committee, and I'm looking through CVs, I'm looking for signs that a particular candidate is engaged with the field, and most of the categories found there are simply chronological accounts of that engagement. They're also so conventional as to become eye-glazing after a while. Contrast the CV, which is a tightly controlled self-presentation, with Technorati search results, over which I have virtually no control and which actually tells a body more about my interests, influences, and place in the network.

Any guesses about the ratio of CV workshops in graduate school to Google workshops? Five or ten years ago, that ratio (which hasn't changed thus far) was arguably justified--it's far less so now, and that justification is receding further as you read this sentence. You can get away without a vita until you go on the market, but a web presence isn't an add-on. It's getting closer and closer to a sine qua non.

(Just imagine how this entry would look if I weren't "distilling." That is all.)

January 31, 2005

Oh no

Lately, I've seen a post or two about the recent upgrade to Apple's iLife package, which includes GarageBand 2. I didn't muck around much with GarageBand 1, because the installer disk I was using didn't seem have all the requisite files on it.

Now, I know that that sweet installer disk was simply looking out for my best interests. The new disk had everything I needed, installed iLife perfectly, and allowed me to take a dangerous trip into the inner workings of GarageBand.

Yeah.

Like I needed something else to distract me. So anyways, here's my first GarageBand track. Keep in mind that

  • I have no real verifiable musical ability
  • some sounds are included purely on the basis of the appeal of their names
  • I'm just fiddling with it
  • I have no real verifiable musical ability

I almost didn't put it up, because I do know of at least one occasional reader who has real verifiable musical ability, of which, if I haven't mentioned it recently enough, I have none. So be forewarned. Oh, and it's like 13 MB, and soooo not worth it to wait for a dialup download. Believe me.

Update: No, I didn't find any verifiable musical ability, but I did finally figure out how to export it into a much more manageable file size. Try this version, which is only about 1.1 MB.

Update 2: By popular demand, I present to you the the second track from my upcoming album. And by "popular demand," I mean my own compulsion to spend an hour playing with GB this morning. It's roughly the same size, I think, but this track goes for more of an ambient feel. It's also a little less percussive.

March 14, 2005

Heavy metal umlaut

{via Will]

Jon Udell has an 8.5 minute screencast that looks at "how pages evolve on Wikipedia." The page he uses? The page on the "heavy metal umlaut." As Will notes, it's a chance "to understand the inner workings of the collaborative construction of content revolution that we are watching."

Jon talks about the challenge of representing typographically the parodic Spinal Tap "n-umlaut," the speed with which vandalism is erased, and the development of a table of contents once the article itself becomes less manageable as a single document. He also talks about the "collective editorial sensibility" as it guides the development of the page from a single sentence to a full-blown, detailed entry.

A fascinating look at a medium and a site that too many "professionals" are dismissing far too quickly.

Tomorrow morning I leave for SF. So what am I doing blogging?

That is all.

April 9, 2005

You are here

Not much to write about today. Spent way too long mucking around with Google Map's new Keyhole-enabled satellite function. The building circled below is our beloved Huntington Beard Crouse Hall, home of the Writing Program. The big white thing to the southwest is the Carrier Dome, just a hop, skip, and a jump from my office...

Syracuse University campus

April 12, 2005

"Behind"

Ok. If I don't say something, this'll just fester. I'll lie in bed tonight, and think of all the things I could say, get no sleep, and be grumpy tomorrow.

I won't pretend, however, that ranting wasn't cathartic.
And I won't apologize for adopting a consciously polemic tone last week.

But I do feel obligated by both Sharon's and Mike's posts to say a couple of things.

In the comments over at Composition Southeast, John writes:

Steve Krashen at USC argues that at whatever level we encounter students, the work we provide should be L + 1. By that notation he means we should present work one increment greater than the student's current language competency. That's easier said than done, but it's a useful formulation.

I think as faculty we might consider T + 1. Whatever our current level of technology literacy, we should be working one increment beyond it. Obviously, we are limited by the current state of our hardware and network, but most of my colleagues don't come close to using the resources we have, even though we could certainly use more resources.

As my students can probably tell you, this is a lot closer to my default position than the word "behind" suggests. For instance, this is from the course I'm teaching now, under expectations:

I do have one more thing, an assumption that I carry into every technologically-inflected course I teach. I expect you to be frank and unapologetic about your level of tech expertise, and I expect you to push yourself in that regard during this course. I will help as best as I can, but you are responsible for being able to say at the end of the semester that you know more about this stuff than you did when you started. Don't be afraid to try something new or different, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you get stuck.

In my courses, nobody is behind. Everyone is simply where they're at, and in a course focused specifically on technology, I expect each of my students to push themselves a little further, to T+1.

I hold myself to a higher standard--I fully expect of myself that I'm able to say, at the end of every semester--that I know more about technology than I did when it began. It's not a race. And it's not a search for a final "answer." Mostly, for me, it's simply an ongoing process of raising questions, and in some cases new questions about writing, communication, knowledge, thought, culture, various professions, et al. In some cases, too, they're old questions--I'm a writing teacher, after all, and I don't believe that we've "answered" or "fixed" the fundamental questions and problems that lurk at the core of our field.

And ultimately, I don't feel an ounce of guilt over the implication that other computers and writing specialists should feel similarly obligated. Nor do I believe that the obligations to ask hard questions of these technologies, to innovate, to theorize, and to experiment are incompatible with the obligation that Mike raises at the end of his post, where he asks what we should make of Charlie Moran's (in some ways equally) polemic essay on access.

It's a question that both he and Sharon raise, in different ways. My first answer is that the question of material access should be no less of an issue for anthropologists, microbiologists, and historians than it is for us. Material access to information technologies should be no less a public good than transportation, health care, etc. There is no reason to single out writing teachers as particularly responsible for this problem--we are all obligated in this fashion.

My second answer is that, in computers and writing, we have behaved as though access is our particular cross, and there's a weird sort of arrogance lurking there. A couple of weeks ago, on WPA-L, there was a post by a writing teacher who described himself as "misinformed" and "elitist" because he expected his students to turn in word-processed papers?!?!?! And this is where I take issue with Moran--the notion that "access is the issue that drives all others before it" has been taken up as a trump card, to be slapped down indiscriminately in discussions of technology. I am most emphatically not suggesting that Sharon or Mike is doing this, but I see and hear this move happening regularly--the logical extension of this position is that, until everyone has access to the same technologies, any kind of innovation is elitist. I reject this position categorically.

Let me say this again. I don't believe that Mike or Sharon is saying this. I don't believe Moran is saying this. What I do believe is that the will-to-access is used on a regular basis to forestall discussions of technology and it is used just as frequently as an excuse not to engage with technology, in the guise of an ethical objection, invoked by people who otherwise don't give access a single thought or a moment of their time.

My third answer is that part of the gap between haves and have-nots is unquestionably economic, but there is also a part of it that is simply volitional. No, I am not blaming the people who can't afford access for not having access. But I would echo John's claim that there are plenty of places with resources where there is no desire for, interest in, or curiosity about these things. The cost of a computer with an internet connection is not an insignificant one, I know, but the cost of a lot of the things I named is minimal. The sound program I used to podcast my CCCC paper? Free. Blogger? Free. Bloglines? Free. It costs nothing but a little time to learn that John Holbo is one of the bigwigs at the single most popular academic blog out there. Learning about Grokster? Please. Heck, even Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture is available at no cost in pdf format. I know not everyone out there is a Mac person, but iMovie can help you put together a slide show, set to music, with voice overs, and save the whole caboodle as a QT movie, and it's a pretty simple program (and came pre-installed).

Every single one of those "behinds" I mentioned, and plenty that I didn't, can be managed with relative ease by someone with an internet connection and a copy of iLife (an $80 software suite from Apple) or an assortment of shareware apps. But more important is the fact that these and other technologies are shifting the way that large segments of our population are thinking about culture, about property, about politics, about journalism, and yes, about writing. It costs us nothing but a little time and attention to get access to these ideas, and to work with them when and where we can. When a whole species of public writing receives more column inches in Time and Newsweek than it does in the pages of our journals, then yes, I do think we are behind. When our incoming students are held to higher standards of technological literacy than we ourselves are, then yes, I think we're behind. When the best we can do to explain online research is to point students to the help pages at Google, we're behind.

I say none of this out of a desire to leave "them" behind--I say it out of a desire to catch "us" up. This is an obligation which is both intellectual and collective, and it is neither pre-empted by nor mutually exclusive with the broader social obligation towards material access.

Yeah, so, three hours later, that is all. Sigh.

"Behind"

Ok. If I don't say something, this'll just fester. I'll lie in bed tonight, and think of all the things I could say, get no sleep, and be grumpy tomorrow.

I won't pretend, however, that ranting wasn't cathartic.
And I won't apologize for adopting a consciously polemic tone last week.

But I do feel obligated by both Sharon's and Mike's posts to say a couple of things.

In the comments over at Composition Southeast, John writes:

Steve Krashen at USC argues that at whatever level we encounter students, the work we provide should be L + 1. By that notation he means we should present work one increment greater than the student's current language competency. That's easier said than done, but it's a useful formulation.

I think as faculty we might consider T + 1. Whatever our current level of technology literacy, we should be working one increment beyond it. Obviously, we are limited by the current state of our hardware and network, but most of my colleagues don't come close to using the resources we have, even though we could certainly use more resources.

As my students can probably tell you, this is a lot closer to my default position than the word "behind" suggests. For instance, this is from the course I'm teaching now, under expectations:

I do have one more thing, an assumption that I carry into every technologically-inflected course I teach. I expect you to be frank and unapologetic about your level of tech expertise, and I expect you to push yourself in that regard during this course. I will help as best as I can, but you are responsible for being able to say at the end of the semester that you know more about this stuff than you did when you started. Don't be afraid to try something new or different, and don't be afraid to ask for help when you get stuck.

In my courses, nobody is behind. Everyone is simply where they're at, and in a course focused specifically on technology, I expect each of my students to push themselves a little further, to T+1.

I hold myself to a higher standard--I fully expect of myself that I'm able to say, at the end of every semester--that I know more about technology than I did when it began. It's not a race. And it's not a search for a final "answer." Mostly, for me, it's simply an ongoing process of raising questions, and in some cases new questions about writing, communication, knowledge, thought, culture, various professions, et al. In some cases, too, they're old questions--I'm a writing teacher, after all, and I don't believe that we've "answered" or "fixed" the fundamental questions and problems that lurk at the core of our field.

And ultimately, I don't feel an ounce of guilt over the implication that other computers and writing specialists should feel similarly obligated. Nor do I believe that the obligations to ask hard questions of these technologies, to innovate, to theorize, and to experiment are incompatible with the obligation that Mike raises at the end of his post, where he asks what we should make of Charlie Moran's (in some ways equally) polemic essay on access.

It's a question that both he and Sharon raise, in different ways. My first answer is that the question of material access should be no less of an issue for anthropologists, microbiologists, and historians than it is for us. Material access to information technologies should be no less a public good than transportation, health care, etc. There is no reason to single out writing teachers as particularly responsible for this problem--we are all obligated in this fashion.

My second answer is that, in computers and writing, we have behaved as though access is our particular cross, and there's a weird sort of arrogance lurking there. A couple of weeks ago, on WPA-L, there was a post by a writing teacher who described himself as "misinformed" and "elitist" because he expected his students to turn in word-processed papers?!?!?! And this is where I take issue with Moran--the notion that "access is the issue that drives all others before it" has been taken up as a trump card, to be slapped down indiscriminately in discussions of technology. I am most emphatically not suggesting that Sharon or Mike is doing this, but I see and hear this move happening regularly--the logical extension of this position is that, until everyone has access to the same technologies, any kind of innovation is elitist. I reject this position categorically.

Let me say this again. I don't believe that Mike or Sharon is saying this. I don't believe Moran is saying this. What I do believe is that the will-to-access is used on a regular basis to forestall discussions of technology and it is used just as frequently as an excuse not to engage with technology, in the guise of an ethical objection, invoked by people who otherwise don't give access a single thought or a moment of their time.

My third answer is that part of the gap between haves and have-nots is unquestionably economic, but there is also a part of it that is simply volitional. No, I am not blaming the people who can't afford access for not having access. But I would echo John's claim that there are plenty of places with resources where there is no desire for, interest in, or curiosity about these things. The cost of a computer with an internet connection is not an insignificant one, I know, but the cost of a lot of the things I named is minimal. The sound program I used to podcast my CCCC paper? Free. Blogger? Free. Bloglines? Free. It costs nothing but a little time to learn that John Holbo is one of the bigwigs at the single most popular academic blog out there. Learning about Grokster? Please. Heck, even Lawrence Lessig's Free Culture is available at no cost in pdf format. I know not everyone out there is a Mac person, but iMovie can help you put together a slide show, set to music, with voice overs, and save the whole caboodle as a QT movie, and it's a pretty simple program (and came pre-installed).

Every single one of those "behinds" I mentioned, and plenty that I didn't, can be managed with relative ease by someone with an internet connection and a copy of iLife (an $80 software suite from Apple) or an assortment of shareware apps. But more important is the fact that these and other technologies are shifting the way that large segments of our population are thinking about culture, about property, about politics, about journalism, and yes, about writing. It costs us nothing but a little time and attention to get access to these ideas, and to work with them when and where we can. When a whole species of public writing receives more column inches in Time and Newsweek than it does in the pages of our journals, then yes, I do think we are behind. When our incoming students are held to higher standards of technological literacy than we ourselves are, then yes, I think we're behind. When the best we can do to explain online research is to point students to the help pages at Google, we're behind.

I say none of this out of a desire to leave "them" behind--I say it out of a desire to catch "us" up. This is an obligation which is both intellectual and collective, and it is neither pre-empted by nor mutually exclusive with the broader social obligation towards material access.

Yeah, so, three hours later, that is all. Sigh.

June 21, 2005

The Great Wiki Disaster of 2005

Yeah, whatever.

The absolute best line I've seen in relation to the L.A. Times' wiki "failure" has to come from Jeff Jarvis:

This is like hearing Kathie Lee Gifford try to rap and then, upon hearing the results, declaring hip hop dead.

Pure gold. And the rest of the entry is worth reading as well. Jeff also excerpts the L.A. Times post-mortem on the experience, which includes

"As long as we can hit a high standard and have no risk of vandalism, then it is worth having a try at it again," said Rob Barrett, general manager of Los Angeles Times Interactive....

Or, in other words, over Rob's dead body. Neither of those conditions is especially realistic. Vandalism--or more precisely, spam--is the risk of doing business out here, I'm afraid. And there is absolutely no guarantee that a high standard can be "hit"; crap is another of the risks you run. I haven't written at all about the LAT's grand wiki experiment--other things have demanded my attention--but I would say that it's getting harder to admire the boldness of that experiment when the people who were apparently in charge of it demonstrate so little understanding of what it is that they were doing.

That's all.

July 6, 2005

Curse of the Black Perl

Having just finished up four hours of my life that I can never get back, let me just say this: trying to figure out how to get Perl working on my office machine has been a journey I would not wish upon anyone. Don't get me wrong here, I managed to do it, thanks to some creative googling and a stubborn refusal to believe that it could be as hard as I was making it.

Whether it will ultimately pay off or not, I do not know. We're hoping to bend a couple of perl tools to our will to help us with CCC Online, and the first step was getting to the point where we could actually try them out, so that's accomplished.

October 3, 2005

Web 0.3

Okay, this is gonna be a little snarky.

I've been ramping up on Web2.0 references for my talk next week, and there's some good stuff to be had, especially lately. And so, when I came across Steve Johnson's note about his recent column on the subject for Discover, I was psyched.

And so I go over to the Discover site to pick up the article. And there I discover (sorry) that while I can print it out, I can't print out a print-friendly version. Why not? Because this feature is reserved for members. As is the ability to email the article. After all, why would a site want to increase its own traffic through word-of-mouth?

Oh, it gets better. Members are also allowed to "rate the article" and/or "bookmark it." Here's the irony. Both of these are hallmarks of Web 2.0 apps. Ratings and tags both increase the value of content, but as Chris Anderson notes in his summary of O'Reilly's essay, one of the core principles is

Network Effects by Default

Only a small percentage of users will go to the trouble of adding value to your application. Therefore: Set inclusive defaults for aggregating user data as a side-effect of their use of the application.

Discover clearly gets it insofar as they've got SBJ writing for them. But Chris's characterization is dead-on: the value-add of Web 2.0, once your users move beyond novelty, is trouble. It's not a privilege to be granted by the site, but a contribution from the users. Imagine how sparse the reviews and lists would be on Amazon if they charged you money, or even just layered it behind a demographiquiz. And actually, those aren't even the default net effects: imagine how much worse Amazon's "people who bought X also bought Y" feature would be if it were restricted in that fashion.

This really hasn't been that snarky, I suppose. And maybe I'm projecting a little, but it seems to me that part of Web2.0 as well is keeping the threshold as low as possible for the kind of collective intelligence that we're after. Requiring me to be a member in order to get a print-friendly version of an article that's available anyway? I'm pretty sure that's Web0.3 or so...

That's all.

October 7, 2005

Identity 2.0

Derek mentioned this to me yesterday, and as I was cleaning up my feeds, I found a couple of different references, and thought to pass it along. If you

  1. are interested in the relationship between technology and identity,
  2. have no idea (but want to) what Web 2.0 is about, and/or
  3. are interested in seeing a really smart SMART Powerpoint presentation,

then get thee hence, to Dick Hardt's keynote address for OSCON 05, called "Identity 2.0." Hardt's delivery is a lot like Kenny Mayne's on ESPN, and he combines it with a funny, rapid-fire PP presentation that will force you to learn something in spite of yourself.

That's all.

December 5, 2005

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]

May 19, 2006

Kevin Kelly, "Scan This Book!"

I have to admit that I was all ready to read Kevin Kelly's piece for the NYT Magazine ("Scan This Book!") and to dislike it. I was ready to dismiss it as this decade's version of Robert Coover's "classic," "The End of Books." A number of blogs that I follow have been moderately aflutter in the wake of Kelly's article, which is normally a good sign, but then there's that exclamation point in the title. Never been fond of the exclamation point.

And predictably enough, it's precisely those places that warrant the exclamation point that I have the most trouble with. (for a nice critique of Kelly's hyperbole, along with a comment thread where Kelly himself makes an appearance, try Nicholas Carr.)On balance, though, the article was a good one. So here's the deal (this is Carr's summary):

By scanning, digitizing, and uploading the words printed on the pages of the dusty volumes caged in libraries, he says, we will free those words of their literal and figurative bindings. They will merge, on the web, into a greater whole providing a greater good:
The static world of book knowledge is about to be transformed by the same elevation of relationships [that we find in hyperlinked web sites], as each page in a book discovers other pages and other books. Once text is digital, books seep out of their bindings and weave themselves together. The collective intelligence of a [digital] library allows us to see things we can't see in a single, isolated book ... All the books in the world [will] become a single liquid fabric of interconnected words and ideas.

You will no longer have to read books piecemeal, one by one. Instead, says Kelly, you'll be able to surf from book to book "in the same way we hop through Web links, traveling from footnote to footnote to footnote until you reach the bottom of things."

I think that Kelly underestimates the amount of power and cultural inertia that books, and specifically book publishers, have for us, almost as much as Coover did. Telling for me is the comment from the CEO of HarperCollins, who doesn't "expect this suit to be resolved in my lifetime." I think that the front-end of Kelly's vision will ultimately prove to be a lot more problematic than any of us could possibly imagine.

But for me, that's not the biggest issue, although I can see how it would be for many people. Kelly's essay is less like Coover's and more like Vannevar Bush's As We May Think, now more than 60 years old. In fact, it would be instructive, I imagine, to place the two side-by-side in a course, and, barring references to the technologies of the time, see how closely they resemble one another. Bush's Memex runs on microfilm because that's what he's got technology-wise, but otherwise, there's a similarity in the vision offered by the two articles despite their temporal distance.

One important difference, though, is that Bush is fairly specific about the utility of the Memex--he begins his essay by highlighting a crisis in research that has certainly not abated in the past 60 years:

Professionally our methods of transmitting and reviewing the results of research are generations old and by now are totally inadequate for their purpose. If the aggregate time spent in writing scholarly works and in reading them could be evaluated, the ratio between these amounts of time might well be startling. (Bush)

In other words, the Memex (and by extension here, Kelly's "liquid") is most useful for people who use books in a more extensive and varied sense than mere consumption. This is not to say that consumption is somehow "less than"--goodness knows, I do my fair share of consuming books--but I use books in a different way than most of my non-academic friends. Lots of different ways.

The real magic will come in the second act, as each word in each book is cross-linked, clustered, cited, extracted, indexed, analyzed, annotated, remixed, reassembled and woven deeper into the culture than ever before. In the new world of books, every bit informs another; every page reads all the other pages. (Kelly)

Setting aside the hyperbole of this passage, what I see is a pretty fair description of some of the things that I do when I do research and write scholarship, although I can't speak for how deeply I weave my words into the culture. But my point is that this is a particularly "academic" list of goals for the vision that Kelly offers. His attempts to tie this universal library to other pop phenomena, though, is less persuasive for me:

Just as the music audience now juggles and reorders songs into new albums (or "playlists," as they are called in iTunes), the universal library will encourage the creation of virtual "bookshelves" — a collection of texts, some as short as a paragraph, others as long as entire books, that form a library shelf's worth of specialized information. (Kelly)

Well, sort of. I think Kelly's right to note that this model will work for reference books (e.g., cookbooks, travel guides), because those are pop genres that are specifically built for use in a way that most other books are not. But I'm less convinced that short story anthologies, say, are going to take in the same way that iTunes playlists do, except among more esoteric subcultures. Like academia. Because to have a library shelf's worth of specialized information means, presumably, having to read that shelf's worth of information, whether front-to-back or side-to-skipping-side.

Despite some skepticism in my tone here, though, I like this essay. At the same time, I don't think that the vision offered by Kelly is quite as universal as he imagines, regardless of whether we're able to achieve it. I do, however, fervently believe that this vision will transform academic work (and other fields where research is a core element). I don't think that it's immodest of me to suggest that what we're doing with CCC Online represents baby steps in the directions that Kelly suggests, and so I'm particularly conscious of all the compromises and difficulties that even a single step in this direction entails. Like Steven, I believe that what's most interesting about this article are the hints towards "what kinds of writing and reading practices will emerge as all these books take on new digital lives," but I think that those will take even more time to sort out.

That is all for now.

July 9, 2006

Party like it's 1996

This is not the rant I alluded to a post or few ago, but it is probably going to be a bit of a rant. Over the past couple of days, there have been a number of appeals in various fora for feedback on the "Technology Section" of the WPA Outcomes document. You can follow the link to look at the comments thus far offered, but allow me to reproduce it here:

Computer Literacy

Multiple problems arise from constructing any set of prescribed first-year outcomes relating to technology. Two problems are foremost:

(1) Schools and students who have access to technology are more likely to have the prescribed knowledge or skills than students who have limited access to technology. By imposing a set of outcomes related to technology, we are making school harder for those who are lower in the socioeconomic spectrum of society and consequently have less access to technology.

(2) Teachers may be encouraging a non-critical approach to incorporating technology into writing classes.

Teachers need to avoid using technology for its own sake (and for the sake of those who sell it); on the other hand, students who have a critical awareness of technology and how to use it when writing are more employable than students who do not. Within those parameters, we propose the following set of outcomes:

By the end of first-year composition, students should have a critical understanding of digital literacy, including:

  • use the computer for drafting, revising, responding, and editing.
  • employ research strategies using electronic databases
  • conduct web-based research and the evaluate online sources
  • understand the difference in rhetorical strategies used in writing traditional and hyper-text prose/graphics.

Okay. I'm going to set aside the strange language of describing this as a "techno-plank," and move straight to the fact that there are 3 big advantages to posting this in blogspace. First, it allows for the posting of comments. Second, given the right platform, it would allow interested parties to subscribe to an RSS feed of the follow-up comments, rather than having to visit the page repeatedly. Third, placing it online allows for links to be placed to the WPA homepage and/or the original Outcomes Statement to which this is intended as an addition.

Color me nitpicky, but this page only manages one of three. On the third point, I tend to remember URLs, but otherwise, I would have had to look it up, and from the homepage, the Outcomes Statement is 2 levels in, and that's if you're lucky enough to guess that it's in the WPA Guide, and then that it can be found among the WPA Position Statements and Resolutions. It's all but buried in the site. Frankly, that's too much work to accomplish what seems to me to be a pretty natural task request--the ability to access the larger document of which this may soon be a part. The page accomplishes the 1st advantage, and I can understand why the 2nd wouldn't be seized upon--it's a fine point and requires more familiarity with blog platforms than most of my colleagues probably possess. The third point, however, is pretty basic and reasonable.

But that's just form, you might argue. At least it's up there. And yes, I agree--it is up there. So let's turn to the statement itself. Some of my exasperation with the statement is mitigated by the purpose of the OS in general: "These statements describe only what we expect to find at the end of first-year composition, at most schools a required general education course or sequence of courses." In other words, I understand the problems that "outcomes" present, having written a few in the course of my own career. And yet.

It says something, I think, that the OS in general strongly asserts the importance of expertise and authority, while this technology statement's overwhelming tone is one of apology and qualification. The OS explains that "th[is] document is not merely a compilation or summary of what currently takes place," but rather an attempt to "regularize" expectations. In other words, the document makes some room for asserting goals rather than simply reflecting a status quo. And if my impressions of how this document is typically deployed are correct, then its primary audience is administrative.

Then why would it begin with a statement about why it should be ignored? This self-refutation takes up nearly 50% of the statement itself, and basically allows an audience to dismiss it. We all know that access is uneven. What we all don't seem to know is that access to literacy is similarly uneven. "[T]hose who are lower in the socioeconomic spectrum of society" are also likely to have more trouble accomplishing the goals of the main OS, but this isn't posed as the sizable obstacle that it is here.

The second objection? I don't really know what that means, although I suppose there are hints below: uncritical appears to involve "using technology for its own sake (and for the sake of those who sell it)." If I wanted to get really snarky about this, I'd talk about how many textbooks (themselves a technology) are assigned for their own sake (and never or rarely used) and/or for the sake of those who sell (and/or write) them. Maybe the parenthetical above is a swipe at the class-in-a-box people, but it's a little ironic that it's just as applicable to the class-in-a-book people.

So how bout we start this statement with the kind of positive, assertive statement that chracterizes the main OS? Something like:

Although writing has a long and varied history, as we enter the 21st century, it is essential that we recognize the crucial connection between writing and information technologies. Computers are no longer (if they ever were) souped-up typewriters; the Web and the Internet more broadly have transformed writing at a fundamental level. As a result, responsibly designed writing courses, at every level, can no longer afford to ignore technology.

I like that a lot better, but then, I'm not a WPA. To my mind, in a document for administrators, the "foremost problem" shouldn't be either of the two offered. I would add a paragraph to the end of the statement explaining that resources and training, for teachers, are a vital part of supporting these outcomes. I would cast this as an ongoing investment for which the outcomes are the reward. But that's me. I'm pretty sure that whatever "uncritical" actually means, it has more to do with a lack of pedagogical support than it does with teachers shilling for companies.

(btw, "on the other hand" students "are more employable"?? That is the only statement of technology's value in this entire document. Wow. That's really really weak. Really. And no, the main OS doesn't "justify" writing, but it also doesn't undercut it.)

The specific outcomes are pretty vanilla, although I would argue that they were no less true back in 1996 than they are today. Is it possible to bring them forward without dipping into specifics that might become obsolete a year or two down the line?

"use the computer for drafting, revising, responding, and editing"--it's hard for me to imagine that this is actually necessary any longer, but oh well. It would have been a goal rather than a baseline minimum back in 1986. I'd prefer to see something about multiple platforms (including word processors) used in the composing process.

"employ research strategies using electronic databases"--odd phrasing. Employ strategies using the databases? How about developing an awareness of the variety of search strategies made possible by the combination of physical and electronic information sources?

"conduct web-based research and the evaluate online sources"--I'm not sure why this and #2 are separate. Far as I can tell, they're the same outcome with different sites. Unless we're going to indulge the assumption that nothing is published and available in a database that needs evaluating with the same "critical" eye. Nope. We're not. Combine these two.

"understand the difference in rhetorical strategies used in writing traditional and hyper-text prose/graphics."--Okay, this is fugly. First of all, false binary. Second of all, "hyper-text"?? Qu'est-ce que c'est? Third of all, "prose/graphics"? How about an awareness of the effect that media have upon rhetorical strategies, preferably achieved through the production of a varied range of texts (look under Processes in the main OS, and you'll see that this is already there, btw.)?

So far, I've just taken what they've offered and revised. Do I have a wishlist? Oh yes:

  • Some appreciation/understanding of the rhetorical impact of design in various media
  • Some introduction to the cultural impact of technology in particular venues
  • Some experience with social software, whether it be email lists, MOOs, MMORPGs, blogs, wikis, social bookmarking, facebook, myspace, etc.

That's top of my head stuff, but I'm sure if pressed I could generate others. There's the problem of outcomes statements, of course, but surely we could be asking a little more than this document currently does. And we could be apologizing for it a little less. Prefacing an outcomes statement with the reasons why it's problematic just strikes me as self-defeating.

And while all this certainly sounds like I don't appreciate the work that undoubtedly went into this statement, that wouldn't be correct. I recognize how tough stuff like this is, but I think it's also important to realize the opportunity that it represents, and that opportunity isn't served well by some of what appears there.

That's all. I hope that the conversation that ensues at the WPAC next week is productive.

Update: the 4th advantage of blogspace is trackbacking, so that long-ass, windy rants like mine can be recorded on the site itself. Oh well. Maybe I'll leave a comment there, pointing.

Update 2: I forgot to link to Jeff's comments about the TOS, which prompted me to look at the thing in the first place. D'oh.

July 16, 2006

New Mail Order

You may recall that I wrote a couple of months ago about chipping away at my Inbox, and reducing it below the astronomical and shameful status of more than 1000 messages. Since that time, I've kept the Inbox roughly at 100 or so, shaving it back once it climbs to 150 or 200. (Yes, I get my share of email--this happens at least a couple of times a week.) Although it amounts to stalling other tasks on my part, I finally took a little more control over my email today, in the form of 2 plugins for Mail.app:

1. Letterbox: For the longest time, the vertical default arrangement for Mail was simply invisible to me. Then I saw a link to Letterbox over at 43F, and decided to give it a try. It helps that I have a fairly wide monitor. But now, I can see much more of my inbox than I could previously, and I'm able to set a mail message and its reply side-by-side without thinking about it. It took me all of 10 minutes to realize what I'd been missing from my mail interface.

2. Mail Act-On: A couple of weeks ago, Madeline and I were sitting in my office jawing about whatever and I hit upon the idea of being able to keystroke my incoming mail, so that I could color them according to a deadline threat level, e.g., red for "Do it now!", orange for "Do it today!" and so on. I didn't give it much thought beyond that.

Thank goodness someone else did. Act-On is a plugin that allows you to set up keystroke-handy Rules of the sort that Mail allows you to apply to incoming messages. In other words, when I am reading a message, I can bring up the Act-On menu and slot the message where I choose (or highlight it if I want). So my new mail order now consists of the following process:

Question 1: Does it require action? If so, then it goes into 1 of 6 folders, keyed to #'s 1 through 6 in Act-On, depending on immediacy (1=today, 2=next day or so, 3=this week, 4=this month, 5=this semester, 6 is a catchall for possible action items). I never leave the office with anything in folder 1, and I start each day by moving everything in folder 2 up, and I don't let the weekend pass without emptying folder 3. Them's the rules.

If no action is required, then Question 2: Should I archive it? If so, then I have a streamlined set of folders all gathered into a metafolder called Archive. Department business, student work, digital receipts, travel arrangements, correspondence, etc.--it all goes there.

If not, then delete the damn thing.

Start every day by emptying the inbox into 1 of 7 folders, and end every day by making sure that folder 1 (and sometimes 2 or 3) is empty. This is a plan I think I can live with.

Oh, and btw, Robin Benson maintains a pretty comprehensive page of plugins for Mac Mail users. It's how I found Act-On. For a more detailed description of it, there's an article I looked at from Macworld as well. If you're using Mail.app, this is definitely worth your attention...

That's all.

July 21, 2006

Searching and hoping and thinking and praying

Last week, when I was young and impetuous, I made a couple of suggestion re the WPA Technology Outcomes Statement. In the interests of positivity, I thought I might revisit one of the suggestions, namely

How about developing an awareness of the variety of search strategies made possible by the combination of physical and electronic information sources?

One of the things that I think is hugely important here is that too many think "search" is simply a single process, delimited by pluses, minuses and quotes. "Strategies" too often refers to the ability to narrow your Google results down from 1 million to 50,000 or so. Problem is that this vision of search is not unlike bobbing for apples. It's a little flip of me to say so, I suppose, but it's true. And at one point, that's what web tech and search tools permitted.

With Google, the tools improved. The strategies? Not so much. For all of the good that Google did, driving out some truly horrid site design and searches so slow you could almost hear the hamster running in the wheel, PageRank was a huge advance that made us pretty darn lazy. There's still plenty of value to be had from Google, but it's still an information retrieval service. I use it on a daily basis, but I use it in a very specific, constrained way that takes advantage of speed and the particular needs I have.

What's happening now is something that Ebrahim Ezzy calls "Search 2.0" over at Richard MacManus's Read/Write Web:

Third-generation search technologies are designed to combine the scalability of existing internet search engines with new and improved relevancy models; they bring into the equation user preferences, collaboration, collective intelligence, a rich user experience, and many other specialized capabilities that make information more productive.

Yeah, yeah, third-gen but 2.0. Where this essay (part 1 of 2) potentially misleads is in the implication of 2.0 as something that will replace 1.0, when it's more likely that they will work in concert. One of the things that these new search engines have in common is their potential use specifically for Long Tail information. (I'll get to a review of that book one of these weeks.) The more specific the object of your search is, the fewer people there are who are likely to want it, and thus the less accessible it will be via Google, barring some arcane system of +this and -that. I'm not going to find a new book in my field via Google, unless it's to look up the web address of a publisher.

One of the things that Search 2.0 is about is not finding X, but finding Y who knows X. Here's an example: a friend asked me how I find new music. Usually, it's a combination of three things: what my friends (with similar tastes) are listening to, what selected reviewers (with similar tastes) are recommending, and what iTunes tells me are the proximate bands, songs, and playlists.

Let me talk about that last for a second, because it can sound counter-intuitive if you think about it. I'm talking about "searching" for something that I already know/have, in order to see what else is in its neighborhood. We do it in the library sometimes, right? If we know one book is useful, we might see what else is on the shelf around it. Now think about a service like del.icio.us as a site where thousands of users are building dynamic shelves or neighborhoods. Bookmark an article that you know you want to work with, and you can use del.icio.us to find all the other users who are bookmarking it, all the other things they've bookmarked beside it, and the terms they've used to categorize it.

Goodness knows, these systems and engines are far from perfect. Nick Carr, for example, observes that sites like Amazon are limited in their usefulness:

Fallows makes one observation that hits home with me. He describes how underwhelming he finds all the automated product recommendations that are always being thrown at you on the web. "In nearly a decade with Amazon," he writes, "I've yet to experience the moment of perfect serendipity when it discovers a book I really like that I wouldn't otherwise have known about." I, too, have been waiting years to experience that moment - with Amazon, with Netflix, with iTunes, with all of 'em.

These are Long Tail companies with Short Head motives, and so this isn't that surprising to me--their market share is built on factors other than specialist searches (like convenience, e.g.). I find Amazon almost completely useless for automated recommendations. But they also enable more specialized, community recommendations, and these I've found useful. If I've liked several of the books on a Listmania list, there's a good chance that I'll add one or more unread ones from it onto my Wish List. And there are a few situations where I've found autorecs useful, like when I'm returning to a particular genre after a hiatus, for instance.

As some of us non-science disciplines start to catch on to the benefits of these kinds of networks (e.g., AnthroSource, MediaCommons, et al.), the tools will exist that allow alot of people to bypass Google altogether. Not that the occasional apple bob isn't necessary, mind you, but it shouldn't be the first and last step.

The other little piece of optimism that I have is this: once we start acknowledging the value of this kind of searching and KM, then perhaps more broad-based support will exist for the construction of resources that take advantage of it. Imagine the iTunes interface, for instance, as a gateway to the scholarship in a discipline, where professors can put together "playlists" of texts in the same way that users now publish mixes, only these playlists are the syllabi for the graduate courses taught in the discipline or the bibliographies of our articles and books.

What I come bumping up against again and again is that we're too accustomed to treating our expertise as disposable. How many hundreds of times a year do we put together carefully thematic and specifically paced syllabi/playlists, only to bury them in desktop folders and wastepaper baskets? We don't collect that information in any systematic fashion because our vision of the web lacks an understanding of the motivation behind links and networks. Google was successful precisely because PageRank algorithmizes that motivation, and if these Search 2.0 tools succeed, it will be by leveraging the networks even further.

I hope we're not still bobbing for apples.

That's about it from me. There's some spots above that probably need filling out, but it's getting late. This is part of what I mean when I say that we need to understand search better, both for ourselves and for our students.

(Almost forgot: Dean)

August 10, 2006

CCCO thoughts

Over at if:book, Ray Cha relays and recommends an upcoming chapter from Clifford Lynch, about moving beyond "reader-centric views of scholarly literature." It has much in common with Franco Moretti's work on literary history, and is worth reading for that reason alone.

But I'm also on the lookout for ways to articulate just what it is we're trying to do with CCC Online, and Lynch's piece fits the bill. Namely...

We would also see an explosion in services that provided access to this literature in new and creative ways. Such services would also incorporate specialized vocabulary databases, gazetteers, factual databases, ontologies, and other auxiliary tools to enhance indexing and retrieval. They would rapidly transcend access to address navigation and analysis. One path here leads towards more-customized rehosting of scholarly literatures and underlying evidence into new usage and analysis environments attuned to the specific scholarly practices of various disciplines.

We would also see a move beyond federation and indexing to actual text mining and analysis, to the extraction of hypotheses and correlations that would help to drive ongoing scholarly inquiry. Indeed, the literature would be embedded in a computational context that reorganized and re-evaluated the existing body of knowledge as new literature became available.

That excerpt separates nicely into what I think we're already doing at the site, although not perhaps to the extent that Lynch imagines it, and the second half, which in many ways is the prize that we've got our long-term eyes on. If you don't think we're watching projects like this and this, well, you don't know us very well. Heh.

I'm less worried about the potential objections that Cha raises at the end of his post--"Purists will undoubtedly frown upon the use of computation that cannot be replicated by humans in scholarly research"--than I am about getting to the point where such objections can be raised. In other words, I believe that such work, if it can generate compelling results, will override knee-jerk complaints. I think it's also going to be necessary, in our own field at least, to be very careful to qualify the value of this work appropriately. Not that that's always been enough, especially when it comes to quasi-statistical work, which tends to run afoul of the old "me humanities. me hate math." goofiness.

Two other points. First is one that I'm guessing some people will not appreciate, and that's that, to an extent this work is fairly easily decoupled from the "open access" that appears to drive Lynch's piece. That is, the value of data mining is offered as a consequence of open access, and while that is true at a very large scale, I think it possible to do quite a bit in this area without it, honestly. We're able to work around providing the metadata we wanted without having to open up the journal's content, even if we might have preferred it otherwise. And I think that some pretty entrenched attitudes will need to change for what Lynch describes to be more than a thought experiment. Not that they shouldn't change, but I'm not sure how far they actually need to, for this at least.

Second point is that we use a fairly small, fairly simple suite of tools to do what we're doing now. We had to cobble stuff together, and we've done so fairly successfully, but it shouldn't go unmentioned that a couple of good programmers would go a long way towards making this a lot more doable. Personally, I have enough ability to tweak, and I'm pretty good at making MT modules do what I want them to, but we spent a fair bit of time just cobbling. I'm conscious of how much more efficient our system could be.

And yeah, it's only one journal that we're working on, and all things considered, we really have to pace things more slowly than I'd like. But it's also our flagship journal, and if nothing else, we tackled the biggest job first, in designing and testing it on CCC. There's going to be some real value in what we're doing, even if it doesn't hit the scale that Lynch imagines. And we're a pretty solid model for how to accomplish these goals on both a small scale and approaching it from the bottom up.

That is all.

August 14, 2006

Achieving Obfuscation

Operation PowerPoint

I don't want to comment on a book I haven't read, but Garr Reynolds at Presentation Zen has a nice piece about the prevalence of PowerPoint as a communication tool in the military. He's referencing Thomas Ricks's new book Fiasco, which concludes, among other things, that the current occupation of Iraq represents the "worst war plan in American history."

Part of that plan, apparently, is the slide above, which is an "actual slide that Joint Task Force IV used to show how the occupation would work." In a backasswards kind of way, this actually answers many of my questions.

ps. Anyone who is ever required to do presentations should subscribe to PZ. Reynolds is not anti-PowerPoint so much as he is anti-BadPresentation in all its manifestations. It's a good resource. And who knows? It might help you aim pressure so as to achieve end-state over time. Really.

That's all.

August 22, 2006

Coming soon, to a theater near you...!

My reaction has been mixed to the new suite of Geico commercials, although I am forced to admit that they are a serious improvement upon the "meta-gecko" crap they've been serving up. If you haven't seen them, "real Geico customers" are paired up with celebrities like Little Richard, Charo, and Burt Bachrach. Bachrach was just plain weird, but it's actually grown on me.

Anyways, one of the commercials features the guy (or one of them, anyway) who does the voiceovers for movie trailers. The commercial is utterly predictable, as you might imagine, a quasi-emergency headed off by Geico, blah blah blah, all done in the MovieGuy voice.

Which brings me. At the risk of appearing to be piling on when what I sort of hope to do is to pile up, I wanted to pick up a couple of the threads that appear in posts by Jeff and Alex, which themselves respond to an if:book post noting Kairos's 10YA. Are we all linked up? Good.

When I went over to Jim Kalmbach's retrospective in Kairos, my response was fairly similar to Jeff's. As I began to read the piece, though, as I read this:

Undaunted by this mystery, they set out to create an online journal that would explore the intersections of rhetoric, technology, and pedagogy, or as Michael Salvo (Doherty & Salvo, 2002) put it:

With Kairos, a handful of graduate students in half a dozen states, with no budget and no sense of what was and was not possible (or acceptable), created something that caught (and continues to catch) peoples' attention.

Here's where it comes together. I couldn't read this passage without MovieGuy's voice intoning it: "In a field stagnant and dominated by print ideals....a band of plucky graduate students...with only the clothes on their backs...armed with an idea and the will to change a discipline...."

This may be snotty of me, I admit. I honestly have nothing against Jim, whom I don't know, nor Michael, whom I consider a friend. In a lot of ways, this folds into Jeff's ruminations about recognition, and the way that "epic tales of struggle and triumph" tend to obscure all of the other tales. And I react against it here, in this case, not because this is an especially egregious example, but rather because the overall pattern is one that I see repeated with some frequency. The "call" is one strategy that's part of it--it's a way of "being first" without actually "being first," and I say that as someone who's issued my fair share of calls.

Jeff's right, I think, to note that we could do a better job of understanding the way that we direct attention, and the thing that "hero narratives" like these do is to direct attention squarely and solely upon the hero. This is an attitude that's been critiqued heavily in terms of pedagogy, for the degree to which other factors, often beyond the pedagogue's control, play as great (if not greater) a role in the classroom as the teacher hirself.

Writ disciplinarily larger, and here it's important to note that this Kairos piece is far from singular in this regard, I see calls for the kind of work that is already going on, but perhaps unknown to the caller. I see histories of "the field" that only recognize certain people as belonging to the field. I see "critical overviews" heavily shot through with self-citation. None of these things I find particularly pleasing. Or particularly critical. Or especially productive.

Now, it's going to be easy to read this list and wonder who I'm talking about in "our field." But, and this is part of my point, it's not just "our field" that I'm talking about. Technology cuts across many fields, and in some places, I'm talking about people that aren't even recognized as part of "our field." I bet you think this rant is about you. Don't you?

Similarly easy to think that I'm just sour graping it. Will all my posts from here on out be bitter reflections on my lack of recognition in the field? Well, yes, but that misses the broader point that all of these things, which in an unkind turn of phrase I might call self-promotion as scholarship (rather than self-promotion of scholarship), function to reinforce some of the tendencies that Alex notes in his post. I may print out the following and tape it above my desk:

A new multimedia scholarship that essentially does what we've always done, only with video and links, isn't worth the trouble it takes to create. A new medium means a new epistemology and not a predefined one held out manifesto-style like an ideological holy grail (though those can be fun to write sometimes). At the same time, though experimentation for its own sake is a necessary part of this, ultimately a new multimedia scholarship must respond to some exigency.

Back in the halcyon days of hypertext, end of books and all that, the assumption was that, if we start replacing books with hypertexts, pretty soon the snowball rolls under its own momentum, and voila! cultural paradigm shift. If you think that this is too glib an account, just go back and read some of it. What some of us, I hope, learned was that the book, for its various faults, did certain things well. Also, it had a couple of hundred years to diffuse into the culture, through attitudes towards authorship, commoditization, education, and all of these different spheres of activity, none of which was especially ready to see books wither on the vine. Plug hypertexts into that culture, and nothing much happens. "Books suck" wasn't much of an exigency. Of course, now that we call hypertexts by the various names of blogs, wikis, SNSs, discussion fora, you could argue that they've had a much greater effect, but I can't help but think that would be cheating just a little.

The moral of this little tale is that a lot of that early scholarship believed, in an astoundingly self-assured way, that you could just pluck out one medium, sub in a newer one, and change would radiate outward. So when Alex implies that Kairos is to a degree constrained by its operation within a fairly traditional, academic attention economy, I think he's spot on. Cheryl asks:

Others are doing on the web what Kairos wants to do. We see that. I see that and totally acknowledge it’s happening. So is it wrong to “call? for some of that action within the server space of the journal itself?

Maybe so, even though that's not the answer the question wants. At the very least, it's no less wrong to call for an electronic journal to blur the focus on emulating print, such that that "action" might happen. Years ago, I tried to argue unsuccessfully to push Enculturation away from the "event model" of journal publication, which is grounded in an economy of clerical and print scarcity. Why would an electronic journal need to publish simultaneous issues? thought I. Years later, and my writing has moved well away from event model poetics, enough so that deadlines are mind killers for me these days. I will count my blogwork in my tenure file the way that other performance disciplines count their work--I don't need a journal to validate it. It's led to other things I can count, like interviews with media outlets, invited talks, etc., all (of course) outside "our field," but oh well.

I feel like I've swirled myself around a bit here. I guess I should close by noting that, despite a little pessimism and skepticism, I do believe that we're slowly inching our way outside of the constraints of the academic economy. Like Jeff, I may come off here as critical of particular efforts, but also like him, I think, I find it more a function of a system than any particular agent within the system (and I'm an agent within the system, too). If it sounds like I'm waffling between "breakin on through to the other side" and "working for change from within," that's because I am. More and more, I find myself unsatisfied with either option, mostly because each requires me to think of my work at a scale that I don't find particuarly productive. My attitude is still a work in progress, I fear.

Snip, snap, snout.
This rant's told out. (#)

August 26, 2006

We'll see how this flies

I've spent the past few days finishing up the overview document for my tenure case, known affectionately across the campus as "Form A." The form closes by asking for "additional information" that might be helpful in evaluating one's work. Here's what I put:

In a conversation with one of the members of the search committee that recommended my appointment at Syracuse, after I arrived in the Writing Program, I learned that this particular committee member had three criteria for each of the candidates. This person explained that each candidate was expected to make technology their primary area of scholarly inquiry, to be able to apply it in and to their pedagogy, and, just as importantly, to be a practicing user of technologies. While I believe that this form documents my achievements in the first two areas, I want to discuss that third area briefly.

In the field of rhetoric and composition, a field devoted to the study and teaching of writing, there is a sense in which we are practitioners of that which we study. But for those of us who choose to specialize further in the study of information and communication technologies as they impact writing, practice is not only essential, but it brings added pressures as well. In addition to staying abreast of developments in our field, we are obligated to remain familiar with developments outside of academia, to be practicing technologists as well as scholars, pedagogues, and colleagues. However, the criteria by which tenure and promotion are determined do not easily admit this fourth category, partly because it is a difficult one to measure. The proficient use of technologies does not fit into any of the three categories, but it is not entirely separable from them, either. I have spent hours learning software in order to write multimedia essays, familiarized myself with various research and productivity tools in order to help students become more proficient at online research, and drawn on my understanding of spread sheets, databases, and web design in order to improve the performance of the graduate office. But I also engage in activities that cannot easily be reduced to scholarship, teaching, and service.

It is in this context that I wish to call attention to my activity as an academic blogger. I started a weblog (Collin vs. Blog) in August of 2003, and in the three years I have spent writing and maintaining it, it has become an integral part of my academic practice. I use it as a place to work through ideas that will eventually be turned into published scholarship, to reflect upon teaching practices, and to connect with colleagues both local and distant. In roughly 20 months of tracking site traffic, my site has received close to 75,000 unique visits and over 100,000 pageviews, averaging 144 visits and 199 views daily since January of 2005. In the summer of 2005, I received my discipline’s award for Best Academic Weblog. In short, maintaining a weblog has raised my profile, both within my discipline and beyond it, far more than any course I might teach or article I might publish. And in doing so, it raises the profile of Syracuse and of the Writing Program in a fashion that I believe to be positive.

In recent years, there have been high-profile tenure cases where applicants have offered their technological work in lieu of activity more easily categorized in traditional terms; that is not my intent here. I feel that my scholarship, teaching, and service stand on their own. But in a year where Syracuse is actively pursuing and promoting the idea of “scholarship in action,? it strikes me as particularly important to include this form of public writing as part of my activity as a member of the Syracuse University faculty. At a time where much of the discussion surrounding academic weblogs focuses on the risks of representing one’s self publicly as anything more than the sum total of items on a vita, I feel that it’s important to acknowledge the positive, productive impact that blogging has had upon my academic career. My weblog is not a strictly academic space, any more than my life is consumed with purely academic concerns. But it adds a dimension to my contributions here at Syracuse, both as a writer and as someone who studies technology, that would be difficult to duplicate within the categories articulated in this form.

* * * * *

I'll be sure to let you know how it goes.

September 13, 2006

Comic zen

There are days where I wish I could do more with Garr Reynolds's Presentation Zen than just send adulatory links his way. But oh well. He has a great piece on translating Scott McCloud's work on comics into presentations. Maybe it's more accurate to say that he's talking about learning from comics when it comes to presentations. Either way, as I gear up for what will be several talks this year, I'm going to keep going back to PZ over and over as I plan out this year's presentations. You should, too.

Update: It is a conspiracy. McCloud is giving a talk next Monday in Rochester, and where will I be? Yes, that's right. At a faculty meeting. AARGH.

September 14, 2006

Retromediation

Here's a little question for you:

I was talking with a colleague last night who teaches some of our professional writing and/or technology courses. He and I were talking and he asked me if there was a term for this phenomenon: not so long ago, when he would ask his students if they had ever heard the word hypertext or had authored web pages (via HTML, CSS, etc), most of them hadn't. And he had the sense that they hadn't yet arrived at that point. Now, though, he asks these questions, and has the impression not that his students haven't arrived there yet, but that they're beyond it and would think of it as backsliding. In other words, given all the SNApps, like blogging software, Facebook, MySpace, etc., there's been an emphasis on allowing users to avoid ever having to go under the hood, such that the idea of teaching those under-the-hood skills like coding may start to appear quaint.

Anyhow, my colleague asked me if there was a term for this, and the best I could come up with was leapfrogging, although I think I've heard of it more in the context of diffusion studies, where particular societies will skip intermediate steps in a particular line of development for whatever reason.

I also thought that retromediation might make for a workable term, in the sense of these interfaces remediating particular skill sets, but doing so in a way that makes the skills themselves seem "retro." Maybe I'm overreacting to what is unquestionably a limited sample, but I wonder if being able to tweak one's own HTML and CSS isn't rapidly becoming akin to being able to keep your truck running with a coat hanger and duct tape. Useful, yes, but also a little old school.

Then I look up the word, and find that Derek's already coined it, albeit in a more punceptual fashion than I'm using it.

Hmm. Just thinking, I suppose, with the question implied. That's all.

September 15, 2006

The off-4Cson

My title only works when you understand that 4Cs is pronounced "four seas." I'm just saying.

Unless you happen to be involved with the behind-the-scenes work of the conference, there are basically 2 times during the year when the dreams of rhetcompers turn to their annual conference. The first, and most elaborate, is March, when the conference itself happens. The second, though, is right now, the week when notifications are made for the following March. Word on the street is that the conference acceptance rate is now hovering somewhere around 33%--that there were maybe 600 accepted out of about 1800 submissions. Hard to know exactly how those numbers play out--some proposals are for 3-5 person panels and some individual--but still, it's a pretty big deal.

So it was a little aggravating this week, as everyone was receiving their notifications, to not receive my own. I did hear about a panel that I'm chairing, but that only served to confirm that my email was indeed working. As I noted a couple of years ago,

Notification is always something of an odd season around grad programs--on the one hand, CCCC is selective enough that you expect a little bit of congratulations; on the other, no one really asks anyone else, for fear that they didn't get accepted.

So I pretty much just kept my mouth shut, and vowed to give it a few days, figuring that if I hadn't heard by this weekend, I'd fire off a Monday email to see. Well, my patience was rewarded with the news today that Deb Holdstein, Derek, and I will be doing a Featured Session at the 2007 CCCC, one where we talk about the relationship between the journal, both print and online, and the discipline. Rock. Roll.

I think the plan to is to do some revising to the text of our abstract, and perhaps even the title, so once that's done, I'll be sure to post it here. In the meantime, I'm just going to sit back and bask in the glow of the fact that our work on CCCO is going to be featured in disciplinary primetime. CCCC was really the last piece of a speaking puzzle for the year that includes four (four!) different conferences and perhaps a job talk or two. Hence the whole lot of talking that I referred to a couple of days back. And hence the recent addition to my speakerly arsenal. I can't guarantee that I'll be good, but I'll almost certainly be better.

That's the plan, anyway.

October 5, 2006

del.icio.us v net.ritio.us?

Richard MacManus has an entry up that makes reference to an interview that he did with Joshua Schachter, he of del.icio.us fame. Schachter, in talking about the future of my favorite social bookmarking site, explains that

While delicious previously has been very much about just the data, in the future I hope to allow our users themselves to come forward within the system. Additionally, I want to help people connect with others within the system, either to people they already know or discovering new people and communities based on interest.

There's a lively little to-and-fro in the comments, so I won't repeat some of those arguments, but I should say that I have my doubts. Part of it is that "sellout" mentality--the notion that a brighter, shinier, more run-of-the-mill SNA version of delicious will alienate the core users--but I try really hard to resist that part of my thinking.

The bigger issue for me is that there's something kind of cool about just having users exist as a special class of tag, which is how the site currently operates. Inviting them to "come forward" also invites the kind of performativity that rewards certain kinds of behaviors at the expense of others. The downside of the status quo is that you have to be somewhat familiar with how the site works to enact the kind of "discovery" that Schachter talks about.

So while the bare bones of the site, and the idea of tagging itself, has been incorporated all over the place, and almost certainly creates a certain amount of upgrade pressure, my inclination would be to resist it. The neutrality of the site is one of the reasons that I use it for my work on CCC--shifted to an SNA, I'd probably end up rethinking that approach.

We'll see, though.

October 21, 2006

Collin's Clever CCCC Cluster Cloud

Speaking of CCCC, or of the CCCCCCCCC referenced in my title (8 Cs!), Derek and I were yappin tonight about how we might go about indexing the CCCC Program using TagCrowd, a tool I came across via Jill and recommended to Jenny. It overlaps a fair bit with what we're doing over at CCCOA, but one difference is that TagCrowd allows you to upload a file, whereupon it generates a cloud of frequent terms.

So here's what I did:

1. I went to the searchable program for the 2007 CCCC, and searched for all panels under the 106 Area Cluster (Information Technologies).

2. I added each of the 50 or so panels to my "Convention Schedule," and then hit the button to email it to myself. The result is a window with all of the panels & descriptions in a text file. Copy and paste into TextEdit.

3. I stripped out all of the speaker information, including titles. I could have left the titles in, but it would have taken longer (and been a little more debatable in terms of focus).

4. Find/Replace on 2-word phrases (new media, social software, et al.), variants (online and on-line), making them a single word in the case of the former and standardizing in the latter. (I thought, too, about just deleting "speaker," which appears in the prose with some frequency.)

5. TagCrowd the file, and voila!

Tagcloud for Area Cluster 106 (Information Technologies)

You can look at the bigger graphic over at FlickR, but here's a cloud of the 100 most frequently used terms in CCCC proposals for the 106 cluster. "Speaker" and "presentation" are throwaways, and you could argue the same for "discuss" ("In this presentation, Speaker X will discuss...."). Looks pretty sensible to me--I'd say that blogging and Facebook are the flavors of the year. I may have caused the word "remix" to drop out of the cloud by not including titles--I'm not sure.

One caveat is that not all the panels included prose descriptions--that may just be a matter of time, though. Again, I'm not certain.

One thing I do know, though, and that's that this whole process took me less than an hour, and it would be child's play to go back in, and do it for each cluster, as well as all of the "focuses" and "emphases." Not that I have the time, energy, or schedule to allow me to do so. But it's a fun little experiment, nonetheless.

(I should mention, if anyone sees fit to do some of these, that TagCrowd allows one to create a blackredlist of terms that won't be included. In addition to speaker, presentation, and discuss, I'd probably (were I to redo this one) add become, consider, examine, important, include, and panel. They function here as mostly empty proposal jargon.)

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 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...

Continue reading "Turnitinica Mars" »

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 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 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 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.

January 8, 2007

SelfCCCCongratulations

Came into the office today to find a promotional flier for this year's CCCC:

front page of CCCC flier
back page of CCCC flier

Wait a second. Scroll down the right hand column there for me on the back. What's that?

who's a featured speaker?

That's right. For one brief, shining moment, I'm a rockstar. We're far enough in advance of the event that I don't feel any nervousness at all. And I can't have messed up or anything. Our featured session exists in a state of pure, perfect potentiality and as long as it stays that way, who's to say I'm not a star?

Well, okay. Lots of people. But I'd appreciate it if you didn't ask them, at least until after March.

That's all.

February 23, 2007

Going out with a whimper

Although I still use them from time to time, as their affordances are useful for a particular context, I don't spend much time anymore on listservs. And today, I unsubbed from my last holdout, a disciplinary listserv ostensibly devoted to my specialty. As with the blog, I go through phases of listserv fatigue, but over the last few years, the fatigue periods seem to grow longer and longer, punctuated more by silence than by activity.

My unsubscription was prompted by a message today which, under the auspices of continuing a discussion from earlier this week, launched into what, as best as I can tell, was a largely unprompted invective against blogging. I won't repeat it here, both because I'm not sure the list is public and because I'm not interested in dignifying it. Long and short, though: blogging, the message suggests, "atomizes, isolates, and individualizes knowledge." A few more sweeping generalizations, and a strange fascination with the idea that blogs are assholes, or like assholes, or bloggers are assholes. I don't know.

And honestly, I don't really care. My experience with blogging is so different--of course, it could matter that I actually maintain a blog--that the message could have been in another language for all the sense that it made to me. I was sitting in Panera today, reading Amanda Anderson's The Way We Argue Now (Amazon), and in it, she has a chapter on ethos in the Foucault/Habermas debate. Anderson is accounting for a comment from Foucault that he is "a little more in agreement" with Habermas than Habermas is with him. By saying this, Anderson explains:

Foucault implies that there is no external perspective from which one might adjudicate their differences or agreements, precisely because one essential element of agreement stems from the attitude of the thinker towards the other's work.

This stuck with me, because it fits nicely into the network-y/visualization thinking I've been doing, particularly when it comes to thinking about ways to map conversations and/or disciplines, and to chart changes. One of the things that Anderson's doing in that chapter is shifting the relationship between Foucault and Habermas, undoing the knee-jerk binary through which that relationship is frequently viewed. The link between the two is still there, but its character is altered, assuming that Anderson's various interpretations are persuasive.

It sticks with me not because I can really disagree with the specific charges leveled against blogging in that message, because I'm sure that there are plenty of examples that anyone could trot out to validate them. What irked me most is the foreclosure of any sort of conversation; it was almost beside the point that it was initiated by someone with little to no direct experience of our community. Almost. Anderson explains that this comment from Foucault is consistent with his "dislike of polemic":

The polemicist...proceeds encased in privileges that he possesses in advance and will never agree to question. On principle, he possesses rights authorizing him to wage war and making that struggle a just undertaking; the person he confronts is not a partner in search for the truth but an adversary, an enemy who is wrong, who is armful, and whose very existence constitutes a threat. For him, then the game consists not of recognizing this person as a subject having the right to speak but of abolishing him as interlocutor, from any possible dialogue.

There's something to this for me, not the least reason for which is my own general avoidance of confrontation. And it's also not to say that I don't fall back into polemic myself. I do. But I've got a lot more interest in figuring out how my ideas connect to, diverge from, and/or relate to someone else's than I do in waging a polemic/war. Even though, I suppose, it could be argued that my entry is doing just that.

Or it would be, were I to do two things, both of which are equally tempting. I'm tempted to refute those claims, drawing on my own experiences, talking about all of the collaboration, networking, and working-with that maintaining a blog has prompted in my academic life for the past three years. I'm also tempted to critique the listserv post, and perhaps even the list itself.

But I think I'll refrain. Which isn't to say that my entry here is snark-free--that'd be some sort of record, I think. It is to say, rather, that a community where someone feels comfortable (much less justified) in making those sorts of comments is not the kind of community I have any interest in being a part of.

That's all.

March 13, 2007

If Tuesday began with the letters CSH...

Then I could tell you that those letters stand for "crushing seasonal headache." The news round these parts is that the temperature reached into the low 60s today, which has been good for The Melt, but bad for My Head. When seasons change, the corresponding shift in pressure typically renders me unable to focus for 2-3 days at a time, bringing with it dull, throbbing headaches of the sort that quite literally make my eyeballs sore. Needless to say, sleep becomes something of a chore, rivaled only by the effort that goes into being awake. Not the happiest of times.

I've been giving some thought to the presentation I'll be giving at CCCC this year. Inspired in part by last week's snarky little entry, which itself prompted me to add "snark alert" to my categories, I've been dialing back my expectations for what I'll accomplish in this presentation. It's hard, having been working on CCCOA for two-plus years now, to imagine that there aren't folks in our field who remain unfamiliar with it, and yet, my guess is that this is actually a fair description of most folks in our field. The speed of change in the 'sphere--and on the net more generally--outpaces that of the run-of-the-mill discipline, perhaps exponentially. And so, what I think I need to do in my talk is to actually introduce the site and what it contributes.

Right now, I'm thinking of an unofficial subtitle for my talk that would be something like "13 Ways of Looking at a Journal." Mostly it would be an introduction to the site, running from the most basic and obvious features to some of the trickier stuff we've built into it, and finally to a couple of disciplinary questions that a site like this can provide us the evidence to work on.

I've been thinking about this a little harder after seeing Tim Burke's post about what he describes as "search as alchemy." To wit,

But there are other times where I want search to be alchemy, to turn the lead of an inquiry into unexpected gold. I’m hoping that the rush to simplify, speed up, demystify and digitize search doesn’t leave that alchemy behind.

It seems like such an obvious point to me, that academic search functions in much different ways than "regular" search, but what's come clear to us over the past couple of years is that we need to figure out better ways of getting the word out, to make the case that CCCOA is a site for search, yes, but also a site of invention. I think that message is both clear and obvious to many of you, my fair readers, but to the field-at-large, it still needs saying.

So I think that's part of what I'll be saying next week.

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.

December 7, 2007

Reading Reimagined

Matthew Kirschenbaum blogged about it when his CHE piece ("How Reading is Being Reimagined") came out online, but given the choice between plunking down money or relying upon the "free" copy in the department, well, I'll take the two week delay.

But I got around to reading his piece today, and I did want to express appreciation for a couple of points in particular. It's an essay that balances nicely the critique of the NEA report with the promise of new media. A couple of things jumped out at me:

First, I think this point is easy to overlook:

The structure of To Read or Not to Read presents itself as tacit acknowledgment that not all of its own text will likely be read by any one reader, since it is clearly designed to be "not read" in at least some of the ways that accord with Bayard's observations. The report is accompanied by an Executive Summary, a condensed version of the major findings. Its internal organization is carefully laid out, with summary points at the head of each chapter, topic sentences, extensive notes, sidebars, and sections labeled as conclusions.

I mention this passage not for its critique, but because it connects with some of the stuff that Derek is working on with respect to abstraction, and it points to something I'm increasingly conscious of: the range of scales through we approach texts. It's rapidly becoming one of the key ideas that I'm working through in my own writing. And at CCC Online, for that matter. It's not an issue of reading/not-reading for me, but of negotiated distances.

A second quote that poked at me:

Reading your friend's blog is not likely a replacement for reading Proust, but some blogs have been a venue for extraordinary writing, and we are not going to talk responsibly or well about what it means to read online until we stop conflating genre with value.

Again, my point is a little less obvious. I'd add that we need to stop misunderstanding genre itself, in terms of a set of language-objects like books, blogs, magazines, etc. Which is not to say that MK is wrong here. The problem is that thinking about reading in terms of consuming objects (a book, a blog, a newspaper) is always going to lead to the substitution he's arguing against. And this is something I hope my book gets at a bit. The problem isn't the range of acceptable objects so much as it is our acceptance of "objects" themselves as the measure of the practice, if that makes sense.

(I've arrived at that position in large part as I've been converted by the work of genre studies folk in our field, btw. When I taught a course on genre a couple of summers ago, I entered the course highly skeptical of the material we were reading--it's the only time I've taught a course whose subject I was "against" to start with...)

Anywho, one last observation, which itself has nothing to do with MK's article. It's title is "How Reading is Being Reimagined," but on the cover of the Chronic Review, it's listed as "The New Metrics of Reading," which strikes me as somewhat different. On the front page of the Chronic site, it's called "Literacy.net," and includes the tease

All you need to do is skim the NEA reading report online and you'll have some questions. And that's the point, writes Matthew Kirschenbaum.

I've never really noticed how fast and loose they seem to play with their descriptions of content. I know that Becky has run afoul of the CHE headline writers before, but I guess I haven't paid much attention otherwise...

Anyways, it's a good article. Go read it. That's all.