Velvet Funkbuster

Nothing like Lou Reed and Co. to chew through the icy dip of deep winter.

When I re-read yesterday’s post–Creeping Thing–it left me with doubts, planted in me a faint sense of how I was depicting a radically political persona–the breath behind the screen, the blog’s “I.” It felt risky to pronounce such views and brought me back to the questions I had when I first hanged the Open sign on this writing space.
Who will you be? Which you will you be there? On top of that–as if it wasn’t enough to have a bad blogging day at EWM–I went ahead and typed some “hypothetical” drivel at
Kairosnews.org. I don’t usually post there, just lurk. Thinking now that it’s better that way. Lurking. And moods pass.

In class today, I talked about the comparative blog-reading essay coming up. It’s not a neat exercise, since I can’t corral the scope of weblogs and what their makers set out to do. I have students who say that weblogging seems “weird.” Many of them never heard of it before this course. So I want them to have a look, peek in on a few blogs, surmise what’s taking shape there and why it’s relevant. Presuming that, indeed, it is. Sooner or later I’ll link to the blog for our class. It’s in its infancy–an awkward, foundling stage where the posted-stuff is a bit raw, unrefined and in need of greater care. Wait…um…that describes this blog too. Soon enough.

We looked at Blue Ridge Blog as a model. Class ended at 9:55 a.m. Forty-five minutes later I received an email from Marie, the photojournalist whose interesting work populates Blue Ridge Blog. She’d noticed huge spikes in site traffic–rocket-launch,
moon-bound spikes. Among other things, Marie says, “Wish I was a fly on the wall of your classroom.”
Flattering, I think. If she’d been a fly there, on the classroom’s wall, Marie
might have witnessed (en fragmentum–see
her post on pixels
) the first student ever to send me an email during
class, about class discussion, while we were in the same room. A teachable moment. The embodiment of Postman’s questions about the future of education: “Now comes the computer, carrying anew the banner of private learning and individual problem-solving. Will the widespread use of computers in the classroom defeat once and for all the claims of communal speech? Will the computer raise egocentrism to the status of a virtue?”
In virtuosity, we were less present at times than the magnificent machines.

Sexing the Colosseum

During a 4.5 hour meeting today, I daydreamed for just a few minutes about this:

Dream-thought
One | Phillip has teamed up with a friend for a social studies project: a two-page essay and a model of the Colosseum (then or now?). Due Wednesday. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Fine. But can a replica of one bit of Rome (clay, tooth picks, styrofoam!) come together in 1.5 days? Working like
fine modern architects, they’ve planned, plotted for two weeks, then forced the material
“making” into the final 36 hours. I, for one, feel worn down by school projects. I vowed to take on a lesser role ever since
our salt dough map of Missouri (delivered in a Papa Johns box, greenish-dough-hardened with flags and labels, Ozark Mountains and so on) scored a
B.

Dream-thought Two | Finished reading Winterson’s Sexing the Cherry on Saturday. Slow for me to start, but really picked up in the
latter half. The notion of grafting in the book got me thinking about metaphors for mixed-mode or hybrid pedagogies, although it’s not a book
on teaching, per se. It’s not explicitly on sexing either, although the beast-woman romps through at least one scene. Intercoursing space and time,
perhaps.

Postlude | From STC: “A map can tell me how to find a place I have not seen but have often imagined. When I get there, following the map faithfully, the place is not the place of my imagination. Maps, growing ever more real, are much less true. And now, swarming over the earth with our tiny insect bodies and building houses, it seems that all the journeys are done. Not so. Fold up the maps and put away the globe. If someone else had charted it, let them. Start another drawing with whales at the bottom and cormorants at the top, and in between identify, if you can, the places you have not found yet on those other maps, the connections obvious only to you. Round and flat, only very little has been discovered” (88).

I left the session–a bureaucratic upside down cake–with 3/4 of a page of notes on strategic planning. Lots of talking, so, accordingly, I feel I’ve used up my allocation of Monday words.

Digital Repo

Last night’s evening news presented a segment on an ignition control device
installed in cars sold on credit to “high-risk” consumers. The
device was dubbed “digital repo man” in the news clip (which included
lots of footage of one-handed fumbling with a phone line connection under the
steering wheel). Basically, it works like this:
Car-buyer-with-no-credit needs a set of wheels. Salesperson wants
desperately to serve the consumer by closing the deal. Line of cars have
Digi-repo pre-installed. Deal is settled. Now, each time the
consumer starts the car, a keypad-entered code is required, which tells the car
that the driver is paid up. With each on-time monthly payment, the car
buyer gets a new code–good for the next 30 days. No late payments.
While I haven’t fully mulled over the consequences of such devices, my first
impression is that it adds a layer of complication to common understandings of
ownership for products bought on credit. The role of technology in this
process interests me, too. The electronic gadget becomes a strict,
unwavering control (not unlike in-dash breathalyzers), but the control is tied
to economic status, like an ever-present credit report.

I went online looking for more information about the device, the
company–Pastime–that makes it, and what other surveillance-like mechanisms, if any, they make. I still haven’t found much, even when I search for the company rep cited in the article, Stan Schwarz. Our local news station’s
web site had a word-for-word copy of this brief piece from wnbc.com: Car Not Working? Check To See If You Paid Your Bills.
It’s some kind of thinly attributed article in “Ask Asa,” which, as
fully as I can tell, is a team-written advice column on financial matters.
The WNBC site posted the article in early December. Here, in the deep,
deep recesses of the Midwest, our local news station aired it last night.
Which gives me hope that Lord of the Rings: Return of the King will be in local theaters soon!

My searching wasn’t without a fruitful discovery. I found this link for
a visual thesaurus. I’m not a big thesaurus user, but the visual thesaurus, driven by Thinkmap, is kind of like a fish tank populated by words. The associational glide is oddly seductive, relaxing. Useful, perhaps, for
visualizing the fray of connotations detached from contexts.

Sing Cucu Nu

Sumer
is icumen in
. Well, okay, I’m lying. But it is 56 with
sunshine today in KC, and regreening is in the air.

Just received an invite to the 8th Annual Native Vision Sports and Life
Skills Camp. It’s in Bernalillo, N.M., hosted by the United Pueblo Tribes. The
mailer says they expect more than 700 youth from 25 tribes. There’s surprisingly
little on the net about the camp–a three-day event in mid-June. I helped
out at the last two sessions in 2001 and 2002, when it was at the White Mountain
Apache Reservation in Arizona. In 2002 everyone was hustled out of
Whiteriver because of the Rodeo-Chadiski fire (in
the news again, recently
). We were shuttled back to Phoenix on a
school bus–a long winding ride with the Emergency Broadcasting System signal blaring across the radio about evacuations–and the event was considerably
disrupted. Last year, the camp didn’t happen, but it looks like the NFL Players Association and the Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health
have revitalized the program. Had a few interesting talks there about
coordinating literacy ventures with the camp, expanding the life skills side
with added dimension.

Normally, I wouldn’t carry on about USPS mail, but I’m really happy to be
invited back and to see that the program is once again viable. What’s
more, I’m waiting impatiently for acceptance-rejection letters from a
medium-sized list of prospective PhD programs for next fall. The wait is
much more enjoyable with the pseudo spring we’re having. But it’s
still a wait.

And the tech-autobiographical sketches have been fun and interesting to
read. They’re particularly interesting because of the diverse mix of
students, which is usual where I teach. Students from Tanzania, Somalia,
Kenya, Poland, N. Ireland, Illinois, Kansas and Missouri are in class this
semester, and our work is off to an improved start with the zippy
classroom.

Plagiarismo

Nick Carbone sent a note to
techrhet
subscribers last night that the news about Canadian student Jesse Rosenfeld’s
refusal to submit his work to turnitin.com surfaced in the mainstream via

CNN and Court TV
. I’d been following this issue with interest since I
first read about it over at
Jerz’s
Literacy Weblog
and
Kairosnews
.

As I see it, turnitin.org is challenged by an image problem; its name (more importantly than its utility) implicates guilt among students mandated to use it. I guess that’s the root objection felt by Rosenfeld. In a sense, the system is subjecting him to a damaging, a priori criminalization. Guilty until proven innocent. And plagiarism sifters generally work that way. But
plagiarized essays don’t merit serious consideration for the fulfillment of
academic calls. Plagiarism is rather like a sucker punch to the integrity
of higher education, and the Internet is enabling rapidly recurrent, heavy
blows. We should be able to agree that cheats should be given the old
heave-ho before any instructor pours carefully, but unwittingly, over the
text. Right? But there’s always more to it. Turnitin.com could start
by trying on a new name, such as surveillanceworks.net.

One-draft submissions have necessarily given way to processes with proposals, exploratory
drafts, brief annotated bibliographies and so on. In other words, many of
the essay mills don’t market comprehensive process packages (such as we might
find in an all-included, end-of-term portfolio with untidy pieces and so on). The market, however, is smartening to composition’s deeper processes (http://www.essayrelief.com/,
for example, advertises “research work” included with the order, but I haven’t
tried it, so I don’t have any sense of how messy it is. Convincingly
messy?). Devisers of assignments, then, must stay one step ahead of the
services available for circumventing the rules of decorum (articulated wherever
they may be!). And, yet, plagiarism will continue to leak into the
academy, will linger as a vile, troubling matter.

At places with little or no WAC initiative, I’d wager that much of the
proliferation of plagiarism comes about from oft-used, timeless prompts or
single-submission assignments (oh, right, and the plagiarist-student is to
blame, as well). I wasn’t trying to parade a holier-than platitude, but I
made the mistake of saying this aloud recently and got in return: “I
agree with your point in principle. However, when one teaches a 300 level class,
one just does not expect to deal with issues like draft and rewrite.” More
discussion followed, healthy discussion about new understandings of the
information and services from which students can take unattributed work, greater urgency about making writing processes visible (which can be tough since our best habits are considerably varied), and institution-wide dissonance on how best to address the issue.

I’m still learning where all of this fits into my teaching. I don’t
prefer to wear the plagairism-police badge, and I see a greater need to treat
some instances of plagiarism as an opportunity for working toward an understanding of intellectual
property. Lately, I’ve taken to using
EveII for sifting offenders,
usually after I read a suspicious essay, but sometimes before I read any essay
in a set that has arrived in my inbox. Google’s exact match search is also widely used and effective for cuing exact strings. It seems more and more to be an inevitable part of teaching writing, and, as such, seems like something we
should continue conversations about (along with lots of other stuff), especially
as long as the latest technologies reconfigure the scene.

Excuse me, I just storied myself

To make ready for class today, I went through a few invention exercises.
I wanted to mix it up, vary the approaches to show a range of possibilities for
essay one: A Tech Autobiographical Sketch. The assignment serves a few purposes,
not the least of which are a writing sample and a portrait of students’ tech
backgrounds, which influence my aims and design for the next several weeks.

The assignment asks students to tell their technological becoming.
It’s a narrative essay about gadgetry and mechanisms, from old, block-style
Legos to one-buttoned joysticks, from coin-op school supply dispensers to
cordless phones with auto redial. And my favorite: hand-held football
games with red, LED players on both teams, no matter whether it was the Patriots and Panthers or the Lions and Browns (my imagined, dream Superbowl). Red blips on both sides of the ball; a fresh 9-volt battery and a 45 minute school bus ride, one-way; those were the days.

My models for the class, for the essay, included a graphic organizer, a messy map of sorts that starts with a blank sheet of paper and a will to scribble
without inhibition, loose clusters of ideas. The second model, even more
spontaneous than the first because of its disregard of coherence, was a list of
50. A fit of associations with the perpetual present guided by impulse and
only the faint beckoning of the writing prompt. My list (for the tech
autobiographical sketch) looked like this:

Boeing 757 to Seattle, Supersonics shirt, Mount St. Helens, Pong with
paddles, Frogger, black and white television, Galaga at Pizza Hut, camcorder,
C64 programs in basic, [friends who] pirated software, welding and your eyes,
Tetris, first broadcast warfare, statistical reports, digital photography,
surveillance cameras, exercise equipment, rocket launches, stopwatch, camping
with cords, Popular Science, helicopter bike, northern lights, fishing
sonar, radar detectors, Sault locks, fax machines, Mouse Trap, Operation w/
glue, Walkman, audio books, Lance Haffner Final Four, Adam computer, tape drive soccer, Rambo knife w/ compass, Tecmo Bowl, breakaway rims, car stereo wiring, magnet games, batteries, race track motors, vibrating football board, UHF/VHF antennae, TV adjust with pliers

I stopped at 44. The inventive scope had me reeling. Could have
gone longer, but I had to get on with the third model: a formal outline.
Less stimulating, in my view, but important to show, to talk about what purpose
it might serve, its relative structured-ness. So I dummied one up on the
evolution of photography in my days: slide-projector shows, Polaroids, a
costly/priceless Dimage7i, up to Kodak’s abandonment of film camera’s in Western markets last week.

Continue reading →

Hide it under a bushel, no!

I’ve been thinking about the blogging and the public sphere this weekend. Didn’t find time to post yesterday, was at the gym with the boys in the morning, doing more course prep in the middle of the day before sulking back to work last night–fifth event in seven days. Another one tomorrow.

The idea that blogs enable a publicly-projected self, one controlled through discursive constructions (well, er, everything’s rhetoric), intrigues me whilst filling me with caution. The traffic spikes over the last two days are contributing to my wonder. Casual readers are checking out this site; since I haven’t neatly defined Earth Wide Moth, typecasting it into a particular blogging genre, I’m having trouble imagining what brings people here, whether it’s interesting or disappointing, whether it’s too personal to be of any value to somebody else, and so on.

The clogged drain entry provoked an email from my dad. And here the NYT magazine feature last week was concerned with teens and their blog-reading parents. Adult-children who blog have plenty to be concerned with, too, turns out. I had no idea my mishandling of the drainage had the power to shame my dad. He taught me well, and yet I couldn’t clear the drain myself!

Here are a few bits of his advice (which was broadcast to other family members who would’ve had no inkling that this blog was planted here lately):

1. Only use the garbage disposal for small stuff.
2. Periodically use a bio-enzyme at all sink, tub and shower locations (small drain pipes).
3. Participating in family plumbing adventures helps socialize us all into becoming better plumbing people. For example, when children become old enough to clean out drains, allow them the fun and excitement of digging out the hair and gunk. When they grow up, they will thank you for having given them this experience.

There was more. No need to make this into a full blown plumbing guide. But item three brought me back; reminded me of my childhood–those Sunday afternoon plumbing projects that I never really understood, although I clearly remember standing at the sink with my brother, eyes agog at the size of the gunk-wad responsible for the slow seep of water, the lecture about not allowing stray, nonfluidstuff in the sink. We were being humanized.

So maybe the traffic spikes are from a wary and watchful clan dispersed far and wide who are (following my dad’s email alert) bracing for unkind or uncareful depictions: about hairpieces and beer bellies, about indiscretions and excess, about you-know-who’s bad habits, and so on. Never been much of a town crier. A critic, sure. But most often self-critical, since dad did such a fine job of proving to me that the unflowing blockages, impediments and hardships–in the sink and in life–are largely of our own doing.

A Perfect Cement

Friday started with two certain plans: open the door for the plumber
scheduled to arrive at the house at eight and leaf through the thicker-than-usual
Atlantic Monthly
issue.  Thick with stuff I won’t read about “The State
of the Union;” I thinned it by pulling out all of the subscription
postcards.

The boss at the plumbing company called at eight to say they’d be 35 minutes late. An employee was out of gas, stuck on I29, waiting for a ride in the
light rain.  The blocked sink drain would still be there. No hurry.
It’d been there since Wednesday evening, a perfect kernel of gunk cementing the drain pipes. I’ll spare you the details, but I should defend my
resourcefulness. I tried to plumb the line; I pulled apart the pea
traps and drain extensions, splashed murky water everywhere, even sliced my
thumb twisting the hand auger a few stubborn feet into the netherworld of the
inner wall. Went to Kmart at 9:45 for an extra plunger and a jug of acid stuff
made for loosing gunk. No luck.

So when the plumbing boss called I had more time to wait, but not enough time (or interest, really) to undertake an engaged reading of the full-length features. I leafed through, turning pages, then this: “The
Other Gender Gap
.” A short article on the shortcomings of popular
education in America for boys. I had no idea.

I was almost at the end of the short article when I read this:

But boys’ educational stagnation has long-term
economic implications. Not even half the boys in the country are taking
advantage of the opportunity to go to college, which has become almost a
prerequisite for a middle-class lifestyle. And languishing academic attainment
among a large portion of our population spells trouble for the prospects of
continued economic growth. Unless more boys begin attending college, the
nation may face a shortage of highly skilled workers in the coming decades.

Continue reading →

noticehowhismouthnevermoves.almost

I passed a sizable chunk of the day jockeying with .htaccess setups. After class this morning, a 10:30 meeting, a thermos of coffee, I wracked my brain for quite some time over my own clunky setup of protected access directories. For what? It’s embarrassing that I wasted so much time puzzling through something untested, unproven as a boon to my teaching. But there comes a buzz (or, better put, a mesmerizing intrigue) with the problem-solving process in technical matters. And I’m hooked. 

I got it working. Finally set up the .htaccess and .htpassword files with a logout route to trick browsers into “forgetting” the user’s password. Never knew how that worked until today. And I’m still not sure I’ve got it cracked.
And I’m almost certain that its value to my students is slight. Which is why I needed to
re-center my teaching on questions about what I’m doing it for. For re-centering, I often return to this bit from Roxanne Mountford’s essay, “Let Them Experiment:
Accommodating Diverse Discourse Practices in Large-Scale Writing Assessment.” 

Shirley Brice Heath, citing the philosopher Michel Foucault, writes: “People know what they do; frequently they know why they do what they do; but what they don’t know is what what they do does.” That is, as teachers and evaluators we often act without considering how our actions affect those we evaluate.

I’ve taken this out of a rich context on the challenges of inherent biases in large-scale writing assessment; and, while I appreciate Mountford’s full essay, an essay I first read a few years ago in the Greater Kansas City Writing Project summer invitational workshop, I find myself returning to this bit because it refreshes me, returns me to trail of wondering what what I do does. Especially after a day of scratching my head over file
extensions, permissions, passwords and browser trickery.

Twixt Gunnite Walls

Location update: Our basement-of-the-science hall class has officially relocated to the Academic Underground (a real place!). Sliding swivel chairs, detached from workstations. Pop-up desk/monitors. Networked. Dry erase _only_. LED projection equipment. Granted, it is, essentially, a cave–classroom space carved out of mined limestone caves with gunnite-sprayed walls, painted white, dimpled with texture. No, there are no bats in there, none that I’ve ever seen anyway. The new room is just a short meander (first-timers get lost down there quite easily) from the mail room, library, computer labs, study rooms, bookstore. Oh, and coffee shop. Good news since that means all the work I did over break whipping together a mixed-mode curriculim won’t go like scraps to hungry dogs. I landed the zippiest tech-enabled place on campus, just by asking. Fancy that.

Now off to coach my kid’s basketball game. Got seventeen seventh graders playing on two teams. Nobody told me that March Madness starts in January for twelve and thirteen-year-olds (pre-pubescent stir renders the Roman calendar obsolete, I’d say). And that explains where the bats are. In my head.