Smart, Smart Paper

Sat in a meeting with Xerox reps this morning. We’re charging toward
the "paperless university." As I understand the sales pitch
(which has already been accepted…we’re in the planning stages), the
institution will save lots of money by transforming its documents into TIFF
images which can be over-layered with add-ons to replicate paper
documents. That’s the promise, anyway. In the meeting, I learned
that I’m a database nut; information, IMHO, is most useful when it’s most malleable,
when it can be sorted and grouped, arranged and randomized apart from paper or a static image. I’m talking about institutional data now, lists of names and
associated details, mostly. But the meeting wasn’t about that. It was set
up to inform Xerox about "workflow" in our department.

Postman tells us that one of the active agents in a technopoly is bureaucracy
(the others are experts and technical machinery, following his taxonomy).
The data-gathering form is one of the sublets of the bureaucracy; bureaucracy
is, like a rubber ball (my metaphor, not Postman’s), ever-redirecting between
two inevitable forces in a technologized culture–information glut and efficiency models. Many advanced data management technologies are in place to assist with the problem of information retrieval, tracking, analysis and storage. But I think there’s a cultural lag forming; actually, it’s been long forming–most of my life,
probably. Or longer. The lag, simply put, looks like a wedge between
the capabilities of the technology to aid information processing in a bureaucratic system and the bureaucrats themselves, many who don’t have time, inclination or interest in their appointment-littered work-lives to keep up with the technology, which is rabbitting along at a rapid pace. Enter Xerox.

The solution Xerox promises, given these conditions, is a stopgap, a way of
fending off the technopolistic forces from crushing institutional functioning
under the weight of too much information (too much to process, to understand, to
read, to apply, and so on). It’s a patch, sold on the promise of greater
efficiency, but–at least today–the aim wasn’t revisiting the value of the
information. The stopgap appeals to the paper-loving bureaucrat who often
asks for more information than is really ever needed–a kind of insurance of
excess. I don’t want to sound unaffectionate when I say bureaucrat.
The name bears certain negative connotations, but I’m using it here as Postman
does to refer to one of the active agents in a technopoly. Back to
the meeting. Rather than interrogating the value of information,
the focus was on ease of flow (conduction) and ease of access to old records
(storage). And these are legitimate problems for the administrator whose
desk is littered with papers. I spent the meeting wondering whether we’ll
have more critical, discerning relationships with institutional data any time
soon or whether, as Postman posits, we’ll continue to watch information excess
encroach on our lives at the expense of cultural orientations, social
interactions, rational agency in decision-making (rather than following the lead
of data), and humanism. Those aren’t the only two possibilities by any
means. But they are patterns suggested by Postman, and, after reading
about them, I’m seeing how information glut and efficiency models are reconditioning the student services side of higher ed–at one institution. After a half hour, I figured I’d take a few notes (so as to have some information of my very own). Copy was the most-used word (32 times in one hour and 15
minutes)–slightly ahead of form and file, and well ahead of information.

Leaving Fingerprints on the Glass

I’ve been w|o/a|ndering through a couple of software experiments. Eyes
are fogging up from staring at the glow-box too intently. First, I was
playing around with Scribe,
hot off download. At the basement-bottom price of *free* it beats the heck
out of Endnote in cost
comparison. I haven’t used Scribe for longer than about 30 minutes, but it
seems a bit clunky (okay, so it’s probably me who’s clunky…could
be). I’ve read the rave reviews of Endnote, and I can get a student
version for 99 bucks at journeyed.com–except
that I’m not formally, officially a student right now. The full version
costs a bit more for non-students, and maybe it’s worth it. Who
knows? Trying to plan ahead, brush up with software built to support
regimens of reading, note-taking, writing. I’ll download the trial version of
Endnote later this week or next, give it a whirl.

Since Mike
mentioned it a few days ago, I’ve been intent on looking into what it means to
syndicate a site, to channel its content into a single herd-gate. I’ve
also been playing around with different RSS feed-readers, exploring the
difference between synchronized, pooled entries and the method I’ve been using
to date, whereby I jump from site to site by following links. It’s too early to
tell which approach I prefer, but they strike me as considerably distinct
processes. After I messed around with Pluck, a browser-side
feed-reader, and Feedster, a server-side feed-reader, I was impressed by the
convenience of gathering and sorting entries. Haven’t decided whether I’ll stick
to the feed method. It doesn’t accommodate some of the sites I follow with
interest, such as John’s writing at Jocalo,
Dr. B’s Blog
(which I couldn’t get to syndicate), and the new C&C
Weblog
.

Goodbye Blue Monday

Blogging lite because the load is Monday night heavy. Stampede Green
played yesterday; Blue played tonight at six. They won. That’s one
reason why Blue Monday. Lots more games this week, though. Sheesh. ESPN has a lot of basketball?
Games on Wednesday, Friday and, if the Blue team wins, up to two more on
Saturday. Green on Sunday. It’s all clearer here.
Worked through ten close reading essays since the game ended around 7:00
p.m. Now Leno’s on; Dave too. That means it’s approaching bedtime late, so I
should get started on some other things for tomorrow.

Why else Blue Monday? Punchclawkicking through the usual
battles (no, not really…I’m decorous, polite for the most part…since I don’t
have much club-wielding authority). Is it inevitable that as higher ed
institutions blend corporate, they’ll continue to test the limits of reasonable
working conditions in FY composition and other high-enrolling gateway
courses? I ask because I’m grumpy that once again (for the fourth time in
two years) I’m articulating reasons why adjunct instructors should not be
allowed to teach more than two sections of writing-intensive FY composition in
an accelerated, eight-week format. It’s as much an issue of working
conditions as it is a question of the degree of care and attention I contend are
due to all students. After all, some instructors welcome a cyberspace
crowded with students because online adjuncting pay rates correlate to student
enrollments where I’m at. What’s more, essays come in on six of the eight
Sundays. With two sections, that means 50 essays in one instructor’s email
inbox every Sunday for six weeks: the greatest load I can imagine anyone
handling with due care. Now (learnt today), for the term ahead, one
instructor is assigned to three sections, which, following the formula for
maximum caps in online courses, equates to 75 students in an eight-week
term. That’s why Blue Monday. That’s why Goodbye Blue Monday.

Addendum, 11:07 p.m.: I’m back. I don’t have the gusto to pull apart everything I’ve asserted here. For example, I don’t think FY comp is merely a sequence of “gateway” courses. I do have serious gripes about working conditions as well as quality of teaching and learning when overloads become normal. If I had authority, I wouldn’t necessarily carry a club for inspiring action by brute force. That’s all the revision I can muster right now, but I was feeling mildly inhibited about using EWM for a burst of workplace grouchiness.

Yahoo! It, Yahoo!ing, Yahoo!ed

Today’s New York Times included an article about Yahoo!‘s
pitch to gain ground on the popular search engine Google.
I got snagged on the premise suggested by the article’s title: "The Search Engine That Isn’t a Verb, Yet."
Another way: Yahoo! will scale to new grandeur when its name gets used as a
verb–a term to singularly describe the vast actions of web searching. How
would that sound?

Last week, Yahoo finally replaced Google’s search results with its
home-brewed search engine, which uses a robot, called Slurp, to read Web
pages. Experts say Yahoo’s new search engine is credible and roughly
comparable to Google’s. And more important, Yahoo appears committed to the
sort of engineering work that is needed to improve the quality of Web
searches.

So the tech’s in place. Slurp? Yes, Slurp will suck up what’s
left in the bottom of the search cauldron, yield its dregish results just
fine. But until Yahoo! gets an "I’m feeling lucky!" button,
well, there’s not much to compare. Plus, with a name like Yahoo!, I can’t
imagine using it as a verb any time soon. Maybe it’s the voiceless
consonants. As long as Google’s pair of hard |g|s are soliciting search
queries, that’s where my action will remain. Yahoo! chief exec Terry Semel
regards his company’s latest venture as a bona fide contender in the all-or-nothing clash of the search engines, a kind of Algorithm Smack Down. From
the article: "Mr. Semel, characteristically, declined to talk about Google
or any other competitors, just as he would not discuss battles of media titans.
But that doesn’t mean he is not competitive. ‘I am not one who likes to be
fashionable at the moment,’ he said. ‘I want to win the race.’" I’m
not sure if I’ll know, so will somebody tell me when the race is finished?

Cast A Way

ABC is airing Tom Hanks’ flick where the FedEx executive splashes tragically
into the South Pacific where he idles away several years with a volleyball as
his only friend. It’s a somber film–one I like for simple reasons: water
dripping from the broken pager, the hullabaloo of corporate-career resuscitation
when he returns from the isolated isle, the varied, impractical contents of the
FedEx packages. It’s easy to watch, easier if there weren’t any commercial
interruptions. To keep my media noise at a sufficiently entertaining level
for a Saturday night working on course stuff (D. on her lesson plans, me on some
web things, Ph. in bed at 9:30), I put on Rhythm of the Saints kind of
low. It’s been a wild party ever since.

On the plane Monday night (yeah, that trip, the one still at
the front of my mind), I could see the variously shaped clusters of lights,
towns and cities mapped by their luminance–a kind of social electricity,
grouped filaments graphing the housing patterns of the northeastern American
landscape. I was sitting in 1A, front and left in a row of one (service
space for the attendant on my right, compartments for sodas and pretzel sticks
in tiny bags); it was a Continental puddle-skipper, a low-flying model, which
was nice because I could stare out the window and see more than the topsides of
cloudvapor. Staring, I got thinking about the selfishness of my
aspirations to take up a rigorous, demanding phd program. Like so much sudden
turbulence, I felt a shudder of sadness followed by a wave of dread. I
remembered telling Ph. that turbulence is normal when last we jetted as a
family: to Detroit last Thanksgiving. And so it is.

To distract myself from a melancholy-mood hiccup, I pulled out the courtesy
magazines. Sky Mall. Evacuation card. Oh, and what’ve
we here? Technology
Review
(note: crap link–all for subscribers–cha-ching.). I
started on the article called "10 Emerging Technologies That Will Change
the World." Fair enough. I leafed through the profiles. The one
that interested me most (no. 6?) was about bio-programming–using computer
programming techniques to condition cell behavior. I guess it takes only a
few chemical impulses and RNA encoding to get cells to form cell communities
able to aid the normal functioning of the human organism. The short
profile made all of this sound cyborg-ish, like there are fewer degrees of
separation between humans and computers than there’ve ever been before,
especially now that the human genome has been mapped and most cellular behavior
can be neatly coded. Soon we’ll have comparative genome assessments that
will inform us about our predilections toward all kinds of things, and not long
after that, we might be able to affect those probabilities (er,
certainties?). I don’t know a whole lot about how all of this comes
together, but I am intrigued by the way cell behavior patterns are discussed
like human behavior patterns. In fact, the descriptions of programmed
cell communities
and, elsewhere, synthetic
gene networks (PDF)
bear a surprisingly clear reverberation to emerging
conversations about weblogs as social network construction (are weblogs programming
humans into discrete, selectively knowing/performing/associative groups?).
Timeout. I’m just wondering about all of this, watching what’s taking
shape at Network(ed)
Rhetorics
, and trying to play through some of it here. No conclusions
tonight. Mad TV is on. In case that stinks, SNL is on, too.

Keep it Simple, Specious

Been feverin’ all day through web-making, code-playing and course-updating. Today was the deadline for futzing (the single
best word said during my trip to NY last weekend!) with spring II courses; I had
changes knocked out by noon, since I’m not changing a whole lot this
time. Then I got thinking (again) that I needed to spiff up the resource
pages for the online courses I’ve developed. So, because I’ve been lazy on
all other fronts, here’s a glimpse at today’s boulder-roll, an uphill labor of
techrageous love: http://iris.earthwidemoth.com/gen/.
I can’t think of many good reasons why it would be interesting, since it barely
has a shape, but it is proof that I didn’t just sit around at the computer all
day doing nothing. In the shadow of the amount yet-to-be-done, it’s
as telling as having a look at a snow plow driver lace the boots: there’s alotta
work ahead. No hurry, though. ‘Twas a cinch to meet today’s deadline
for curricular updates, so the rest can come together over a couple of weeks.
(Oh, and if you haven’t done the Peanuts
quizilla
, here’s the link. FWIW, I’m Rerun; D.’s Sally. Thanks for the fun
link CC et. al.)

Little Famous People

With paper cutouts as templates for decorating, D. taught social studies today: Little Famous People. One student, J., lost his famous person–couldn’t remember where he put it. “What does it look like?” D. asked him. J.: “He’s got a brown suit and a white head. He’s Thomas Jefferson.” So they looked and looked, D. holding up finished famous people missing the names of their makers while J. shrugged unfamiliar, not seeing his artwork. Then the classroom teacher, Mrs. S. got involved: “J. wasn’t in class when we made the little famous people.” And so he wasn’t. And the ellusive paper Jefferson was undone in a vanishing act of memory and imagination. Weird, huh? Second-grade weird.

Pinhead to Juggernaut

I’m too busy reading and responding to project drafts from students in HU211 to spend much time here. This is a busy week in my online course; I’m
trying to pace through six project drafts each day so I can get them back by
Friday. Oh, and I just started today, so I should feel refreshed and
energetic. But I don’t. I think it was the five hours of meetings I
sat in today. Three meetings. First one was two hours long. It was
also the most interesting: a consultant from Scion (?) Corporation pitching student housing designs to the directors from all of the student services areas.
It turned into an interesting talk about students’ conceptions of
space–privacy, social connections, liberties and institutional definitions of
how space must be used. I was sitting in place of our AD. I tried to
argue that students are less concerned with the wall board, carpet and floor
plans than they are with the institutional controls encroaching on the living
space through rhetoric and technology: forced meal plans, surveillance upgrades (yes, we have cameras looking in on all of the dorm hall to and fro), and explicit measures to direct campus living. I don’t have any experience with student housing beyond two years of dorm living as an undergrad. But it was an engaging interchange; it got me thinking about space dynamics, student perceptions and institutional language about spatial use. That’s why it was a good meeting for me.

I’m also squeezed for blogging time because I was at work last night, the
kids have practice tonight, and there’s another event tomorrow night. I’ve
been trying to read more, too–most of the way through Scholes’ Rise and Fall of English. Since I read the bulk of it between Cleveland and KC on Monday night, I’ve been mulling over several ideas about intertextuality and sustained inquiry in our weblog for EN106. Even talked about those ideas just a bit in class on Tuesday morning. Working up to clearer understandings of these matters as they relate to research writing and question-guided investigations.

Interstitial S p a c e s

Pardon the interruption. With this I’m ending the longest break from
weblogging since this buggy started rolling in early January. I was flying
around the countryside over the weekend, banking through snowclouds and enjoying
short layovers in Detroit and Cleveland on the way East. Since I left on
Saturday, which, by the way, was highlighted by a short visit with my dad and S.
in the Detroit airport, I’ve really missed blogging–or missed the time for
blogging as a way of re-collecting dispersions of thought. And there’ve
been dispersions aplenty–promising ones.

Saturday was, for me, the coldest Lupercalia on record. First off, D.
was back home, snug in K.C., but aside from that, the wall unit in Ramada 233
suffered a meltdown. Late at night. What the? Yes. At
2:30 a.m., I woke up to a dingy-smelling PVC smoke. A faint odor, like burnt wiring, perhaps from a nearby room. No! My room. Geez. I felt the
wall-mounted heating unit. It was burning up. I had set it to five (out of
a possible 12), thinking that it would get my room to between 68-70 degrees for
the night. So, before the smoke alarm started its awful hooting, I dialed
the front desk and declared my predicament. Room 233. The night
manager showed up just after the blaring started–the alarm in my room only was
sounding off. He said he could hear it in the hall. Great. It
was V-Day night and the loving hour, no less, I thought. So the night
manager slid the plastic alarm from the ceiling; meanwhile, I opened the window.
Two degrees Fahrenheit. He tugged on the nine-volts, but the screamer was
hard-wired–rightly so. Finally, N.M. resorted to rip the blaring alarm
from the ceiling. In silence and wonder, we reconciled a bad plan for
restoring normalcy to my night. I’d sleep; he’d go back to the desk and
write a note for the next day’s service person. With windows closed and no
heat except my own, I took cover, dreamless. It was, in retrospect, the
low-point of the trip, the rest of which was incredibly warm and welcoming.

Each Dish Harmless Might Mix Inside, Lub-dub

[Clash Combat Rock]

Home for a late lunch yesterday, a gobbled Ethiopian fingerplate waiting to
be eaten since the weekend, injera and spicy, saucy globstuff. The President’s
dentals were on CNN, pearl rows pocked with 1973 repairs. Proof,
X-rayed evidence of military service in the Alabama National Guard. This
turned me, while mash-wrapping the fabulous red-lentil heap, to the Wonka
candy I tangled with the night before, late Wednesday: Nerd Ropes. What
story will dental records tell of this in 31 years? I ate two of them with
a bottle of water–tacky cherry syrup ropes roll-coated in assorted Nerds.
It was late; I needed a kick. If they’d had these at the Palatine Hill,
what?

Took the yarn quiz via Quizilla via
Culture Cat. Would’ve preferred
Mohair, but as it turned out, the test told me

You are dishcloth cotton.
You are Dishcloth Cotton.
You are a very hard worker, most at home when
you’re at home. You are thrifty and seemingly
born to clean. You are considered to be a Plain
Jane, but you are too practical to notice.
What kind of yarn are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

Cleaning? Yeah, I’ll get on that right away.

Via Slashdot,
I looked at this article about open
source insecurity
. So I’m wondering about trust in technology, about good
faith in the machine, and about the transference of this way of thinking about
open source as a "fertile ground for foul play" into
non-software-writing sectors, such as education. Why should we prefer
costly, closed-source course management systems to open source
alternatives? Foul play? Well, maybe. Here is where I get by
thinking while writing rather than planning all of this out ahead of
time. It’s just that closed-source systems seem much more likely to suffer
harm-intended hacks.