Comfort Inventory 8

I started a comfort inventory this morning, but, not finding it comforting, I postponed.

  • For the first time this summer, the heat and humidity on the eighth (a.k.a., “magma”) floor of Hoyt Hall forced me to vacate. I dropped Ph. at The Ride stop near the Ypsi water tower, went directly to my office, hurriedly packed two bags of books, my third-year review binder-in-progress, my auxiliary monitor and its stand, and returned home to work in the quasi-air-conditioned upstairs space otherwise known as the office-bedroom. Hoyt and humidity, you win.
  • A couple of strange emails lately. One from my credit union with the subject line, “We’re Friends, Aren’t We?” The body message, of course, suggests I friend the union on Facebook (apparently they do not realize that Facebook is passé, that Google+ is now social media boss). Annoying. Yet emails like this one remind me that the key difference among these platforms is how they verb things together. I might follow the credit union or even draw them into a circle, but friending is not quite right. I could go on and on about this, but that goes against the list-logic of the inventory. The point is, if Google+ thrives, it could be because it managed to shed some of the peculiarity in friending and following as the default association-making verbs in Facebook and Twitter. I have seen attempts to assign verbs to Google+ (encircling, plusing), and maybe one of these will garner some mass appeal over the next several months. But I like about Google+ that the linking gesture does not too easily come down to one verb.
  • The other email of note came from the University of Michigan ticket marketing group. I got on the mailing list because I went to a preseason basketball game last fall between UM and SVSU. Many UM sport-promotional emails have followed. The most recent showed up the other day with “Brady Hoke” as the named sender (a cryptic email address reassured me this was not, in fact, the new coach himself sending me a personal email…to my great disappointment!). Subject line: Your Exclusive Individual Ticket Presale Code Has Arrived! I read on, knowing EMU plays at UM this fall. Reading it through, I was tempted to answer the email, even though I know it won’t go to Hoke, to say “Your Exclusive Individual No Thank-you Has Arrived!” because what I found surprised me: individual tickets to the UM-EMU football game on Sept. 17 are available for the special price of $70. To put this into perspective, home ticket prices for EMU are $9. Michigan Stadium is 5.6 miles away. Last time these two gridiron giants squared off, the EMU contingent was offered free tickets the week before the game. So, I am considering attending, but I may press my cheap luck and hold out for a better deal than $70 per ticket. And if it sells out, I’ll just have to listen to it on the radio.
  • I’ve been fiddling around with the Google+ photo combination that includes 1) the Android app’s automatic upload of photos to a G+ folder, 2) the duplication of that folder in Picasa, and 3) weighing the merits of Picasa over Flickr, where I continue to hold an shamefully underused Pro account. Consequently, here is a photo I took of an enormous moth just before eight this morning as I left Hoyt with my desk essentials in a couple of reusable grocery bags. But this inventory item is as much about Picasa’s linking and embedding functions as it is about the moth. By now perhaps they are one and the same, inseparable.
    From Blog

Appointment Slots

I saw the announcement about Google Calendar’s appointment slots feature a little more than a week ago, and the various reports of its availability reassured me it was being rolled out gradually. Until yesterday’s CNET report, though, I didn’t realize the reason I wasn’t seeing the feature had to do with viewing my calendar as four weeks at a time. The appointment slots feature showed up when I switched to the weekly view.

The spring term is winding down such that I don’t have much occasion right now to use this for scheduling office hours, but I will definitely give it a try in the fall. Just in tinkering around with it for a few minutes yesterday, I learned that the appointments are exceedingly easy to schedule, that the notifications are prompt, and that appointments, once scheduled, show up on the Mozilla calendar I use offline (and for keeping multiple calendars in one place). That it’s built into a system I already use for my calendar makes it a better option than Tungle.me, which I tried this spring term. Trouble with Tungle.me is that I don’t think to update it, and I don’t do enough to push students in its direction for appointment-making. Selecting one of Google’s appointment slots requires the scheduler to have a Google account, though, whereas Tungle.me’s appointments can be booked without signing up for an account. I remain undecided about the magnitude of this difference and will have to watch whether it makes any difference in the fall.

The appointment slots feature also gets me thinking about integrations for our University Writing Center, which has not yet adopted a booking system for writing consultations. We’re not there yet, but it would be ideal if we could create a scheduling system built on the Google Calendar API that would rival WCOnline.

Coding the UWC

I’m not the nimblest programmer, and because I can count my successes with PHP on one hand, I feel compelled to document them, to extend and preserve them through self-congratulatory accounts like this one.

I am working this semester as a faculty consultant to the University Writing Center. I probably mentioned that before. Basically, my charge is to get online consulting systems up and running at EMU, provide a few months of support and training, and spread the word. The main piece here is asynchronous consulting via email. Much like what we built at Syracuse, this process relies on a form. The student fills it out, uploads an attachment, submits it. The submission calls a PHP script, which in turn displays a You did it! message, a readout of the form data fed to the screen (for saving, for verification), and an email message that routes the form data and the attachment to a listserv. The listserv consists of a handful of subscribers who will comment and send back the uploadeds in turn, in time.

The system works reasonably well, but managing the queue can become a headache. Whose turn is it? At Syracuse, the queue was filled in with four or five rotations, and then as form-fed drafts arrived, consultants would access a shared Google Spreadsheet and manually enter a few vital details: name, email address, time received, time returned, and turnaround (time returned minus time received). These few crumbs of data were helpful, but many of the trackable-sortable pieces of the form were not otherwise captured systematically.

Until Zend Gdata. With this installed, it’s now possible to run a second PHP process that will push all of the form data into a shared Google Spreadsheet automatically. I puzzled over this on Friday, figured it out on Saturday. My initial stumble was that I was trying to integrate the new PHP code into the script that turned out the email and screen readout. Didn’t work. But then I figured out that I could instead route the form to a relay file (I doubt this is what programmers would call it, but I don’t have the vocabulary to name it anything else). The relay file was something like simple.php.

Simple.php is a script with a couple of lines: include formemail.php and include formtospreadsheet.php. Now, when the form gets submitted, both scripts run. The email routes the document like it should, and the Google Spreadsheet (queue) grabs a new line of data. The only element requiring manual entry is the time the consultant returned the commented draft. The shared spreadsheet does everything else: calls the list of consultant names from another page, calculates the turnaround, and records a comprehensive record of who is using the service, the classes they come from, etc. Over time, the comprehensive record will allow us to sort by different classes, different faculty, different colleges, which will help us identify patterns that might prove insightful for how writing is assigned and taught across the curriculum.

I should add that our recent launch of the service limits it to four targeted programs. This is necessary because we are not currently staffed to handle a deluge of submissions, and while we do want the service to get solidly off the ground this semester, we want foremost to extend it to a segment of the 17,000 students who are enrolled in some sort of online class.

Proust and the Squid

I finished Maryanne Wolf’s Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain early this spring, and I have been meaning to revive the blog again periodically for reading notes, so catch as catch can. Initially, I picked up Wolf’s book because I wanted to know how she dealt with the endangered status of reading in the age of the internet, in terms of carrying through as both “story” and “science” of how the reading brain does neurologically what it does. Wolf’s book also figured into Nicholas Carr’s 2008 Atlantic Monthly article, “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, and Carr has been drawing attention (on techrhet and from bloggers) more recently following the release of The Shallows. In Carr’s AM article, Wolf was cited as one whose foreboding research insights affirm Carr’s “I’m not the only one” suspicions about the superficiality of reading experiences at the interface. Carr wrote,

Wolf worries that the style of reading promoted by the Net, a style
that puts “efficiency” and “immediacy” above all else, may be weakening
our capacity for the kind of deep reading that emerged when an earlier
technology, the printing press, made long and complex works of prose
commonplace. When we read online, she says, we tend to become “mere
decoders of information.” Our ability to interpret text, to make the
rich mental connections that form when we read deeply and without
distraction, remains largely disengaged. (para. 8)

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Google Speedreader

I’m an avid skimmer of Google Reader. On most days, I periodically login and use quick keys to flip through 100 or so items. I might read one or two of them, start another few items, publish one or two as shared items. The key is to use it as productive digression, not to get bogged down with it as an obligation or labor-intensive duty. When I miss a day or find the feeds creating an insurmountable backlog, it’s easy enough to mark all as read.

This morning I noticed Google Reader’s down-counting ticker kept hitching–stopping on a number and no longer counting down, no matter how many times I pressed ‘N’ext. For months I’ve had Helvetireader working through Greasemonkey in Firefox; figured that must be it. But even after I deactivated Greasemonkey, the ticker continued to act up, firing only for the first few items and then sticking. The ticker would stop on a number (e.g., 80), and the fed RSS items would continue skipping down the page, many of them reruns. The service wasn’t broken, exactly. But it was (and remains) up on the blocks. Somebody is tinkering with it.

I caught a few clues on Twitter during the day (Thurs., a day I usually spend at home, half fathering, half professing) speculating about whether Google had activated Pubsubhubbub, a nearer to real-time relay process for RSS deliveries. Then, a few minutes ago, both in Google Reader and via Will Richardson’s Twitter stream, I saw this entry from The Next Web, “Has Google Reader Just Gone Real Time?” Possibly: Google is adjusting Reader so it will turn around RSS-fed content momentarily. Until now, Google Reader-fed material was delayed, arriving anywhere from 30-90 minutes after the content was first published. Google’s demure response (cited in The Next Web piece) is unsurprising in light of reactions to Google Buzz. But an upgrade to Google Reader that nudges it toward the ever-unfolding now is an intriguing, promising development, nevertheless. Moving Reader toward the now may dislodge assumptions about its readerly orientation and help us come to terms with it differently as a writerly/receivable mechanism–a platform for collaborative filtering (like Delicious networks) and threaded conversational annotation (both of which take GR well beyond a flat consumption practice). I’m encouraged to see some new energy routed Google Reader’s way. In fact, while it’s much too early for me to be decided about Google Buzz, if it makes any appreciable impact on Google Reader, all the better.

Method’s Con-trails

Caught a small
blip of discussion
yesterday concerned with whether or not Google Earth

satellighted
upon

the lost city of Atlantis
. Remnants of the elusive, underwater cityscape?

According to Google Maps Mania,
Google

says
no:

It’s true that many amazing discoveries have been made in Google Earth
including a pristine forest in Mozambique that is home to previously unknown
species and the remains of an Ancient Roman villa.

In this case, however, what users are seeing is an artefact of the data
collection process. Bathymetric (or sea floor terrain) data is often
collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor.

The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data. The fact
that there are blank spots between each of these lines is a sign of how
little we really know about the world’s oceans.

How little we know, indeed. Is this Atlantis? The conspiracy doesn’t interest me all that much.
Instead, I’m struck by the impression: the stamp left by the "systematic"
tracing, the residue of the surface-to-sea-floor method (a term others
have smartly untangled it into meta-hodos or something like ‘beyond
ways’, even ‘ways
beyond’; this etymological dig lingers with me). The deep blue grid of
"bathymetric data" elicits questions: why don’t we see these in the adjacent
areas? What was it about this boat, this collection process,
this
translation from sound to image, that left behind the vivid trails?


Robert Sarmast
elaborated on the image’s trail-grid, noting:

The lines you’re referring to are known as "ship-path artifacts" in the
underwater mapping world. They merely show the path of the ship itself as it
zig-zagged over a predetermined grid. Sonar devices cannot see directly
underneath themselves. The lines you see are the number of turns that the
ship had to make for the sonar to be able to collect data for the entire
grid. I’ve checked with my associate who is a world-renowned geophysicist
and he confirmed that it is artifact. Sorry, no Atlantis.

More provocations here: the grid’s unevenness, its predetermination, the
inability of the sonar devices to see (erm…hear) directly below. And
yet, a telling illustration of method alongside method: seems to me a subtle
allegory in the adjacency of ocean floor imagery with lines and without.
Presumably, the surrounding ground was measured similarly. Why no lines?

195

A draft of my fall syllabus was due on Friday, so draft it I did. I’m slotted for a section of WRT195: Studio 2 for Transfer Students. It pitches itself as a “best of” blend, a rip-and-mix that puts the best of WRT105 and WRT205 into a single course for transfer students.

For several weeks, I mulled over using Pink’s Whole New Mind. I read Johnny Bunko, too, and thought about how I could fit that stuff into the course. But at the last minute, I went with another plan focused for now on the latest greatest literacy crisis and also on Googlization (while taking up some of Vaidhyanathan’s blogbook-in-progress). So we’ll read about and write around some of the stuff that happens when we ‘do a Google,’ size up some of the apps, and forage around for research projects concerned with Google’s construction of the web or the world, grand databases and privacy, Knol, directed and serendipitous search, and so on. So far, the course opens with a digital memoir of sorts (not quite a mystory, but maybe not too far off), some summary and critique work, a researched argument, and a translation (switching the argument into a 2.5 minute audio short or a Pecha Kucha slide-improv, I haven’t decided yet). Here’s the current plan, subject to minor revisions until I hear back from a coordinator later this week about whether it will fly.

I’m also slotted for ten hours per week in the Writing Center, or, I should say, doing Writing Center work online, as we continue stabilizing some of the consulting options piloted this summer. More on that when the batteries in this cordless keyboard are recharged.

Satellitization

Before touring the old Santa Ana Pueblo a week ago on Thursday morning, again and again
we were reminded that no photography was allowed. Also, no sketches, no
recording of sounds. The rationale for this goes directly to simulacrum
and the sacred: the ground itself and all activities upon it remain contained,
singular, rare. When reproduction and representation are banned, the site does
not suffer from diffusion but instead remains intact. On the tour to
the Zia Pueblo a few years ago, there was
a similar admonition. There, a
sign was posted in front of the church. Something like, "Any recording or
reproduction at this site is punishable by a fine of $3,500."

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Moving Meditation

I was out of town and more or less offline late last week when the
July/August Atlantic Monthly hit newsstands with its front cover blazing
the title of Nicholas Carr’s
article, "Is Google
Making Us Stoopid?" (the "Stoopid" is much sexier on the actual cover than it is
here because the letters are done colorfully and in the Google font).
Jeff and

Alex
posted thoughtful responses, and I am sure there will be more.

Carr’s article, if you have not read it yet, hops along like Level 1 on
Frogger (which, coincidentally, was released in 1981): without much exertion,
the argument leaps from personal anecdote to the role of media in shaping
cognition to the insidious effects of too much easy access to information via
Google: drumroll…

"[A]s we come to rely on computers to mediate our understanding of the world,
it is our own intelligence that flattens into artificial intelligence" (63).

Carr welcomes skeptics but also fends off all-out dismissals of his deep
wariness of the changes he has experienced first-hand. He begins the article
with his own reasons for believing this "flattening" to be endemic and imminent
for Google users: 1.) he is more and more easily distracted in his own attempts
to read anything longer than a couple of pages and 2.) what was once
pain-staking research is now available to him almost instantaneously. With a
simple search, he can quickly summon great heaps of material on [enter search
terms]: "And what the Net seems to be doing is chipping away my capacity for
concentration and contemplation" (57).

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Courseware, Training Wheels

Thanks to everyone who threw in a
congrats. May I never grow tired of
waves of encouraging comments. (Makes me consider, for half a minute, the
possibilities in announcing that I passed exams every week until the diss is
finished. Entry #1419: For the Hundredth Time: Pass! Pass!)

For a few minutes now, I’ve bee thinking about Blackboard. IHE
has this little
news piece
on Blackboard and law suits over patents. Blackboard, as I
understand it, fancies itself the first to develop the web-in-a-box-ware used by
so many colleges and universities for delivering online courses (or augmenting
F2F with innovations like discussion forums). The legal loops are only
marginally interesting to me. I mean, even though I think it is
far-fetched, I can understand why Blackboard must, in the interest of solvency,
claim as its property the idea of rolling together things like message boards,
bulk email, and announcements into an unforgettable discombobulware.

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