Wednesday, August 27, 2008

All My Lifio

Leading the way among my web platform crushes for 2008 is, simple private sharing. My fondness for this app grows deeper every day. I have an account set up for the section of WRT195 I'm teaching right now, and it couldn't be much better for uploading and sharing PDFs, slide shows, documents, and audio clips. I simply password protected the account (one of the options when you set up an account), and presto. Students only need the URL and the password. Plus, when students log on to, they can easily glance the contents of any file by clicking on it. They don't have to download the files to view the contents. I'm hooked.

Already I can tell that I will be using more slideshow stuff this semester than I have in years past. For one, I am in a cramped space. It wasn't looking too bad when there were just twelve students enrolled, but within the past week eight more students have added, pushing us to the upper threshold of twenty. On Tuesday, there were a total of nineteen chairs in the room, counting the one my teacherly can was parked on (first come, first served, I say). Really there were only nineteen (counting me) in class that day, and no empty seats; two more have added since, and I had to put in an email request so we will be sure to have enough chairs tomorrow. My point: It's a cramped space. And rather than shimmy pardon me, excuse me, sorry over to the marker board, I think I will use the projector as a temporary solution. Plus, I can refine my slideshow style with this practice.

Nice about is that I can drop the slidshow into the quick-drop plugin in Firefox, and there it is: viewable online. It's slick.

Another thing: is founded on the idea of limited shelf life: after a year of inactivity, the drop evaporates and with it all of the content uploaded to it. A good match for certain course materials in that it doesn't flirt with all the niceties (and idealisms) of permanent archivization.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day Five

Like a lot of schools, SU's first day of classes is tomorrow. But I don't teach until Tuesday, so the plan is to jam on the diss in the morning and then head over to The Great New York State Fair for the afternoon and early evening (a dinner of deep fried Oreos?). Special happenings at the fairgrounds: Day five, which means Senior Citizens' Day and Dairy Day. I'm too young to capitalize on the first one (although, what about this here sun spot the shape of Onondaga Lake?), but there will be milk to chug and ice cream to slurp down. Also, cheese. And bunnies in cages, goats on leashes, etc.

And then I teach on Tuesday morning, after the new semester's dust has finally started to settle.

Saturday, August 23, 2008


Wednesday we cut away from the usual paces for an afternoon and evening of late-summer lake time at Southwick Beach State Park, an hour north of Syracuse on big, blue Ontario. We caught up with some friends who were in the middle of a two-week stay, camping near the beach. Had turkey burgers--birdgers--and enjoyed a few hours in and on the water, swimming and kayaking--as rejuvenating as anything I've done this fast-fading month.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Market Meditations

A wayfarer unexpectedly encounters a tiger and so runs to get away from it. He comes to a cliff, looks back to see the tiger in ravenous pursuit, and left with no other choice, leaps off the edge. Much to his temporary relief, a small ledge breaks the treacherous fall; he clings to it, suspended more than seventy feet above the ground. The traveler briefly regains his composure before he realizes another hungry tiger lurks at the bottom of the cliff. He is trapped, unable to step in any direction and cornered from above and below by predators. He looks over at a cluster of rubble and is surprised to see a delicate strawberry plant and with it a small, bright red berry, which, with nowhere else to turn, he happily eats while leafing through a packet of ads printed from the Job Information List.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Consulting by Discontinous Email

In preparation for a Writing Center mini-seminar this Friday, I just finished reading the Yergeau et al. article, "Expanding the Space of f2f," from the latest Kairos (13.1). In this nodal hypertext, Yergeau, Wozniak, and Vandenberg suggest a few of the ways AVT (audio-visual-textual) platforms productively complicate face-to-face or "discontinuous email": two default modes of interaction in writing centers. They include several video clips from consulting sessions using Sight Speed, a cross-platform (and bandwidth heavy?) AVT application.

This is a pro-AVT account, with lots of examples to illustrate some of the challenges students and consultants faced. The authors offset the positive tenor of the article with grounding and caveats, noting, for example, that while "[they] revel in the recomposition of f2f via AVT, [they] want to avoid an attitude of naive nostalgia." Most accept that face-to-face consulting allows for communicative dimensions not neatly duplicated via distances, interfaces, and so on. But AVT consulting refreshes the debates between synchronous and asynchronous, conversation and response, f2f and online. The piece goes on to deal with the haunting of f2f genealogies of interaction, Bolter and Grusin's remediation (i.e., matters of transparency and opacity), the (unavoidable?) regulatory role writing centers play, the degree to which discontinuous email consulting undercuts much of what has motivated the growth of writing centers over the past 25 years, and the bricoleur spirit of online consulting initiatives. (I would link to the specific locations in the piece where this stuff comes up, but the nodes-as-frames presentation unfortunately does not provide identifiable URLs for any of the sub-content).

Computer technology's rapid half-life aside, we also realize that individual writing centers have their own specific needs, and any discussion concerning potential AVT technologies must consider that center's available resources, as well as its student requests.

This point about reckoning AVT possibilities with local considerations is, among other things, the purpose of Friday's meeting. We have been piloting online consulting sessions this summer, both by IM and by discontinuous email. I tend to cautiously embrace consulting by IM because I experience the conversational quality that makes writing center work worth doing. I have many concerns about the way our email model is set up right now, and I suppose I shouldn't air those out here.

Along with Yergeau et al., we're reading Ted Remington's "Reading, Writing, and the Role of the Online Tutor," (PDF) which argues that email consulting is potentially promising because it makes for a more text-focused experience. Interpersonal dynamics and conversation don't detract from the text-as-written in quite the same way as in f2f sessions. Also, he emphasizes that consultants, by writing, respond in kind, modeling the textual qualities they value by virtue of the response itself. I'm not convinced, at least not from this summer's pilot, that students regard the comments I make on their emailed drafts as any sort of model. But perhaps this is because our current set-up doesn't give us any way of knowing whether students ever even read the comments at all, much less whether they regard the writing the consultant does as exemplary. The time constraints (i.e., consultants are still paid hourly when responding via discontinuous email) also throw a wrench in the works: there is only so much fine-tuning the writer-consultant can do when dedicating one hour to a five-page draft.

Yergeau, Melanie, Kathryn Wozniak, and Peter Vandenberg. "Expanding the Space of f2f: Writing Centers and Audio-Visual-Textual Conferencing." Kairos 13.1 (Fall 2008). 17 Aug. 2008. < yergeau-et-al/index.html>.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Small-crowd Mentorship

Monday is our grad program's "Community Day," a day of pre-semester conversation to set up the collegial mood that will sustain us throughout the year. I am both happy and sad (not tearfully so): it will be fifth and final such gathering I attend at SU.

I'm slotted in the afternoon for an informal ten-minute spiel concerning "experiences finding and working with mentors and building relationships." And I've been thinking about it quite a bit lately, especially about the options available given such a specious invitation. I've had experiences. I can identify several really terrific influences--a long list of folks, academics and non-, who have shepherded me in various ways through this program of study.

Best to list a few? Name names? Cut straight to anecdotes? I have considered this, thought about zeroing in on three off-site mentors who helped me to think differently about what I was setting out to do back in 2004 when coursework got underway. Maybe begin with John Lovas....

But the list is long, and I expect that there will be a lot of this sort of thing on Monday--naming of names, recounting how thus-and-such has been such a beacon, etc. It's hard to avoid. We're largely accustomed, it seems to me, to talking about mentoring relationships at the scale of person-to-person.

Fine, so I will probably do some of it, too. Only a little bit. Because I'm also interested in getting at a larger proposition--that my program of study, because of non-directed networked writing practices, has been shaped tacitly by a large number of people (viz., the blogroll and reciprocal Delicious network). Many of these encounters are fleeting, serendipitous, casual, and gift-like. An aggregated subscription to 20 or so Delicious users' links, a pseudonymous comment posted to Yellow Dog, a syllabus for a course at Purdue, a blogged call for a conference. None of this is especially directed at me, and yet, at the very same time, much of it is and has been. Is this mentorship? Seems so. It's a sort of opt-in presencing, a manner of dwelling, of doing stuff not because anyone said you should. And I am tempted to say that those passing characterizations of online narcissism, vanity, or self-aggrandizement (wherever they lurk, usually in "that's not for me" conversations) tend to dodge, downplay, or under-value this point about tacit, small-crowd mentorship I am trying to develop. I can't definitively put a finger on what sustains it. Desire? A blend of interests (self-interest among them)? Whatever it is--in terms of mentorship--it has left me with a sure sense that my program of study would have been drastically different without it.

Friday, August 15, 2008

MT 4.2

I just bussed in all of the upgrade files for Movable Type 4.2, so I had to hustle together an entry to see whether it lives up to the hoopla, especially the faster page-creation times, which had become downright arthritic with the latest releases (e.g., 4.x).

So far, I can offer the following (exclamation-style, so as to keep with the mood of 4.2's release):

  • the upgrade was a cinch. That's good!
  • my search form is broken. That's bad!
  • the basic templates held up. That's good!
  • I will have to install a dummy blog and ransack its templates to troubleshoot the search error, and I have no time for that. That's bad!
  • a full site rebuild took less then seven minutes. Good!
  • posting this entry took something like four seconds. Faster than before!

I still haven't read any of the release materials closely enough to figure out the difference between MT 4.2 and MT Pro. For now, my justification is not only a case of the late-summer lazies, but also a principled objection to the "Pro" designation, which, for my purposes, would be better if it were "Am" or, on the best of days, "Pro-Am."

Monday, August 11, 2008

Ch. 71

Over the weekend I gave the blog a two-point tune-up. Point one: Rolled all one-hundred and some entries from Exam Sitting (later renamed "Dissarray" clever!) into Earth Wide Moth. I will delete the other site soon. Now my old reading notes have a home with a hearth: the "yesterblog" will churn those entries back to the front page once per year so that I can freshen up on all that I've forgotten over the last eighteen months. Point two: Launched a TV station--EWM-71--by making a page with a bunch of YouTube custom players. I know, I know: all big media conglomerates started small. Naysayers might add: "Technically, YouTube is not TV," and to them I would retort, "Why are you crapping on my stoop during this moment in the sun?"

I appreciate that all of the programming is easily controlled and readily updated through YouTube. I will see a video I want to add, click on it, bump it into a playlist, and there it is, live on EWM-71. I can also re-arrange the order of the clips in any playlist. Why bother with this? Well, not only do I like it, but I've been thinking about some sort of project that would tie into this practice of tele-tubing; something for a class, maybe, where research involves piling up a yarn of video snippets. Not necessarily a full 24-hour marathons of crappy 70's TV, but a variety show arranged into a single page--a wall of moving images. And then write some sort of account of it, a review of the next person's programming line-up, annotations, and so on.

Another programming note: Eventually, what I'd really like to see is a Web 2.0 application (developers?) that makes it possible to produce something like PTI at home. Voice- and video-enabled pairs could connect, pre-load (or randomize) a list of discussable points, set an arbitrary timer, and then get going with a pop-pop-pop conversation. And then post it to blog, of course. Go!

1. John McCain's plagiarized speech
2. Tayshaun Prince's minutes against China
3. Spiced ketchup
4. How long of a job letter is too long of a job letter?
5. Peter, Paul, and Mary

I came up with these off the top of my head. But seriously, there would be a lot to love in a DIY, web-based PTI module, no? If it doesn't come along soon, maybe somebody will go out on a limb with me and pitch a PTI-styled conference panel, so I can get it out of my system.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


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.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Still Going

I haven't had much to say about the dissertation for a while. It's reached its top secret phase, as covered up as a smoking Roswell UFO. Sometime in the spring I broke rhythm from the regimented daily progress I was making (600 new words by noon or else!), iced the draft of chapter four, and rolled the office chair away from the office desk for CCCC, RSA, a jaunt to New Mexico, another jaunt to southern Pennsylvania: summertime. Next thing I knew, shellacked by the whoosh of whole months passing me by, I was really coasting through June and July: teaching online, mentoring four new online instructors, and putting down 15 hours per week in the Writing Center, while carrying the torch for a bunch of online pilots--consulting by email, consulting by IM. Hi, summer. Bye, summer.

I'm once again on a dissertation writing jag. In over 6K words on Chapter Five. Or maybe it's not a jag as much as a rediscovery and resumption of the daily rhythms that carried through the first four chapters. Yet it is also like a jag, all herky-jerky. Lurching sentences (all of them footnoted with mea culpas, my bad, etc.). Beads of forehead sweat. Deep reflective pauses for rummaging in the now-desolate grey matter for whatever on earth can come next? I am sure that with every sentence my facial expression tells of one who has writer's anguish and an upset stomach. So: I eat yogurt for breakfast and keep after it, periodically wondering what life will be like when the dissertation is drafted finally, maybe by the end of Soontober.

Monday, August 4, 2008

In Bad Decline

If you bumped into me on the sidewalk or in the hallway, I might have mentioned that the visit--now one month ago--to Gettysburg on the Fourth of July was, um, thought-provoking in all sorts of unanticipated ways.  The places--war memorials, battlefields, and the famous cemetery--struck a chord with me. I was intrigued by being there.  But I thought some of the re-enactment stuff was odd--odd dialed beyond historical fetishism and into a new range of fantastical dress-up geekery.  I recovered and was more or less granted amnesty, I think, for what was a glaring foot-in-mouth moment during which I compared the degree of geekery between Civil War re-enactors and the Lucas-heads who attend Star Wars conventions dressed as Chewy and C3PO. 

In one of those subsequent, casual, "we went to Gettysburg" hallway conversations, I mentioned how the re-enactments left me with a lingering uneasiness about what was happening at those sites now. Re-enacting war is a strange brew: a half-and-half concoction blending parts of the worst of Hollywood spectacle and adult play-acting (no matter how seriously) in the grim, horrific, and atrocious war-deeds perpetrated on those now-hallowed grounds. Chilling, but hard to pin down because I didn't openly object to it (the geekery comment was never meant to disparage anyone), and I don't have any problem with gestures of tribute, respect, and commemoration.

Eventually, in that hallway conversation, the person I was talking with asked me if I'd read George Saunders' short story "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline."  I hadn't read it; hadn't read anything by Saunders, even though his name is the first one that pops up when I mention Writing Program and Syracuse U. to anyone who has lived in Central N.Y. for a few years (and then I have to explain how Saunders is in the creative writing program, which hangs its colorful hat in English and Textual Studies, and 'no I've never met him or studied with him', and so on, until the perplexed looks give way to a change of topic).  "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline," if you haven't read it, is a dystopian romp through a gang-plagued, run-down, underfunded Civil War park.  At breakneck pace, Saunders writes of a great range of escapades as the ethic of historical preservation gives way to a relentless assault by modern forces.  Reading it did not make me feel better about the re-enactments; neither did it make me feel worse.  But I laughed, and I also thought more carefully about that profoundly difficult balance between celebrating war and properly reckoning with the horrible mess it always (and to this day) makes of lives.

Here's Saunders, a point where the new gun-loving employee joins the staff at CivilWarLand:

Just after lunch next day a guy shows up at Personnel looking so completely Civil War they immediately hire him and send him out to sit on the porch of the old Kriegal place with a butter churn. His name's Samuel and he doesn't say a word going through Costuming and at the end of the day leaves on a bike. I do the normal clandestine New Employee Observation from the O'Toole gazebo and I like what I see. He seems to have a passable knowledge of how to pretend to churn butter. At one point he makes the mistake of departing from the list of Then-Current Events to discuss the World Series with a Visitor, but my feeling is, we can work with that. All in all he presents a positive and convincing appearance, and I say so in my review. (14)

Friday, August 1, 2008

Two Years

Here's a gallery of YouTube clips in celebration of Is.'s second birthday today.

Note: She opens with a "cheese" (uncertain about whether it would be a still shot), and then, promptly after singing, wants to see what the camera captured.

Above: Baby Steps, the video from a year ago.  Below: The reenactment.