Friday, February 27, 2009


Here is a piece of mail that arrived today: a postcard from a thoughtful, support-for-when-you-really-need-it company called Academic Ladder. The absence of a bona fide postage stamp makes me think this came to me via bulk mailing, but in case it was sent to me alone, I share it here for posterity's sake.  Also, these are some of the design elements that might powerfully reach out to other late-stage dissertators:

  • "STRUGGLING", all caps and in a blood-curdling font you probably don't have installed on your home computer (my guess: TrueType Chainsaw Massacre Smear Italics 48).
  • Why don't you have the font installed on your home computer?  Apparently, you are writing the dissertation using a steno notebook and No. 2 pencil.  Getting started involves tearing off and crumpling whole sheets of paper that you keep on the desk as you work--the origami of unshakeable frustration.
  • The offer: A "free" toolkit with everything a late-stage dissertator needs to know about "How Academia Messes with your Mind (and what to do about it)" and "Find out if you have Ph.D. Imposter Syndrome!"

What's that? No, in fact, it's nobody's business whether I ordered a toolkit. That's not what this entry is about. Anyway, it's my CCCC presentation I'm struggling to complete today.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009



Eyebrows: Is.'s latest facial-anatomical fixation. Fine if you sketch a stick person, but the omission of brows concerns her greatly. "Add them," she says. As for her own marker board sketches, eyebrows began appearing on every single one early last week.

Yoki Is Three

Our dog had a birthday yesterday. I'm not accustomed to holding a grand celebratory event for a pet's birthday, but Is. made a convincing case for the baking of cup cakes (with ice cream) in Y.'s honor. She also made a strong pitch for her own part as Y.'s surrogate when it came to extinguishing the candles. So that's how it was.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

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?

Friday, February 20, 2009


What is on your mind if you live in Syracuse in mid-late February? Snow statistics.

On average, Syracuse endures 117" of snowfall per year. If you insist that I need a source for this, my source is Ph. He has, without flinching, handled the largest share of shoveling this year. One hundred and seventeen inches equals just about ten feet. If you don't trust my source, maybe you should do a google for the "National Weather Service" or "snowfall totals" or "enough of this torment already."

This year we had 117" before the end of January. Ph. would probably say that he shoveled 110" inches of it and that I struggled with the other 7" before crying out from flesh-shredding back spasms. I, on the other hand, would offer in my own defense that we have just one snow shovel.

Ever curious about snow statistics, I went online myself, checked out what data the internet had to report. And I found the blog for the New York State Golden Snowball Award, which tracks the prestigious annual honor for the city that suffers the most snowfall among Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Binghamton, and Albany. No contest! The site reports that No. 1 Syracuse has taken on 127.8" of snow this year, although as I look out the window right now, I think their measure is not up to date. Make that 127.9...128....

I can't continue to watch. Of course, snow isn't the only thing accumulating on Westmoreland Ave this winter. I have a CCCC paper to spit-shine (it's written-ish, if I can decide which six pages to graft from the diss), a dis'tation to finish, a book chapter draft to collaborate, and teach teach teaching to do.

Not to mention resuscitating EWM. Or unburying it, at the very least.

Perhaps I will have more to say about these accumulations again sometime.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Everything Inventive Is Good For You

Earlier this week I wrapped up Steven Johnson's latest, The Invention of Air, a pop-sci biography of Joseph Priestley. The book was typical, enjoyable Johnson: cleverly woven anecdotes, theoretical hints concerning networks and ecologies of influence, and iterative trigger-phrases that pop just enough to keep the narrative lively and fast-moving. I soared through the first 160 pages in-flight last Friday and then got back into the final chapters a couple of days ago. And I liked the book very much, except that it slowed ever so slightly near the end: the young, experimental Priestley was more provocative than the aging, dislocated Priestley. The latter, it turns out, suffered late in the religious and political aspects of his life because of the the same "congenital openness" (190) (or "chronic intellectual openness" (142)) that helped him become so influential on enlightenment scientific inquiry, and this section of the book worked at a noticeably different pace than the one dealing with Priestley's tinkering with plants.

Johnson characterizes his own ecological approach to Priestley's life with the phrase "long zoom":

Ecosystem theory has changed our view of the planet in countless ways, but as an intellectual model it has one defining characteristic: it is a "long zoom" science, one that jumps from scale to scale, and from discipline to discipline, to explain its object of study: from the microbiology of bacteria, to the cross-species flux of nutrient cycling, to the global patterns of weather systems, all the way out to the physics that explains how solar energy collides with the Earth's atmosphere. (45)

The "long zoom", thus, is both a description of Priestley's intellectual manner and also Johnson's method of developing the biography. "Long zoom" is an idea Johnson incubated in an NYU seminar he taught on Cultural Ecosystems and through an invited talk he gave to the Long Now Foundation in 2007 (according to footnotes in TIoA). I doubt that The Invention of Air does full justice to the concept as Johnson thinks of it, but the project does, on the other hand, seem to enact the "long zoom." In the passage above, the reference to scale-jumping exposes one of the rough edges of the concept. The "zoom" also comes off as predominantly vertical, along the lines of the orders of magnitude, more than horizontal or some combination of the two (viz. networked); it is not, in other words, a "long pan" or "long track" (here I'm thinking of the extended camera metaphors--pan, track, zoom--adopted smartly by Rosenwasser and Stephen when they talk about inquiry, research, and modes of engaging with an object of study). I mean that Johnson's "long zoom," even though he does not say so explicitly in The Invention of Air, seems to work both horizontally, vertically, and extra-dimensionally, as suited to networked relations as to ordered magnitudes, and all the while alert to the dangers in too recklessly skipping from one scale to another (Latour).

Priestley comes to light as a "roving" intellectual (205), one whose "hot hand" series of scientific breakthroughs culminated as consequence of a 30-year "long hunch" he'd been following (70). The "long zoom"--a kind of scale-shifting, one-thing-leads-to-another approach--allows Johnson to pin down Priestley's knowledge-making wanderluck. Yet, at another point, Priestley's success with hunches appears to be as much grounded in his "knack for 'socializing' with his own ideas" (74) as a credit to his roving, generalist sensibility. Where Johnson writes of Priestley's affinity for socializing with his own ideas, TIoA comes remarkably close to delivering a product placement ad for DevonThink--almost to the point of making me thing I'd read about it before (re: Johnson, not Priestley).

There is much more to say about The Invention of Air, but I'm out of time, viz. paradigms and anomalies (44), coffee and coffeehouses (54), hack vs. theoretician (62), ecosystems view of the world (82).

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Rotate 180


Is. drew this on Sunday, her unbirthday and 30th monthsday. C, then O, and then she filled in faces and bodies while the board was upside down.

When I saw it late last night, I was first attracted to the O and the tight radiant circles in its eyes--its hypnotic bliss. But the more I look at the C, the more depth I see in its character, the more waves in its wide, thin hair-do.