Thursday, May 28, 2015


I thought of a dream related by Leibniz, in which he found himself at a great height overlooking the world--with provinces, towns, lakes, fields, villages, hamlets, all spread beneath him. If he wished to see a single person--a peasant tilling, an old woman washing clothes--he had only to direct and concentrate his gaze: "I needed no telescope except my attention."

Oliver Sacks, "Bull on a Mountain," from A Leg to Stand On

Friday, November 12, 2010

Deterministic Footfalls

Here's a fascinating RadioLab podcast on deep patterns in cityscapes, "Cities."

After listening, follow it with a sip--a chaser--from Calvino's Invisible Cities:

In vain, great-hearted Kublai, shall I attempt to describe Zaira, city of high bastions. I could tell you how many steps make up the streets rising like stairways, and the degree of the arcades' curves, and what kind of zinc scales cover the roofs; but I already know this would be the same as telling you nothing. [...] The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls. (10-11)

Saturday, October 23, 2010


I've heard speculation about adjustments to local rail options off and on since we moved to Ypsilanti late summer, 2009. But this article from Crain's Detroit Business, "Word on Detroit-Ann Arbor Commuter Rail Expected Next Week," pretty much gives the impression that a rail Detroit-AA rail loop is taking shape. I say "pretty much" because it is a curiously hazy report, one with details that could be interpreted as going either way: rail is impending, or rail is wholly dependent on funds yet to be committed. Right away, there's a big "if" tied to federal funding. Hold off on blowing the horn, Dinah.

Organizers of a Detroit-Ann Arbor commuter rail project expect to learn next week if $200 million in federal capital funding will be approved.

But elsewhere, with references to environmental assessment, fleet refurbishment, and even the colors of the cars, it sounds like the project is well underway.

Work is under way on the federally required environmental assessment.

Three locomotives and nine passenger cars have been leased from Great Lakes Central Railroad, which is owned by Farmington Hills-based Federated Capital Corp., and are in the process of being refurbished and painted, Palombo said.

The lease and refurbishment work is about $2 million. The livery will be green, yellow and blue, and trains will be a locomotive with two cars.

I will continue to watch how this plays out, fingers-crossed that we will within the next year or so have commuter rail running between AA and Detroit, notably with stops through Ypsilanti and the Detroit Metro Airport.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

"Rain" AND "Routes"

Imagined Geographies

A Wednesday morning. 9 a.m. An hour into the day's office hours. This is the first rainy day of the semester; high humidity makes for a muggy Equinox Eve. Soon I will pack my things and walk a GPStimated three-quarters of a mile across campus to teach my first class of the day, ENGL326: Research Writing, in which we will develop short lists of Halavaisian engine-searching precepts and then step through the setting up of Google Search Alerts via RSS.

The rain will make today's walking sloppier--a puddle-dodging trek past the library and the science building. This is a new problem intensified (potentially) by the temporary relocation of our campus offices. On teaching days this semester I walk almost three miles back and forth across campus: Rackham, Hoyt, McKenny, Hoyt, Rackham, Bowen Lot. When the weather makes clear skies and 68F, all of the back and forth is fine. But when it rains. But when it rains.

And then there's an unexpected umbrella frailty, or umbrailty if you are still in the mood for new words on this gray morning: my finest umbrella, an old and sturdy stand-by since my time in Syracuse, is failing. The handle slips off from time to time, and now it will not close up for stowing. The clasp does not catch. The canopy wants always to be open (a sure sign of its late-life wish for vigor and lasting purpose), and this makes some people think my unkempt umbrella is the cause for today's showers. I have a second umbrella. Green and free (a gift from REC/IM), it does not withstand winds like the aging gear I just described. For today, at least, it might be enough to keep me dry and out of scorn-shot from the superstitious out there.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Small Convex Kind You Stick On

Dog-eared in PrairyErth, a book I was reading last summer:

But the stories didn't work very well for me, and I walked on, the sky dimming like my mood. Then I remembered that in the little rucksack I carry on my tramps, somewhere among the notebook and pencils, binoculars and magnifying glass, camera and canteen, field guides and raisins, was a thing I'd bought a few days earlier and still had not used: a truck side-mirror, the small convex kind you stick on. I'd recently read about an eighteenth-century traveler's device called a Claude glass that served to condense and focus a landscape and make it apprehensible in a way direct viewing cannot. When the English poet Thomas Grey first crossed Lake Windermere, he reserved his initial view of the other side for his Claude glass by blindfolding himself on the ferry. Maybe my mirror could rearrange things and show me, so memory-ridden, what I was having trouble seeing.

I pulled out the thing and walked slowly on, watching in it the hills compress and reshape themselves into something different, and what happened was strange and invigorating: in the glass the Chase prairie somehow took on the aspect of my first views of it, and I began to feel again the enchantment of those early encounters. By looking rearward, it was as if I were looking back in time, yet I was looking at a place where left was right, a two-dimensional landscape I could see but not enter: the prospect was both real and impossible, it was there and it wasn't, and I entered it by walking away from it. If I turned to look, it was gone, something like the reverse of the old notion that when we turn our backs the universe suddenly disappears, to reappear instantly only when we look again. If I extended the mirror far in front of me, I--or a backward image of me--joined that turned land, a dreamscape that could exist only in my palm, a place behind I could see only by looking forward: I was hiking north and traveling south. And then, stumbling along as I was, I realized that ever since I'd come down off Roniger Hill and begun walking my grids I'd been traveling much the same way, and I realized that forward or backward didn't matter so much as did the depth of the view, a long transit at once before and behind: the extent of cherishing depends upon the amplitude of the ken. (268)

This is William Least Heat-Moon on memory and perspective-two faculties that have, more than others, given shape to my day: a productively clumsy practice interview on campus this morning, the sawing and propping of a Fraser Fir in the living room, and intermittent, melancholic jabs in remembering that my mother, had she lived past 48, would have turned 60 today. So: I could have used a Claude glass--or a truck side-mirror--deliberately to adjust my perspective at a few different points--a mirror trick to help me vanish momentarily from the Syracuse landscape, reverse directions, "rearrange things."

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Plotting Intensities

I first caught word over at Junk Charts of this infographical rendering (in the Sunday Times) of a week of concert-going. The spread includes profound thoughts, counts of the people on stage, quality arcs of each show, more profound thoughts, entertaining phrases, profound guests on stage, and best parts, all convoluted into charts, graphs, stacked bars, and bubbles. When I first saw the quality arcs, I thought it would be cool to throw something like that together to suggest rising and falling intensities over the course of a graduate program of study. But heck, it took me four days to get around to posting on these few pieces that churned through the aggregator on Sunday, so it'll be a few more days before I get around to drawing up quality arcs of my own.

Sunday's infographucopia finally led me back around to emo+beer, a blog I feel like I should've known about before now as it plays at the crossroads of music, affect, experience, and data visualization. Earl Boykins, the blog's proprietor, went at the NYT article, too, coding it with a four-part text analysis, too, and produced this entry, which shows the NYT article not as text, but as a horizontal bar chart. At the bottom, the colors are realigned so that they amplify the densities of each of the four categories for coding. Aligned like a row of icicles:

I am immediately attracted to the pedagogical possibilities, reminded of the practices I already use sometimes with highlighting to emphasize features that, glanced across an entire document, suggest patterns. But in this case, everything folds into the chart. What can we say of this type of translation? Its relationship to text sense (whether a NYT article, song lyrics, a journal article, or other writing of one's own)? Its resemblance to streaks of unevenly applied paint? What of shape grammars? In/coherence? Im/balance? Variety?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Map, Map, Territory

What if Borges' (or, more properly, Alfred Korzybski's) map/territory contrast is just an overplayed maxim, a dwindling truism due for reversal? (Fine, so I'm not the first and only to consider the question.)

The aggregator turned up a report about laws in the Philippines and Malaysia that ban what is being called "participatory GIS", the ad hoc mash-up efforts combining cartography technologies with material models in an effort to define boundaries for lands held by indigenous groups. The ban on such processes is, in itself, fascinating (a way to keep the partitioning of the land specialized, in the hands of experts). But I'm also struck by the layers to this story, a coordination of compositional and rhetorical elements--mental models of spaces, the image-assisted translation of mental models into scaled relief maps made of various materials, the use of these constructs for legal claim-making, the implied omnipotence of Google Earth.

From the report, the moment of reconciliation between satellite imagery and the experiences and memories of the person and tribe (map as totemic?):

The modeling technique often starts by showing village elders satellite images, which they use to record their mental maps of tribal territories, hunting grounds, and sacred sites.

The material manifestation--something like a folk geodiorama or raised relief map--blends the latest digital technologies with everyday craft supplies:

[A]ctivist groups...have been helping indigenous communities mix computers and handheld navigation devices with paints, yarn, and cardboard to make simple but accurate three-dimensional terrain models.

Simple but accurate? Accurate enough to warrant a ban, anyway.

Monday, March 19, 2007


Guess I let a few days slip on by without a blog entry. That's because Break was interrupted with a cascade of mishaps, starting with Wednesday's hey-this-weather's-beautiful thaw that led to basement window wells overflowing with slushy run-off and then a half-dozen streams x-crossing along the walls and the floor in the basement. Could have been a big deal, but I shoveled the remaining yard-snows into a carefully engineered scheme of locks, sluices, and channels for redirecting the surge, and I made sure the water wasn't running through anything electrical, then set the dehumidifier and house fans to do what they do best.

And then I watched a couple of basketball games while the temps outside dipped again to freezing and iced the crisis to a halt.

Now I'm making final preparations for a train ride on the steam-fueled Amtrak Puff-and-Huff down to Penn Station later this week. D. and I decided today to have Ph. join me, so he'll be making the trip too, heading to the Big Apple to celebrate his Big 16th b-day at the CConference of CConferences. You'd think for 300 chips a night the fancy-pants conference hotel would have a swimming pool, but alas, they do not.

Because I don't know my way around Metropolis, I went ahead and plotted out a few points of interest using Wayfaring. Add to it if you care to.I lifted most of it from the comments and ideas here and here and added a couple of markers of my own. It's a start.

Maybe I'll blog again before the conference, maybe not. I have a game tomorrow night, and more b-day happenings on Wednesday. Add to that the horse race between my conference paper (which enjoys a slight lead) and the first draft of my dissertation prospectus (which shall be sent to diss-director's inbox before the end of the week), and I have plenty enough on hand to keep the blog at bay. Of course, just like the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAAs, such things are hard to foresee.

Monday, February 19, 2007

C'mon, Pokey

I finally got around to reading Lindsay Waters' CHE diatribe against Moretti's work on abstract models and literary studies. I know, it took me long enough. Collin mentioned the article, titled "Time For Reading," almost two weeks ago, and The Valve's Bill Benzon posted his thoughts on Waters last Tuesday. Rather than sum up the other entries here, I'll put the links in place and move along to a couple of my reactions.

Waters is unapologetic in his call for this so-called "new movement," a call he ends with pronounced enthusiasm for "slow reading." I have, in times past, characterized myself as a slow reader (though not during preparations for qualifying exams), and it's not unusual to hear one or two of the students in my classes describe themselves as slow readers. But it seems to me that we have a couple of different conceptions of "slow" rustling around in these labels. There's the slow that is deliberately, even skillfully, plodding and careful--a slow is akin to the savory swish-swish during wine tasting or a leisurely pace for Sunday drives in the country. It's not the same slow as a 1975 El Camino winding through a mountain pass in second gear or, as is more clearly connected to Waters' focal concern, the slow disparagingly assigned to the child who finds it difficult to read lines of words efficiently enough.

Waters compares the literacy crisis affecting school-aged children with the labors of English professors. It's connected, I suppose, but it's just as easily disconnected. What I mean is that I'm not sure the younger ranks are introduced sufficiently to differentiated reading methods. Much early reading instruction is, for good and bad, bent on a fairly stabilized, normative pace. Many of us have struggled with it, and still many more will. Taken to matters of professionalization and specialization in academia, slow reading is a rare luxury. And just how slow would Waters have us read?

A significant distinction here is that Waters emphasizes slow reading as a preferable (i.e., humanistic) counterpart to Moretti's distant reading. But slow and distant refer to different intervals, right?, one going the dimension of time and the other going the dimension of space. Of course, in much the same way I am tempted to complicate the slow in "slow reading," so am I interested in spreading out all of the cards in the deck of "distant reading." Moretti says very little (er...nothing) about "fast reading." He is content to pursue, instead, the questions provoked by abstract modeling:

Quantification poses the problem, then, and form offers the solution. But let me add: if you are lucky. Because the asymmetry of quantitative explanandum and a qualitative explanans leaves you often with a perfectly clear problem--and no idea of a solution. In 'Planet Hollywood', for instance, it turned out that absolutely all Italian box office hits of the sample decade were comedies; why that was so, however, was completely unclear. I felt I had to say something, so I presented an 'explanation', and NLR indulgently printed it; but it was silly of me, because the most interesting aspect of those data was that I had found a problem for which I had absolutely no solution. And problems without a solution are exactly what we need in a field like ours, where we are used to asking only those questions for which we already have an answer. (Graphs 26)

Waters, plainly enough, sees a problem (illiteracy) and solution (slow reading), whereas Moretti's focal problem isn't illiteracy but rather the "specific form[s] of knowledge" wrought by distant reading. What are they? What unanswerable questions will they open us onto? And what are the limits of what we will know? No doubt, we need need to re-think slow reading, close reading, and especially distant reading as more than monolithic activities; we should reverse their conceptual reduction, and see them as complements, plural and constantly in play.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Explitiville, USA

You've been warned: there are assloads of cusses inexcusable levels of profanity in this NPR interview with SU geography professor, Mark Monmonier, on his new book about downright offensive, pejorative or otherwise lascivious place-names (via).

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Text to Map

Two recent entries drew my attention to the Gutenkarte project, a series of scripts and processes that renders place-names appearing in a given text and locates them on a map. The Gutenkarte site announces future plans for the project, including a wiki-like annotation add-on that will enable a group of users to collaborate in expanding the place-name information and related contextual relevance (one day to include digital images and video?). The project bears many similarities to Franco Moretti's survey of the shifting geographies of village life in the nineteenth century. Moretti's analysis often moves beyond standard place-names to include positions of and distances between people and things known to be in particular places. These he distinguishes as geometries; plotted, they are more like diagrams than maps, he tells us (54). The Gutenkarte project is not yet as refined as Moretti's work; mining a text for toponyms depends on the database's tolerance place-name ambiguity and spelling variations (among other things I probably don't understand). Still, despite the obvious limitations, the motives underlying Gutenkarte present an affirmative answer to one of Moretti's guiding questions, "Do maps add anything, to our knowledge of literature?" (35), even if it is being applied to literary texts from the Gutenberg Project for now.

The next move to consider, and the one I'm thinking about in light of the Gutenkarte project, is what other text sets, subject to this process, would present us with maps worth looking at or, that is, with spatial relations (or, with geometrics of positions and distances) suggestive of geographies worth understanding better than we already do? Only easy answers come to mind. Understanding the limitations and crudity (in spelling, in perfect place-name coordinates, etc.), what would this look like if applied not only to The Odyssey but to classical texts in rhetoric? Or, and this would be almost as satisfying (from the standpoint of what-ifs and other shoulder-shrugging curiosity), what might this mean for a set of texts, an archive or journal articles let's say, central to composition studies? Following Gutenkarte's logics, we would have the means to select among geographic renderings by year, by article and so on. One of these days...

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Unitization Reports

On a break from writing end-of-semester papers for CCR651 and GEO781, I thought I'd shock each of them into a list of noun and noun phrases by applying the same methods we've strung together for CCC Online. Et voila! The lists aren't meaningful in quite the way a sentence-long summary would be.  Yet that's the point.  They're differently meaningful, suggestive.  Maybe even generative if I can trace through some of the terminal knots tomorrow.

CCR651 (~14 pp.): Syracuse 25, material 23, place 23, destiny 22, city 19, Marback 19, work 18, making 17, Cushman 16, project 15, place making 14, U.S.A. 14, site 12, ways 11, Afrofuturism 9, future 9, mall 9, question 9, cityscape 8, essay 8, issues 8, spectacle 8, conditions 7, Destiny U.S.A. 7, people 7

GEO781 (~16 pp.): writing 49, composition 35, literacy 24, applications 23, studies 23, cybercartography 22, students 21, composition studies 19, online 19, mapping 17, activity 15, new 14, technologies 14, map 13, media 13, work 13, site 12, computer 11, 11, 11, space 11, unit 11, course 10, integration 10, spaces 10

Most of what's here is recognizable and unsurprising to me.  But I wonder what's going on with "work," "ways," and "unit."  Those stick out as drab-emes. But I can snift those out with a quick search.  I still have to tack a conclusion on each of the papers and brush back over them with an eye for concise wording.  The general structures are adequate (the 781 paper had a tight outline and I obliged most of it).  The 651 piece needs to get up to 15 pp.  The 781 paper can't go above 20 pp., and I still need to add a few more quotations, three screenshots, footnotes, and a conclusion that's going to take at least 300-400 words.  Plus, I need to have the 781 paper in eight-page presentable form for a week from Tuesday, so I'll have to back a thinned version out from the longer one, smooth transitions, etc.

There's a third project in the works, too, mostly flitting around among the neural bounceways upstairs.  I still have about three weeks to get it into ship shape, and now that the semestral reading list is dwindling there ought to be more room for pressing ahead with this last one.

Wednesday, February 1, 2006


Rrove is one of the latest site-tagging apps making use of Google Maps API (via & credit). I signed up for an account this morning and tested it with a link to the Palmer House in Chicago, site of the '06 CCCC late next month. Rrove also has a community setting, so it might be useful for conference hosting, collaborative markups of an area, and so on. My first impression is that it's a kind of geospatial, and although the site still lacks a few features (such as RSS) common to the web 2.0 lineup, I'm holding out hope that those features will roll out any day now. I have other motives for seeing a web2.0-rich version of Rrove, not the least of which is my GEO781 project, which, from my perspective several weeks removed from its completion, will deal with some of the ways we might begin to recognize cybercartography as writing. Still fuzzy (not discouragingly so), but I think I'll be dealing with Wayfaring, Frappr and Rrove, developing some of my earlier thinking on the photographemic map and memorial froms, while sorting through theoretical/pedagogical rationale for (hyper)imagetext integration of geospatial writing. I just received my copy of Google Maps Hacks yesterday, too, and after leafing through it for a few minutes, I would guess it's going to be manageable to begin working up customized maps very soon.

On a related note, one of my colleagues in class (who studies and teaches physical geography) raised several really interesting questions about the discord between the textual/encyclopedic side of Wikipedia and its stalled counterpart, WikiAtlas. It set us off into some fairly provocative exchange about atlas authorship, and also got me thinking again about what Manovich does with paradigmatic and syntagmatic. From my perspective, the energy surrounding cybercartography is in the multitude of overlays more than the landforms in the background. The excitement centers on the syntagmatic possibilities for the map; its writability.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


I picked up this shot of a Chicago-area Target store on Tuesday (via via).

The initial write-up suggested that the big-box rooftop is advertising to the satellites orbiting on high, but the subsequent note acknowledges that the retail site is on O'Hare's well-traveled landing (or take-off) path. Whether it's aimed at folks in the window seats of airplanes or other sorts of eyes in the sky, the notion of discount retailers and other square-footage gluttons decorating their roofs for over-passers is something out of the ordinary (unless you count crop circles and Midwestern farmers cutting the hay-formations to root for the local team). You'll find a deeper collection of from-above shots at Google Sightseeing.

Ever since my days as an insurance claims adjuster, I've had a slight fascination with roofs, their ubiquity, their vital importance for the whatnots protected by them. Okay, so "slight fascination" is an overstatement. My first claim ever, however, as an apprentice adjuster ten years ago, involved a tornado-lifted rolled rubber rooftop at a sugar warehouse in Bay City, Mich (rel. to the Frankenmuth tornados in June of '96). The disaster had sort of created my job. In effect, the wind lifted the sealed roof, allowing the shallow pool of water accumulated on the top-side of the rubber to drizzle into the roof structure where it seeped along the steel beams and trickled steadily over the entire warehouse contents. More than a million bucks worth of rain afflicted sugar. It seems like there should be a point to this. Maybe it's that with logo-top roofs showing off to flight passengers and satellite mapping services, the underconsidered roof structures become even more complex. And so a claim for damages to the rooftop--beyond water seeping onto pallets of sugar--would now include a loss of advertising claim. Or something.

Also, it brings me all the way around to a few of the sites we looked at in GEO781 yesterday. I was especially impressed with the discussion of Dinkum Sands, Alaska, a seasonal speck of gravel-ice. Is it land sufficient for establishing coastal boundaries? I won't go too far with this because it's part of the professor's forthcoming book on coastal boundaries. But we looked at the charts of the area from the 1960s (right?), using the NOAA Historic Charts (search the charts for examples). We also looked at the American Memory archive at the Library of Congress (choose maps; MrSID viewing is enhanced with the downloadable viewer) and the US radar loops. For next week: ABAG on seismic activity and USGS GeoNames.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Gamecast Viz

Sure, they've been around for a while, so it's a sliver shy of revolutionary that I'm calling your attention to the gamecast college basketball visualizations provided by  There's something subtly inviting for me in the gliding mouse-over of the running score for a full game.  Pause at a spot; get the score for that moment in the game.  My only complaint: after the game has ended, the scores page drops the gamecast link and you have to wait a few minutes for the running score chart to be available again in the recap. Still, much better than anything going at CNNSI or CBS Sportsline (play-by-plays, stats leaders, etc.).

Monday, August 29, 2005

Visual Shock

Beginning with a brief entry from Nixlog, I clicked into a now month-old discussion of the visual shock resulting from the overwhelming complexity of some information graphics. 

From Beyond Bullets:

Have you ever been so confused by the complexity of a map, chart or diagram, that you didn't know where to begin to make sense of it?

I'm interested in the correspondence between visual shock and a reader's textual disorientation--the momentary (sometimes longer) freeze of confusion that comes with feeling lost.  And I'm trying to think about this occurrence--a gasp of dislocation--that marks the shock, its hold, its way of keeping us lost for a moment.  This can work in a couple of different ways, but the discussion at Beyond Bullets (which, in fairness, appears to be concerned with the creative limits of PowerPoint and the visual presentation of simple models and diagrams) suggests that the dislocation (lost-ness) results from the labyrinthine quality of the map (an inherent, fixed quality, the failure of design).  I gather this from the suggestion that someone can be a victim of the map and the map's complexity.

Brief though it is, this discussion--coupled with the WPA-l thread "visual model of complexity"--has me wondering about two paths in visualization (infographics more than photography, although the move to generalize just might hold up): one prefers for the visual object to do the work of simplifying the complex, of reducing complexity to something much easier to see or take in; the other prefers for the visual object to complicate or exceed that which has already been depicted as simple but is not.  This second path would have the visual object contend with commonplace orderings of activity (such as writing in the WPA thread).  Here lies a pun in visual shock.  In the first, the shock is felt by the reader/observer whose method of reading is reductive...the one who wants meaning and only meaning (and any meaning).  The second exacts a shock on the id(ol|le)s, repudiates them with a bolt of complexity.  These two trajectories in the production of information graphics--one given to simplifying the complex, the other given to complicating the commonplaces or disturbing the perceived-to-be-simple--don't quite exhaust the felt of visual shock when we meet the visual (this might go to receivables, also).  If we fluff this out to a set of rhetorical terms, it's hard not to include attitude or manner.  I say this because it should remain a possibility that we could fancy or enjoy the being lost as an opening for imagination--dream/wonder/splits from a duty to one reality-scape in the map. Attitude and manner draw on Burke (what's more dramatic than shock?); I only want to mention it briefly because I'd like to come back to some of these ideas, especially the rift between simple/complex in infographics, the possibility of connecting these up with readerly/writerly distinctions, and the impact of attitude or manner on receivables (esp. the visual).

Sunday, August 14, 2005

Might Be Nothing

But I'm going to call it "Compositional Remainders in Four Poles."  What is it?  The papery staplecake wrapping completely around the four telephone poles at the intersection of Westcott and Euclid.

These fading sprays of tacked paper are visible at the most desirable locations--public, visible, heavily trafficked.  Why aren't there any notices on these four poles today?  Who tears down the signs?  How many years of printed signs are layered here?

More we can say about it? Co-concocted at a busy streetcorner by staplers and notice-pullers (the removers of the "Car 4 Sale 145K runs great").  Made without purposeful making.  Residua (this, history?) and detritus; a dead-pulpy reunion: unreadable remainders of remainders of.... An archive of public writing. A shabby, encrusted blanket of desperation writ: lost dog, urgent sublet, have you seen this cat?, $$$ painting houses.

 Pole 1: SW
 Poles 2 and 3: NE

Pole 4: NW

Might be nothing. But if it's a nothing, that won't explain why I can't stop looking at it every time I walk or drive by, why I can't stop feeling like it makes the intersection more intersected. (The image below, a close-up of the first pole.)

Remainder or One History of Discourse

Sunday, August 7, 2005

Google Maps EZ

With Google Maps EZ, you can embed a marked map with ease and include links, text and images (all via HTML) in the captions associated with each marker (via).

Alliance Bank Stadium
Alliance Bank Stadium

We started out in right field,
but as the sun set, it was too
much to bear. Couldn't
see into the sun. So we switched seats.
Not like it was a packed stadium that night.
Here's the perspective from our first
seats at around 6:30 p.m.

Alliance Bank Stadium
Alliance Bank Stadium

When I first tried it out earlier today, I was having trouble with the EXTENT definitions.  With EXTENT, you can establish the scale and map type (hybrid, map or satellite), thereby giving the map a stable look.  The fancy dropcaps feature that I added to the blog a few weeks ago were interfering with the "E"--grabbing it away from "XTENT" and clouding up the whole process.  With that resolved, I've tried to push just a bit farther to mark the photographed spaces at a Syracuse Sky Chiefs game in late July (could be anything though).  Basically, I wanted to integrate the Flickr image sources for the thumbnail views with links to the larger versions of the photos.  Click on the each of the markers to see what I mean. You can navigate the map with the control buttons, too. In concept, it's similar to geo-tagging in Flickr, except that it's localized, speedier and needs only to work with the images you involve.  I haven't had much success with geo-tagging, actually; even after I've tagged photos, they only sporadically cycle into Mappr, and the KML bit with Google Earth doesn't notice them after a week.  Always possible that I'm doing something wrong, of course. 

Like some of the other stuff I've been casually piecing together this summer, I can imagine EZ and Flickr working with documentary projects as well as just about any kind of spatial or space-conscious writing (especially w/ a local photo-set).  In many ways, the combination of Google Maps EZ and Flickr is an extension of the photographemic map I tried out in early June, but using Google Maps would make the project easy to expand, to add to over time.  In this sample, I've lettered the markers (lettering can run A through J), but I only tried to add a caption to the image associated with B.  I didn't have any luck getting the text to wrap in the bubble, nor could I get the image to align differently (right, for example).  But that's small stuff, really. 

Ready to try it out?  You'll need a Google Maps API key (it's free, you know).  For the rest, you ought to follow the tutorial posted by Chris Houser, the programmer who devised the javascript and who is generally hosting it for widespread use (and yes, I'm doubly impressed bc Chris responded helpfully to an email I sent earlier).  Worth noting, too, that I actually used two different API keys--one for my main index and one for my ../archives/ directory.  With two API keys, the map will show on the weblog's index and on all of the various archives.  I'm dropping the code in here your for reference.  It's pretty much the same as what Chris has in the tutorial.

Into the page or template <head>:

<script src="" type="text/javascript"></script>
<script src="" type="text/javascript"></script>

And into the <body>:

<div class="GMapEZ GSmallMapControl GSmallMapTypeControl"
style="width: 300px; height: 300px;">
<a href=",-76.165402&spn=0.002844,0.010131&t=h&hl=en"> EXTENT </a>
<a href=",-76.164715&spn=0.002844,0.010131&t=k&hl=en">
<a href="" target="blank" title="Photo Sharing"><img src="" width="100" height="72" alt="Alliance Bank Stadium" /></a>
<a href=",-76.165863&spn=0.002844,0.010131&t=k&hl=en">
<a href="" target="blank" title="Photo Sharing"><img src="" width="100" height="75" alt="Alliance Bank Stadium" align="right" /></a>We
started out in right field, but as the sun set, it was two much to bear. Couldn't see into the sun. So we switched seats. Not like it was a
packed stadium that night. Here's the perspective from our first seats at around 6:30 p.m.
<a href=",-76.165338&spn=0.002844,0.010131&t=k&hl=en">
<a href="" target="blank" title="Photo Sharing"><img src="" width="100" height="51" alt="Alliance Bank Stadium" /></a>
<a href=",-76.164951&spn=0.002844,0.010131&t=k&hl=en">
<a href="" target="blank" title="Photo Sharing"><img src="" width="100" height="53" alt="Alliance Bank Stadium" /></a>

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Mapping Contenders: A More Writable Space

Over at The Map Room, Jonathan Crowe posted a few notes about MSN Virtual Earth that tipped me on to a few ideas and the Virtual Earth weblog where MSN is inviting input.  In light of the clamor raised over two notable features at Virtual Earth--the absence of Apple headquarters and the presence of the World Trade Center in Manhattan, Crowe verifies (if there was any doubt) that VE uses "very old imagery."  As I see it, the age of the satellite images concerns me less than their superior resolution.  Right, already been over this.

And yet, the release of Virtual Earth comes with a need to understand the temporal dynamics associated with the images.  Could be that we perceive them as timeless or, equally implausibly, as ever-current--maps of both "here" and "now."  Wave to the camera on high.  Seems likely enough that we'll see this synoptical, real-time satellite cam soon enough, but in the interlude between now and that bright future moment, I think the horse race between Google and MSN for the best mapping venue is really fascinating.

One, I expect (yeah, pure spec-ulation), will steer toward the commercial flows--the trafficking of people and goods, roadways and restaurants, hotels and coffee shops.  This site will be determine its quality and future developments around issues of advertising and appeals to hubs of marketable activity.  The other (or perhaps yet an other) will also integrate some of this commercial flavor (i.e. need to find the nearest Denny's?).  But this one will develop capacities (functionality?) for other kinds of capital.  How impressive it would be to have one of the map-aspirants (Yeah, Google, you...or MSN, you.) devise our shared world as a space to be written--inscribed with the memory-notes and also with links (even blog activity, for example)?  I'm getting dreamy with this, I know (was cleaning the bathroom during this thought...chemically inspired--Comet and Tilex), but think of this: a mapping site that gives us ways of seeing patterns beyond the roadways and coffee shops, something that takes into account the topo-logical haze in language--either in the Zonal Memoria notes or in the composing that is done in/at/around a point.  This is rather jumbled, so let me try it another way--listed:

I want to be able to:

I'm sure systems exist for processes like this in geography programs (yes?).  I'd say one of the web's mapping contenders could blow it open by giving us a more writable map with a social quality, a space where so many of these writing technologies might converge in exciting ways.

Added (something in the arena of what I'm thinking here): Geotagging And geotagging Flickr. Terrific, this one (and up for almost a month already).

Sunday, July 24, 2005

From: Zonal Memoria

Considering that the bookmark that led me to it included a note describing MSN Virtual Earth (via) like this: "Cheap knock off of google maps done with crappy USGS satellite data," I wasn't expecting much.  Yet, although the perspectives from MSN present black and white satellite images, the site is, in some ways, better than Google Maps because of resolution covering some of places I identify with. 

For example, look at these two images of the place where I grew up--the nearest crossroads and surrounding plots.  On the left: MSN Virtual Earth.  B&W, but not too bad.  Scaled comparably, Google Maps on the right.  Google Maps has exceptional imaging in particular places, but it also flat-out fails to offer up the same high quality detail for other places, as shown here.  You'd think I slithered up from the Chlorophyllic Slime Swamps of Central Michigan if you used Google Maps in satellite view (the same is true for other locations I've tried to check out around CNY).  Blobby maps just aren't cutting it.

For my purposes here, I wanted to zero in on places I identify with from years past:  zonal memoria.  This extends some of my thinking about Barthes' call in Mythologies for the work of mapping mythologies, last month's entry on the photographemic map, Jenny's discussion of attention and psychogeography (of intensities and banalities), Jeff's entry on virtual cities and imagination, and a chapter of Sirc's book, "Comp. Classroom/A&P Parking Lot," where he writes about the derive or drift, urban psychogeography as tracing street happenings (much credit due for these terms, this thinking).

Because MSN Virtual Earth lets me capture--from a reasonably viewable distance--these places I remember vividly (places with which I connect, even if nobody I know is there any longer--shadowy, phantom-filled), I can easily flip them into a Flickr tag: memory. The "memory" tag-set collects the annotated places; selecting one of the thumbnails will summon the aerial view and some few notes.  With a few simple links, I've strung the three detailed views together with a broader map of Michigan, thus making it easy to see these places relative to each other, making it easy to hop from one to another.  Each image is also linked (in the upper left-hand corner) to the MSN Virtual Earth permalink for the Mercator coordinates, so it'd be easy to have a look at the surrounds, scale back the view, and so on.  I call this series "From," which, although a bit flat, suggests to me some interesting pedagogical uses.  For example, in a sequence I used last fall, on geographies of exclusion, we basically asked students to develop projects concerned (-first-) with their coming to the SU campus and (-later-) with geographies of exclusion where they were from.  But, in working through the second bit, I thought we might have done more to address the site of action (whatever activity, real, perceived, imagined, virtual)--somehow do more with the problem of scale (Let me tell you about my hometown in general...).  Froms--the annotated, Flickr-batched frames of location that detail intensely personal connections to places--might be a useful add-on to the geographies of exclusion framework.  For example (?):

From: Michigan
Begin with a broad frame (or not...could work without it).  A region, let's say (unless it's a district, area). We'll scale this to be optimally inclusive of the points represented in the other frames. The other points will show here.

 From: West Branch (Dam Rd.)
Pt. 1: This one is from somewhere in Ogemaw County, Mich. (maternal grandparents). 

 From: Drummond Island (Socia Rd.)
Pt. 2: Drummond Island, Mich.  Although my paternal grandparents now live in Seattle, this is the place I associate most with them, with my dad's growing up.

 From: Mt. Pleasant (Remus Rd.)
Pt. 3: Where I'm from.  A zone memoria.

Still a bit provisional, but I want to post it nonetheless.  Even more aerial detail would be great, but until that's available, this will do.  And the notes overlay in Flickr (important!) could do with more detail, development.  They're rather first thoughts, gut level and sped-through.  Like I said, I can imagine developing these with students as a way to crystallize thinking about space (given, in turn, to analyses of exclusion or to documentary projects or to practicing a georhetoric of self-inscription--around home, body, neighborhood).  Unlike the photographemic map, the Froms don't make use of  CMap Tools, yet it could add a layer of networked (node/link/flow) qualities, I suppose.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Zinging the Messenger

You can imagine how thrilled I was when my monthly Aggie Express newsletter arrived from my alma mater this morning via email delivery.  A PDF (I don't mind when it's the newsletter).  And in it, an entire page devoted to "Writing is a Life Skill."  It's a glimpse into the perceived "real edge" gained by children who hone writing habits. Aggie Express in flight, aphorismic delight:

"While your children will learn how to write well in school, the best place for them to practice their skills and develop a love for writing is at home."
"Have the tools on hand."
"Write in front of them." [Never behind them.  Or on the side.]
"Praise their work."
"Make a book."
"Add writing to your list."
"Pay attention to song lyrics." [Forward thinking, I'd say.]
"Use the Web."

But you knew there would be a shocker--a firecracker in the cake.  It's this:

E-mails are OK; IMs aren't really writing.
This technologically savvy generation writes more than ever, thanks to computer instant messages (IMs) and e-mails. In fact, the accepted use of symbols and lack of proper grammar may not help children's efforts at creative writing. While IMs are quick and fun, they do nothing to help children become better writers. E-mails are better because they allow time and space for children to express themselves.

Interesting to me that the piece seems so conflicted about the the new attention writing is getting in the digital age (ah, not to mention that catlyzing force, the SAT). Of course I'd like to see them complicate the IM position just a bit. "They do nothing to help children become better writers" (my emph)?  Okay.  Seriously, more than cranking on old BCHS, I'm sharing this as just one example of the circulating edicts about what counts (no it doesn't!) as writing.  Not an issue I aim to correct solely by shooting a notice of contempt into e-space, but I contend that many of the wonky commonplaces about writing circulate at this low-flying altitude--the newsletter to a few hundred parents who, if they've considered writing much at all, consider it in this light.  Suppose it might make a difference if you'd been there (for twelve years).

Wednesday, June 29, 2005


I've downloaded Google Earth.  It's loaded with visual-planetary wonder:  fly-overs, angular adjustments, and surprisingly clear shots of the terrain.  The upgrade, which allows annotations (something I might use) and .csv or GPS imports, tech support and crisper printing (stuff I might not use), is tempting for just twenty bucks.  But for now I'm content to mess around with the free version.  (via)

Here's a look at the main interface (simple, easy to use) and, in it, a from-above view of SU's main campus.

SU from Google Earth

Sunday, June 5, 2005

The Photographemic Map

I started with a simple impulse to document the park.  I walk through Thornden Park almost every day; it's familiar, safe-seeming despite the well-circulated commonplaces about the park's hazards: the "don't-go-alone" and especially after dark. 

Lilac GroveI wanted to present the lilac grove (on the north end of the park) as an alternative to the groomed and showy E.M. Mills Rose Garden on the southwest corner, the point nearest the Syracuse University campus.  The lilac grove, by its location, is obscured, tucked away in a thicket; the named rose garden, on the other hand, is emblematic of Thornden Park.  And it is precious--maybe a formal apology for the half-policed expanse that is not the rose garden, that is, instead, a scene of litter with a mythic robbery-threat, an occasional homicide (one in the year we've lived in NY, anyway). 

Before moving here from Kansas City last summer, I couldn't get an impression of the park.  I had a hunch that it'd be ideal to walk to work every day through the park, but that prospect was countered by the faint inhibition I've tried to describe--the park's reputation.

The E.M. Mills Rose Garden gets daily attention, except in the winter when everything is wrapped tightly in burlap.  There's special parking for the workers who attend to it, trimming, fertilizing, great-pains rose-growing.  The lilac grove takes care of itself.  The rose garden has benches, a gazebo; wedding parties stop there for elaborate photos.  The lilac grove: no seating, no paths to it or through it. 

To present the lilac grove, I carried my camera one day, walked a slightly different route than the direct one I usually follow from home to campus.  Continuing through the park, I snapped a few more shots; they're unfortunately ordinary photos.  Nothing in them is "found" except the park itself.  And the "found"-ness of the park is, as should be no surprise, personal.  The lilac garden gives the routine pass through the park a distinctive new dimension; the rose garden isn't "it" (I never believed it was, even before I knew the lilac grove; rose garden: all genteel, all the time).

The photographemic map is an experiment.  I'm satisfied with this iteration for the successful layering of Cmap tools, Google maps, and photos housed in Flickr; I'm dissatisfied with the lack of imagination entered into play.  I have two versions here: a drawn and labeled street map and a satellite map.  The photos are Cmap nodes with thumbnails as backgrounds (w/o text labels).  On the primary level--same as the miniaturized photos--are the paths: yellow is the route from my neighborhood to SU.  Blue, alternatives (either hillier or longer).  The Google maps are backgrounds, too; by trading them out, I was able to keep all of the nodes--image markers, paths, trails, etc., in relatively stable positions.  In other words, it was easy to make the second map.

With each of them, I rendered jpg files from Cmap, then drew hot spots with links to the corresponding Flickr photos in Dreamweaver.  Result:

Rose Garden Rose Garden Sports Field Amphitheater Courts Playground City Pool Playground Lilac Grove Lilacs Lilacs Rose Garden Rose Garden Sports Field Amphitheater Courts Playground Playground Lilac Grove Lilacs City Pool

But there's more, and it gets better (for anyone interested in this sort of thing).  I didn't know it before undertaking all of this, but the notes function in Flickr allows for hyperlinks, so you can upload the image and build the hotspots into the Flickr labels.  Here's what came of that effort (I only bothered applying it to the satellite view):

Thornden Park: A Photographemic Map

That's about it.  I was just thinking about other projects involving imaginative photographemic maps (a coinage I twisted from Barthes' biographeme).  Maybe it lends some interesting possibilities to memory maps. As time allows, more to follow...heh, follow.

Friday, May 13, 2005

CMap Tools

Have I mentioned that I recently subscribed to a couple of tag-based RSS feeds from  Right, I know...nothing shocking about it.  With the semester winding down (just a bit of grading still to do), I haven't explored the bookmarks as closely as I would like, but I did run across a prize the other day through the feed for "infographics." CMap Tools, a free, cross-platform mapping application, lets users draw maps better than any other software I've tried.

The CmapTools program empowers users to construct, navigate, share and criticize knowledge models represented as concept maps. It allows users to, among many other features, construct their Cmaps in their personal computer, share them on servers (CmapServers) anywhere on the Internet, link their Cmaps to other Cmaps on servers, automatically create web pages of their concept maps on servers, edit their maps synchronously (at the same time) with other users on the Internet, and search the web for information relevant to a concept map.

It's simple.  Plus, it allows the easy placement of background images in nodes, so it could work to develop visual maps.  I like it, too, because it has some sharp auto-align tools; you can select two or three nodes and space them out relative to each other, moving them collectively together/apart.  What else?  It appears to have server function, but I haven't tried it yet.  The html export basically produces an html page referencing a jpeg file.  But by setting up a server account, it looks like it would be possible to collaborate on mapping project.   The only feature I'd improve is the automatic and unavoidable link labels.  The labels are removable, but they leave a gap in the line. 

I'd include a map, but I'm busy watching the Detroit get roughed up by Indiana.  Dang it! Sample's in extended entry, now that the game's through.

Saturday, April 9, 2005

Self Park

Pictured (via and via):  That's me yesterday while reading Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner's The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind's Hidden Complexities.  I read most of it on the plane ride to San Francisco and back last month, and I'm on first thing Tuesday morning to lead a class discussion on its finer points.  Here, for example, is one of the passages from a page I dog-eared:

Ed Hutchins studies the fascinating mental models set up by Micronesian navigators to sail across the Pacific.  In such models, it is the islands that move, and virtual islands serve as reference points.  Hutchins reports a conversation between Micronesian and Western navigators who have trouble understanding each other's conceptualizations.  As described by David Lewis, the Micronesian navigator Beiong comes to understand a Western diagram of intersecting bearings in the following way:

He eventually succeeded in achieving the mental tour de force of visualizing himself sailing simultaneously from Oroluk to Ponape to Oroluk and picturing the ETAK bearings to Ngatik at the start of both voyages.  In this way, he managed to comprehend the diagram and confirmed that it showed the island's position correctly. [The ETAK is the virtual island, and Ngatik is the island to be located.] (51)

Via interlibrary loan, I went ahead and requested "Why the Islands Move" from Perception--the journal that printed Hutchins and Ed Hinton's short article in 1984.  Why?  Well, phase two of discussion-leading is writing a short essay due one week after the discussion.  And I've been thinking about epistemology and virtual reference points in relationship to cognition ever since I brushed against this passage.  So there it is. 

The rest of the weekend: social network analysis for 711, drafting a long-ish project on a set of six (1999-2004) CCCC keynote addresses (need to get down 10-12 pages by Monday afternoon to be on pace) for 611, and tinkering on a talk for the Humanities and Technosciences conference in Albany next Saturday (if you check the site, know that they've got our title wrong...we didn't call it "Web Blogs...." 

And lawn chairs.  Sixty and sunny, a laptop and wifi--we'll need lawn chairs for that.

Wednesday, April 6, 2005

Casting for Nine Seconds

Here goes nothing.  I finally downloaded Audacity and carefully crafted a podcasting button.  With only a small investment, you too.... 

[Added] Uncanny: I was making buttons and starting entries with "Here goes nothing" exactly one year ago.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Farewell, Vaio

I know, I know, I should start a category about my mal-functioning Sony VGNS150 notebook computer if I'm going to keep blogging about it.  This ought to be the last time; away again, it is, via shipping carton, to San Diego where with any luck it'll get fixed properly this time.  It's been back from the first trip to sunny southern Calif. since the end of November, zippy as ever until about a week ago.  Granted, when I look at the CNY weather forecast, sometimes my lids don't brightly snap to open, either.  And that's its problem--the monitor initializes irregularly.  Sometimes it kicks in, other times blank.  Back on November 5, I wrote that the "Timing couldn't be worse."  But it could be equally heinous.  Come to think of it, this final final project I'm buttoning down mentioned nothing about word-processing.  Ironically, it's an essay about the early years of computers and writing.  How was I supposed to know it wasn't to be hand-written? We've only started using computers as word-processors in recent years, after all.

Resemblance between VAIO and ciao: omen?

Monday, December 6, 2004

Droppings (as Rhetoric)

I don't want to make light of this method for achieving peace; I'm more curious than anything about the idea that a fly-by air-drop of millions of folded paper birds would calm embattled factions in southern Thailand. 

Encouraged by the government, Thais across the country Cabinet ministers, office workers, schoolchildren and even convicts folded more than 130 million birds to promote peace in the south. Approximately 30 million will be delivered by land.

While meant as a morale-booster for victims of violence, Sunday's origami airdrop resembled a treasure hunt. with prizes offered for specially marked birds. People could trade lots of them in for items ranging from cartons of milk to bicycles.

Especially coveted was one bird folded and signed by Thaksin, which offered a scholarship if found by a child, or a job for an adult.

And if it's not found, it's lost?

Added: More on the peace messengers. On bird: "All bandits must die."

Friday, October 1, 2004

Archisemiotics, To Critiques of Space

Like Chuck, I started my FY writing class early this morning with a teaser about the debates last night: who watched?  next-day gut-level impressions?  

The first comment in my 8:30 a.m. section: "George Bush came off as really likable and genuine.  He was angry at times, but he was real, like somebody you'd meet at a bar.  His vocabulary seemed more everyday.  He came right out and said 'You can't do that.  The president can't lead that way.'"

Mm-hmm.  Okay.  The barstool intellectual stumble-de-do is exactly the thing that worries some folks (although I won't name specific names). <loop> It's a lot of work.  You can't say wrong war, wrong place, wrong time.  What message does that send?  It's a lot of work.  Six-party talks...if ever we ever needed China, now.</loop>

Students had great insights on the debates; they recognized nuance between the candidates, articulated them with conviction that this election matters to them.  We shifted our attention after several minutes, even though some students preferred a sustained conversation about the event over the other plans for the hour.  The connection, for us, came from the debate's framed emphases: foreign policy and homeland security.  Homeland security is particularly timely in these classes--the two I teach every MWF.  The courses are organized around questions involving spatial analysis--geographies of exclusion, socio-spatial critiques of the campus and of hometown spaces, and arguments about surveillance, privatization of public spaces, neighborhood watches and localized security poses, perceptions of threat, and so on.  In fact, the second assignment is called, "Homeland (In)Securities."  So I wanted to move from the debates--how would we understand homeland security if we could read the notion through last night's debates alone?--to our current, in-progress projects on hometown spaces, memory work, strangers and safety, contested zones, etc.--how can we extend the idea of a controlled surrounds (in the debates, taken to the limits of the globe, empirically exhaustive) to the material-spatial patterns of policing, security, "known" threats and deliberate municipal designs aimed at thwarting risk?

I grumbled about Mike Davis's "Fortress L.A." article (from City of Quartz), earlier in the week, but I'm doubling back on those doubts now that the classes read the chapter.  Davis adopts a term I'm growing ever more fond of as we move ahead with spatial analysis--archisemiotics.  Basically, Davis argues that L.A.'s architectural development implies unambiguous messages about social homogeneity in the urban center.  If we accept the latency of meaning in the city-scape (buildings, barriers), reading spaces becomes a process of seeing significance in spatial design as it determines who can go where, when, for how long, etc., and imposes a character on the peopling of the space, its social flows--viscocities.  It makes structures rhetorically significant, inscribing them to their perimeters with a sentience--not unlike, according to Davis, the eerie, systematized conscience of the building in Die Hard

I suppose there's a whole lot more to it than I can exhaust here and now--or than I'd even care to considering I have one helluva cold.  I just wanted to register an few thoughts about teaching at SU this semester--because I haven't yet--and, too, comment on last night's debate.  The cross-over this morning, even though I'm not teaching courses with an explicit focus on the election, was striking--even exciting; it was a pleasant reminder that I'll never be too busy to savor moments when students are brilliantly conversant with each other over hard questions.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

Practice-Oriented Education and Biro

In the latest Atlantic Monthly's "College Admissions 2004" section, Richard Freeland, president of Northeastern University, lightly historicizes the tensions between vocationalism and liberal arts, then, deriving an "I pick grey" gradient, tabs a new, emergent, blended plan as "The Third Way"--an interdisciplinary conflation of lib-intellectual inquiry and market readiness, buttressed by off-campus practica.  

Gradually taking shape is a curricular "third way" that systematically integrates liberal education, professional education, and off-campus experience to produce college graduates who are both well educated and well prepared for the workplace.

If not earth-shaking, it is at least interesting because the case for a practical orientation doesn't attach to any particular discipline, nor does it reconcile itself with the methods loosely associated with critical pedagogy in composition, particularly.  

But another response to the trends of the 1970s and 1980s, which received much less attention, may be of greater long-term importance.  Some educators recognized that higher education had been permanently democratized, and that many students--including some of the most talented--had a legitimate interest in preparing themselves for the workplace.

It does, however, pat the back of UMaryland's "World Courses" gen-ed core where there's a course "focused on the damming of the Nile River [...] taught by members of the departments of civil engineering, microbiology, and government politics."  And the article eventually suggests that "some preliminary version[s]" of practice-oriented education have, in various guises, already coalesced over the last thirty years, stopping just short of formal edu-trend nomenclature. .  I agree that such a plan (if we must formally call it a plan, rather than seeing it as a manifestation of students' desires to customize programs of study and to do education) deserves our attention.  Particularly, it deserves our attention in composition because "The Third Way," as presented here, doesn't mention the universal requirement.  More notably, perhaps, on the work of teaching, it says

[I]mplementing a practice-oriented curriculum is not easy.  It requires faculties to collaborate across lines of professional separation that have been in place for generations.  It requires colleges and universities to provide more than token support for off-campus programs.  And it requires a level of attention to undergraduate learning that many university professors will find difficult to muster.

How, then, does it reconcile with dependencies on part-time labor?  I won't pretend to have a clear perspective on the inner-workings of instructor hiring and teaching assignments at any institution, but at first glance it looks like Northeastern U. relies on part-timers to staff its FY writing course along with several other gen-ed requirements in the School of General Studies.  I see 2FT:6PT writing instructors in the SGS.  Whether or not it's the case that adjuncts bear a considerable share of the U.'s overall teaching labor, it undoubtedly holds true at many schools. 

That's all I really wanted to get at here: it's fine to have schemes for revolutionizing education, but they often go bust when they don't reconcile with labor practices. 

Note: The article's full text is available via subscription only, but that should life once the edition ages.


For fun, I want to build one of these.  [via Metafilter]

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Peering At You Peering At Me

Reported in Wired News, Facetop, a video feed in a background layer, enabling interactive co-contributions to whatever's on the (mostly transparent) desktop:

Now researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have designed a new system that cleverly blends a video-conference feed with a transparent image of a computer desktop into one full-screen window.

Called Facetop, the system simultaneously transmits a video feed of users along with a shared, transparent image of the desktop. It allows two colleagues to work on the same document, Web page or graphic, while communicating face to face.

The face fashions a visual backchannel (like way back when nods were it): Look at me when I'm pointing (my icon-finger-eyes) at you. Planar, but eerily holographic, too.

Wednesday, April 28, 2004

Irreducible Bits

With a new CMS provider officially in place, the U. is open throttle prepping online instructors to teach in the eCollege platform. I helped critique the instructor training course over the weekend; the self-paced course was released yesterday. Estimated time of completion: 1-3 hours.  Current instructors must pass the summative assessment at the end of the course with an 80% score.  I don't have immediate plans to teach in the eCollege system, although I might pick up one course this summer before the move to NY in mid-July.  I'll continue to shoulder responsibility for the FY sequence as their developer, but my faith in the whole arrangement remains in an awkward, delicate balance.  I'm concerned by some of the outcomes-oriented initiatives freshly blanketing the curriculum--without sensitivity to disciplinary difference--as the programs brace for a fall accreditation visit.  Late-semester fatigue has me preferring a brief entry here tonight, and it's better if I don't go too far with the deep angst I feel about a few messages in the self-paced instructor training program.  For fun, here's one chunk of the instructor training course that, well, I'm sure you can guess what I think of the view that chunking enhances online content.  Granted, design affects the ways we read words and images on the screen.  The stuff about short paragraphs, bulleted lists and an abundance of headings...*sigh*. I passed the "summative assessment."

Strategies for "chunking" content: 

  • Strive to keep Online paragraphs between two and four sentences long. Block paragraphs, like the ones illustrated on this page, maximize white space, providing a visual cue of how you have chunked the information. 
  • Differentiate discussion from illustration by shifting format (for instance, from paragraphs to a bulleted list). 
  • Use headings to signal new chunks of information--and their relationship to one another--and to help the user navigate the page.

Thirty or so of the questions at the end were T/F like this:

6. In a threaded discussion, controversial topics or assigning students to argue one side of an issue may be used to engage learners. (Points: 1)

And the others were the loose accumulation kind, as in, check all that apply.

Which of the following are phrases from the U.'s mission statement.  (Check all that apply.)

Monday, April 12, 2004

So Pretty in the Sky

It's not like I've been sitting idle all evening. I have, for what it's worth, come very very close to giving this PC a good neoLuddite thrashing. I just don't have the right equipment to make movies sing. Went from a flubbed synch (slides didn't match cues in the song) to a Sony app which could give me AVI format but not MPEG2 (with no good explanation...the documentation bad must it be before we no longer call it documentation?). Used yet another app to convert the AVI to MPEG 2, and a fair amount of unwelcome cropping came along with the switch--going from 720x480 to 480x480. Needed it in MPEG2 for the gate to VHS for viewing in the classroom. So what is it? A digi-video of D.'s lesson plan where second graders draw theme-oriented pictures (unwittingly, they work from phrases in the lyrics) to concoct a frame by frame "music video." Louis Armstrong's "What a Wonderful World," and well-timed in light of all the world news. Please don't be deterred by the slow download; it's the best second-grade picture show we could muster.

Click to view.

And now back to grading papers.

^The vid's autoload was gunking up my bandwidth, so I redeposited it at the back of the server.  Click the TV if you'd like to check it out.^

Thursday, April 8, 2004

(W)resting on Accreditation Pillars

I'm beginning to understand the accreditation process as an exercise in abstraction.  We take our best, most descriptive account of the institution's functions and mold them rhetorically until they match the accreditation pillars.  It's not a process to be taken lightly.  Abstracting is complicated.  Often it involves collaborative writing efforts, slippery language and raptures of statistical data.  When the bean-counts start whirring around, I'm out. Abstracting to verbiage is one thing; matching imaginative institutional narratives to numbers and bar charts is much less appealing.  And it's never merely a project of abstracting until the accreditation criteria match; it's followed by an adaptive unraveling, a denouement, maybe, through which the institution is reinvented into an improved replica of its pre-accreditation body. This part takes years, and it's a road afflicted by hills, curves, chasms.

I was asked twice in recent weeks to serve on various accreditation committees: one for the division of online learning (DOL) and one for the something else I can't describe exactly (partly because I haven't heard about it in a few days and it was a passing conversation).  The division of online learning is abstracting itself toward "accreditation pillars," but I'm having trouble discerning what, exactly, accreditation pillars are. And this explains why I really should be picked last for accreditation teams.  I find the abstraction and return to be wrenching--incredibly mind-bending.  Pillars: I venture that they're evaluative criteria; they're the abstract terms we aspire toward.  Explain how we meet them and we effectively prove the structure of the Acropolis that is our University.  

The division of online learning is handling much of their interchange in the *new* CMS platform--eCollege.  It's too early for me to have a critical relationship to the interface.  I find George Williams' adaptation (via Palimpsest) of Liz Lawley's MT courseware much more attractive.  The MT design is friendlier than anything I've seen in VCampus or, in these few days, eCollege.  I look forward to trying it out, perhaps in the fall since it won't be used where I'm teaching now any time soon.  One of our holdups on the DOL committee has been the lack of an explicit institutional stance on IP.  I keep pointing toward Creative Commons as the smart, responsible solution--for University-wide content, including the stuff coming out of DOL.  That it's an incredibly hard sell affirms the power of corporatization and privatization to reduce such ideas to granules.

So, in fairness, I need to peel the sign off my back that reads, "Will gladly serve on your accreditation committee."  It's not that I'm ungrateful, rather that I really struggle with the wiggles toward abstracting the institution.  Something to work on: *learn to say 'no' politely.*

Saturday, April 3, 2004

Piping Up, Down Again

I don't know if it's narrowly analogous to my experience developing and teaching online courses since the fall of '01, but the technophilic pied piper of computer-mediated distance ed--who fluted for distance initiatives through glowing positivisms--in the late 90's, has yielded to a symphony of vastly more critical, responsible pedagogies, mindful of the barbs described in Hara and Kling's article.  Computer-mediated distance ed programs have grown up in the five years since the article was published; they've been (and continue to be) shaped by theoretical currents in technology and media, by laborious, ongoing revisions guided by new experiences and best practices.  They continue to take seriously the frustrations expressed by students--frustrations about tech speed, about confusing explanations of assignments, about feedback time and engagement.  And attrition rates continue to be a question--or, perhaps, only part of a broader question about what's bound up in the pursuit of excellence, the sort of excellence that lives on tireless exertion, dialectic reflection and conversation on ways to make the programs better.  A recent faculty survey where I teach asked instructors, "why do students withdraw from your online courses?"  My responses were speculative; the knowledgeable answers are harder to produce than a summary of the rants and rumblings of students who endured the term of study then posted wry comments on the instructor evaluation form.  So many of our distance learning students are full-time military who work and travel, who have families and heaps of other commitments; they tend to be realistic about their workloads and planned TDY excursions, and, when confronted with an unusually rigorous stint in composition or the introductory humanities survey, I think many students opt out because the promises made in the syllabus are clear--perhaps daunting.  By what other terms can eight-week online course work?

I brought this back to my blog rather than commenting over at Palimpsest and Dennis Jerz's Literacy Weblog because I often get the feeling that I have my head in the sand about ways that computer-mediated distance education is done at other institutions.  I honestly don't know much about how it works elsewhere.  When the subject of computer-mediated distance learning comes up, I falter, succumb to my doubts about all that I don't know about how it's handled anywhere else. (are you on Blackboad? WebCT? VCampus? hybrid or mixed-mode? meeting in person occasionally or always via computer? supplemented by video or live chat? are your face-to-face curricula migrated for online delivery for outcomes comparisons? vice versa?  are faculty who teach online also required to teach on in bricks-n-mortar spaces? must instructors encode (HTML the content) their own courses? are the courses peer reviewed? how is faculty training and mentoring handled?). 

I've given half a thought to starting a blog for distance ed instructors in comp/rhet, including the 15 or so instructors who teach the classes I'm familiar with.  And perhaps it would work better if it was wide open to instructors from various institutions, except that cross-talk can be tougher to negotiate when we set out from considerably inconstant curricular and ideological frames.  But to the extent instructors are geographically spread out; I wonder how widely they are pedagogically spread out, too--to what degree my sense of best practices jibes with my peers' understandings of best practices in computer-mediated distance ed (esp. as it ties to essayism, close reading, discourse analysis).  What better way to reconcile it than by a blog--a blog for overlaps in computer mediated distance ed and on-site ed folded together under tech/comp/rhet. Anyone know of a listserv or other forum where this is already going on?