I spent time in class today introducing ENGL328ers to a variety of comic writing applications and platforms, the latest of which is Pixton. Pixton is the best thing to come along in template-driven web comics. The site offers several templates–a fairly comprehensive suite of modular figures to be repositioned, stylized, and otherwise modified (color, rotation, size, flip, etc.). For more context, follow the discussion here, and check out user Brunswick’s “The Simplest Comic Ever.”

Here’s my first run at Pixton.

Were I not so much in the weeds following CCCC (e.g., I found frisbees stuffed in my campus mailbox, for Pete’s sake), I would create two or three more.


Over at ReadWriteWeb today, I

this entry
about EtherPad, a
collaborative text-authoring web app. One conspicuous difference between
EtherPad and the other word processing web apps (Google
, Adobe Buzzword,
Zoho Writer, etc.) is that the changes to
the text are nearer to synchronous. Contributors see each other’s writing
almost immediately. Even better: EtherPad does not require an account; no
sign-up is necessary. The site provides
this demo.

It’s easy to imagine using EtherPad for drafting a conference
proposal or something, although Google Docs has proven adequate for that sort of
thing. Where I see EtherPad’s greatest immediate use (in my world, anyway)
is in the online consultation appointments we’ve been offering lately in the
Writing Center. Right now I use any number of chat clients (AIM, iChat,
and Google Talk), but EtherPad features a chat module. I log on to the
chat client, invite the student to a session, and we begin chatting about the
work at hand. Usually it takes five minutes to gain access to a draft.
Because the built-in file transfer processes get hung up far too often
(resulting in further delays), I also have the students email their drafts to
drop.io, where I can easily access the file. Even with all of this,
commenting the text in real time can be a pain. Absent voice options and
desktop sharing I still find it fairly difficult to identify the places in the
text where I am focusing. Why not copy/paste the document (or a portion of
it) into EtherPad and use the built-in chat module to discuss the passage?

EtherPad does not provide voice or video options, but it would serve as a
terrific complement to Adobe Connect Now, which does offer voice, video, chat,
and desktop sharing. For the WC technology audit I’m working on this semester,
I’ve been thinking a lot about recommending two-app mash-ups as a kind of
low-cost writing consultation-ware. EtherPad’s usability threshold is so
low (i.e., it’s free to use, requires no sign up, and presents its options in a
simple layout), it seems to me a strong choice for use alongside one of the
other audio-video-chat applications. I would think Writing Centers would
be all over this sort of web app for synchronous online consulting.

On the short list of drawbacks, there is the small matter of its ethereal
quality. You can save the text, but you need to keep track of the URL
because there is no other way to track down the saved file. As I was
checking out the save function, I found that the chat transcript is not logged.
When a saved version of the text is loaded, the chat transcript starts from
scratch. It would be nice, however, if there were options for saving (and,
thus, resuming) the chat transcript or for outputting the text file and the chat
transcript (for my purposes, I’d even like to see a one-click option for saving
these to a single file). Might also be nice to see a "scrub" option so that the
document and chat transcript are cleared from the server following a session. But these are relatively minor concerns for what
appears otherwise to be a promising new application.

Spitting Images

A passing tribute to having wrapped up Dan Roam’s
The Back of the Napkin
night, I figured why not throw down a few images in the spirit of keeping things
carnivalesque. Roam is a marker-carrying whiteboarder whose core premise is that
we spark insights into complex problems by treating them to a simplified and
illustrated version. I doubt that I have played strictly by the heuristics
he introduces in the book; nevertheless, I do find some of the stark
oversimplifications in these first four images helpful for thinking through some
of what Kopelson sets up in the article.

Continue reading →


In an effort to become an even better domestic network administrator, I
finally managed to setup a VPN this
afternoon.  The VPN lets me call up any other computer’s monitor on the
local network or, put another way, I no longer have to traipse my lazy bones to
another room if I want to spy on what Ph. is doing on the internets. 
Spying, parenting, call it what you want (split hairs only if you must). 
The VPN is terrific for other stuff, too.  For example, given that Ph.’s
clunky old computer is password protected, I can simply veepen (VPN) his
mo-chine (his desktop pops up on my desktop) and type in the password without
ever leaving my seat.  Nifty. Also good for remotely running maintenance,
like ad-aware and spybot apps.

I should probably acknowledge that the setup was possible only with a
generous lent-hand from my
brother. When
we were in Detroit last weekend, he recommended VPN as a solution to a few of
the headaches I was describing to him.  I downloaded it and tried to
install it myself late last week: a plentitude of time-out errors. I could get
the local system to ping, but the VPN wouldn’t work. And I could not isolate the
cause of the error.  Tried everything I could think of.  Today, I
called my brother (he was at my nephews soccer match and so had to call me
back.) After a half hour on the phone this afternoon, both of us were still
stumped.  And then J. asked me whether Windows Firewall was on
Me: "Um. No. I’m sure it’s off. I use something else."  But I checked it
anyway because nothing else was fixing the mess, and sure enough, Windows,
kindly bowling over its numb-skull users, had quietly reactivated the firewall
during the last update.  Once I turned it off, the VPN worked, magically
porting Ph.’s computer monitor onto my own. 

Added irony: I was reading and making notes on Norman’s
Design of
Everyday Things
before and after the debacle.