Clocking Composition

The WIDE-EMU 2012 countdown widget ticked to single digits earlier today, which means I’m past due–delinquent!–with the Phase II teaser for a session called “Clocking Composition: Exploring Chronography with Timeline JS.” My co-presenters, Joe and Jana, have written smartly about what we have planned, and when we met a couple of weeks ago, we decided the Phase II piece may as well be a timelinear representation of the conference program, which is what we’ve created, since I would be working on the ordinary program, anyway.

I’m more or less pleased with the result. I suppose I’ve tempered my enthusiasm because I’m still learning quite a bit about Timeline JS, figuring out whether it’s better to tune style in-line or adjust it in the CSS files. Earlier today, for example, I asked a colleague to check out the time-lined version of the program and much of the text on the landing page was clipped, unreadable. I adjusted, and the new version should scale more elegantly to smaller screens, but, well, these are the nuances that take more time to get to know. I plan to continue experimenting with Timeline JS this fall in part because we”ll be using it for a project in ENGL505 soon.

Before next Saturday’s conference, I need to duplicate enough copies of the Timeline JS sandbox files (basically create about 10-12 .html pages and create the openly editable Google spreadsheets that will feed into each of them) and figure out the best way to make these accessible during the session. I doubt we’ll dig too deeply into how to set this up on a server or why to consider abandoning Google spreadsheets for JSON, but I suppose we can drift in these or other directions as suits all who attend next week.

Time Travel

Painted Desert's Edge

Another week in the desert would have been nice. Three days wasn’t enough even though I spent it well: keeping the time and announcing substitution intervals for 15-minute basketball games, noshing on Veggie Navajo tacos from Tuuvi Cafe, catching up with some of my oldest friends (also best-kept, considering I see them almost every year), and generally just soaking in Native Vision. I played basketball for the first time in eighteen months, first in Thursday’s “All-Star Game” and again the next day when Tuba City HS cafeteria lines were so long following the group photo at the football field that rather than wait and wait and wait in the crowd, I took to the gym next door, rebounded for shooters until they invited me to play 2-on-2. Telling time during the camp was its own puzzle: Tuba City doesn’t heed daylight savings, while Moenkopi (across the street) does. Suffice it to say that following the paper itinerary or arranging casual meet-ups (e.g., Let’s meet at 8) proved confounding. I still don’t know what time it was. Lost. And I wasn’t alone in this time warp, which was comforting but also added to the confusion. I went for a short run on Saturday morning. Aimed for just three miles round trip, but I turned back after I found myself attempting the third or fourth shoulderless curve along a canyon edge. Nah, not going out making a decision between the grill of an F-150 and a dive down a steep cliff. Such a slow jog, too. New shoes. Hills. Mile-high oxygen. Stopping to remember the views. But I picked up the pace when, on the return trip, Aggressive Alpha of the three scruffy dogs fenced in only by two strands of barbed wire slipped his loose yard and appeared genuinely interested in chewing whichever is the slower of my two legs (or claiming one of my fancy shoes as a new toy). Yeah, I ran faster then, ran into the road a bit, too. Dodged (“Don’t make me kick at you!”). And back in the hotel lobby, another time warp: mistimed breakfast, a bus driver asking me and only me if we were going to be ready at 8TubaCity when it was only 8Moenkopi. I might’ve felt reassured by a nearby wall clock, but there were who cares two of them side-by-side reporting different hours, a bi-temporal crevasse in spacetime.

Back in Phoenix, or Scottsdale, later Saturday watched the Heat top Boston in the ECF, again with friends who, before we witnessed a shouting match at the bar and went our separate ways for the next day’s early a.m. flights, reminded me that I have to go back again next year. For being, as always, energized and humbled by the event, I can’t wait to go back again next year. And the year after that.

Another week–another hour–in the desert would have been nice.

Appointment Slots

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

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

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

Where is he? Where is he? Where is he?

Concerned with drift-states and their ends, Ramin Bahrani’s short movie Plastic Bag traces one tote’s voyage along currents, circuits, and snags as it makes its way home to the Trash Vortex, the whirling gyre of rubbish accumulating in the Pacific, which I was reminded of by Timothy Morton’s blog yesterday. Drift logics are not monolithic, then. “Adrift” is not a baggy, inclusive state, no generic circum-stance. Consider precious< - >toxic differences between drifting glass (e.g., messages in a bottle), driftwood, and drift plastics. The film’s synthetic protagonist (plastagonist?) reminds us, when hitched eternally on the reef, about a condition, for better or worse, of drift logics: they stick-unstick and thus sever (or otherwise obfuscate) and also momentarily verify trace-correlations between consequences and preconditions. And this must pose a methodological quandary for tracing the “adrift.”

Inbox

I currently keep three email addresses (emich.edu, gmail.com, and earthwidemoth.com). The first two are open to everyday email; the third is for some online ordering and a handful of other likely-to-sp8m sign-ups (i.e., the third is a zombie account, in effect). I suspect I am not alone in keeping multiple accounts, and yet I have made changes to these accounts recently that have substantially redrawn how they work for me.

After months of build-up, in November I realized I was spending too much time labeling, tagging, or sorting email messages into folders–a glut of folders, certainly more than 50. I read around briefly about various efficiency techniques, settled on one, and set about moving messages and deleting the excess. It was cathartic, soul-cleansing (though only about as rapturous as shelving books or vacuuming, to be honest). I ended up with the inbox plus four folders: Act, Hold, Archive, and Lists. All of the emails that arrive easily fit into one of these four folders with most going to Archive. Everything that goes into Lists is automatically routed there by a filtering algorithm. Suddenly Inbox Zero was commonplace: my email practices were significantly improved. And, in fact, this morning I deleted the Act folder because I don’t need it. The general inbox has, for almost three months, functioned as an Act folder. Again, the two motives here are ease of retrieving a message and improved classificatory efficiency.

In addition to the four three folders, I apply seven tags (in Thunderbird): 1 Teaching, 2 Scholarly Activity, 3 Service, 4 Administrativa, 5 Personal, 6 Calendar, and 7 Accounts. Category 4 came along after I realized that a number of emails were communicating various university business that didn’t quite fit into Category 3. I assign Category 7 to various password resets, membership renewals, and account information. Category 6 applies to items requiring an entry on Google Calendar. The others are fairly self-explanatory.

In effect, all emails I receive are categorized twice, once by folder and once by tag. Some receive two tags; few receive three. Often I search the Archive folder by sender, keyword, or date, but I can also separate the emails for any category. The other folders are never full enough that I need to search them. Hold, for example, has maybe ten items in it related to conference travel or meetings next week.

I realize this is a fairly mundane exercise, writing an entry about techniques for managing the inbox, but since November I have had two or three occasions to explain how this works, and I have been told it sounds either risky or brave to abandon a glut of folders for this new (to me) configuration. It’s neither risky nor brave. This is no hero narrative (at most, I can get a high-five from Is.: “You did what to your inbox?! Awesome!”). Yeah, I was nervous for 30 minutes deleting all of those folders, but the change has turned out to be a remarkable improvement.

Precarity

At this time of year–because it is semester’s end, the last Friday of Fall 2010 (before final exam week)–I am thinking again about patterned precarity. “Patterned” because the academy’s clock punctuates our lives with fairly arbitrary (if systemic) endpoints. That semesters end means for many students an intensified two-week window near the end of time when a flurry of deadlines, for admittedly complicated reasons, amount to a heap of dustbin deliverables and an even taller heap of stress. I know I am generalizing: it doesn’t always go this way, nor does it have to go this way. But often it does. End of semester grunt/strain/anguish is palpable, thick in the air.

Especially so this semester, it seems.

E., my friend in Kansas City, shared an anecdote with me once about the learner’s mindset and the thrill of close calls. The story I (mis)remember goes something like this: in Kaffa, the region of Ethiopia known as the original growthplace of coffee, there emerged an astonishingly widespread practice among teenagers of something like “fender glancing.” Fender glancing is a game of chicken with moving cars. Basically, participants in this activity enjoy a rush by close brushes with automobiles. A near miss is invigorating–literally life-giving. I made it! As you might imagine, this does not always turn out well. Almost being hit by a car–when the choreography goes badly–can be lethal or at the very least bone-breaking. E. explained how he saw many correspondences to this in those he was teaching (to play soccer), particularly when they were bored.

Thrill seeking isn’t a new discovery or even a new cultural phenomenon elucidated by the derivative (i.e., friend of a friend said; an admittedly lazy, heard-about method) anthropology above. But it nevertheless reminds me about revaluing the relationship between what happens all along, in a given semester, and what happens at the end, as well as rethinking how practices in a given course must spill beyond the time-bounded container of fifteen weeks. In other words, for teaching, how can we redistribute intensive encounters so that a class doesn’t reduce to an ultimate showdown at semester’s end?

Same Room, Different Century

A week ago Sunday, I followed a link posted at The Blogora that pointed to a 2007 New Yorker article, “The Interpreter.” The article lays plain the research and travels of Dan Everett, a linguistics professor at Illinois State, who has dedicated most of his career to discerning patterns in a language spoken by an Amazonian tribe called the Pirahã. Honestly, as I followed the link, I didn’t expect to read the whole thing, but after a couple of paragraphs, I was in the article’s clutches. Rather than quit it, I pressed on, figuring it fit in nicely enough with the ideal-ambition of keeping alive eclectic reading habits as a beginning assistant professor.

The article does a nice job of introducing, albeit with great simplification, Everett’s research and setting it in relation to Chomsky’s propositions about universal grammar. Pirahã language practices are, according to the article, a “severe counterexample” to Chomsky’s famous theory. I won’t attempt a full summary of the article here. Instead, I want to pick up just one line from the essay–a line that has grown louder and louder in my head this week since I read it. It comes up late in the essay, in a scene where Tecumsah Fitch, another linguist, visits Everett in the Amazon to corroborate his claims about the absence of recursion in the Pirahã language. Fitch ends up fumbling with computer equipment. The equipment acts up due to high humidity; Fitch leaves the lab-tent to attempt repairs, while Everett remains with the reporter and a young Pirahã man.

At this moment, according to the article, Everett says, “‘But the problem here is not cognitive; it’s cultural.’ He gestured toward the Pirahã man at the table. ‘Just because we’re sitting in the same room doesn’t mean we’re sitting in the same century.'”

Same room, different century. For Everett, this identifies a methodological quandary: how to traverse discordant temporalities in a culture’s language development, especially in light of popular, contemporary language theories. But the room-century line is suggestive of much more, even if it only points out the possibility of two people occupying common time-space when they are not in the same century. I find it to be a rich paradox, perhaps more for how well it generalizes to everyday encounters concerning technology. I mean, have you ever had a technology-focused experience in which you thought, “which century are we”?

I suppose that sounds judgmental. I don’t mean it quite that way. Let me try again. Maybe it would help to revive, for these purposes, Alfred Korzybski’s peculiar system of time-stamping words (I’m remembering that something like this comes up in Nicotra’s RSQ article on Burke and the General Semantics movement, but my copy is at the office right now, so…remembering will have to do). Including the date in a superscript annotation offers us a different handle on a term’s temporal shifts, helping us locate its valences in time. I have no idea if this impression of time-stamping aligns with its function for General Semantics; no idea at all. But it does help me think through the same room, different century problem. By reviving time-stamp markups, that is, we could more readily differentiate computers1995 from computers2010, the Internet1998 from the internet2006, or composition1985 from composition2009, or rhetoric1965 from rhetoric2012. May be nothing more than a passing curiosity, a late winter thought experiment. And I doubt it would be much good in conversation: too fumbly, too parenthetical. But I can think of a handful of occasions, such as, say, in a course syllabus, when it would help position everyone in the same year to differentiate writingthesedays from writingassumedtobeeternal. Some day I2050 hope to look more deeply into time-annotation or time-binding (?) for the General Semanticists than I have here.

Suspense

My two Twitter accounts unexpectedly synchronized yesterday, matching in number for the first time ever. Two-hundred forty-three tweets in each. #sotta

Right-o: #sotta is a hashtag for State of the Twitter Accounts. Of course, I realize that hashtags don’t help organize blog entries the way they do Twitter updates. So much runs together nowadays.

Their unplanned alignment, though not especially remarkable for everyday people (even Digg overlooked this happening), was just uncanny enough for me to justify taking a step back, a deep breathe and reflective, 24-hour pause. Could be a conductive, insightful occasion, or not. The two accounts resemble fraternal twins. One came first. They have much in common, but they do not quite look alike: different avatars, different personalities, different aliases, different habits of writing and linking.

I keep the older account around because it follows and is in turn followed by a somewhat more collegial and professorial company than the other. The second account is more teacherly; it fills a pedagogical need for the activity streams ENGL328ers write throughout the semester. In other words, the second account is more for orchestration and course-specific guidance.

Two-hundred forty-three tweets: that’s nothing. Even multiplied by two, it’s in the shallow end of the pool some measure away from Twitter users who have upwards of two thousand entries. So in this, my first half-year of tweeting, I’m still trying to figure out where my own writing and working rhythms blend in with the Twittersphere, whether I’m being (perhaps somewhat willfully) negligent of the accumulative effects of writing not only in a networked platform but in a networked platform with such a boundless temporality as this.

Manic Monfri

Most notable about EWM’s sixth year (2009, plus a few days) is that never in a month did I write more than ten entries. I don’t know whether this is more a comment on the blog or a comment on the year or a comment on their irreconcilability, their mismatch. Whatever the causes, there was less, less than any year before considering every other annual cycle consisted of 10+ monthly entries. 2009: Tweets a-bunch, blogs abyss.

Indeed, today marks another blogday, and since I haven’t missed announcing any previous blogday, I feel an obligation to mention the historic occasion (everything, after all, is more impactful if “historic”). Cake? No. We will celebrate at home later with leftover cod chowder (simple, delicious, i.e., better than expected), cheddar biscuits, and if somebody else feels like baking them, brownies. Today also happens to be a Monfri to top all Monfries: the first day of the first week of the new semester at EMU and, for me, the last day of the first week of the new semester at EMU. Frenzied, manic. Monfri, the average of Monday and Friday, their median, or Wednesday, depending on how you mark it in your day planner. Monfri, the grue moon of academe. No telling whether today is also EWM’s Monfri, the critical moment mid-distant between its initiation and its termination. No telling.

I’m teaching ENGL328 this semester, again unpicking the triple squareknot at the intersection of writing, style, and technology. Introducing myself in the first class this morning, I mentioned that I’m looking forward to re-establishing a regular reading and writing schedule this winter (perhaps it sounded like “irregular” as I said it). It’s not that I neglected to read and write in the fall, exactly. But I wouldn’t describe those four months as acceptably disciplined or scheduled. Not up to my standards, anyway. And I gather, hints and clues, that it’s typical in first years of new appointments to experience an irregular stride, an arrhythmia attributable to figuring things out, getting bearings, settling.

Asynchronous Earl

I can’t remember the last time I read a paper newspaper.

Oh yeah, it was this morning. But I mean before that.

Our Lalo subscribes to the Sunday Post-Standard and has not re-routed it since we moved in last July. Every Sunday, some creature of the pre-dawn night hefts the bagged roll of paper near our front stoop. It seems such a waste for us to carry it, on just the second leg of its long trip, straight to the recycling bin. But newspapers are so–what’s the word?–slothful. So, over an everything bagel (while skipping the 10:30 UU service because Is. was wide awake from 2 a.m. until 5), I glanced the funnies. The solo game I secretly play with newspaper funnies is to see whether I can read all of them without even cracking a smile. I call the game “Stoic Is Unmoved.” If I can (which, sadly, it is quite possible to do on those rare Sundays when I glance the paper at all–ah, I already said that), I win. If I crack a smile, the newspaper wins. I take this very seriously, as it riles the hyper-competitive side of my personality. A showdown: Me versus old media.

This morning, I lost. I lost because Mother Goose and Grimm ran this. That’s right. I smiled because sometimes I feel like Grimm, and sometimes I feel like Earl. And I see in this a comment on lots of other stuff: the buried-ness of one’s head while dissertating (to the neglect of much too much), the plight of late-comers to Burke’s parlor (those who arrive after the parlor has emptied…poor Earl!), the normative temporality of formal education (in today’s market, the efficiency model must be called Toyotaist, rather than Fordist), and more.

Go on, read the comic. If you don’t smile, forgive me (also remember to score yourself a winner at “Stoic is Unmoved”).