Thursday, December 28, 2006

Locative Metadata II

I mentioned the other day that I had more maps to share. I put together another batch built from program-level locative metadata rather than the field-wide or disciplinary locations shown in the maps of CCCC chairs' addresses/conventions since 1977 and the institutional membership of the rhet-comp doctoral consortium. Below I've worked from the CCR web site to come up with simple geographic representations of various features of the program where I'm doing graduate work: I. Where our faculty come from; II. Where our graduate students come from (MA institutions); and III. Where our alumni have gone. The fourth and final map in this batch rolls these three data-sets together, mashing them into a single map that shows multiple location-associations for the program. For now I'll hold off on making the argument that such slices of locative metadata are significant beyond the usual ways we have both for understanding a graduate program from the inside (who do we understand ourselves to be?) and from the outside (what image do we project?). Of course, these aren't the only questions for which the maps have relevance, and though they're a starting place, perhaps they seem too simple (or unanswerable given complex variables) to bother asking.

Map I. Faculty. Green dots indicate graduate faculty alma maters.

Map II. Students. Red dots indicate graduate student MA alma maters. Multiple rings (bullseyes) refer to 1+ students.

Map III. Alumni. Orange dots mark institutions where alumni now hold faculty appointments.

It runs the risk of junking up the display, but I've added arcs between SU and the respective institutions. I haven't decided whether the arc feature adds much to the map. I'm still experimenting with features and seeing what comes of it. The fourth and final map, then, appears below. It combines all of the points shown in the first three. And I've dropped the arcs because they make for a tangle of untraceable ties between points.

Map IV. Combined.

All of the locative data is available on our web site, so I'm not working with information that was difficult to gather. The locations of alumni reflects only current institutions, not programs where graduates worked previously (although such a thing would be interesting to consider, too). Also, the locative data at the program level, like the field-wide maps I posted a few days ago, corresponds exclusively to the grid coordinates of other institutions. From this, whether or not we can resolve it to anyone's lasting satisfaction, we can begin to ask about how such formations constitute networks of some sort, even if we know only tacitly that they do.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Locative Metadata

Over the past few days I've been tinkering with alternatives for representing locative metadata. I stumbled across John Emerson's DIY Map, which layers together a Flash movie with XML, and I've been encouraged with the results. Emerson's project has been around for over two years; the release history tells that it came about just before the release of the Google maps API in Feb. of 2005.

One nice thing about DIY Map is that it cooperates with basic XML, so the 78kb Flash map can match with multiple sets of data to create various maps. The XML files are small and easy to customize or edit as data-sets change. Consider, for comparison, the map of the RC Consortium I put together using Frappr a year ago. Frappr is adequate for locating the 73 members on the list, but it wants to frame them as people rather than institutions or programs. While Frappr puts the Google maps API to good use, its design inhibits the simpler plotting of points that I'm after. I also liked that Frappr made it possible to embed the map in another site, but Emerson's project manages this, too. Frappr's admin tools left a lot to be desired in that the data couldn't easily be exported or edited in batches (to switch from people to groups, for instance).

Map I. Doctoral Consortium in Rhetoric and Composition.

For the most part, the points should link to the web site for each respective program; however, as I copied and pasted the data from the consortium site, I found a few broken links. Those can be resolved easily enough later on. In the XML file, I have set the data point size to 2. All of the colors are established with hex codes, and I've applied a different shade in zones (states) where the data is zero, or, in other words, where there aren't any members of the consortium. Emerson's approach here is smart, too, because the color scheme for all data points is controlled from one set of lines in the XML file. Navigating the map may take a few minutes to get used to. You can drag a box over regions of the map you would like to enlarge. Clicking in a particular state will enlarge the state and center it in the frame.

I'm aware of the inherent limitation of the U.S.-centrism. DIY Map has other countries and regions available. This isn't a problem in the map of the consortium because there aren't yet any members beyond the U.S. (as far as I know; granted, this list doesn't account for changes in membership over the past year or so). But should the consortium add members in other parts of the world, the default frame would need to be reconsidered. Of course, because the data points make use of grid coordinates, transferring them over to a global view would be fairly manageable.

Because it was relatively easy to do, I threw together XML files for a few other data sets. This map shows the locations of the chairs' addresses and CCCC conferences since 1977.

Map II. CCCC Chairs' Addresses.

Here I've used alternating marker sizes to show, for example, that the conference has been in Chicago four times since 1977. The markers indicating addresses that have also been published in CCC Online Archive are linked to the corresponding page on that site (click on San Antonio to see what I mean).

There's much more to say about this, and I'll try to share some of the other maps later this week (after my computer is back from repair). Finally, here is the chunk of code for embedding one of these maps in another site, should anyone have an interest in doing such a thing:

<object classid="clsid:d27cdb6e-ae6d-11cf-96b8-444553540000" codebase=",0,0,0" width="500" height="297" id="zoom_map" align="top">
<param name="movie" value="" />
<param name="quality" value="high" />
<param name="bgcolor" value="#FFFFFF" />
<embed src="" quality="high" bgcolor="#FFFFFF" width="500" height="297" name="Clickable U.S. Map" align="top"

This bit of code applies to the map of the chairs' addresses (addresses.xml). For the RC Consortium, switch the file name to rhetcomp.xml.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Bel, Telephone

Bel, Telephone

Friday, December 22, 2006

To San Diego

I'd probably be a whole lot more likely to blog these days if not for the fact that my PC is in the shop. I've been working with a stylish little Sony VGN-S150 for just over two years, and on the 13th, the day before sitting my first minor exam, the hard drive up and called it quits (one last cyberkinetic protest of its overuse). Fortunately I had everything backed up; nothing important was lost. But the laptop isn't under warranty. And there just isn't enough change in my pockets for a new PC, so I loaded it into a box and shipped it to Sony's San Diego repair facility--exactly two years to the day after I sent it off for repairs the last time. In Dec. '04, it was a manufacturer's problem with the display. It was the second time I'd returned it for its glitchy screen, but at least it was under warranty, so the headache was only the time without the thing. This time around, it's time without the thing and unforeseen expense--three hundred plus chips to be approximate. Still worse is that they can't (or won't) recoup anything from the hard drive, so I have to reinstall software, customize apps, and so on. Not exactly what I wanted for the holidays, but not exactly something I can go without at this point, either.

Obviously, I'm making do, and stealing moments on D.'s desktop, just like I did for my last qualifying exam. Could be worse (the truism always good for a lift, no?).

I'm tempted to gripe about Sony and to lambaste their confused service, but that will have to wait until I get the laptop back, if I bother with it at all. Products fail, of course, and I suppose it's just a little bit more disappointing when expensive products fail before one would reasonably expect them to and when, on top of that, the manufacturer's systems for supporting repair/recovery are abominable. So bah, Sony. Bah. How's that for showing restraint?

Other than crabbing about the effing laptop, I'm just lolling around, running errands, reintroducing myself to the family I've so regrettably neglected throughout the exam stretch, reading McCloud's Making Comics, and taking in the peculiar cool-down of post-exam repatriation.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006


Finally, I'm emerging from the examatrix, relaxing the strainpuff closing in around my tired eyes and beginning to see the light fuzz of day. Solstice coming up? Oh.

Last Thursday morning I sat the first of two minor exams, and since that time, I've been doing very little besides writing through the final question--a week-long take-home essay (article length). This final piece is due before COB tomorrow, which means I still have another 30 hours to fiddle with it. I'm cautiously encouraged by what I've been able to do with this last question. I'd even go so far as to say that I've started to feel passionate about my answer, which has gone a smidgen longer than the 20-page goal.

Working on this final question has also helped me put the timed portions of the exam process in perspective. I'm fairly certain I produced a bona fide stinker last Thursday morning. No lie: clothespins and Vicks vaporub for the noses of any and all who dare to read it! But I understand now that these questions have been tough; they've asked me to do things I never expected, and as such, I'm closing out these exams with a (momentarily delusional?) sense of accomplishment.

Oh, right, my committee still has to read the answers. And there'll be an oral defense sometime in late January (during which I will not wear my Lions t-shirt; defenseless and indefensible). Between now and tomorrow, I have yet another round or three of revisions to work through, and then a few days to reflect on those timed answers, which I've had very little chance to reconsider.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

That Question

So-so: that's how it's gone preparing for writing an answer Thursday morning to the exam question I've had since this past Thursday. Just so-so. Throughout most of the day on Saturday, I was thinking about matching select chapters from Heskett's Toothpicks & Logos (which is built into the question) with a few of the ecology pieces on my reading list. I'd match the chapter on communications with Cooper's "Ecology of Writing" and the chapter on systems with Spinuzzi's stuff on tracing genres and the evolution of ALAS. But what about the chapter on objects?


Today, I started with re-reading Heskett and making notes on the parts I know I will use in the answer. Then I re-read parts of Spinuzzi, including his C&C article on metaphor and genre ecologies. Then I walked Yoki and started thinking more and more about Cooper, Syverson, and Nardi and O'Day. The question, which is generously wide open for the most part, invites me to not only describe how the concept or framework of ecology is used by particular people but also why it is used. How does it function for them? There's hope; I have a few things to say about this.

Next: re-read Cooper. Reading that essay, I keyed on the way she distinguishes ecology from context. Context, a concept she identifies through Burke's pentad, is insufficient to explain systemic causality. Perhaps this limitation results, in part, from tandem pairings (agent::scene) of the master terms rather than three and fours (agent::scene::agency::act). To account for the complementarity of design and ecology, then, I want to explain that, while basically dynamic or alive, each of them involves a 2+ orchestration of dramatisms as their unit imbroglio of analysis. This is, for now, a suggestion that design favors agent and ecology favors scene, while, significantly, each also reconciles with the technological imperatives that have amplified agency. From here, the answer will work through broad characterizations of Syverson, Nardi and O'Day, Fuller, and Spinuzzi both to further explore the pairing of design and ecology and to characterize ecological methods as they span across these four projects. Finally, the value in design and ecologies for comp/rhet scholars falls in with Latour's discussion of hybrids in WHNBM, with keeping the Gordian knot tied rather than falling into the trap of localism vs. globalism or methodological purification. I forgot to mention: at the outset I'll lead with a brief gloss about design as a concept that fans writing out well beyond minimalist alphanumeric rows (re: George in "From Analysis to Design" and Sirc, in "Box-logic": "student as passionate designer").

You think it's rough? Fine. No argument here. I have until Thursday morning to get it polished (where'd I pack away that pebble tumbling kit?). And then I have three hours to pour it, keystroke by keystroke, into this crude mold. My plan also includes another one-hour sprint during which I'll write through as much of this as I can, probably Tuesday.

Almost forgot! I can find the places where Burke talks about the five master terms using a metaphor of fingers (bound to hand and tendons) and sun spots (temporarily structured layers of lava), but I swear I remember reading something about the pentadic set as the multiply intersected shimmers of water left in the wake of a passing boat. Could've been from a class session. I'll pay ten cents for leads on this one.

Friday, December 8, 2006

Sentence-coaster Rides, Screaming Prose

Flickr photo ReneS.

I jogged out the major qualifying exam yesterday, writing one answer in a three-hour morning session and a second answer in a three-hour afternoon session. I'm still a little bit groggy-headed about the whole of the performance. I'm fairly sure that I did a better job of answering the first question than the second. By the afternoon stint what was a heap of kicky ideas in the A.M. was reduced to a wash of once-kicky ideas wanting for a nap. I'm encouraged, still: I'm not embarrassed about the answers I wrote (okay, so maybe I'd take back a couple of sentences, if I could), and I feel fairly confident that I can defend my choices, explain why I did what I did, and convince my calmmittee that I executed the two major exams well enough that I deserve, more or less, to move on to what's next. I was thinking about including a note here about how much I wrote, about word and page counts, since I've been prone to a fascination with such trivia throughout the duress of preparation. But no, for now I will withhold those factoids. Today I'm leaving out those details in protest (a protest of relief, to be sure) of word and page counts. Let's just say I wrote all that I possibly could in three hours, twice.

Starting today (last night, technically), I'm squaring off with a take-home question for the first of two minor exams. I have the question for six days before I return to campus next Thursday for a three-hour on-site writing session. I don't have my response plotted out yet, but I have read the question and picked up the new materials that the question asks me to glance. Basically, it involves reading some of Heskett's stuff on design in tandem with selected texts (I choose) that make use of ecologies or ecological perspectives/frameworks (for media, information, composition, psychology, child development). The anchoring concepts, then, are design and ecology, and so far this morning I've just been etching out a couple of pre-ideas about niches, aggregation, emergence, and orchestration. My gut-level forecast for the ecologies-answer draft looks like this: 1. Gibson, 2. Bruner, 3. Fuller, 4. Nardi and O'Day, 5. Cooper, 6. Syverson, 7. Heidegger, 8. Latour. Other maybes: Norman, Bronfenbrenner, Polanyi, and Spinuzzi. It's all a swirl of abstractions that will come clearer, because it must, in the days ahead.

I thought up the title to this entry during halftime of the major exams yesterday. It gave me a momentary chuckle to think about high-speed prose and thrill-seeking: the strange exhilaration in dashing out something so intensely wrought, so hazard-filled and messy, so alive with rawness and pulsation. Because some sentences were long and winding (even looping) and because the ride was over before I knew it, I now think of my major qualifying exams as back-to-back sentence-coaster rides--and few small jilts of pleasure both in having done it and in not having to do it again (I can get on with fetishizing it).

Nothing more to add for now besides that this is yet one more hiatus from my exam-stretch postponement. And if there's other blog-itch, I'll scratch it.

Monday, December 4, 2006

Saucer of Contraptions

Baby Contraption

In the Isiverse, sun-shaped figures always evoke a smile.

Sunday, December 3, 2006


I went ahead and tried the exam-writing sprints Krista recommended. The questions I'll be answering on Thursday, during a pair of three-hour sittings, are only approximations. The exist in partially remembered shreds from recent conversations rather than definitely, I mean, in writing. I've selected and assembled and condensed notes accordingly, committing to probable answers and probable organizations while figuring that I can bend the questions just enough to match with the answers I'm best prepared to write.

About the sprints: I wrote against the timer on my watch for exactly one hour late last night (heh, the wild lifestyle of an academic Saturday night in early December!) and did the same for the second question's area just before noon today. Granted, the writing I'll do on Thursday will be split into two-three hour sessions, but a one-hour sprint was definitely useful for giving me a sense of what I can say, how swiftly and precisely I can get to my claims, and how much evidence I can draw from my notes, memories of the stuff I read, and so on. I definitely recommend it (not to everyone, only future examinees). It's worthwhile for exactly the reasons Krista said it would be.

In one hour last night, I drummed out 1,388 words or the equivalent of just more than four pages. I went to sleep thinking that the pace and quantity were in a satisfactory range, but I was less sure about the coherence of the answers. I printed and read it this morning, giving some careful thought to the setup. The writing is raw, rough in places, and it assumes a certain understanding of the occasion for the writing. I'm not entirely settled on whether the answers should be understood as companions to the questions or whether they stand independent from the questions (explaining themselves entirely, I mean). While this wasn't a disaster, neither was it an unqualified success. I should just leave it at that. Last night's sprint: eye-opening, reassuring, and surprisingly more coherent when I re-read it this morning than when I imagined it during my pre-sleep mind-wandering last night. Tangent: I dreamt of poker, of winning--on dumb luck--a pile of chips with a 7-J straight on the final draw. Wuh?

Late this morning, I read over the notes for exam approxiquestion two before walking Yoki through the neighborhood. Once I was home again, I set the timer for an hour and dashed out a wildstyle 1,574 words or, that is, roughly five pages. I'm organizing both answers similarly, and each sprint allowed me to write through the beginning section: a pronouncement about what I'll do (claim and motives) and a brief historical gloss. For this morning's answer, the gloss involved North, Fulkerson, Carlton (postdisciplinary formation), and Emig. Like I said, this is rapid-fire writing--a kind of shout-it-down with only a passing care for how it sounds, as concerned with beating the clock as with fine tuning the answer. Again, I was encouraged by the rate (worry: I'll be writing the exams on a strange computer). If I can dash through twelve pages in 2.5 hours, that'll leave a half hour for poaching the so-raw-they're-ghastly sections.

I haven't decided whether more sprints would be beneficial at this late date, and so I might spend the next couple of days tuning outlines, working the claims over in my head again and again. The sprints, as you might expect, sparked in me a fresh mania: will I be able to emulate the sprint? I'm half-kidding. I fully expect to be able to put together a happy string of sprints on Thursday, but I'm also ever-aware of the tiny variables that can too easily derail any high-stakes performance of timed writing.

Friday, December 1, 2006


Shoot. I almost forgot. I can't let the day get away without mentioning Is.'s .333ieth birthday today. That's right: four months.

The past two days have been especially, er, babyful in that she and I have spent full days together while D. fills in at the school. I made the mistake yesterday of being lured out into the unseasonable tropical winds of late November (balmy 67-degrees; no kidding) with Is.-in-stroller and Y. on the leash for a half hour walk. At the precise moment when we were farthest from the house, Is. let go with a series of raging shrieks so alarming even Y. didn't know whether to cover his head with his paws or run for help (no, I've watched Lassie; Lassie he. is. not.). Pausing for attempts to console her only made matters worse. Sheepishly and at a quickened pace, we pressed on until home again.

And today. To-day! I will spare you the vivid and surprising details. Seriously, you wouldn't believe me. Come to think of it, maybe this one is best presented in a list:

  • A leaking event.
  • HazMat suit?
  • Every day of four months old!
  • The diapers, they are each printed with one prominent Sesame Street character on the front.
  • Cookie Monster will never be the same.
  • Replaced by Elmo or Zoe (does it matter?).

New Wine

A couple of days ago I resolved--silently--to postpone blogging until the end of qualifying exams (Dec. 21). Consider this entry a hiatus from my postponement. I've been condensing notes for the last two days, paring 24k words down to 8k, the amount I can smunch decently onto four sides of 8.5"x11" paper with a seven point font. I could drop to a 6 pt. font, but I figure there's no real need for more than the equivalent of twenty-four pages of notes when the answers I'm trying to write will each be 10-12 pages long. If all goes as planned, that is. Twelve pages spread across three hours: three...1...2...seconds...1...2...per...1...2... word. I probably shouldn't write the beats per word on the actual exam, should I? For today my notes seem adequate.

Where was I? I really only wanted to return a gratitude link to "New Media and New Literacies: Perspectives on Change," Carol Holder's New Horizons review in the latest Educause. The brief article opens with the following question: "What's it going to take to see new media, multimodal literacies, and curriculum and instructional change at colleges and universities?":

Fortunately, faculty who teach writing and are writing specialists, who help students become "literate," are in a discipline that has a long tradition of focusing research on curriculum, instruction, and the processes that lead to the development of literacy. Composition, rhetoric, and writing teachers were among the earliest adopters of computer- and Internet-based technologies in instruction, sharing results of experimental programs at conferences and in professional journals. (para. 5)

This definitely strikes a Concord given that I've been revisiting the C&W histories lately, polishing notes about Lisa Gerrard and Hugh Burns just yesterday. Generally, Holder has written an upbeat piece on change and diffusion, which also suggests some of the ways digital writing practices might productively alter the engrained patterns of conversations across disciplines. Plus, EWM gets an approving nod in the "New Wine" section. Cheers to that.

And now back to postponement, back to juicing the grapemash that is my brains six days from sitting the exams.