Thursday, November 29, 2007

No Boring Toys

The NYT has an article today on toddlers and toys. The short piece mixes in a few "kids these days" moments, but I enjoyed it nevertheless because it matches up nicely with all of the gadget battles around here in recent weeks: fights for the remote control or a cell phone, tantrums over computer time (also spats over how that precious time is spent), wrestling matches for the portable DVD player. You thought I was talking about the kids?

Here are two highlights from the article.

“If you give kids an old toy camera, they look at you like you’re crazy,” said Reyne Rice, a toy trends specialist for the Toy Industry Association.

True. They do look at you like you're crazy. But there is no mention here of the biting, pinching, and screaming that typically ensue (not with Is. or Ph. when he was young, of course, but with some kids, no doubt). The article also mentions that we can find relief from the tech-clamor just by handing the children plastic bags.

Grace, a 1-year-old in San Francisco, however, has been going through a decidedly nontechnology phase.

Recently, playtime has involved “putting little toys and dolls into bags and zipping them up,” said her mother, Tanya, who declined to give her last name. “Wouldn’t it be great if our lives were so simple?”

"Here, put your toys in this bread bag. Then take them out again. What do you mean you are bored? Why are you complaining in the midst of all this great fun? This is way better than Nickelodeon in HD." I wouldn't give my last name, either. Plus, aren't plastic bags a suffocation hazard? Plus!, aren't plastic bags a technology?

We have been moderate about exposures to technologies only to the extent that we moderate them for ourselves. Is. knows the remotes and cell phones. And rather than heading down the stairs as encouraged, it is common sport for her to dash from her room into the office where I am "working" so that she can sad-eye me into a few minutes of Muppets videos on YouTube. Possibly she thinks all of my time at the computer is spent surfing YouTube for new clips to share with her. Ah, young ones and their zany imaginations. It remains uncertain whether we will manage to hold off on the LeapFrog ClickStart My First Computer until she is three.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Clang, Clang, Clang!

Just listening to a little Modest Mouse, "March Into the Sea" squeaking in these cheap headphones.

Bang your head like a gong
'Cause it's filled with all wrong
Ahaha! Clang, clang, clang!

Who said anything about the dissertation? Well, no, I haven't mentioned it in a while. Many weeks ago I dedicated November to accomplishing two things: 1.) write brush-by (pardon me) revisions to chapters zero (the intro), one, and two and 2.) build the tag clouds for chapter three. November has, as of the 28th, gone half well. By this I mean that I am satisfied enough with the writing to pass it along to my chair at the end of the month, but the cloud making has been slowed by coding PHPrustrations. I built a jumbo heap of good and valid XML, but the PHP is quirky, contains a glitchy formula. Trusted hands are at this very moment pitching in on this problem, and I've decided to press ahead with as much of chapter three as I can in December--despite the absence of cloud formations. For tomorrow and Friday: twenty more pages of chapter two to unpick (on Latour and also on patterning). Clang, clang, clang!

All day long I have been thinking of drawing a Scrape about the bus ride home from campus last night. I played a couple of pick-up games in Archibold after teaching 105 last evening, then hopped aboard the Centro 344 route to South Campus on bus #9966, which, I was disappointed to learn, stunk like a decaying carcass air freshener was placed immediately in front of the blower for the heater. Ah, but the transportation is free, so I shouldn't complain. Clang!

The basketball was as good last night as it has been in the three weeks I've been back at it. Except, after winning two games, I had to duck out because some long-finger-nailed bum slashed my left ring finger and it wouldn't quit bleeding. Didn't matter too much, anyway, considering I was spent. Same ruffians who sliced my tender finger were taking unusual liberties with normal pick-up rules by running in substitutes. They had six and wanted everybody to play. Ever so often they would run off and on, like a line change in hockey. You can imagine what a downer it was to find that a lanky and reckless 6-3 was replacing Short-n-Slow, the cat I'd been happily matched up with for the first five minutes.

I have two or three other things on a short list of stuff to blog about, but none of it is appropriate to tack at the end of this entry. Tomorrow or the day after that.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

One Minute

Thank You For Not Eating

You, with feathers in your mouth, I don't know what to explain about this. It is the only drawable Thanksgiving Day cartoon--a Larson-esque cliche in which the fowl is personified with spirit and intellect. So pervasive a motif it practically drew itself. Should I be thankful I can draw so well? Or should I, instead, be pre-appreciative of a Lions win later on? Either way, enjoy your day.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Unbreakable Song

  •  In the local grocery store at 7 a.m., I was picking up donuts with Ph. for his junior class bake sale, when J., the bakery manager, scolded us for putting the wrong donut order in our cart. Relax, J., it's not like we crushed the delicate frostings you tubed onto the pastry-tops all early morning.
  • First snow: two inches of Ontario lake fx.
  • Tweaked my ankle playing basketball in Flanagan after class last night. Not bad, but something.
  • Second consecutive slower-than-projected work week.
  • Rotten piece of funkwood in a mouthful of sunflower seeds.
  • Early exit from national tournament for alma mater men's soccer.
  • The living room needs vacuumed.
  • I forget.

Yeah, so have a H. Wugga Friday. Is. and I have watched many muppets videos in recent weeks. Hugga Wugga, a revision of Scrlap Flyapp I learned this afternoon, shoots steam at others who don't repeat his utterances. His aggressive tactics backfire: blast-enforced imitatio, echo effects, fear-mongering, etc. Anyway.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Poetics of Cartography

I finally got around to listening to "This American Life" on mapping. Seems like someone mentioned the program when it aired last month (I remember looking at the accompanying images in Flickr). The program, a replay of the broadcast from 1998, covers mapping across the five senses, beginning with Denis Woods on sight and his neighborhood maps that take into account things like how often addresses (or names of residents) occur in a neighborhood newsletter and how the geolocations of jack-o-lanterns (photographed and layered onto a black background) correspond to the places references in the newsletter. He describes this fascination as a "poetics of cartography" and proposes that there isn't anything that can't be mapped. Brief thought it is, Woods opening piece gave me a boost for thinking about chapter five in the diss, even if I'm still two or three months from drafting the chapter on mapping. Hearing him talk about his mapping practices made me want to drop everything I'm doing (right now, on tag clouds) and re-read The Power of Maps.

The rest of the show is worth a listen, but I didn't find the later sections to be as impressive as Woods' bit. There's a piece on mapping soundscapes (not far off some of the things Jenny has discussed re: documentary, although this guy finds musical notes in the drone of his microwave and CPU cooling fan), and there are also short segments on mapping with smell and touch--both of which reminded me of conversations in the cybercartography seminar I took two years ago.

World as Text

Picked up this clip, "The Child," from infosthetics this morning and found it striking enough--for its geotypography--to justify pasting it on. This is what the world would be like were it purely textual. The premise is simple enough--a couple in New York City rushes to the hospital where their baby will be delivered. Only, is the baby a word? And wouldn't NYC have more words?

Anyway, I say it's worth stowing in your playlist as a conversation troubler the next time culture-as-text, thick description, or an everything's text worldview comes up.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Friday, November 9, 2007

Narrative, Database

Today I read Ed Folsom's PMLA article, "Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives," and the better part of the five responses to the piece and even Folsom's response to the responses. I won't attempt a full summary in this entry, but I wanted to note a few initial impressions and lingering questions.

The lead article discusses Folsom's efforts to develop The Walt Whitman Archive, a growing digital collection of Whitman's works--works not easily or summarily identifiable as narrative or as poetry. Folsom characterizes Whitman as a forerunner, noting that "[f]or him, the works was a kind of preelectronic database, and his notebooks and notes are full of lists of particulars--sights and sounds and names and activities--that he dutifully enters into the record" (1574). The identification of Whitman as an "early practitioner...of the database genre" (1575) doesn't, as far as I can tell, explain why his work should be any more appropriate for digitization and databased setup than any other, but it does give us the background on Folsom's insights into database as genre.

Folsom seems generally to adopt Lev Manovich's pitting of narrative versus database in The Language of New Media. The tension between database and narrative is repeated in Folsom's account of how the Whitman project evolved, with the database taking on a predatory dimension. Folsom explains, "Only if we insulated the narrative from the database could the narrative persist. As databases contain ever greater detail, we may begin to wonder if narrative itself is under threat" (1576).

In her response to Folsom's essay, "Narrative and Database: Natural Symionts," N. Katherine Hayles suggests replacing the rivalrous polarization of narrative and database with notions of compatibility and complementarity. Rather than accepting Manovich's description of the two as "natural enemies," we should think of them as "natural symbionts" (1603). Hayles introduces ecological and biological metaphors: "Database and narrative, their interdependence notwithstanding, remain different species, like bird and water buffalo" (1605). Each can do something the other cannot; together, they get along smartly. Yet, narrative (presumably the water buffalo; leaving database the back-pecking bird?) is "an essential technology for human beings who can arguably be defined as meaning-seeking animals" (1606). Citing Jerome Bruner, Hayles emphasizes the persistence and abundance of narrative: "Wherever one looks, narratives surface, as ubiquitous in everyday culture as dust mites" (1606). I admit to being mildly thrown off by the buffalo-bird-mites line-up. The mites--narrativistic minutiae--are not quite the same, I think, as the narrative-buffalo (or even narrative-bird, if that's the way you read it). Maybe the mites are more like data, and there is startling similarity in the small particles, whichever party they enliven. So many mites.

Hayles also has this to say:

"The constant expansion of new data accounts for an important advantage that relational databases have over narratives, for new data elements can be added to existing databases without disrupting their order ["to order" stands out earlier, as well, in Hayles' account of the strengths of database (1604)]" (1607).
"No longer singular, narratives remain the necessary others to database's ontology, the perspectives that invest the formal logic of database operations with human meanings and that gesture toward the unknown hovering beyond the brink of what can be classified and enumerated" (1607).

In his response to respondents, Folsom is won over by Hayles' replacement of "natural enemies" with "natural symbionts." Reading this series--the article and responses--I am wondering whether about the pairing itself. Does narrative go along with database? I mean that many of the treatments of the narrative/database dyad go at characterizations of the two. But why are there only two participants if, ultimately, we are thinking of these as they stand (water buffalo and bird) in the midst of a complex ecology of, well, everything else? I am not posing this question to detract from the quality of the conversation, only to call the terms back into question, and ask Why these two? Folsom's reference to database as genre makes this point seem all the more important to me. Is narrative genre? Maybe. In the same sense that exposition is genre, right? Should, then, exposition have a place in this discussion? Does database as genre parallel narrative as genre (i.e., does genre apply at the same scale to each?). I don't know. It seems like pairing of narrative and database, whether as "natural enemies" or "natural symbionts" is, in itself, adequate--and maybe it is adequate for getting at the two primary logics for arranging words and things.

Hayles characterizes some of the key differences between narrative and database; her account clarifies, for me, some of the basic qualities that hold them apart in their respective functions. Still, I wonder whether database and narrative should be predatory, symbiotic, even whether they might, in certain cases, be parasitic (one damages the other) or commensalitic (one gains from the other, but the one is unaffected). May as well be symbionts, right?

I'll stop here. This is all to say that the series slowed me down on the matters of 1.) genre and 2.) what other species are there besides narrative and database. I also need to spend more time reading on the concept of archives, beginning with the Manoff citation in Folsom's lead. If a carnivalrous mood strikes you, I'd enjoy more conversation on the set of articles.

Folsom, Ed. "Database as Genre: The Epic Transformation of Archives." PMLA 122.5 (2007): 1571–1579.

Thursday, November 8, 2007


Alex gave a nod to VoiceThread all the way back in July, but I didn't give it a try until today. When Ph. comes home from school jubilant about this or that online phenomena, and I haven't tried out myself, it places a slightly greater urgency on giving it a whirl. So, VoiceThread. I ran into only a few minor hassles using it to put together a two-slide thread (of the same slide, a simple screen shot). The only drawbacks involved deleting elements once they were added. It doesn't seem to me very smooth in handling the oops! factor that is sharply ratcheted up by the simultaneous activities of recording audio and drawing with a mouse. Locating the embed code required a bit more sleuthing around than I am accustomed to, not after you first create the thread, but when you log out and return to it from a fresh login. Minor snafus aside, I can imagine a handful of other things the app would be good for.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Blog Restoration

As far as I can tell, I have patched up the templates following the blog meltdown the other day. You didn't notice? Oh. Most of the index template disappeared. I couldn't find a backup. Because of this I didn't post for a couple of days.

With this version, I have tried to clean up the CSS, and I got rid of most of the table elements. Never needed them in the first place, but they were, at the time, a quick-and-easy way around building a three-column layout with CSS. I tried that several months ago, but didn't have time to get deep into the CSS and so let tables do the super-structuring. Now I have just one table element in the templates--a simple table used in the header for the archives because I was having trouble getting the subtitle to align.

This is it for now. Notice I have dropped most of the knick-knacks from the front page. It'd gotten too busy, too jam-packed up front. I've kept all of the pieces, put them elsewhere, accessible from the horizontal menu. I have a few other issues to fix, but they can wait.

I found it surprisingly easy to set up all of the templates so they now draw from files on the server rather than from the database. This makes them easier to back-up and easier to edit in batches. I should have done this many moons ago but I have a million good reasons for delaying it. I didn't need any more motivation than half of a template file up and vanishing (I know, I deleted it, but I didn't catch myself in the act, which deserves worry unto itself).

Monday, November 5, 2007

Blog Melt

Blog Melt

Friday, November 2, 2007

Earthgoogle On Merucy

Never underestimate the profound self-knowledge that comes of reflecting on the server logs. Two days into NaWrLiYoHaSoImToSaMo, "Piaget" is the supreme attractor to E.W.M., five seductions ahead of "addams family house." Sometimes when I'm really at a loss for what to do next (you know, in my spare time), I re-google a couple of the oddities in the list to see what e-calamity I have brought about. And then, moments later, I sigh a deep sigh of bloguilt and follow it up with an entry like this one which will sooner or later tell the search engines to look here for acute insights into adequation (i.e., dead metaphors) or Vygotsky coordinates.Worse, this route credibility is underwritten largely by link-capital accumulated over years of haphazardly piling on blogroll addition upon blogroll addition.

12   12.77%  piaget
7     7.45%  addams family house
4     4.26%  wheelbarrow full of sand border crossing. smuggler
3     3.19%  the photographic message
2     2.13%  adequated
2     2.13%  barthes third meaning space
2     2.13%  concepts vygotsky coordinates-
2     2.13%  digital convergence kittler gramophone
2     2.13%  earthgoogle on merucy
2     2.13%
2     2.13%
2     2.13%  moth bikes

Any chance I can win back a small measure of digital karma by directing those who sought "earthgoogle on merucy" to Google Mars? I'm not implying that it should count as an act of community service; but maybe "network service," or some other ironic gesture.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Argument Clinic

"I'm very sorry, but I told you I'm not allowed to argue unless you've paid."