Thursday, April 23, 2009

Twitter Totter

I sure hope Maureen Dowd's optometrist didn't read what she wrote at the end of her Tuesday newspaper column, "To Tweet or Not to Tweet":

I would rather be tied up to stakes in the Kalahari Desert, have honey poured over me and red ants eat out my eyes than open a Twitter account. Is there anything you can say to change my mind?

My guess is that a honey-sweetened eye-flesh-eating episode would not bode well for the continuation of her syndicated column. Opening an account is worse than this? No. Dowd's position is ridiculous, and this hypothetical alternative to opening an account would prove painful and unwise. Nothing against red ants; I'd take Twitter over Dowd's daring stunt in the Kalahari any day of the week.

Of course, Dowd is laying bait for the twittersphere in her diatribe "interview" with Twitter creators Evan Williams and Biz Stone. The truth is, I'd have missed Dowd's column altogether had it not been for Geoff Manaugh of BLDGBLOG's retort, "How the Other Half Writes: In Defense of Twitter," an anti-Dowd rant that takes exception with a few points in the editorial, which Manaugh describes as "brain-dead."

Manaugh basically identifies Twitter as a "note-taking technology" that can be put to many different uses. He might be right, but I don't think of Twitter as a note-taking technology exactly. I mean, if that's what it is, aren't there better ones? Second, Manaugh answers at length Dowd's comment about Twitter being designed "for bored celebrities and high-school girls," as he goes on to reframe Twitter as a tool for everyday writing. Finally, he compares Twitter to private journals. With this line of argument, he downplays the social aspects of @directed tweets and says he has no use for or interest in them. If you glance the entry's 70+ comments, you'll see there has been a fair amount of objection to this third point, perhaps the most dubious of his positions in response to Dowd.

For me, the gem in Manaugh's response was this:

You take short-form notes with it, limited to 140 characters. The clich├ęd analogy here has been with Japanese haiku, but perhaps we might even reference the Oulipo: in other words, Twitter means that you are writing, but you are writing within constraints.

I was well aware of the 140-character limit, even familiar with the analogy to a "less is more" aesthetics. But I hadn't heard of Oulipo, a group of French writers, thinkers, and artists, including Raymond Queneau, who worked at deliberately constrained projects. Queneau's Exercises in Style is perhaps the best-known example of a project produced according to this group's constraint-bounded undertakings. Thus, the suggested tie between Oulipo and Twitter sparked a few ideas for me. I've been thinking off and on lately about the relationship between style and technology because I will be teaching a pair of classes in the fall concerned with their intersection. Where style and its close counterpart genre introduce explicit constraint-affordance capacities, they are, arguably, technological, and I find this to be especially conspicuous with a platform like Twitter, even if I have not used it all that much. Because it is conspicuous, it might be a good place to first address the style-technology relationship. I mean that Twitter and its 140-character limit is a good, simple case for grasping style-technology interdependence. I want to say more about this, but I am short on time for now. The style-technology relationship, however, is going to be on my mind over the next couple of months.

One last point about Manaugh's answer to Dowd: I think they also stand as solid examples of the distinction Richard Lanham draws between strong and weak defenses. Dowd's is a weak defense, it seems to me, in that she gets caught up in a moralistic binary: her anti-Twitter way is superior to any other that would use Twitter at all, much less take it seriously, engage with it productively, and so on. Manaugh, on the other hand, leverages a strong defense because he allows for an unfolding process through which its uses will determine its many different values (also values yet-to-be). Both are worth holding onto for this reason, if not for the stuff on constraints.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Oceanic Six

 10.02: Next week, a new episode, "The Variable," the 100th episode of Lost.
10.02: Vote on for your favorite set of love birds: Jack-Kate, Jack-Juliet, Kate-Sawyer, or Juliet-Sawyer.
10.01: What happened to Rose and Bernard?
10.00: James breaks it to the returners that the ones who stayed behind joined the Dharma Initiative.
9:59: Oceanic Six returns to the island, but in different time periods: 1977 and 2007.
9.58: Turbulence. Frank Lapidus (pilot) calls Mayday! Mayday!
9.55: Much to everyone's surprise, the Oceanic Six end up on the same flight. Jack tells Kate that they're "all back together." Kate says, "We're on the same flight, but that doesn't make us 'together.'"
9.53: Ben and Charles Widmore have each other's cell phone numbers programmed. Ben only calls when he is going to enact vengeance.
9.52: I probably could have posted most of this in my Twitter account.
9.51: I sure am looking forward to Friday's lovely weather in Syracuse.
9.50: I flipped back to Lost. Only, instead of Lost, ABC was showing a commercial about what you can get for a dollar at McDonald's.
9.48: Nobody can say for sure whether Jerry Shepard in Eight Below is related to Jack Shephard of the Oceanic Six.
9.46: Alaskan Malamutes are nuzzling each other on ABC Family: Eight Below. Isn't this where, when Desmond turned the key a couple of seasons ago, Penny's crew picked up the location of the island?
9.44: Ah, the Burger King commercial is on Comedy Central, too. "Those pants are square."
9.43: Andrew Zimmern just stuffed his piehole with fermented fish and talked while he chewed about how terrible it all smelled.
9.41: Weather Channel: Due to be sunny and 75 in Syracuse on Friday. Even warmer Saturday.
9.39: Bowling on ESPN2. Fella with a big red and blue star on his shirt just picked up a one-pin spare.
9.38: Commercials.
9.36: Kate is shrewd with faux-cop looking for Aaron. This means that Aaron is in danger.
9.34: Looks like I'm going to have to drum up another entry in the morning to displace this embarrassing liveblogging debut.
9.33: We have to go back!
9.32: I watched five minutes of The Unusuals premier before shutting it off. Found it usual.
9.29: Olay knows how to reverse age my skin (commercial). I think Ben used Olay when he healed so quickly after getting roughed up by Desmond.

9.25: Jack's beard appears to grow faster than Locke's beard.
9.24: Please nominate this as a liveblogging FAIL.
9.22: Remember last week when Faraday got out of the submarine at the end?
9.21: Blue Light commercial. Haven't heard any beer aficionados recommend this one yet.
9.19: Cute. Burger King likes square butts (commercial).
9.17: I wish Jack would quit the dope. I mean, he did, right? Only then he woke up from the second plane *flash* and it was 1977.
9.16: Does Kate love Jack? Or does Jack love Kate? Or does Kate love Sawyer?
9.15: Jack blah blah...putting on his lie upon returning home he eulogizes Christian, his dad.
9.12: I'll try to look at it this way: live-blogging a "catch up" episode makes great practice for next time. Great practice for never doing this again, too.
9.08: Ford Fusion commercial. I had better quit while I'm ahead.
9.07: Get this. The Oceanic Six lied.
9.04: Wow. Weird. "The island was gone." Apparently it moved. I had no idea.
9.03: Worst fears are confirmed: "Special" on the Oceanic Six is ABC's way of pulling a fast one: no new episode tonight. I should have done better research.
9.01: Oh dear. This isn't one of those Lost for Dummies episodes, is it? ABC was advertising a "special" on the Oceanic Six, the Oceanic Six from another perspective.
8.59: *should*
8.57: By the way, I've never live-blogged anything before. Yes, you shoudl lower your expectations.
Liveblogging Lost commences in five minutes!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Reinventing the Wheel

Despite an abbreviated work session this morning, I found time to download and install the latest version of CMap Tools, an application I grew fond of during coursework and then inexplicably uninstalled twenty months ago, just after I used it to map the dissertation I've been working at ever since. About the latest version: what's not to love?  I thought about it in the first place because I had a few ideas for a new map-sketch, the raw start to an article I intend to draft before summer's end.

I'll say more about the application and the article another time, perhaps, but all of this is a roundabout way of getting to the more pressing issue: because I re-installed CMap Tools, I also rediscovered an old, forgotten myscot wheel folder.  The myscot wheel is an idiosyncratic cluster of mascots from programs where I've worked and studied, a wheel because the figures are arranged in a circle. For just over two months, since mid-February, I've had cause to add to it, celebratory cause. 

Myscot Wheel (update)

The new, improved wheel gives it away. As the culmination of my job search, eight weeks ago I accepted a position for this coming fall as an Assistant Professor of English at Eastern Michigan University.  In addition to being so warmly welcomed by great colleagues and preparing for a job I look forward to starting, the move to Ypsi-Arbor later this summer also means something of a homecoming for me. I grew up in Michigan and have always referred to it proudly as home.

As tempted as I am to gush on, I'll refrain for now and instead loosely commit to a series--eventual entries on the position, on the courses I will be teaching in the fall, on the market and anything worth sharing about how I approached it. But there you have today's circuit: CMap Tools, an updated myscot wheel, and an upbeat announcement about joining EMU.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Grading in the Sunporch

I was just thinking that academic types don't mention grading often enough, especially in late April. A measly 50% of tweets and status updates from my network of peers mention grading--astonishingly low!

Right now I'm in the sunporch, grading. I would post about this to my Twitter account, but for this I need more than 140 characters. It's a longer trip all the way around these ideas I'm having.

Here are a few of the grades FERPA will allow me to share:

  • B- to my deteriorated spelling skills. Here I thought "sun porch" was one word.
  • Make that a C+ because I had to look up "measly."
  • F to the cooling fan on my five-year-old Vaio laptop because it sounds like a motorboat engine. All the time. The Family Finances Committee says my new home computer is on the list of "Things To Buy When In 2018 We Get These Student Loans Paid Off." Fie!, fiscal conservatives!
  • C- to the rest of the laptop for getting me this far. I mean it: thanks!
  • C to the unsightly water-stained hole in the ceiling above my head. The exterior was repaired; the interior left like a monument to water damage, intact.
  • A to family, except, why is nobody home right now to nudge me through these fits of procrastination?
  • C- to Yoki, the dog so conflicted as to whine when inside because he wants out and to whine outside because he wants in. Any more whining and both of us will be crying. The C- also goes for that smell.
  • B+ to the bug carcasses in the shaded corner on the indoor/outdoor carpeting.
  • A to temperatures adequate to warrant grading in the sun porch on a Sunday afternoon.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

As Lebron Goes

First, because I have not watched any television yet today, I am wondering: Is it still baseball season?

Ah, well, in that case I will be taking in a few minutes of the NBA playoffs later today, especially the match-up between the Pistons and the Cavaliers. Historically, I have been indifferent about first round series. But the Pistons-Cavs matchup interests me because it seems the Pistons have almost no chance whatsoever. Granted, I am a long-time Pistons fan, and I have enjoyed their streak of success over the past several seasons (what, something like five consecutive Eastern Conference Finals?). But this season's Allenex Iversperiment was an utter bust, and, thus, Detroit is down an all-star guard. Also, this series reminds me ever so slightly of the late 1980s matchups between a fading Detroit team and the Jordan-led up-start Bulls. I'd bet a dollar we hear that comparison during today's telecast.

With all of that said, I'm still not quite a believer that this is the banner year for the Cavaliers. If Lebron can be guarded, if he can be shielded, if he can be frustrated, if he can slip into a slump from behind the three-point line, then maybe, just maybe the Cavs will falter. Might not happen versus the Pistons, but one can hope. Or, at the very least, one can watch a few minutes of each of the first two games of the series thinking defense.

And just in case Detroit exits the playoffs and does not win a championship this year, my fan-affinity shifts next to Denver and then Chicago and then Orlando, mostly because I like certain players on each of those teams.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Collabaret, cont.

With the recent collaborative go-round, I started thinking again about a distributed authoring experiment CGB mentioned in passing a time or two before. Imagine dialing up collaboration in such a way that a group of 6-8 scholars would team-write articles on a series of issues (extraordinarily wide open, this). A scholarship-producing cousin of the think tank. This author-organism would set out with well-defined goals, structural principles, and so on. It would meet occasionally as a collective to discuss the experiment, to consider rules and roles, but it would also be receptive to redirection, accidents, and abandonment. That is, a fair amount of the work might go to waste, chopping room floor, etc. And in practice it would involve a lot of chipping away at various aspects of the projects, inevitable redundancies and microdebates, also a platform or apparatus for carrying out the work. Obviously it'd need to be the right group of people; they would have to be smart, agreeable, mature, invested, and flexible, among other things. But if it succeeded, it might productively jostle the default scales of authorship. And if it failed, perhaps it would be equally rewarding to pick through the rubble.

I haven't given a whole lot of thought to who might participate or what such a group might produce initially. And by now you are no doubt thinking that this model is an old, long-ridden horse in the sciences, in information studies and tech comm, too. If there has been much of it in rhet-comp, I'd be hard pressed to identify it beyond the well-known tandems (e.g., Flower-Hayes, Lunsford-Ede, Selfe-Hawisher) and the surprisingly high proportion of Braddock winners with multiple authors (something like 14+ since 1985 have been co-written?). Yet these are not quite fitting with the larger-group experiment.


Whiled away a couple of hours earlier today with D. and Is. at Ph.'s first outdoor track meet of the year (local schools are on Spring Break). NHS can host meets now that they have a shiny new facility. I recorded his events and times on a crumpled sticky note. Thought I'd better post the numbers to blog before I forget how to decipher the original.

Long Jump (1st) - 19-0, 17-6, 18-4
400 Hurdles (2nd) - 63.5s
110 Hurdles (3rd) - 17.5s
Triple Jump (2nd) - 37-9, 38-8

Like I said, first meet of the season. He seemed pleased with the 19-0 long jump, less pleased with the finish in the 400 hurdles. Next meet in another week.


Wednesday, April 15, 2009


This 1978 Joel Sternfeld photo (via) stands up nicely-analogous alongside the collaborative writing I've been working at sporadically in recent weeks.

The unfamiliar process taught me a great deal about collaborative drafting that I didn't know before. Often it seemed like dabbling on the edges, often like plunging in--designations that captures the uncertainty I felt at times, the turn-taking, and the refreshing experience of opening a Google Doc to find that someone else had poured an hour's worth of smart work into the manuscript since the last session. Sure, I've read a little bit about collaboration, talked about it, even asked students to work together, but until now I can't honestly say that I've undertaken anything quite like this before.

When I first saw the above photograph turn up via TriangleTriangle's RSS feed, I was at a point when it cried out: There's this raging fire to put out. My colleague was intensely engaged in knocking out the flames while I was, like the pumpkin shopper standing in the foreground, basically shitting around. So many pumpkins! I'd flagged the photo for its commentary on collaborative writing--something I was both doing and also thinking of blogging about--and its significance shifted. Not an all reversal of studium and punctum here, but an identity-urgency, an itch: I, too, sought a turn on the ladder. Turn after turn came later, authorial identifications shifted as if caught in a turn-style, and the chapter draft took shape, coming more or less solidly together. This has left me thinking about collaborative writing as worth trying a few more times for the way I now conceive of the process via something like a post-dialogic dual occupancy, standing in the foreground (Which pumpkin?) and on the ladder, happily and at once.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009


Did you watch the game last night?  Whatever your answer, I can't say I blame you.  What does that mean, anyway, "can't say I blame you"? I watched, using it as a good reason to stay up and eat jellybeans, until nine minutes remained in the second half.  Reminded me of the time my good mutt Tony was surprised to find himself sniffing around in tie-up-reach of two German Shepherds, double-surprised when one took him in its jaws, and surprised yet again when the beast shook him around like a rag doll and tossed him up in the air like a UNC jump shot in the first half of last night's drubbing. T. scamperlimped away and hid under some neighbor's deck.  By association, it comes down to this: I'd have been happier if the Spartans won and I'd have been more interested if the game was ever close.

The pool is complete, and the victor is Julie M. with 145 picktelligent points. What stands out to me the most about JM's impressive finish is that last year she was 12th; this year she was 1st.  Guess who was 12th this year? Yours truly. This can only mean that next year I am due to join the elite company of EWM Tournament Pick'em Champs.

2009  Julie M.  (1 of 24)
2008  Billie H. (1 of 18)
2007  Jason L.  (1 of 17)
2006  Chuck T.  (1 of 11)
2005  Mike J.   (1 of 7)
2004  Jeff R.   (1 of 7)