Note to readers

This is a blog that I'm required to keep that's full of unedited, near stream-of-consciousness reactions to similarly required and related readings in a graduate course in N.C. State University's Communication, Rhetoric, and Digital Media program. The way these posts are written help me interrogate and understand what's going on in our readings. I'm identifying what's troublesome so that I can give it more thought, but the posts aren't written in a style that's productive for audiences outside of our class to read. That's by design. I start with contestation, then spend heavens only knows how long researching, recutting, and reevaluating so that I can try and see what potentially productive readings I can extract from these source for use in my own work's contributions back to the field. Comments encouraged, but please, you'll likely need a thick skin if your work is quoted here.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

David Brooks, Foucaultian

Op-Ed Columnist - This Old House -

If, indeed, we are going to have a once-in-a-half-century infrastructure investment, it would be great if the program would build on today’s emerging patterns.
The season of prosperity gives way to the season of economic scarcity, and out of the winter of recession, new growth has room to emerge.

Highlighting mine.

Yes, constructing seems to be a be a better alternative than creating, though I'm not sure the Xianized bias behind the creation is quite as important as it once was.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Put your source online

I'm doing a couple of projects that involve associated application development (that is to say, crappy applications speedily hacked in VB6), and thought I'd share that code by putting it on  Here's my rationale, entered as part of the application.

The public description is pretty accurate. I'm putting this online to encourage those who read the research to review the code on which it's based, as well as to serve as a model for empirical rhetorical studies in the future -- the code must be as open and auditable as the textual composition.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Created, not produced

Academicians (and myself; for now I'll treat the two as separate groups) have a bad habit of using terms with capitalistic connotations.

Until such a specialist is created, studies like Herring et al’s and those that are like or cite it open themselves to being undermined...

Until such a specialist is produced, studies like Herring et al’s and those that are like or cite it open themselves to being undermined...

That is, unless you want to give support for Corporate U, in which case produced does invoke the right connotations. Don't worry, this doesn't make you evil, at least not by itself.

I also really really dislike when people use "emerge" as in "Darwin says life emerged from pools of primodal ooze," (nevermind if he didn't) when what they really mean is that, "The evil beast emerged from its lair to snack on Hrothgar's thanes." Very little in human culture "emerged" in some passive selective system. That's oxymoronic. Something's usually created or, more and more likely, produced. This includes your new fangled idea. It didn't emerge. You feed it and created a room for it to grow until it sprang from your forehead. Though it may appear to have seemingly sprung fully formed form the start, we know the metaphor here is less Athena and more kangaroo fetus. *ewww* That's right. There's no passive emergence in society, folk. Quit being lazy and pick the word you mean to use.

I blame misinterpretations of Foucault for all the trendy uses of "emergence", by the way. It's supposed to be a code word for saying, "I'm a humanities scholar!" but is said with all of the conviction of Yoda in Thumb Wars telling us he's a puppet (about 15:20 in). Irony.


Now playing: The Black Crowes - Remedy

Monday, December 1, 2008

Unapologetically tootin' my horn

Awl hell, I hate people who pimp themselves, but there's a time when it must be done. This time is often about 12:30am when you've wasted a weekend looking at the same daggum paper, editing it like mad but knowing that you haven't made it a whit better than when you started, with the argument your brain's envisioning hidden behind the cruft you've managed to slap down on the page.

So yeah, I've been cited dammit. F'n L, yeah. Sure, I'd gotten the same jive used in a course at Duke, but never cited. I will not be influenced by the fact that the citation is in a master's thesis -- it's a doctoral thesis. Hells yeah. And it's in French, dang it. Beat that.

Dans « Inviting Subversion: Metalepse and Tmesis in Rockstar Games' ÇJrand Theft Auto Series », Wm. Ruffin Bailey a observé comment le jeu pouvait être subverti par les joueurs à travers des modifications effectives du monde numérique. Les conceptetirsde Rockstar ont rendu assez aisée la tâche d'altérer le code des Grand Theft Auto, en autorisant le joueur à modifier l'apparence et même, parfois, le fonctionnement du monde numérique. En opérant sur le code, un joueur peut, par exemple, manipuler les « skins19 » (fournir à Clouaux personnages de nouveaux vêtements) ou créer ses propres modèles d'automobile, plus puissants ou plus résistants que ceux qui sont inclus dans le jeu.

Let's do a poor English translation:

In "Inviting Subversion: Metalepsis and Tmesis in Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto," some arsehole has observed how the game can have been subverted by the gamers who use modifications to change the [game's] digital world. The [parbleu, non?] Rockstar has made rather easy the task of altering the code of Grand Theft Auto, and authorized the gamer to modify the appearance and even, at times, the function of the digital world. By changing the code, a player can, for example, manipulate the skins (to furnish the protagonist new clothes) or create his own car models, more powerful or resistant than those which are included in the game [by default].

Even though he leaves out Hot Coffee, the sort of climax of the piece (hardy har har), it's close a dammed nuff. Sweet. Now I must channel that plus Mr. Daniels to complete this City Paper.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Stop chasing the law

I appreciated the information Nemire was presenting in "Int Prop Dev and Use for Dist Ed Courses", yet I was concerned with the propensity of the article to "chase the law". This non-critical standpoint didn't stop at the legal system, but continued when discussing university policies as well. Here are four of the more egregious logical fallacies, with some commentary on why I believe them to be particularly misleading or damaging for uninformed readers. Overall, the lesson seems to be that people truly interested not only in not getting into trouble but providing a more equitable education system need to stop chasing the law and start acting in ways that manipulate the way the courts have to conceive of that law. I'll now pull a quick quote from Krause and Palm who, though they were talking about unionizing [graduate student] labor, seems appropriate.

Waiting for the law to change is also not an option because it relies on a misleading conception of the political process. Given the weakness of political parties, there are few effective mechanisms to hold elected politicians accountable to workers' interests as laws get made. Labor leaders have long repeated the maxim that organizing does not follow the law -- the law follows organizing. If workers do not build power on the ground, the law will not change.[1]

So let's take a closer look...

Advancement of knowledge and progress in technology drives the need for protecting inventions, new ideas, writings, music, and other media. (26)

And here the author is, in the first sentence of the abstract, doing us a solid by letting everyone know we're on board with copyright protection. Why does the "advancement of knowledge" unquestionably require "protecting"? Why not give knowledge away for as close to free as we possibly can?

Read in a more productive light, what sorts of protections does the "advancement of knowledge" require? Though the phrase "progress in technology" scares me in general when used as a reason for motivation, and the rest of the article plays into that suspicion, we can take our productive reading's cue from that arena. Here, I'm back to my favorite example of subverting copyright from within that system, Free and Open Source Software. We need to protect knowledge not from its being exposed to fellow human beings, but from those folk taking that knowledge and, through an abuse of law, making it their own, commercially. Unfortunately, that's not what Nemire means in this sentence or the balance of the article. We're looking at using copyright in a conventional means, as we'll see explained a bit more in our next three quotes.

The university is one of the largest providers of intellectual property. It is reasonable, then, to consider that the university has a stake in faculty, staff, and student activities regarding intellectual property. (29)

Did you hear the gasket pop in my head? *sigh* The connection needs to be made explicitly. I make lots of [figurative, I mean, of course!] poop, if you know what I mean. We can discuss what sort of stake that means I should have in its disposal. What specifically about providing IP, which I argue is precisely the university's raison d'etre, means they should be worried about IP created downstream?

Nemire doesn't give her comments this connotation, but I will: It is not "reasonable" in some fatalistic sense that the university should have a financial stake in the intellectual property it helps its, what, users? create, and that pulls me into a quote from a bit further along the same page.

When royalties are involved, some universities require faculty members to turn over part or all royalty payments to the university because documents were created on university time, using university technology.

We, as scholars and educators -- as those employed outside of the business world, in a position where the public trust is that we're not focusing on "Recruit. Retain. Solicit." -- have to take issue with the user of the word "because" here. The reasoning behind Nemire's "because", even if it's intended to be offered as a proxy in place of those universities that practice such viral practices, has already been undercut by the phrase "some universities". There is no universal "because" where the because only works for "some".

What's happening at those "other" universities? How is it that being "created on university time, using university technology" doesn't equate to their becoming king to your royalties? Give to Caesar, sure, but who made the university into the monarch?

The same sort of uncritical, "that's just the way it is" reasoning occurs in the following section as well, just a bit earlier than the last quote:

Faculty should have several concerns when considering intellectual property. They need to be aware that they are relinquishing their copyright when they publish academic work. It is common practice and will likely continue, as most journal editors and publishers want to own the information in their periodicals.

"It is common practice and will likely continue" does not review the law, only teach its readers to conform to it for tradition's sake. You may ask, how did this tradition get started? I'll tell you. I don't know. But it's a tradition. (quoting Fiddler on the Roof, a snippet of which is helpfully included above, of course)

What are the options in the law? Do you own your work when you publish a book? What sorts of contracts are out there? How can we inhabit the law?

How can we stop chasing the law and start living within and manipulating it?

[1] Monika Krause and Michael Palm. Forthcoming. "Activists into Organizers. How to Work with your Colleagues to Build Power in Graduate School", in: Monika Krause, Mary Nolan, Michael Palm, Andrew Ross (ed.): The University Against Itself: The NYU Strike and the Future of the Academic Workplace. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2008, pg. 226-7

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

This is scholarship?

I hate to be an old fogey and all, but are we sure that necessary follows?

There is some editor-like credit that's appropriate for some types of digital administration, but I'm going to need better arguments for other cases than some flavor of "because we're there."

Scholarship is about conversation. Text is a pretty efficient means of capturing and disseminating conversation. If you can't text, can you scholar? I'm 100% about "clear excellence", but one might also have to realize that it's hard to demonstrate clear excellence if there isn't a ready-made peer group to deem your work makes that cut. I'm not sure there's an easy way to address the implied 'failing' that "Over 50% of PhD granting institutions have no experience evaluating new forms of scholarship." Very few Cotton Mather experts in this and any department, you know, and almost never more than two. Scholarship requires that you enter a professional conversation that contains the ability to respectfully self-police.

There, I've done my duty. People now have tripe about which to comment, though they won't. Am I not at 10 yet? ;^)

Monday, November 3, 2008

No, give me a real world catalog

Against my natural inclinations, I finally have to admit I wish Wordcat had an option to include bookstores in its results. Why should I be limited to finding copies of books in libraries?

Okay, admittedly, what I'd really like to do is write the Napster of book chapters, so that you could post a request and have someone fair use you a copy quickly, or have the system forward you a copy if someone had previously requested the same thing. This idea (c) 2005 or so, Ruffin Bailey. ;^)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Blackbaud's Total Campus Solution: Student Information System

Blackbaud's Total Campus Solution: Student Information System:

We’ve heard that those who work for small higher education institutions live by a certain mantra: “Recruit. Retain. Solicit.” Sound familiar? Sounds easy enough — but not when it’s a task that needs to be completed for each of your hundreds or even thousands of students.

Like books? Google will sell you a subscription

Google settles copyright lawsuits with publishers, authors - Business - Macworld UK:

The wide-ranging agreement calls for Google to pay $125 million and in exchange gives the search giant rights to display chunks of these in-copyright books, not just snippets. This will result in broader exposure for out-of-print books that are, by definition, hard to find.

In addition, Google will make it possible for people to buy online access to these books. The agreement will also allow institutions to buy subcriptions [sic] to books and make them available to their constituents

why don't i like subscriptions? because that means we're talking planned obsolescence -- you don't own the book, you only have the right to view it for a limited amount of time.

google can only sell subscriptions because they're the only game in town when it comes to scanned, in-copyright books. who else would have the cohones to scan in and display so many protected texts? who else has large enough pockets to play ball when the authors' guild comes calling? that is to say, this is not a market that provides easy and fair access. microsoft, google, and amazon are about all i can think of that have the means and interest to put hard to find, out of print, yet copyrighted books online.

but here's the issue for me -- generally i like access to books. but by putting in a subscription service for out of print books -- that is, google has essentially become a publisher of out of print b00k5 -- books -- the copyright on these books is less likely to lapse. now they have clear value. they are being used.

Take this from curmudgeongamer to see where I'm going.

Online subscription service is bad for a public domain that's already quickly becoming a dinosaur. As Michael Palm and Monika Krause say, you really can't wait on the law to make things right.

Aural literacy

Have fun. (<<< must install to read easily, give or take.)

(Cvpgher ba yrsg vf bs n ovxr ybire -- uggc://jjj.otfh.rqh/ppbayvar/pbzfgbpx_ubpxf/Ovxrf.zct)

Rira jvgu gur erarjrq rzcunfvf ba ivfhny naq qvtvgny eurgbevp, ubjrire, jr nf jevgvat grnpuref ner fgvyy irel grkg-pragrerq va bhe pynffebbzf. Crqntbtvrf gung ner grkg-pragrerq hfhnyyl vtaber gur nheny cbffvovyvgvrf bs qvtvgny zrqvn pbzcbfvgvbaf naq yvgrenpl cenpgvprf.

Bxnl, fher, ohg gura jr'er abg rknpgyl grnpuvat Onegurf-vna (Ybfg va gur Shaubhfr) fglyr zrgnyrcfvf be vnzovp cragnzrgre -- obgu cbgragvnyyl hfrshy gebcrf sbe pbzcbfvgvba; vg jbhyq frrz obgu unir orra chg gb hfr va cerggl fhpprffshy pbzcbfvgvbaf -- rvgure.&aofc; Jung fubhyq thvqr gur qrpvfvba bs jung uvgf gur flyynohf fubhyq fgneg jvgu gubfr guvatf gung ner zbfg havirefnyyl cenpgvpny.&aofc; Grnpuvat nheny genqvgvba vf hfrshy (fcrrpu?), ohg abg fb pehpvny sbe n pbzcbfvgvba pynff.&aofc; Naq fhccbegvat guvf ol fnlvat "gurl yvir va n zhfvp ivqrb" qbrfa'g znxr zr zber yvxryl gb grnpu nheny qrivprf va serfuzna pbzc.&aofc; Crefbanyyl, V'q yvxr gb chyy gurz bhg.&aofc; ;^)

Jr nterr jvgu guvf rzoenpr bs gur beny genqvgvba, ohg jr nethr shegure gung fbavp yvgrenpl punatrf naq genafsbezf ubj jr ivrj grkg naq vzntrf.

Jr nterr lbh pbhyq pbzcner qvtvgny jbexf gb beny barf fhpprffshyyl, ohg jr'er tbvat gb gerng gurz nf grkgf.&aofc;&aofc; Ubarfgyl, jvgu gur ibvpr biref, gurl'er nethvat sbe fghqragf gb gnyx fcrrpu be svyz pynff.&aofc; Abe qbrf vg nccrne yngre gung gurer'f zhpu gb qvfgvathvfu gur qvtvgny pbaarpgvba bs nffvtazragf bssrerq bgure guna "Pbzchgref znxr rqvgvat zhygvzrqvn znf rnfvre."&aofc; Bgure guna na vapernfrq snzvyvnevgl sbe znal fghqragf jvgu qvtvgny rqvgvat, gurer'f abg zhpu cenpgvpny ernfba bssrerq gb erpbzzraq guvf cenpgvpr va pbzcbfvgvbaf pynffebbzf.

Nf znal Jrfgrea cuvybfbcuref sebz Cyngb gb Wnpdhrf Qreevqn unir abgrq, Jrfgrearef graq gb or cubabpragevp, dhvpx gb nfpevor cerfrapr naq vzzrqvnpl gb fcrrpu, rira erpbeqrq fcrrpu.

YbirZrFbzrAvgcpxvat: Gung'f shaal.&aofc; Arvgure ner va gur jbexf pvgrq.&aofc; uggc://jjj.otfh.rqh/ppbayvar/pbzfgbpx_ubpxf/jbexfpvgrq.ugz&aofc; Naq V'z cerggl fher gur svefg fnvq abguvat nobhg [nhenyyl] erpbeqrq fcrrpu.&aofc; Naq V'q nethr jvgu n oevpx jnyy Bat naq fnl gung fzryy vf zhpu zber vzzrqvngr naq cerfrag guna fbhaq.&aofc; Favss gur pbybtar lbhe sngure jber be fbzrguvat nf zhaqnar nf gur pyrnavat cebqhpg hfrq va lbhe ryrzragnel fpubby naq gryy zr V'z jebat.

Rira gur cntrf' pbqr vf oynaq.
.fglyr6 {sbag-snzvyl: "Tvyy Fnaf"; sbag-jrvtug: obyq; }
.fglyr8 {
sbag-snzvyl: "Tvyy Fnaf";
sbag-fvmr: 16ck;
sbag-jrvtug: obyq;
.fglyr10 {pbybe: #SSSSSS; sbag-snzvyl: "Yhpvqn Fnaf"; sbag-fvmr: 24ck; sbag-jrvtug: obyq; }
n:yvax {
&yg;!-- ... --&tg;
&yg;c pynff="fglyr6"&tg;3. Grpuabybtvpny Yvgrenpvrf bs Fbhaq &yg;/c&tg;
&yg;c pynff="fglyr1"&tg;Vagrteny gb fbavp yvgrenpl vf n snzvyvnevgl jvgu vgf arj gbbyf naq grpuabybtvrf...
&yg;c pynff="fglyr1"&tg;Nf jvgu nal qvtvgny zrqvn, gur nqinaprq grpuabybtvrf bs fbhaq uryc gb perngr na vyyhfvba bs ernyvfz...

Lrf, V jrag gurer.&aofc; V'z pevgvdhvat gur fglyr bs gur ugzy pbqr-oruvaq.

Va Zvpuryyr'f bja rkcrevrapr, jevgvat sbe ibvpr-bire aneengvbaf unf urycrq ure jevgr sbe cevag. Fur'f zber vagvzngryl njner bs gur ivpvffvghqrf bs cnpvat naq gbar, bs jura gb fybj qbja naq frg hc n fprar naq jura gb sebagybnq gur xrl pbasyvpg va n cvrpr. Fghqragf fnl gur fnzr guvat nobhg gurve bja jevgvat naq erpbeqvat cebprffrf va gurve cbfg-cebwrpg ersyrpgvbaf.

Yrg zr pevgvdhr guvf sebz n fyvtugyl qvssrerag natyr.&aofc; Cyrnfr urniraf, nyjnlf or irel pnershy jura lbh hfr fghqrag erfcbafr gung nterrf jvgu gurve pynff vafgehpgbe'f cbvag bs ivrj gb fhccbeg vagebqhpvat n cenpgvpr vagb gur pynffebbz.&aofc; Jung, fghqragf jvyy vagreanyvmr jung lbh grnpu gurz?!&aofc; Abj vs lbh unir fghqragf gung pna, jvgubhg rkprcgvba, vagreanyvmr jung lbh'ir tvira gurz nsgre univat tvivat gur gbcvp gehr pevgvpny gubhtug, V'z vzcerffrq.&aofc; Gung vf gb fnl, vg fvzcyl qbrfa'g unccra.

Sbe "nqinapr pbzcbfvgvba fghqragf" guvf qbrfa'g fbhaq yvxr n cnegvphyneyl cbbe nffvtazrag, lrg V'q fgvyy yvxr gb xabj zber nobhg gur tbnyf bs gur pynff nf Zvpuryyr vf pbaprvivat vg.&aofc; Vg fbhaqf yvxr vgf tbnyf zvtug or glcvpnyyl npnqrzvp (tbbq!), jvgu rzcnufvf ba vqragvgl naq phygheny fghqvrf, rafhevat gung jura fghqragf pbzcbfr npnqrzvpnyyl (be va gubfr sbehzf jurer gur jevgvat nccebnpurf npnqrzvp -- obbx erivrjf, rqvgbevnyf, cbyvgvpny genpgf, rgp) gung gurl guvax pevgvpnyyl naq vapyhfviryl.&aofc; Jung qb/qvq gur genqvgvbany nffvtazragf ybbx/rq yvxr?&aofc; Jung qvq jr tvir hc gb chg svyz vagb gur pbzcbfvgvba pynffebbz?&aofc; Jul vf vg zber vzcbegnag gb yrnea gb hfr vZbivr naq ZbivrZnxre guna BcraBssvpr be NovJbeq?&aofc; Ubj vf guvf "orggre" guna grnpuvat gur fbeg bs perngvir jevgvat jr pna svaq va fbzrguvat yvxr Tynmvre'f Qvtvgny Cbrgvpf gung jbhyq unir fghqragf rkcrevzrag va fvzvyne pbaihygrq jnlf jvgu grkg?&aofc; Juvpu vf zber genaterffvir (nffhzvat genaterffvba tvirf gur cbffvovyvgl sbe oebnqravat vagryyrpghny ubevmbaf)?&aofc; rgp&aofc; V'z abg n ovt sna bs, "Guvf vf pbby.&aofc; V guvax lbh fubhyq grnpu vg."&aofc; Jr'er zvffvat n fgrc be gjb.&aofc; "Guvf vf pbby.&aofc; Gurfr ner gur bcgvbaf.&aofc; [Qvfphff, vapyhqvat vqragvslvat jung'f ybfg ol sbyybjvat gur fhttrfgvba.]&aofc; Gung'f jul lbh fubhyq pbafvqre grnpuvat jung V cebcbfr."

"Jung ner lbh vagrerfgrq va Arj Zrqvn?&aofc; V unir ab pubvpr."&aofc; Avpr.&aofc; UBJ BYQ VF SVYZ?!!!!&aofc; Ogj, bzt, er:OREGUN, V YBIR Furely Pebj.&aofc; Fur'f tbg n serr ivqrb qbjaybnq ba vGharf evtug abj.&aofc; Naq Fgneohpxf?&aofc; V ybir zr fbzr Fgneohpxf.&aofc; V'z fgbccvat abj.

"Pragmatically, because I don't own a car." ;^)

Monday, October 27, 2008

IRBs and the [unjustifiable] limits of academic freedom?

From Clay Spinuzzi's blog:

Alas, no. Because any self-respecting institutional research board would balk at raw qualitative data being stored on a machine or server that is not owned and properly secured by the university. My IRB, for instance, specifies that data must be password-protected and stored on a hard drive that is encrypted at rest.

Let's first admit that I'm taking this quote out of context. Spinuzzi is considering using a "clouded system" (my quote) for aggregating qualitative data -- essentially storing data in a space like Google Docs. We had some discussion about this sort of ethical issue when we thought about putting grades in a Google Doc spreadsheet. Can you really ensure its protection? As I pointed out with Google's inability to protect anonymous blogs on Blogger, the answer is clearly no, both in theory and practice.

Though I wrote the blog post too quickly, without editing carefully enough (which is to say I've a misprint in the part he quotes *sigh*), B.r.e.n.d.a.n. R.i.l.e.y. (for whom Google Alerts provided the digital version of burning ears; I'm fudging his name here so he won't feel compelled to check this out until I'm done editing this time!) commented on my earlier blog on intellectual ownership. He and Laurie Taylor wrote the article I linked to earlier that does a very good job explaining open source from an academic context.

Here's an overly liberal quote from his blog.

This attitude does depend, as ruffin seems to acknowledge, on an idea that one must give up one’s claims on “intellectual property,” at least to some degree. He writes:

Others can still use your content to teach for pay. Your dean could still throw fifteen sections of the class on the books using your open content without asking, and now he could do it even if your university doesn’t claim to own the materials by virtue of some esoteric server ownership pact with the devil.

Yep, they can! (Only in Higher Ed would we find this scandalous at all. If you work in any other industry and produce something as part of your work, the company is expected to take that thing and do stuff with it. The folks who came up with the Nike swoosh got paid for doing so, but they don’t maintain rights over it. My cousin who works in biomedical engineering certainly doesn’t expect to keep her research or control it. Only teachers argue that their teaching materials are anything other than “work for hire.”)

I could see feeling a little chagrined if someone started making bucketloads of money from them, but ultimately my teaching materials are another form of my scholarship–they’re what I’m contributing back to the commons. And our culture is so wedded to the idea that we own our ideas that the idea of losing control of those ideas makes us revolt.

My contention with B.r.e.n.d.a.n. and now the powers that be as I've selectively quoted them from Spinuzzi's blog comes from the quote, "stored on a machine or server that is not owned and properly secured by the university". Why is that -- university ownership -- an issue? Why should IRBs force us to keep our information within the university? Whose research is it?

Look, my issue here is the corporate university, right? There's not much I'm trying to hide. I'm actually all for Open Source and giving away scholarship. I think that's the daggum point, after all. What I'd hoped to point out in that earlier blog was that Open Sourcing something doesn't provide some idealistically pure level of protection, and that we should be awfully careful that we understand how Open works before adopting it ourselves. Even though we make an end run around copyright, your academic labor can still be exploited in ways that make Corporation U proud.

What I dislike is the way the university continues to place itself between scholarship and the public paying for it. I'm not working in "any other industry". I've worked in a few of those, and I'd prefer to work in a protected space outside of that system, a space that performs as a check and balance on the system that'd rather own my work and run it through a profit maximization machine than share it unconditionally. Working at the government, the amount of pork redistribution -- and the degree that such redistribution of public funds to the private sector was used as a register of success -- drove me crazy in a similar fashion. Strangely enough, working at a mid-sized corporation was the most honest work environment I've yet seen. At least they admitted they were just trying to make [every] buck, bless their hearts.

That the university might be using the discourse of ethics to position themselves between the scholar and his patrons (the public, thank you very much, at least at NC State and, I believe, Spinuzzi's UT Austin) bothers me like you wouldn't believe. Blackbaud? For them (a corp), this would be a smart move, an understandable move, a justifiable move.

Only in Corporate U would ethics economics coming before scholarship not be found scandalous at all. Isn't it strange that the only sites that seem safe from this sort of influence, the ones in the humanities most ready to give to the public without serious compulsion, are the ones funded by private endowments or, surprisingly, Microsoft once the possibility for long-term profit is gone?

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

The loophole of the Creative Commons

Image from here, and image is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution license. Credits for image: Cartoon concept and design by Neeru Paharia. Original illustrations by Ryan Junell, Photos by Matt Haughey. Let's continue.

Because we all know Mr. Ezra would never let commercial influence breech the walls of his sacred classroom. NEVER. Nor would we.

When do we get those free sandwiches again?

As 704 continues to try to push us away from phat clients

Critiquing the Cyber Minimalist:

I've since been freed to use Gmail, and I'll never go back.

Only using Gmail is a pretty clear mistake for anyone whose work depends on their email.  There are times (for me, on the train or waiting in the car or when our DSL modem goes out, again) where having local copies is A Good Thing, both to search through and to draft replies in what would otherwise be dead time. Perhaps this author is better at compartmentalizing than me, but I would be pretty geographically limited if I could only use my laptop when I had a net connection, and the dependence you cede by counting on having not only a connection but working, accessible online applications has deeper political ramifications than the Minimalist seems to let on. There's a reason Microsoft's attempt to move Office to an online subscription model didn't take hold (yet).

Yes, I’m a Google freak, and others have problems trusting a company like Google, but I don’t.
I don’t actually do backups for the most part. All the companies I use to store my information online backup the information themselves.

I can think of two good reasons not to trust online storage services. 

The first is the most obvious: What happens when the system loses, oh, I don't know, just a few (maybe 3000?) users' emails?  Lots of egg, and they're really sorry, but you're the one that's stuck.  Or, more likely, what happens if Google loses, oh, I don't know, just a few of your emails?  You may not have noticed it already having happened, but once you try to get that [insert need along the lines of your last picture taken with your grandmother] back and it's gone ("Did I delete that on accident?"), you'll only have yourself to blame.

Perhaps it's the database admin in me, but I always say that if you don't have a digital file in at least three places, you don't have it at all.

The second is the way that services like Gmail and iTunes Genius use aggregated data about you and others to make those companies cash.  Your privacy is likely ensured, but that's because on some level neither company cares about you as an individual.  You're part of a revenue stream.  And your data, aggregated with others, allows them to predict your interests and use your own work to target you with more effective ads.

Let me emphasize that a bit:  Online services that the Cyber Minimalist mentions use your own work (content and time) to sell you more things you don't need.  They use your own work against you and others, without obvious compensation.  It's hard to imagine ourselves as potential rubes because of the sort of negative connotations it brings; only idiots buy snake oil, right?  I don't know about youse guys, but I'm guilty of buying NFL season tickets for three years, have a Playstation 2, buy a new Mac about every two or three years, and for a long time was a DirecTV subscriber -- and those are simply the most obvious transgressions.  Don't know that I need any of that oil, and probably wouldn't've gotten them without effective pitches of some sort.  I'd rather not contribute to consumerist capitalism's effective pitchmaking.  Yet I still use Gmail and iTunes Genius.  Fn Rube.

[Privacy] is a real issue for some people, and I won’t deny it. However, I don’t really think Google employees (or whatever company I’m using) have time to read through everyone’s files, and even if they read mine, I don’t have anything secret in my documents. If that’s an issue for you, for whatever reason, online work would be more difficult. You could encrypt files — maybe only those that you really want to protect.

Try encrypting your Gmail email. Think its content is still encrypted when you read it through Firefox? You don't think Firefox is decrypting it, do you? (Edit: Maybe it is.)

And more to the point, the Minimalist misses it here.  They don't want to read your email, dangit.  They want to create automated ways to data mine your content to help them sell to you and people like you.  Gmail is reading your email.  Not an employee but a database.  Why do you think I keep getting Gmail adverts for stories on ESPN and not Ladies' Home Journal?  (or is it the other way round; I can't remember...)  We're being mined, put to work without representation (or even middle management!) for the companies whose systems we're consuming.  BOOM!! HEADSHOT!!

Google CEO using your data against you
Having your own private data used against you and others for corporate profit is fearsome, no?

I'll end with this...

I should have had this in the original article, but here’s the key issue: if working online would be more complicated for you, don’t do it. For me, it has mean a simplification and minimalization of my computing life, and I really enjoy that minimalism. Others have more complicated needs, or have issues with privacy, backups, security or the quality of their connections. Those people shouldn’t use an online solution, as I do, because it would be more complicated for them. And that’s the final test — what is simpler and makes more sense for your situation?

Yeah, I get it.  There's some proverbial American Intellectual Independence style intertextuality here, isn't there?

Still we live meanly, like ants; though the fable tells us that we were long ago changed into men; like pygmies we fight with cranes; it is error upon error, and clout upon clout, and our best virtue has for its occasion a superfluous and evitable wretchedness.  Our life is frittered away by detail.  An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump the rest.  Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity!  I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb-nail.

I really don't see Henry David lighting out for the woods saying we should cyborg ourselves inextricably to the corporate and consumerist grid as an exercise in simplicity.  I believe, in the end, the Minimalist may be confusing simplicity with willful, un-self-critical shortsightedness.

Update edit: So I emailed a Thoreau scholar to see if I'd misrepresented Thoreauvian simplicity. Here's my Gmail ad post-email.

It's enough to move a lesser man to tears. (And when I say lesser, I mean, you know, like under 200 lbs.)

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Alexander, revisited more productively

For me, the most effective critique of Alexander’s chat room experiment (beyond simply saying that there really wasn’t much digital in the chapter) was Shane’s, who, in class, if I’m remembering and attributing correctly, said the activity was something akin to identity tourism.  Seems to work for me; there’s simply no way that students who can put down their state of oppression at will can truly inhabit that marginalized position, online or no.  The critique got me thinking, and by briefly substituting labor for identity, I think I've found a better way to productively approach Alexander, both on the level of his politics and his engagement with digital media.

So while I’m back, workin' at the house-based sweat equity I'd mentioned a week ago (this time filling Boss Keane’s ditch rather than digging it), I wondered to what degree the sorry six hours I spend on my lot every weekend or so measured on Shane's ladder of the laboring tourist.  Is my labor false because I’m paying the guy who told me this was a job I could do for him?  That is, if I wanted to mail it in, I’d just pay him a few hundred more bucks to find a trencher and tell [ie, "pay"] one of his employees to follow it.  In the grand scheme of things, that's not a crudload of dough, right?  And I'd just be rolling those few hundred into the construction loan; it's not like I had to earn the money.  Ah, vive le privilège.

It seemed to me like there are give or take two ways to approach my labor (and this house jive seems to be heavy  on my mind largely because it's several hours that I don't have much to do with my mind but think).  On the one hand, I am a tourist.  The few hours I put in are nothing like someone putting in fifty hour weeks.  I'm working once or twice a week, and even then when something more important comes up I have an easy out if I want to use it (for the record, I haven't, yet).

On the other hand, the point of unalienating labor is to point out (in an oversimplified sense) what's wrong with the way labor is marshaled now.  I'm being more productive than I would be if I spent the time like I'd normally do -- running -- and perhaps there's an argument in here somewhere that those who do this sort of labor for their fifty hour weeks aren't being fairly compensated (meaning both salary and socially in a larger sense).  What the exercise, pun intended, does is expose the ways our (well, at least "my") relationship with labor can be improved.  (Yes, I realize I'm lazily leaving those lessons unnecessarily vague.  I'm not sure I understand all of them yet, thus the dimestore Marxist label.)

Extend to Alexander's experiment with his chat room class exercise.  If he'd twist the goal a bit (and, from our class' point of view, move from the emphasis on two specific sexualities to a broader social consideration), the chat room suddenly becomes much more interesting.  Instead of saying, "Hey, let's flip social dominance and see what it's like to be different... [cue music]", he instead can ask how the ability to negotiate identity in virtual space changes the way that identity can be enacted and controlled.  And here with Alexander's chat room, I'd, like Ruffin-digging, see two very different possibilities crop up.  Either the virtual identity eternally delays the requirement of "coming out" (what I'd call "owning") an identity by restricting its performance to a safe space (and here I'd include both primary sexual social performances and secondary, like those students that find they are suddenly comfortable with flaming) or it provides an alternative conception to retroactively apply to conventional space.  That is, outside of the "computer classroom," a couple of uses or lessons of the chat room present themselves.  One is for those with oppressed identity politics to limit the performance of their [natural/true/etc] identity for virtual tourist spots themselves.  The way the 'net enables such confrontation-avoidance/virtual closet space is an unavoidable lesson, much to Alexander's chagrin.

The second, more accepting lesson is to allow the exercise to not to flip positions and create a new hierarchy of privilege (Alexander's intended but potentially short-sighted goal), but to see what's wrong with the way identity is marshaled now.  Online, there does seem to be the possibility of conceiving identity differently, thanks to 1.) a perception of anonymity, which provides a previously unexperienced degree of identity control and 2.) Alexander's until now unrelated point of how easy it is in cyberspace to find information about what was conventionally easily suppressed, which provides a previously unexperienced potential for [shared] identity formation (I think Nick's reference proves this point fairly well).  In practice, the lesson is perhaps essentially libertarian, and doesn't completely fulfill Alexander's politics of liberation.  Regardless, this is a more productive reading of his experiment, and I believe it does a better job of moving towards the sort of [digital-dependent] lesson his chapter was attempting to display and provides better, more productive guidance for those who might want to use the exercise for their own classrooms.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Alexander on Closets and Networks

(Note: I doubt Brendon's reading, but if you are, I appreciate the link and will respond just as soon as I put a few more assignments to bed. *sigh*)

Okay, let's get something up earlier than later...

There seem to be two clear ways to respond to and critique Jonathan Alexanders "Out of the Closet and into the Network". The first is to enter, by virtue of the topic, into a political discussion about the disservice he does to identity politics by assuming that the set of "all students" can be split into two neat categories -- "both gay and straight" (216). You can have any color you like, as long as it's one of my two favorites. The second is to point out the clear appropriation of the ostensible topic of this collection. There's nothing about computers or digital media in here beyond the possibility of chat rooms enabling/lowering the barriers to a specific style of role-playing exercise.

I'll concentrate on the second critique, that there's no strong connection to computers in the classroom, as it's the least controversial. Before I do, though, so as not to shy away from the hot button topic, let me say that there's good reason Alexander's subconscious can't let go of the criticism from "the student who accused me of 'promoting sexuality'" (209, 216). If sexuality is constructed, the rhetorical classroom, made up of, I assume, students who are not primarily interested in studying identity politics, could just as appropriately benefit from a study of the construction of what we might label "hedonistic heteronormality". Why are there social pressures to latch to a member with whom one can most likely reproduce? Yet if heterosexual monogamy is so strongly socially promoted, why is it so often undercut in practice? What are the appararatus[es? ii?] of sexual normalization? Who do they benefit and why? If these socially reinforced practices are so natural, why is there such a long and complicated tradition of laws forbidding acts that do not comform? (Hello, Leviticus, but more helpfully divorce law in Deuteronomy and elsewhere, iirc, in the Pentateuch.) And, if you want to put the hedonistic spin on things, why does sex sell, and furthermore, why continue sell with sex? Why isn't marriage simply about reproduction and protection [in a very practical sense] of those wonderful machines of controllable labor, your own flesh and blooded hoodlums? Get to scythin', girls (hint: start about 24 seconds in and stop soon thereafter, according to taste, though her swinging it over her head on top of a tractor around 6:30 is an interesting political image).

Allow your students to discover the controlling ideology and the ways they already contest it, and have that discovery invite the consideration of the multiplicity of sexual practice outside of that same normalization. Guess what? They'll "discover" homosexuality soon enough. Putting homosexuality as point two in the contestation (1.) Normalization 2.) Consideration of homosexuality 3.) Hope that the lesson exposes the multiplicity of sexual roles Butler's "Lesbian Phallus", among others, suggests) instead of third (1.) Explain normalization 2.) Find ways you and other contest normalization 3.) Discover antidisestblishmentarianism positions) is like forcing a kid to dress up in 18th century garb and prance around Williamsburg for Labor Day because your parents enjoy that sort of thing. Ah, but now my own politics and personal identity crises are becoming too obvious. ;^) (And lest you think I make light of identity politics, recall that my MA project was on Cotton Mather.) Don't have students ask themselves "Will you try to turn gay?" Ask them, "How are you already !heterosexual?"

So let's move on. I'd be happy to talk about the way personal politics can all too easily influence composition courses in ways that invite ethical interrogation ad infinitum. Suffice to say Alexander is exposing a certain flavor of politics that is open to critique in ways he neither addresses or even completely admits. The following critique of the erasure of the topic of the collection in which he publishes may very well be -- and I'd suggest likely is to some degree -- another symptom of a not critical enough politics. Ruffin's non-stop mantra: Own your bias.

(Heard outside office, one prof to another: "I really enjoyed the kind of press you're picking up." *sigh* I guess that's good.)

Part 2 in progress...

Okay, I've spent too long already. Let's wrap up the second critique very quickly. I'm surprised that Alexander begins describing the benefits of a "computerized classroom" but then says that its benefits are "information, voice, and community". Is the classroom producing the very inexactly measured "sheer amount of material about homsexuality on the Internet" (211, 208) [1]? No. No it's not.

Practically speaking the computerized classroom in this piece is only affording a virtual space with the possibility of creating pseudo-anonymous facades for the homonormative (please, remove the knee-jerk negative connotations of normative activities. You're already teaching folks how to write or speak the Queen's Bernanke's English for heaven's sake) role-playing assignment on pages 213-216.

Or is the goal of allowing social repercussionless (minimized repercussions?), convention-deconstructing role-play the only use of computers for Alexander, or even the primary one?

There are some telltale comments in the chapter about surveillance that deserve recognition. "In examining the transcripts" (213) and "analyzed the transcripts, a procedure that should be de rigueur as it allows everyone to become aware of assumptions made during a conversation" show us what's really happening. Instead of losing "conversation" to the academic ether, we're, via computers in and enabling the classroom, capturing each word, creating audit trails for discovering, identifying, constructing (that is our goal, right, to discover construction? What, we're suddenly immune in this exercise?) bias. Computers don't just lower the barriers to entry for taking on new personae and roles, but allow us, the instructors, to silently capture, manipulate, and represent texts to further our own ends -- our professional speciality. The poor saps never saw it coming. Heck, they probably think shrink wrap EULAs are binding and still ignore them. Lemmings, them and us both. You think "gay and lesbian lives are socially monitored and proscribed" (213)? Try an online composition student's. "It is just where we think our personal lives are most natural and untouched by outside forces that we are most blind to the ways in which our society has conditioned us to think about ourselves and understand our identities." (211)

I'd love to make that a more nuanced critique, but I've spent waaay too long already. See you in class.

Now playing: The Chieftains & Sinéad O'Connor - The Foggy Dew
via FoxyTunes

[1] Look, there's s#!tloads of material on the Atari 2600. Units of measurement, please.

You Scored as Stan Marsh

You're Stan Marsh! Probably the sanest of the group, you're the mastermind behind the good plans and can easily resolve problems. To you love is amazing, and you're probably already in it. You can be a smart ass and don't have a problem saying what's on your mind. And you're probably an activist. Dude, this is pretty f#&ked up right here.

Stan Marsh
Kyle Broflovski
Eric Cartman
Kenny McCormick

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Yes, I get the irony...

... of making my idealistic pronouncements today while wearing a Redskins 2007 NFC Wild Card t-shirt. We all have our failings. I wear mine, well, not proudly. It's more neurotically. But I own it, dangit.

In other news, I finally got the double meaning of the title of the film, Burn After Reading. I'm kinda slow.

Wow, CCCC, Collin's right; this *is* wack.

Collin Brooke's blog turned me on to this bizarre job description from the cccc.

The Conference on College Composition and Communication (CCCC) is seeking applications from CCCC members for a new position as CCCC Web Editor (to be distinguished from CCC Online Archivist). The CCCC Web Editor’s term will be three years (non-renewable) beginning as soon as possible after the application deadline and ending in December of 2011. This is a volunteer position.

Actual programming or Web building is not required. Instead, the CCCC Web Editor will have the responsibility of orchestrating uses of new Web building structures made available in the coming months (e.g., blogs, Wikis, Face Book and so on), moderating new community spaces, publishing relevant information, and working with NCTE/CCCC to develop a stronger Website with new features. We anticipate that after the initial restructuring period, no more than 5 to 10 hours per month will be required of the Web Editor's time.


5-10 hours, no html experience necessary, but you're a "web editor" that has to "orchestrate" "blogs, Wikis, Face Book [sic] and so on"? Fries with all that?

And so on? Ftw, yo? This is ill-conceived (a real tone down from what I wrote the first time).

Blog on Open source? Seriously? Don't get me started.

(Warning: Unspellchecked)

EDIT: I really should add that overall I really enjoyed the readings, and agree with them just a few steps away from wholeheartedly. My reservations I, as usual, placate via contestate[-tion] below. I mean, what's not to like about someone finally brave enough to say, "Ironically, the outrage here is not so much about not getting paid for shared knowledge, it’s the infuriating notion that someone else is getting paid." (Reilly Williams 73). This is exactly the point I sideswipe when I wonder if state supported schools should be considered not for profit today.

The problem is that such a statement is followed by this:
We just want to make absolutely sure that no one else makes a dime either. The licensing structure of the GNU operation system, General Public License (GNU GPL), seems tailor-made for such a cause.

Right. Red Hat doesn't make any money from Linux, right? If your course content is licensed under something similar to the GPL, the GNU project encourages other to sell it!

Many people believe that the spirit of the GNU project is that you should not charge money for distributing copies of software, or that you should charge as little as possible — just enough to cover the cost.
Actually we encourage people who redistribute free software to charge as much as they wish or can. If this seems surprising to you, please read on.

Others can still use your content to teach for pay. Your dean could still throw fifteen sections of the class on the books using your open content without asking, and now he could do it even if your university doesn't claim to own the materials by virtue of some esoteric server ownership pact with the devil.

The comparison needs a push back towards accuracy, and that's my major complaint with today's readings. We should strive for precision and for getting our logic just right, or we lose stakeholders in the procurement process who can see those logical holes. A lack of understanding often creates excuses for dismissal, and fair labor politics in the classroom is too important to get wrong./EDIT

So we're building a house.  When I leave Raleigh each week, once I step off of the Silver Service, I'm back to being family man, and part of that is my agreement to put as absolutely much sweat equity into the house as my wife and contractor can stand.  Last weekend, the job was digging a 12" ditch about 200' to put in a water line, which we'll need to put in our driveway access' concrete, if we ever get a permit.  Note to everyone:  Building house != non-stop fun.

Not only did the digging make it easier to go without a computer for one of my two days, it allowed me to think a bit about labor practices in these here USes.  Last week, I heard Dr. Packer go on a mini-rant about how middle class (and up) society views labor.  To oversimp, it's okay to pay a gym for the right to run and bike, but to grab a shovel and, oh, say, dig a ditch is day laborer work.  Who would stoop so low? (and so freakin' many times.  Sheesh.  It is real work.)  But, again, the obvious upshot is that instead of being left with an end result less temporary than working off that last Big Mac, people pay for their labor to burn into the air.  Instead of growing vegetables, we pay to air condition spin classes.

So when Joe Neighbor ran by, and obviously averted his eyes from me after being curious as heck up until we got into eye contact personal space, or Joe Neighbor II on his roller blades, or Joe Neighbor III who was walking, or Joe Neighbor IV on his bike... Or Joe and Jane Neighbor V-C that slowed down their SUV to take a peak on the way in, a few obviously having gotten in the car just to watch the show, I couldn't help but lament the accuracy of Packer's words.  I mean, I wouldn't expect any help, but why not?  At what point did we lose the raising the barn social mentality and substitute it for an inability to do so much as engage our soon to be neighbor solely because of guilt over our motivation?  (To clarify, we bought a residential outparcel give or take across from a pretty nice development's amenities center.  My guess is most of the folk thought their HOA owned my lot.  Whoops.  Seriously, though, folk, we're good people.  I swear.)

I'm dovetailing this computerless experience and consideration of labor practices into our discussion today about open source, bringing what's missing from my sorry ditch-digging (my computer, which now that I'm not gaming I really don't miss so much on the weekends) and reintegrating with heat-induced Marxist daydreams.

There are certain myths about the power of free software, and some apparently misunderstandings about its characteristics.  Though Reilly and Williams mean well (and the sources they site for the history of OSS are well selected; I can personally vouch for Brendan Riley and Laurie Taylor as particularly good people, even if they are from the SEC, and their article at the earlier link (cited by Reilly and Williams) is a good intro to OSS as concept.)

Furthermore, open-source technologies facilitate a commitment to open-content, making the knowledge and information contained within and delivered by technologies, such as course management software and web sites, available to all. (Reilly & Williams 69)

There's nothing particular about open source that enables open content, beyond knowing that on no level will others be required to purchase licensed software to access it.  Microsoft Word saves to Rich Text, and rich text can be opened by a number of applications, like AbiWord or OpenOffice, that are, themselves, open source software solutions.  It's not like Microsoft claims copyright over your work because you composed in Word.  Open content can come equally easily from open source and open content.

We should also clarify what it means to be open source.  Apple, for instance, releases code for some applications or libraries but maintains copyright control over what's done with that software in ways that the GPL, for instance, doesn't. (TODO: citify)

I'm going to slap in a quick critique of part of Stolley, a few more point by points to Reilly and Williams with related rants, and then call it a blog post.  I could rant all day... which would be fine if I didn't throw away my days digging ditches.

A few claims regarding OSS miss the mark.  Here's one from Stolley that I'll pursue ad nauseum.

Lo-fi production technologies are stable and free. They consist of and/or can retrograde to:

  1. Plain text files (.txt, .xml, .htm, .css, .js, etc.)
  2. Plain text editors (Notepad, TextEdit, pico/nano, vi, etc.)
  3. Standardized, human-readable forms of open languages expressed in plain text (XML, XHTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc.)
  4. Single-media files (image, audio, video) in open formats

Despite their humble, decades-old base technology (plain text), innovative uses of lo-fi technologies can be remarkably hi-fi, as in the case of AJAX (whose most famous application may be Google’s Gmail service).

Okay, no, no AJAX is not plain text.  AJAX requires a browser that supports a slew of technologies.  Here's the list, stolen from our olde standby, Wikipedia.

The entry at the 'pedia goes on to do a good job saying how a few of these aren't absolute necessities (you could use IFrames instead of XMLHttpRequest, but we all knew that, right?  I used to use an invisible, zero-pixel frame in a frameset).

What's important is that you can't play with AJAX without a certain level of browser functionality, and even then the applications have to be written to shoot for those browser.  Here's a list of AJAX sys reqs from

A [typical guideline is: Internet Explorer 5+ for Windows, Firefox 1+, Mozilla 1+, Safari 1.2+, Opera 7.6+. Other browsers such as Netscape and Konqueror might be considered too. Whether you'll support all these browsers, or just a subset, depends on how important the diversity is, how much expertise or library support you have, and how much time you can devote to testing.

You can write code with Ajax, but that doesn't mean it'll work on each of those browsers.  Take Gmail from Stolley's examples.  Until about a month ago, Gmail didn't provide full functionality for Internet Explorer 6.  No, seriously.  IE6.  As in 22% of all browser hits in Sept 2008.  Don't believe me?  Take the "epic fail" from the Webmonkey:

It’s great to see these two giants get along, isn’t it? When not firing antitrust accusations at each other, the two found time to improve the ancient Internet Explorer 6. Google helped Microsoft identify JavaScript performance issues that was holding the browser back from running thelatest and greatest Gmail features.

So please, don't tell me AJAX is plain text.  Can I use a text editor to compose AJAX?  I can, and do.  But can you experience AJAX with a text editor?  Absofookinlootly not.  Can I even test what I've written with a text editor?  No.  Stolley's statement is a specious claim, and this bothers me precisely because his readers shouldn't be expected to know better.  This is Kairos, after all.  They're supposed to be teaching their audience about tech, not misleading them.  It pains me greatly, as you can tell.

I think, finally, Stoller's lofi movement misses the point and tries to stop the changes of digital composition at a place of minimal remediation. Even though I love plain text email, prefer SQL to JDO, and think every web app should degrade gracefully, the lofi manifesto shoots too low (and is, at best, misinformed about the power of lofi standards).

Though look, there's something crucial to take away from Stolley: We need academic platforms that don't come with built-in obsolescence. I like to point to the One Laptop Per Child laptop as a possible model. It's my hope that the only serious changes that occur here are fixes to make software bug-free, or to increase networking ability, etc. I hope the hardware platform doesn't succumb to what is, at this point, a largely inane chase for Moore's Law and programmers more than happy to follow along in suit.

Plain text isn't the answer. No current platform or standard is the answer, yet. Again, we need academic programmers to identify professional needs, write software and specs with an acceptably academic political inflection (ie, outside of capitalistic pressures), and ensure the platforms created don't have the built-in obsolescence consumer capitalism counts on and requires.

(back to Reilly and Williams)

To put it bluntly, individuals
and open-source organizations use OSS to promote ideals, while corporations and institutions
use it to cut costs. (71)

-- well, of course.  For-profit corporations do like to maximize profits, bless their hearts.  It's the goal of OSS coders to harness the power of these corporations for Good.  See exhibits Mozilla (thanks AOL), OpenOffice (thanks Sun), KHTML (thanks Apple and Google), Eclipse (thanks IBM), Linux (thanks Red Hat, IBM, Debian, YellowDog, etc etc.etc.)... you get the picture, right?

What is a "nonprofit university" anyway (71)?  Can you be a state supported school and nonprofit today?  In practice, we're trending towards no.

Instead, due to time constraints, inadequate technical expertise, and institutional mandates, both proactive and implied, many instructors select commercial courseware—such as Blackboard andWebCT—when teaching their distance-learning courses. (69)

we found that “ease of use” was cited over social, political, or even pedagogical concerns as one of the primary reasons for choosing a particular application or delivery method for distance courses. (72)

This is the issue of OSS, isn't it?  Programmers are very good, in my experience, at writing backends for fun.  The zeroes and ones fascinate.  Non-specialist human interaction (that is, people using the applications without, let's say, a literacy level equal to the authors; aka "people who need GUIs") doesn't create the same feelings of fascination.  If Linux were better than Windows in every way, what do you think Dell would put on its hardware?  There are gaps, and Linux, last I checked, was still difficult enough to access relative to Windows that I haven't yet switched, and I'd consider myself fair political when it comes to software use.  Until OSS can be as easy to use within an academic ecosystem as Windows or Mac minus the benefit of "political and social values associated with technology", it's not going to be used.  Academic OSS must compete with commercial alternatives.  There's no way around it.  We require academic programmers. (In my limited experience, self-identified "academic programmers" very often have some serious practical limitations.  All too often "academic programmer" means "code dabbler with an agenda").

PS: Shankar: You don't get to portmanteau "sprite".

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Sircular, Out of the Box Reasoning

First, a quick aside. I didn't see a good post to add this to as a comment, but below is a sample database schema, and not even a particularly complicated one (click to enlarge).

Leaves me wondering if Johnson-Eilola wasn't misrepresenting a database-as-only-connections a bit. Let's go a step further. What's a database minus the fragmented words? It's a structure for those words (in a poststructuralist sense). If a database depended on the existence of specific words, how could it anticipate new ones? That is, a database is a schema that is created to maximize the efficiency when you search its contents. Other applications might parse words on the web into the schema, but the schema remains the same. Combined with its engine, the database is a process which is not content specific. etc.

But I was a database administrator in another life. Let's move on...

(Ah, if I'd been the first to use the horrible pun in the title. Poor guy. I can relate to having folks use your name in what seems to them to be horribly creative ways which really aren't at all if you've been keeping tabs, well, all of your life... Picture stolen from here without permission, but it doesn't look like he bothered either.)

I have always enjoyed reading Geoffrey Sirc (an online pub somewhat similar to this one is "Stagolee as Writing Instructor"), and this chapter was no exception. Yet instead of starting in on the obvious experimental format of the piece, I'd like to launch directly into the jarringly abrupt shift in his argument that occurs a few pages into his "Activities" section, where we read...

... my challenge, I feel, is to have these young people burnish not anthologized writers' essays but their own form of powerful pensee, while, certainly, at the same time learning some kind of basic prose styling to help them avoid verbial pitfalls in formal settings. (128 emph obviously mine -R)

The shift from the theoretical near-hyperbole to wholly practical gave me whiplash, honestly. The admission of such pedestrian (overstatement) considerations inserts an entirely new, not particularly obvious pedagogical subtext to the chapter-proper that came before it. When reading it, page 123 in particular, for some reason, I littered the margins with questions of these pragmatics -- but not complicated ones. They were often, rather, extremely brief questions revealing near disbelief of the disconnectedness of Sirc's theory with the assumed practice.

Sirc QuoteConfused Marginalia
Arrangement of materials and notational jottings is a desperately important compositional skill.
Archiving such work in boxes on the internet would allow others to study and re-arrange our student's notational scribbles, in much the same way Suquet couldn't wait to get in and re-arrange Duchamp's scribbled notes from The Green Box.
Caesura--the stylistic device most absent in our cirricula.

Each of these quick scratches is loaded with follow-ups. What are the politics of his suggestions? What sort of academy does Sirc envision? Is it really a surprise that caesura doesn't have a firmer spot in our instruction? What is the use of a "compositional future" that can foreground "intellectual fascination" and the "idio-aesthetic" to the point of eclipsing conventional writing? And now that we know that pragmatics do figure prominently in his conception, the politics are that much more difficult to identify.

For me, his continued use of the curiosity cabinet (116 (bottom), 125 ("curio cabinet"), 126 (generally; here museums) as a central metaphor speaks to these politics. The curiosity cabinet, though it may have contained what seems like trash and found objects to today's viewer and did, on occasion, literally contain "animal and bird shit" (118), was not an exercise in "childlike modes of acquisition" (unless you play the progressivist science card) but colonization and imperialism. They were, instead, a means of replicating a colonial mastery overseas through a largely symbolic recreation of that mastery at home. The cabinets were a sort of Discovery Channel of the 15th through 17th centuries, allowing one to, through the presentation of hummingbird eggs, fossils, plant clippings (growing colonial species in one's garden was a similar fad representing control and hierarchical superiority of civilization over savage lands in the 16-1800s) and other artifacts that were in fashion. The cabinets were meant to quickly represent and recreate the impression of the vastness of the British Empire (and others'), not provide a ludic outlet for its collectors.

You can still see a little of this unquestioned acceptance of colonization in Sirc's use and recommendation of commercial software like Word, Powerpoint, and Dreamweaver, when each has easy to find, mature analogs in FOSS software (say Abiword, OpenOffice, and/or Seamonkey's Composer or Amaya). Can one forward an argument that Sirc's eventual interest in stopping short of an academics for the same motivation as the Cornell's box art reflects the degree that education-as-professionalization has eliminated education-for-intellectualism? Is there anything but the corporate university? (And if you followed me over the edge on that jump of logic, congratulations on your comprehension skills. I'm not sure I can follow it from that poorly written section.) Sirc's classroom, condoning the breakdown of the corporate/academic divide each time he sends students to Word, becomes a bizarre self-contradiction, and I don't mean in some salvageable heterotopic sense.

I'm also confused by what seems a clear contraction: Privileging "Any composition or work that cannot be reproduced in standard sheet form or cannot be reproduced at all" (Hendricks quoted, 118) while at the same time lauding the opportunity to "the ability to archive the mysterious wealth of the quotidian verbalscape" (123, "archiving" also on 124, about 17 lines up) which the binary medium's ability to accurately and infinitely reproduce enables. There seems to still be a naivete of how digital media works here. The introduction to Sign Here!: Handwriting in the Age of New Media (Neef et al) cleverly identifies that the typewriter's standardization of script "shifted the emphasis to the standardization of script, but it may even have increased the notion of authenticity associated with handwriting" (8). Cornell's boxes seem to have some of the same characteristics of "authenticity" that Sirc's digital box art lacks by virtue of its medium.

Ever since the invention of and spread of moveable type in modern times and of the typewriter in the late-19th century, the idiosyncracsy of manual writing has given way to standardized, replicable, power-driven letters produced by machines. (Sign Here! 7)

I believe the lessons extend to Sirc's suggested connection of Cornell box to the html eBox as well.

There's also the danger of his line of reasoning opening itself up to a critique of attempting to creating a discultural elite, a haute couture to compositional weaving. What precisely is the place of this "aesthetic of the cool"?

I'm caught wondering why his chapter is itself so conventional, and believe we are meant, perhaps, to consider the audience: Composition instructors that don't yet "get it", whatever it is, exactly. There are small pranks of convention in the chapter that don't retard comprehension by design; the pranks are so small as to be only noticed, and serve as a pain-free introduction to the feel, if not the practice, of what Sirc argues.

There are interesting lessons here, both the activities, (which seem excellently conceived and do seem to argue their usefulness on their faces) as well as in theory (the web, as currently situated, is particularly well-crafted for realizing "the potential for such open-ended text" where "no draft is ever finished," or at least not necessarily finished (120), nor is there a particularly good reason that web content needs "meet the standards of text in print" (Applen quoted on 120)). Sirc's approach, as experimental and unconventional as it might be, can be hooked into composition instruction through these openings, and be used to represent a feel rather than a process, thereby becoming useful pedagogical tools. Doing so, however, requires something of a paradigm shift in the primary purpose of instruction in composition, and such an instructional style is one that's become less and less popular over time due to a much different (or, in the case of wundercabinets, the same?) pragmatics.

I'm tired now. I have more ranting, but I think that's plenty for our blogs, right? Welcome to the ever enjoyable world of Ruffin's paper writing. Take this shite and start editing into something that approaches comprehensible... *sigh*

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

And then there was Web 3.0

From EU will lead in 'Web 3.0' technology - Digital Lifestyle - Macworld UK:

European Telecommunications Commissioner Viviane Reding won glowing praise for her vision of the Internet 3.0 Monday from Vint Cerf, one of the creators of the Web and now Google's vice president and chief Internet evangelist.
'Web 3.0 means seamless 'anytime, anywhere' business, entertainment and social networking over fast reliable and secure networks. It means the end of the divide between mobile and fixed lines. It signals a tenfold quantum leap in the scale of the digital universe by 2015,' she said in a statement."

Quick, time to search and replace all your paper's references to Web 2.0 and update to version 3. And a "tenfold quantum leap"?!! Sheesh, somebody go get Bakula out of retirement. That's 10 to the 10th power, isn't it?

Seriously, Larry, this is what happens when you... Okay, I'll leave out the Lebowski reference this time.

But this is what happens when academics are uncritical in their acceptance of business slang. Suddenly, your work is obsoleted because some bigwig in business decided it was time. Tell me what's the difference between this conception of Web 3.0 and what you thought Web 2.0 could have become. No, really. Now, how much ink will be spilt by everyone trying to make 3.0 their own for no good reason other than a clever marketing push.

Stay away from industry when commenting on industry, folks!

Monday, September 29, 2008

The politics of directing traffic to online journals

In another class that I'm currently taking, the instructor is somewhat loath to have us access the articles that are available online in another format. Printing would not be any trouble once the article had been downloaded, but the emphasis is on ensuring that "the library has accurate data on journal usage in areas important to our programs".

My personal bias was to have [me move copies of] the articles on eReserve so that others wouldn't have to worry about issues with proxy firewalls that I'm experiencing, but the quick answer from the instructor was to forget it. No big deal, but it did get me to thinking...

This motivation/line of logic pretty clearly discourages reading journals in the hardcopy, if that's available. Each old-school visit to the periodicals areas unfairly (?) docks the journals a hit and download from the reading count, a list that's pretty important when DH Hill decides which online journal subscriptions to keep current -- proof here, as part of a serials review for 2006 at NCSU. If an journal accessible online isn't accessed, it's relatively likely to get chopped.

For me, there's something strange-bordering-on-sinister about a system that requires researchers' use of certain, carefully controlled gateways to maintain a journal's worth. One of my favorite uses for free time is to head over to the periodicals section and grab the latest issue or two of journals I think are pretty important, and to force myself to read them. I've long thought that for many of these journals with a very limited on-campus audience, it'd be more useful to have the faculty interested to pay for and keep their own local copy, yet I find myself bristling at the requirement of keeping very careful track of trends of academic research to determine what survives the cut, and to have my printed journal digestion count for naught.

The worst of this experience is seeing a relatively innocuous but real-world example how these systems of online publication are coercing NCSU faculty to manipulate student usage in order to give their favorite sources more hits. When most of the canceled journals had zero hits, I think padding a few with even a dozen can greatly skew the picture towards those journals used in classes, which does very actively encourage this sort of localized academic nepotism. The potential for this sort of nepotism only strengthens my aversion to online journal subscriptions. Sure, they're cheaper, but when you turn the facet off, guess what? Nobody gets to view the journals or, at best, you're forced to pay through the nose for ILL. It's as if the library staff had taken to the stacks and burned each copy of the journals we had paid for -- unless, of course, you're lucky enough to have had someone play and beat the system to keep your journal online.

This forced, total obsolescence and obliteration of a resource based on future economics (that is, a subscription now no longer guarantees that state of journal access in the future) again moves academia and education much closer to the tenants of consumerism than scholasticism.