After a Week Away

After a week away from this blog, as a writing space, a page, and a text, I find the writing a little tough to get back into. A range of topics present themselves—a post on the role of collacational phrases in the architecture of tag clouds, inspired by Collin's smart presentation at MLA; something else about auto-generated content features in computer mediated communication; a silly post about the conundrums created by being "out of network" when the phone rings; something else on my still-emergent semiotic theory of sub-iconic tattoos and body modification—but having not been writing here for about a week, none of those sound right.

What's nice about blogging, for me, is that a nothing post like this one is okay: call it pre-writing or just mere scribbling, it's legit in the form. Words for the sake of getting the ball rolling, creating momentum, or reconnecting with readers.

I found myself talking quite a bit this past week about my interest in impermanent and disposable writing, and though this post will be auto-archived (like the others), I'm guessing at some point it will get purged. I like thinking about disposable writing for a number of reasons, but the one that comes most to mind right now has to do with the way it highlights the immediate and situated instrumentality of transactional written discourse.

Which reminds me: Found Friday is a week behind!


Gender in Antagonism Narratives

For my spring seminar on discourse analysis, we'll be focusing on language and gender as a way of moving through various methodologies. On the first day, as a sort of intro-exercise, we'll watch a few antagonism narratives involving male/female couples. (BTW: I wouldn't say that antagonism and argument narratives are necessarily the same thing.)

As you'll see (below), the examples I've found are all highly produced, derive humor out of the antagonistic pairings (think "The Honeymooners"), and feature fairly codified roles and moves—all gendered.

After developing a structure for how these work, we'll watch one (which I won't post; gotta make it a surprise) featuring a "real" fight videotaped and posted to YouTube for analysts like us.


Recent Posts on MLA

Some recent blog posts about the upcoming MLA convention:

othhin writes about not "being thrilled" about interviewing for a job with a 4/4 teaching load: "why is there an inverse relationship between the focus on teaching and the quantity of the teaching load?"

Absurdist Paradise on the topic of interview question preparation: "I read somewhere that the 'dream course' question is a trick. It's not about the course you'd love to teach, but the one that fits in with their curriculum."

Don't Ask Me reminds us that more than interviews happen at the MLA ... in fact, some go to MLA to receive awards!

Happy Jihad's House of Pancakes posts a few job-search rejection letters along w/ insightful commentary.

Freixenet asks for stories about the convention ... and gets a LOT of them

PhD LadyBug gets super excited! about a call for an MLA interview, then asks the committee if a phone interview would be possible (due to the cost of going to MLA.) (caliban323 also talks about how expensive going to MLA can be.)

Itinerant Thinker posts about throwing in the towel on the academic job search: "There is one school that said it would be interviewing at MLA that I'm still interested in; they are three weeks past their "you'll hear by" deadline, and I'm not holding out much hope."

What now? and a few others talk about relying on the job search wiki for info.


Found Friday: Paper Weaving

As the found research team scurries off to vacation haunts and crowded conferences, we're doing something a little bit different here on Found Friday.

Below is a .mov version of a found-paper-project.

The bucket of register tapes in the first still was "found" at Goodwill in Portland (okay, I'll admit it: I paid $2 for the lot); the rest of the paper was "found" in various closets around my house.

Students in my upcoming "Composition Theory and Practice" course can rejoice in the fact that I have many spools of register tape left over, as reading response papers throughout the term will deal with various orders of constraint, a composition feature the spools, once distributed, will work perfectly to engender.


DIY Composition

Imakethings.com is a DIY extravaganza, a site that says not only do it yourself, but do it inventively and with style. DIY as extreme play, as sharing, as stylish game, as a way of thriving on creative inspiration.

The most recent must see is what the Guru of Make is calling a casemod (for "case modification"; fresh track).

In essence, in zany post-apocalyptic Seattle (read: after the big storm), instead of mourning the fallen trees and loss of power, the Guru of Make solders up a DIY USB power source that lives in a mint tin, solders up another DIY MP3 player that stores music on one of those little memory cards you stick in your digi camera, and then locates said homespun and self-powered music-listening-device in, now get this, first a toy ray gun and then a plastic dinosaur.

Yes, you can make your own portable MP3 player. Yes said MP3 player can live in a toy ray gun or dinosaur. These are things we can do.

In I-Make-Things inspired composition, every order of discourse—from sound to word to clause to sentence to paragraph to form to genre—all of it is open to modification, tweaking, re-purposing, and play. I-Make-Things composition infects us with a mindset that is always looking for what's been cast aside (the toy ray gun, the plastic dinosaur) and in that finds room for the new. I-Make-Things composition sees value in one-of-a-kind composition and the non-circulating textual object, the gizmo that makes people laugh for its merging of utility in anti-utility. I-Make-Things composition puts new ideas out there—last week: a hovercraft; this week: minty-fresh MP3 action—as if to say: this is what I do ... how 'bout you?


Things I Learned Reading Student Projects This Week

In terms of my work, the past few days have pretty much been about reading student papers. Final projects in the writing technologies course are about the use of online communication technologies on campus; final seminar papers in the rhetoric of social engagement class are about everything from YouTube to Ecuadorian politics.

Some of the things I've learned from reading all this good stuff:
  • all about T9, which I'd never even heard of; T9, for anyone else in the dark, automates text-message entry; I think I'll post something later about T9 in relation to other forms of automated composition tools

  • the deal with JenniCam, the first webcam; I mean, I'd heard about JenniCam before, but one terrific seminar paper got me thinking about how webcams like JenniCam (and they're not all this way) reveal the everyday in some challenging ways

  • oh so much about Ecuadorian politics!, which I knew .01 about before reading another great seminar paper

  • the many permutations of how away messages are used in IM communication; I've read about this before in student work, but two papers in particular this semester got me thinking about how users have colonized this little niche in IM software to make the tool useful in sooo many unexpected ways

  • from another paper, I got a good sense of the sheer volume of texting many undergrads engage in; from another project on texting, a nice breakdown of reasons undergrads text instead of, say, making a call

  • about this video comprised entirely of kinetic icons; from the same student project, I got a renewed sense of the value of outstanding, thoughtful design in written composition

  • the existence of a Facebook group called the word "gay" is not a synonym for "stupid"; as of this morning, the group has 13,275 members

And there's a lot more, but I'll stop the list there. After reading all of this work—and yes, I still have a few more to go—I was reminded of how incredibly thorough and inventive students can be at the end of a term. With a ton of stuff going on and all kinds of pressure, with time constraints and limitations of all kinds, amazing work still gets done.

So thanks everyone for all the lessons and insights!


Found Friday Fragments

One of the things I like about finding things is that every found object is a fragment of something larger and never entirely knowable: activities, experiences, plans, things, and lives.

For want of a cell-phone antenna, a call was lost.
For want of a call, a conversation was lost.
For want of a conversation, DF was not annoyed in a café.

Every time I encounter the phrase—"be unique, be Greek"—I think of one thing: my Shakespeare professor in college, Reg Saner, who once corrected a student for describing something as "really unique."

"Unique," Professor Saner said with one hand raised before the class, "needs no modifier. Nothing before it, people. Because when something is unique, there is but one."

In Champaign, if you serve alcohol in a restaurant you need to wear a number. Server 32, do you want your number back?

(click for clearer version)

This last one is the real mystery in the bunch. I showed it to PB and JO last night at the rhetorical studies reading group—just a few moments after finding it—and JO came closest, it seemed, to a working theory of the note. He suggested that it could track specific moments in a video or film?

So yeah, if you have any idea what type of rhetorical action this artifact may have helped to orchestrate, I'd love to hear it.


Mass Hilaria

Tis the season for joking about the seriousness of the MLA convention, it seems, looking at the upswing in site traffic over at 9interviews.com. Could a spirit of mass hilaria take hold this year?


Techno-Historical Knowledge

One of the many things I like about teaching is when current and former students send me links to stuff they think I'd like. When this happens, it says to me "Hey, this person got the class and what I'm all about!" In this way, exchanging links functions as a form of recognition.

So PB, a current student, sends me this link to the website for The Raconteurs (a band). Using Flash, the site simulates a pre-mouse-ian, old-school computer interface, complete with keyboard commands, beeping, and green-on-black. Go there to relive these poetics. The mouse over commands bring the site slightly up to date (necessary, in this case), but otherwise it's authentically old school.

What The Raconteurs have going on reminds me of a void-like 45 minutes I spent last week playing old-school Asteroids online. The embalmers of the original video game did a perfect job, getting the sound and simplicity of the original just right. The only thing lacking, for me, was having to stand in the grocery store while zapping the rocks and saucers.

I mention these revivifications for two reasons: The first is that there is nothing quite like the experience of techno-nostalgia when it comes to bringing back time and place and feeling. Take a look at this old Merlin and know instantly what I mean.

The second reason is that, while remediation is certainly at work in the production and design of new technologies and media, these sites seem not so much to remediate previous gear as thrive on the circulation of otherwise obsolete markers as indicators of techno-historical knowledge. The techno-historical knowledge, in that way, has cha-ching.

Or something like that.


My Cell Phone

When I was a kid, one of the shouted refrains that frequently braced our house was "the phone is ringing!" This was an indirect speech act, of course, meaning someone else answer the phone!

Last night I managed the nearly impossible: knocked my cell phone off of the bed and into (splash!) a class of water. No rim contact: a perfect swish.

Retrieved (Chooch helped by licking it a few times; thanks Chooch!), the phone was highly dysfunctional. No worries, though: I heard recently about this fix for drenched cell phones, and after a few hours in the oven, it was working just fine.

I got to thinking a tad, just a tad, about the difference between referring to the phone vs. my phone or your phone. When I was kid, it was the phone that rang; now, it's increasingly my phone or your phone. This makes sense, of course, given the increasingly one-to-one ratio of users not only to phones, but phone numbers. In this way, "phone" stands in for phone line, at least kinda. Whereas there were even a few party lines back in the '70s, with multiple households sharing the same line, today it seems everyone has their own number and phone. Well, not everyone, but many of us.

So let me get this straight: if I said "the phone fell into a glass of water," I'm guessing you'd think I meant I was talking about a phone connected to a land line (not that I have one). If I said "my phone fell into the glass of water, kersplash!" you'd think cell phone, right? (And if you're Chooch, you'd get thirsty.)

I have no idea where Skype falls in the particularity vs. generality of phone and phone-line lingo. I do know, however, that Skype Out is set to start charging on Jan 1—a major bummer, if you ask me.


Found Friday: End of Semester

As the end of the semester is upon us, and students are off searching for things like free essays on BigGoogle, I thought I'd post a few low-tech, hand-written learning and presentation tools. The first and third artifacts were found on campus in the past few weeks; the second appeared near the middle school by my house.

[[ mouse over each image to view the reverse side ]]





More on "Ethics"

Following up on the discussion of ethics and ethics-trainings, I thought I'd post a few more screen shots snapped while I took our in-house, web-based ethics training a few months ago.

For the non-local readers (hi Mom!), the way this works is that we all log onto an "ethics-training" website for about twenty minutes each year, study a series of slides, and take a quiz. I could tell you my score on the quiz, but would that be ethical? ;)

While I wish the following slide was accompanied by the suggestion that poor PhotoShopping is unethical, item number two indicates that it is unethical for university employees to get out the vote while on the clock and/or via state communication tools. Man, I would think getting people to the polls would be considered service.

This next slide explains how we are required to keep detailed records of hours worked—down to the fifteen-minute increment. Of course, all faculty in English do this religiously. In fact, I just had a new stack of graph paper delivered to my office this morning.

And what happens if you violate one of these rules? Well, it appears one is forced to sit very stiffly in a glassed-in office while looking straight ahead.

Now, I'm know I'm joking about this, but it's not because I take ethics and workplace ethics lightly.

In fact, I would love it if our universities were ethical in the ways they pay female faculty in comparison to us guys, and I'd like to see more commitments to things like ethical class sizes and ethical assessment models. Ethics trainings like this one make light of ethics by equating ethics with a-theoretical policies. But while policies can be informed by ethics, the two are not always equivalent.


Instant Messaging in the Blind Spot

I'm thinking of switching entirely to IM next semester for student correspondence; it seems (currently) their predominate online communication tool, and I like to make things easier for students. I also feel I get more done faster via IM (with students) than via email.

Looking at my campus's ethics policy, I notice that instant messaging resides in a blind spot:

So, here at UIUC, we can't send email that is not work related, but we can IM all we want. TT recently reminded me of how lawsuits in departments often result in email being seized, but what about IM transcripts?

This gap (the focus on email communication while IM and Skypeing, for instance, remain in a blind spot) relates, I suppose, to the ways email approximates epistolary exchange, something quite old and familiar, while instant messaging is newer, different, and generally (I hear) "used by young people." But is that even right?


Tagged Images on Flickr

Two sets of images on Flickr: one called "Quotation Mark" Abuse and the other Atrocious Apostrophes. Yes, grammarmarms are on Flickr.

Here are sample images from each set:

While I don't find the use/"misuse" of the apostrophe doing much work in the samples, there seems a patterned and vernacular use of quotation marks to denote emphasis.

In a document design sense, I find "this" less distracting than this as long as readers know that "this" is equivalent to this. A few more examples: