Art in the Quad

This time of the semester brings student art projects to the quad. An eight-food banana, super-sized ear buds, and various other cardboard adventures.

[insert smart observation here, despite it being the end of the semester of all smart and vaguely-smart things having been said]


Found Dead and Dying Cell Phones

There's a dispute, an open car window, the phone is seen airborne above traffic.

This time it's an accident: the cyclist drops the phone and it's toast. Several cars run it over before I manage to pick it up. Cell phone salvage operation.

I don't know what your busted cell phone collection is like, but mine is always expanding. A new keypad, antennae, screen.

Batteries, battery covers. Cases, belt clips. A circuit board.

Use specified charger only.


Handwritten Websites

When I teach web writing (mainly in the class we have on the books here at UIUC called "Writing Technologies"), I teach students various ways to create handwritten (or seemingly handwritten websites). These sites are usually fun to read, but they also illustrate the technological parking lot that is the web.

Of course, that publishing powerhouse The Perfect Speling Press has a handwritten website, but the real master of the genre is Eugene Hsu. Hsu tags his images to make them accessible to users browsing via screenreaders; the tagging also makes his site indexed when you search for such things as robots and orange drinks.

Something or someone somewhere recently brought me to a handwritten website by Miranda July; she writes her site first on her refrigerator and then on her stove. It's a sequence of pages that starts HERE and cycles through about a dozen images.

Maybe I should start blogging in handwriting as a sort of antithesis to the cell-phone blog.


Found Friday Monday

The foundorhythms here at the Metaspencer Blogging Continuum (MBC) have been a bit off lately, so I post this foundling ... picked up this very morning (!) here on the campus of UIUC. And who said the MBC isn't fresh?

Item #26 seems like an odd includable; but it is graduation-party-time after all. Yes: 40x2=80.

(click to make the image go all big)


Found Bird

The goofy and talented Andrew Bird as Dr. Stringz, recently found through the Found Network of research advocates. Playing tonight in Chicago at The Riviera Theater.


Responding to the Virginia Tech Murders

For my undergraduate Composition Theory and Practice class yesterday (Engl 481), we were slated to talk about a few texts by Johanna Drucker. She's become one of my favorite author/artists to talk about in writing classes, as she vividly argues with type. Her texts work in a variety of ways, but here is one example:

Building off of discussions about conflict in the classroom (via Richard Miller), violence at Virginia Tech, and Drucker's view of the written word—I asked students if they wanted to create a textual memorial about what happened at Virginia Tech.

With twelve letters to cover, they broke into groups of two or three, worked for about fifteen minutes, and then we hung the projects in the wall for a group viewing. Click to enlarge.

Each group talked us through the logic behind their letters. Some groups had free associated on related words beginning with or including their central letter. Another group created a series of stick figures walking around the letter G before the figures meet the phrase "We come together just to fall apart" before they all begin again. The letter C in the bottom row is the trigger of a gun. And so on; each with a logic and plan.

The full text looks like this; click to enlarge.

At the end of class, I asked the class if they wanted to leave our vernacular textual memorial or take it with us. Most seemed to think we should leave it, but a few folks voiced concern about leaving it behind. In what seemed like a thoughtful discussion, we agreed to leave it on the wall of the classroom as one small response to what happened.


Found in the Hallway

Found in the hallway outside my office door.

It's one of those days when I'm so glad to teach classes about writing, as the Virginia Tech murders are immediately relevant to discussion in several ways. Today in my Composition Theory and Practice class, we'll be talking about

1) how writing can respond to what happened at Virginia Tech, and

2) how writing might prevent such a thing from happening again


Not By Andrew Goldsworthy, But ...

Pete sends me this image, bringing up associations (for obvious reasons) with Andrew Goldsworthy's arches.

It's by Sandy Smith (2004) who has a making-of set of pictures here.


Instant Messenger "in" the Classroom

A while back, I may have mentioned that I was planning to shift away from email and over to IM for contacting students. (I don't actually use IM the program, but still use it as the generic name for massaging in general.) This has been an experiment.

(btw: Adium is my fave messaging app for Mac)

Well, a full transition away from email is still not complete, and maybe never will be, but since I've been at it all year, I thought I'd offer a bit of a break down on my experiences.

The Good of IMing w/ Students

Efficiency: Emailing back-and-forth with students about a simple thing like assignment clarification can often take an entire weekend to settle up, with the first message sent on Friday, a response shot back on Saturday, and final clarifications wired back-and-forth on Sunday. By that time, everyone is exasperated. With IM, the student finds you online on Friday, sends you a query, and you deal with it on the spot.

More Chatty: IM seems to me to familiarize teacher-student interaction, something that tends to fit w/ my approach. Having a student find me on IM is like running into them in a hallway or the quad—we chat, catch up, settle a question or two, then move on. In this way, I like it and find I know my students a bit better through IM interaction.

Away Messages Have Pedagogical Potential: IM users have made a lot out of the away-message feature built into messaging software, leaving all kinds of notes, messages, and cryptic texts for users to find. Following suit but responding to different goals, I've started posting assignment updates and little notes to my students via my away messages and/or customized "available" messages. This doesn't guarantee that all students get the update, but since most of them seem to peruse away messages regularly, I'm guessing I'm getting through to many of them.

Spontaneity: I recently got an ecstatic message from a former student over IM when she got a teaching fellowship in her new grad program. I'm not sure that she would have written me a long email to express her excitement, but finding me on IM was easy enough and the techno-channel was conducive to her sending me a quick and exuberant message. I like this and receive lots of quick-and-interesting updates throughout the day.

Some Drawbacks

Public/Private Problem: IM simply isn't an accepted pedagogical tool yet, so the first time I get messages from students they often write something like "Hey Professor, this is X, it's a little weird contacting you on AIM, but ..." This seems to be the biggest problem with communicating with students via IM right now, in that some seem to consider communicating with an instructor via this technology as an encroachment on the private. I say this in part because away messages can be, well, not the kind of thing students want their instructors to see, but also because the discourse conventions common to IM put students on a plane of familiarity with their instructors—and they may not feel comfortable occupying that plane. As a result, not all students have contacted me via IM, though I'm not sure the numbers are lower than typically reach me via email.

Contact Hours are Erratic: If I'm on IM and students have questions, they can message me and we can have a quick back-and-forth, but if I'm not online when they are looking for me, they're out of luck. Since I'm one of those people who spends 80% of my waking hours connected, it's not that much of a problem, but I'm guessing for those with non-jacked-in lives, this may pose a problem.

Composing Time Varies: I've noticed that some students seem to get uncomfortable communicating with me on IM, and as a result, tend to proofread and revise their loooong messages before sending them to me. On IM, this is downright unconventional, but since I'm their instructor, it makes sense. The downside of this is that I can spend a lot of time waiting for a response/turn to come across the wire.

Surveillance: The obvious problems with surveillance are kind of a no-brainer, but worth mentioning. With IM, students can see when I'm online and I can see when they are. This generally doesn't bother me, but it may spook you or your students out.


So those are my reactions to date. I generally dig using IM to chat with students and think it has many virtues ... particularly when blended with other communicative technologies, including that old thing called face-to-face. Did some of that today with some students, as a matter of fact, and my was it well worth it!

A Reflection of Blogging

I have something from my class that I would normally blog about, but I also want to write something for print about it, so my reflection is this: sometimes blogging works for me like pre-writing; at other times, blogging something can ummmph! take the pow! out of writing something for print.

This happened a couple of years ago (was it that long?) when I blogged a few essays on sub-iconic tattoos, and then even more recently when I posted some stuff on parkour as spatial rehab. I mean, pre-writing is good and all, and it's nice to get feedback on nascent ideas, but I'm also learning that sometimes I prefer to write things once ... which is why I'm not blogging this "something" from my class.

A largely disconnected thought: for anyone else trying to cut a 67-page draft down to 30, I recommend installing one of these in your garage. It seems to be working for me.


Found Friday

Found Friday presents a list I've been meaning to blog for a while by an author who is, well, very cool. There are messy shopping list makers and there are tidy ones. Some of us use scraps of paper; others prefer unsullied sheets. How careful is the following author when it comes to list making?

                ☐ Whatever
                ☐ Careful
                ☑ Ultra-fastidious

click for larger version
bummer no one bought forks


Optically Enhanced Statuary

I finally took a sec to snap this cell-phone pic of my favorite local bronze wearing glasses.

The other day, someone asked me why I like optically enhanced statuary so much, and I really don't know. I guess part of it is has to do with the glasslessness of the glasses, which kinda indicates the extent to which the frames act as referents. I also like the way statues and bronzes of people wearing glasses (this one's funny) concede that glasses deeply become part of a person, so much so that they would become an accoutrement remembered in bronze. As much as hairstyle or clothing, the glasses are a necessary part of the representation.

Or something like that. That still doesn't explain why they make me laugh.

I have a little set on flickr that I'm trying to grow ...

s.5's statues wearing glasses photosets.5's statues wearing glasses photoset