Purging my Netflix que

I think Netflix is a pretty good deal/good service, even if you only watch DVDs about two or three times a month, for a couple of different reasons. First, you can get pretty much anything that’s out on DVD– well, at least as far as I can tell. Maybe we’re not requesting obscure enough movies though. Second, no worries about returns. You just keep the movies, send them to Netflix when you’re done with them, and then they send you the next movie in your “que,” which is your “wish list” of movies.

And it’s these strengths that conspire to make Netflix a potential pain in the ass.

First off, the very cool and easy to use Netflix interface allows you to put a ton of movies into your que. It’s constantly giving you recommendations and ideas about different movies, along the lines of “members who liked movie X also liked movie Y,” and so you click on movie Y and think “sure, that sounds cool,” and you add it to your que. Before I knew it, I had a que with about two dozen movies, all kinds cool and interesting and artsy things.

But here’s the problem: sometimes you’re in the mood to watch an artsy-fartsy movie, sometimes you’re in the mood to watch the latest Hollywood release. When you go to the video store and browse the shelves in person, you more or less know what mood you’re in and you pick appropriately. Netflix, on the other hand, makes you watch stuff in order on your que, and there’s quite a distance between when you’re adding movies to your que and when you actually want to watch the movies. Sure, you can update the order of things on the que, but there have been several times when I had forgotten to do that, and we end up getting something we’re not really in the right mood to watch.

The result? Annette and I have three Netflix DVDs right now, and two of them are kind of quasi-artsy-fartsy movies, and one is a foreign movie. They’re movies we haven’t really wanted to watch (they’re long and too serious or just not “right” for the time), but we also don’t want to just return them unseen. We’ve had the foreign movie since December. DECEMBER, people!

So I decided to go to my Netflix que and just purge the whole thing, just delete it all. And instead of all the artsy-fartsy stuff, I added summer movie kind of fare: Ocean’s Twelve, Ray, Collateral, The Aviator, and Kinsey. Okay, maybe Kinsey is kinda artsy, but that’s it. We’ll see how many of these things we actually watch in the next month or so.

Local Xanga Fears Update (or, don't trust the journalists too much…)

I have a pretty long “to do” list for this Memorial Day weekend, a combination of stuff around the house and more “professional” activities (writing, web work, planning for teaching, etc.). On that “to do” list is a belated update to a post I had a few weeks ago, “Xanga fears come local!” In that post, I quoted and talked quite a bit about a passage from Karel Graham, who is an eighth-grade counselor at Tappan Middle School in Ann Arbor. In the Ann Arbor News article, Graham came across as thinking that Xanga in particular and blogs in general were the work of the devil.

Well, Karel actually read my post and emailed me (and, in a subsequent email, she gave me permission to quote her). This is what she said:

Thanks for your feedback regarding the blog article, in the Ann Arbor News. I agree with a lot of what you shared on your site. You would never know it, however, from the few negative comments the A2 reporter chose to publish from our 1/2 hour conversation. I too pointed out all of the benefits of self-expression that blogs offer. This is a good lesson in humility and I will be much more selective in agreeing to future interviews.

I wrote back and told her what I have found to be true: whenever you talk to the press, you cannot be subtle. You have to focus on the story that you want to tell them, only that story and nothing else. The minute you try to complicate things, as Karel says she did, you are likely to not get your real story told right.

Who says that print newspapers run by “professional” journalist are automatically “right” and reliable sources, while individual “amateur” bloggers are automatically “biased” and unreliable sources? (And how am I going to explain that in my textbook?!)

Anyway, like I said in my original post, I do have some sympathy with the situation that Karel and her junior high/high school colleagues are in. As a college professor, I have the luxury of working with adults– well, at least almost always people who are over 18 years old and thus technically “adults”– which means I don’t have to worry that much about a whole host of issues. Colleges and universities seem a lot more willing to serve in the role of “in loco parentis” than they were when I was an undergraduate in the mid-1980s, probably because the legal drinking age was different (in Iowa, it was 19), this was before the “just say no” message of Nancy Reagan, and we weren’t as conservative of a country back then. Nonetheless, there’s nothing I can really do to stop an 18 year old from writing about drugs, sex, and rock ‘n roll on their Xanga blog (and I wouldn’t want to if I could).

On the other hand, if you are teaching students who are literally and technically “children” (especially children who think they’re “adults”– you remember being 14 vaguely, don’t you?), teachers have a whole different kind of obligation. I mean, it’s one thing if an 18 year old first year composition student is posting to her or his blog about the “totally awesome” house party (complete with pictures of drunken young people); it’s another thing entirely if a 13 or a 14 year old does this. And if those 13 or 14 year olds are posting this kind of thing to their blogs at school, teachers are pretty much obligated to get involved in a much different and more direct way.

In any event, I was glad to hear that Karel wasn’t completely against blogging. And I’m guessing she’ll be a lot more careful the next time someone from the Ann Arbor News calls for a quote.

iTunes and silent movies, all in one week

I had two multimedia “firsts� this week.

First #1: I bought a complete album online, the Dave Matthews Band new CD, Stand Up off of the iTunes store. By the way, don’t give me any shit for liking the Dave Matthews Band. I’m too old to really care what is (or isn’t) hip, and I was listening to them before they caught on with the frat boy crowd. I like ‘em, so sue me.

I’ve downloaded some music from “less than legal� sources before, but, besides not being quite legal or ethical, I find that it takes way too long and I as often as not end up with a file that isn’t worth listening to. I have bought music with iTunes before, but just a song at a time. This was my first full album, and I’m not sure I will buy a CD from a store again. It’s cheaper by a couple of bucks than buying the actual CD, and all I had to do was download it from the iTunes site to my computer and then to my iPod. Easier than going to a store by far.

Okay, not that big of a deal. But still.

First #2: We all saw the 1924 silent film version of Peter Pan Thursday night at the Michigan Theater. A couple of things made this a pretty cool night. For one thing, the Michigan Theater was pretty much sold out for the show. As Russ Collins (the guy who runs the Michigan Theater) said in his introduction to the show, it was probably the biggest crowd to watch a silent film in… well, in a long time, weeks at least. For another, it featured musical accompaniment by the Ann Arbor Symphony, conducted by Gillian “not the one from X-Filesâ€? Anderson. Cool music, too.

On the down-side, the show started late and we didn’t have Will home until about 10 on a school night. Not good parenting. On the up-side, it was pretty cool to see a silent film the way that it would have been shown way back in the day. After all, the Michigan Theater opened in the late 1920’s as a silent film theater, and back then, they really would have an orchestra for most of the shows (that and/or the extremely elaborate organ they’ve got there). Anyway, good music, good show, good experience.

Incidentally, this version of Peter Pan is quite a bit different from the Disney version, which isn’t surprising. I don’t have the time to rehash it all right now, but most of the intertitles (you know, the words that pop up during a silent film) come from J.M. Barrie’s original story, and it’s pretty clear to me where the whole idea of the “Peter Pan Syndrome� comes from. Weird stuff.

Giving up to the spammers (at least right now)

I had a post back in the middle of May that started out like this:

I’m doing a little spring cleaning of my email in-box, and I found a message that Charlie Lowe sent to tech-rhet a month or so ago about “RSS Quick Start Guide for Educators,” a “how-to” sort of document created and maintained by Will “Weblogg-ed” Richardson.

For one reason or another, I kept getting spammed on this post, and only this post. I don’t know why– maybe the RSS reference, maybe the mention of Xanga– but I kept getting poker messages. Weird. Anyway, sorry for the deletion, but I am guessing most won’t miss it too much.

"Paying for College" series on NPR (or, the apparent riches of PhD studies in English)

There’s been an interesting series on NPR “All Things Considered” this week about how people can pay for college. The usual sorts of problems are here, problems that are all too common here at EMU, where most of our students work to pay for their school, and even then, they frequently can only afford to go part-time. It’s hard, no question about it.

But the thing that really caught my ear was this afternoon’s story. Part of the story including them talking with a woman who was working on her PhD in English at Howard University. She seemed normal enough, but then she said something that made me wonder, well, what things were like in her dream world. I don’t know if this is an exact quote, but it’s something like this:

“Right now, I’m about $60,000 in debt. But I’m planning on getting a professorship and I am planning on paying that all off in my first year.”

As John Stewart might say, “WHHHHHAAAAAHAAAAAA?????!!!!!!?????”

I really REALLY hope that this quote sounded as ridiculous as it did because of something NPR did when they put the story together (like this woman said right after saying that “yeah, right! ha-ha!”). Because otherwise, this person is either getting some incredibly bad advise or she’s just self-deluded. Or maybe I’ve just been applying for the wrong kind of jobs teaching English….

Blogtalk Downunder web site (er, blog)

I found out via Kairos News this morning that there’s a blog conference going on in Australia right now called Blogtalk Downunder. The web site/blog (yet another WordPress site, I might add!) includes talk about the conference and, perhaps more importantly for me, links to papers given at the conference.

The two things that strike me about this for the time-being:

  • While I could easily fall into looking through this site right now as a procrastination activity from things I have to be doing (short term: grading essays; medium term: revising a textbook), I am going to have to check this out later, maybe when I start again thinking about teaching stuff having to do with blogs.
  • I wouldn’t mind an excuse to go to Australia, an excuse (for example) like presenting at a conference there. Of course, I’d have to find someone to contribute the arm and/or leg I’d have to pay to get there….

The “Nuclear Option” avoided (which is good, I guess)

I don’t really have much to add to this outcome, but to the extent that it’s possible to agree that the compromise was both a good and a bad thing, that’s where I’m at on this. On the one hand, I agree with the sentiment that the Democrats sold out. Here’s a link to something Les Feingold said (via Daily Kos) that I think kind of sums that up.

On the other hand, also as it appears on the Daily Kos, this was probably the best deal the democrats were going to get. The Repubs have a 10 vote margin in the Senate right now, and while a straight-up vote on the “Nuclear Option” would have been close and could well have broken against Frist et al, it could have just as easily gone the other way.

Politics, like sausage making, is an ugly process not for those with a sensitive tummy. Compromises like this don’t yield winners, they just prevent losers. At least for the time-being. I personally have no doubt we’ll hear more about this delicate compromise when the Supreme Court nominations come around.

BTW, I received a kind of rant ‘n rave post about those darn “leftists at Calvin College” who protested Bush’s speech at the campus. I was pretty happy to see that WordPress automatically held the really REALLY long post for my approval (which it did not receive…).

Electronic Literature Organization Website (and more WordPress thoughts…)

Via the Humanist discussion group, I came across the new web site for Electronic Literature Organization. It looks like an interesting site to me, especially something for my grad class. I included a unit/week in there last time around on “Hypertext fictions,” which I thought was fun and interesting.

Incidentally, it’s a site that’s powered by WordPress. I continue to experiment with WP with my unofficial web site and I’ve been pretty pleased. It looks good, it’s been easy to work with, and so far, no spam (and I need to install the spam blocking software that folks have talked about). I don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen, but I see my official blog moving to WP soon.

The rich=richer, the poor=poorer

I saw my department head today for the first time in a couple of weeks (he was on vacation). On his first day back, he learned of the severe budget cuts that are apparently in the works for EMU this coming year. There’s still a lot up in the air, of course. One report on the news just the other day suggested that the state had decided it wasn’t going to cut public universities by as much as it had originally suggested. Still, there has been concern here among administrators.

And then, in a bitter study in contrast, I came across this story in the Ann Arbor News, “U-M endowment allows for extra programs.” Just one relevant quote:

It was only in 1994 when U-M hit the $1 billion landmark. Yet by the end of the fiscal year last June, U-M’s endowment funds stood at $4.2 billion, making Michigan’s the 11th largest in the country. That growth continues this fiscal year: As of the end of March, the funds had shot up to almost $4.9 billion.

Hmm. Hey neighbor; can I borrow $20 million or so?

Damn NCTE (or, the perils of publishing online)

I received an email today from a colleague in the field who wrote to ask about an article I published in the CCCs Online in September 2002, “Where Do I List This on My CV? Considering the Values of Self-Published Web Sites.” The link for the page, http://archive.ncte.org/ccc/2/54.1/krause_copy.html, doesn’t work. So I wrote to the “NCTE people” (and, of course, finding someone to actually complain to at NCTE wasn’t too easy), and the answer I received was less than satisfying. The NCTE person suggested I log into my NCTE account and get a PDF version of the file. The problem though is that the article in question was not published in the paper journal but as a web site in the online version of the journal. And just to make matters worse, the article is part of a special joint Ejournal issue which included articles about (ironically enough) publishing on the web. Which means that taking down this link messes up these other publications’ links, too.

On the one hand, I don’t want to make too big of a deal out of this, and I’m guessing that someone somewhere somehow will get this all sorted out. On the other hand, it isn’t just my article– try any of the articles linked via http://archive.ncte.org/ccc/ and see what happens. 404. I had assumed that NCTE was a bit more responsible about its web publishing responsibilities, but apparently, I assumed wrong.

I guess this just reminds me of something I’ve been thinking about a bit lately. As more publishing goes online (a good thing), we have a greater potential of losing texts that disappear more or less forever when someone decides to turn off a server (a bad thing). If that article was in print, I could refer my colleague to her or his library, or I could easily enough send them a photocopy or something. With the web site gone, I’m SOL.

After looking around my computer a bit, I was able to find what I think is the same version of the article that originally appeared in the CCCs Online, and I am going to make it available via my own web site at http://www.stevendkrause.com/academic/2002CCC. . I don’t really know what NCTE will think of this move, but considering the fact that they decided to just turn off all of the materials they had on the CCCs Online, I suspect they don’t care.

And I think I’ve learned a lesson that I will apply to my other online publications past and present: put them in multiple places in multiple formats. I don’t have time to mess with this today, but I think I’ll need to burn some CDs and print out some web pages sooner than later. I hope others in my field who have been publishing online lately do the same.