Not exactly “O Tannenbaum…”

We officially kicked into the Christmas season yesterday by going to get a tree and the appropriate greenery for the mantle and such. We’ve had kind of a unofficial tradition for several years of buying our tree from these guys who come down from “up north” from some place– I think near Traverse City, though it might be the UP– and set up in a parking lot. (For locals: these guys used to set up where the Whole Foods is now, when that was a more or less abandoned field. Last year, they were in the parking lot in front of Merchant of Vino over on Plymouth).

And when I say “set up,” I mean set up. They had a big ol’ airstream camper that they, about five guys, would set up and live in for about a month while selling their trees and wreaths and such. Part of the ritual was going inside the camper to write a check; it was a bit like going back in time a bit since the camper interior was more or less 1950’s vintage, and it always seemed a bit too warm, and the dark mess beyond the “business” area seemed a bit like a frat house or perhaps a hunting lodge.

Anyway, it cost a little more, but the trees were good, the customer service was excellent, and traditions can be fun.

Well, we went by the parking lot where they were last year and they weren’t there. The last time they had moved from one parking lot to another across town, they actually sent us a postcard to inform us of the move; we didn’t get anything like that this year. So in confusion, the Christmas tree tradition ends.

Annette and I were a bit perplexed about where else we should get a tree. After stopping by a local store that was more or less selling “boutique” trees, we ended up at Home Depot. The trees were cheap, but it was very much a “do-it-yourself” kind of operation, and the quality of trees was slim. Still, once we got it set up and once Annette figured out the lighting, it looks pretty much like a Christmas tree.

Next year, I want to go some place where I can cut my own.

It appears that the guys with the big camper have indeed set up in Ann Arbor this year– this time, in front of the Dollar Store on Washtenaw across the street from Arborland. Oh well; maybe next year.

I am the Master of MySQL! (sorta, and not drupal… yet…)

I’ve spent far too much time since last Monday trying to figure out how to install drupal on my Macintosh computer in my office. I’m interested in working with some kind of CMS for departmental things– to make some documents easily available, maybe even to be the “front end” fo the writing program web site. Drupal seemed like it might be a good idea.

I of course realize that I could use Drupal for tons of other things, but I’m not interested in changing my ways too much. WordPress works just fine for me in terms of a blog (and, as I’ll get to in a moment, it might end up being my choice for a CMS too), and I plan on continuing to use some combination of ol’ fashion web sites and eCollege for my teaching. As I’ve said before, eCollege isn’t perfect, it isn’t nearly as customizable as any open source/do-it-yourself product, and I think the interface is kind of ugly. On the other hand, eCollege is the system supported by Continuing Ed at EMU (and it is quite well supported, too), which means that the technical stuff is someone else’s problem. And this last issue is way important.

Anyway, I found some instructions at a sight called Mac Zealots for installing drupal on a Mac. BTW, a great site, and, as far as I can tell, it’s written and run by a couple of undergrads at Purdue. Now, no fault to the Mac Zealot guys, I had two basic problems following these directions for drupal. First, I am a “Mac guy” specifically to avoid opening “Terminal” and typing a lot of crap like this:

/usr/local/mysql/bin/mysql test

Second, in order to install drupal (or any of these other open source content management systems), you really have to install and vaguely understand MySQL and PHP. This is a level of computer geekdom I have not yet reached.

Now, when I’ve raised some of these issues with people who know better than me, and their general response is “you should talk with your local system adminstrator.” Well, here’s the problem: when I mention things like “Content Management Systems” (and to be perfectly honest, even stuff like “Open Source”) to the local system adminstrator types, they clearly have no clue as to what I’m talking about. There is a way to work with MySQL on the university’s main web server, but I think they are very stingy about access to this and when you ask for access (which I have– haven’t heard back yet), they make it clear that you’re basically on your own.

In short, when it comes to this sort of thing (e.g., anything that ICT doesn’t already understand, even if it is something that they should understand), I am the local system administrator.

Anyway, I figured out the other day that I had installed the wrong version of MySQL before Thanksgiving break and didn’t really figure that out until yesterday. An easy mistake, IMO, because there are about 100 different versions of MySQL and the “right” version for things like drupal and WordPress is kind of old. So I had to go through the process of un-installing MySQL, a somewhat scary step since it again involved the dreaded Terminal function and the script I found for uninstalling MySQL comes with warnings like “make sure you know what you’re doing or you’ll have to reinstall everything on your computer.” And basically, I think that I did get this version of MySQL to work.

So, everything’s great? Not quite.

I tried to get drupal to run with no success. Then I tried to install WordPress, and, after a few minor glitches, I got it to run, as you can see here (though there really isn’t anything there yet). I would still like to get drupal to work, and maybe I’ll try to monkey around with it when I get a bit more free time in the office. But for the time-being, here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • While WordPress might not be nearly as powerful as drupal, it’s a hell of a lot easier to configure and use. At least to me. And a CMS in the hand is worth more than two in the bush.
  • I feel like I am approaching the place where I’m going to have to buy one of those books I see in the computer section that suggests it can teach me MySQL and PHP basics in a week.
  • Finally, Apple– or somebody else developing software for the Mac– needs to come up with a CMS/blogging software that is all icon/menu-driven. I want this to be an icon I click on, and, as long as I have Personal Web Sharing set up on my Mac desktop (which can be set up with a few clicks, btw), then, I want this to work too. I want ti to have a lot of features along the lines of what I would expect in a word processor or a good HTML editor. And I want it bundled with the operating system– maybe OS 10.5? If I were in charge, I’d call it iBlog.

Interestingly enough, there is a software that does a lot of this stuff called iBlog. I haven’t used it, but the reviews are pretty mixed.

Does my iPod have Favorite Songs?

And, to further the question, does my iPod have different tastes in music than I do?

As this link and this link can attest, I am not the first person to wonder about this. I’m just wondering about my unit’s preferences.

On my iPod, which is a reflection of my iTunes set-up in my office at work, I have about 4,300 different songs. Most of this music is either there from a CD that I own or a CD that I checked out from the public library. (As an aside, I haven’t downloaded too much illegally, mainly because it doesn’t seem to be worth the effort to me. But I am honestly not sure how legal or illegal it is for me to have the library music there….) Despite this wide variety, there are two or three artists that seem to pop up all the time, all of which are Ypsilanti Public Library CDs:

  • The New York Dolls, an early punk rock band;
  • Japanese Shinto Ritual Music (it seemed like a good idea at the time); and
  • Charles Ives.

At the time, these all seemed like good CDs to load on to my office computer and thus on to my iPod (what’s the harm?), but I am beginning to have second thoughts.

Okay, back to grading. And now instead of shuffling songs, it’s “The Name of this Band is Talking Heads,” also a public library find.

How to Make Academic Blogging Count? Publish It!

This is just half an idea, one that I will toss out before I forget it, and then I will comment on student essays, I promise:

I’m not sure how I stumbled across this, but there is apparently a book available in the UK called 2005 Blogged: Dispatches from the Blogosphere. To quote from the blurb on the web site:

Famous bloggers like Belle du Jour and the Baghdad Blogger have already secured lucrative book deals thanks to the quality and vibrancy of their writing. But there are literally tens of thousands of bloggers who have not yet made the move to print. “2005: Blogged” provides a complete round up of the way the blogging community covered the major events of the year.

Anyway, this got me thinking: what if there was a way to put together a journal– maybe print, maybe electronic– that was kind of a selection of different blogger’s entries, perhaps arranged around a topic? This publication could reproduce those blog entries and even encourage the original writers an opportunity to go into more detail in the form of an “article” or “chapter” of some kind.

Too crazy?

“Waiters Nauseated by Food”

I stumbled across this via a cool site for all kinds of goofy web pages called web zen, which has a weekly theme for different links. This (last?) week’s theme was food, and among the links was this one, “Waiters Nauseated by Food.” I have no idea where this bit is from, but after a little Internet Movie Database research, I found out that both Steve Carell and Stephen Colbert were on a sketch comedy show hosted by Dana Carvey back in the mid-90s.

Turkey Post #2: More On The Value of "Academic" Blogs

There was a good discussion on Tech-Rhet and some thoughtful commentary on an article that appeared in/on Slate (in a week of articles about academia), Robert S. Boynton’s “Attack of the Career-Killing Blogs– When academics post online, do they risk their jobs?” In the nutshell, Boynton, focusing on the story of Daniel W. Drezner, who keeps a well-regarded blog (which I don’t read on a regular basis because it’s about stuff like political science and economics and stuff), was denied tenure at the University of Chicago (and Drezner writes about this experience quite a bit in his blog), and eventually offered a tenured position at Tufts.

I am sure there are many places in the blogosphere where folks are talking about this, but there’s a useful post at the if: book blog, a post that raises the issue of making blogs “count” in academic sense with peer review, so-called blog “carnivals,” and the like. This entry conveniently links to a bunch of other useful sites, and ends more or less like this:

It will be to the benefit of society if blogging can be claimed, sharpened and leveraged as a recognized scholarly practice, a way to merge the academy with the traffic of the real world. The university shouldn’t keep its talents locked up within a faltering publishing system that narrows rather than expands their scope. That’s not to say professors shouldn’t keep writing papers, books and monographs, shouldn’t continue to deepen the well of knowledge. On the contrary, blogging should be viewed only as a complement to research and teaching, not a replacement. But as such, it has the potential to breathe new life into the scholarly enterprise as a whole, just as Boynton describes.

I have a number of thoughts about all this:

  • For most of us academic bloggers, happy and otherwise, I think it is either misguided or downright delusional to compare our situation with that of Drezner’s. At least it is for me. I mean, I have around 25-50 readers day– far fewer, I suspect, than Prof. Drezner– and while there are people in my department who know I keep a blog, most seem unaware and I don’t think any of my colleagues care one way or the other about my blog. Blogging always has to be a personal decision because most blogger’s top readers are going to be me, myself, and I.
  • Drezner himself points out that he doesn’t think it was his blog that cost him tenure at U of Chicago, and he doesn’t think it was that big of a factor in terms of snagging his new job at Tufts.
  • The vast majority of academics by definition don’t dwell in the rarified air of Drezner and his colleagues. I wrote an essay about valuing self-published web sites as part of the tenure and review process a couple years ago, an essay that was published in the online version of College Composition and Communication and that was part of a special multi-journal issue of various electronic journals. My essay was “disappeared” by that site, so I set it up on my own web server space here. I make a lot of points in this essay, but to me, one of the more significant points is this one:

    I recall the horror stories of “publish or perish,” of assistant professors who had books published by good presses and were still denied tenure. The picture that was painted by my advisors made me think that tenure at most schools was a fifty-fifty proposition, at best.

    The fact of the matter is this happens almost exclusively at Carnegie Classification Research I or Research II institutions, or it happens in situations that probably have more to do with complicated politics and personalities than it does with publications. The vast majority of community colleges, colleges, and universities in this country are not research institutions and do not have the same notions about what does or doesn’t count as scholarship for the purposes of tenure, review, and promotion. Yet this reality is routinely ignored in documents that offer advice and guidelines for tenure, promotion, and review.

    Or let me put it this way: the rules for tenure vary. A lot. Since I finished my undergraduate degree, I have been a graduate student or a faculty member at four different institutions, all of which might be best described as “regional state universities” (though I think Bowling Green State is a “Research I;” they certainly have a lot of Ph.D. programs). At each of these institutions, I know that faculty have been awarded tenure and/or promotion with less than a book.

  • So should blogs “count” toward tenure? Maybe, maybe not. But as I argued in my piece about self-published web sites, I think this is a situation in which tenure/promotion seekers have to make arguments that appeal to the individuals within their own institutions. At some places, they might count; at other places, they might not.
  • Personally, I don’t really care if my blogging “counts” in that sense or not. For one thing, one of the things I like about blogging is that for the likes of small-time bloggers like me, the motivation to keep a blog is pretty much internal. In other words, I do this because I want to, not because I have to. And let’s face it: the road to hell is paved with academic presentations, articles, and books that were written solely as a chip to add to the tenure basket.

    Besides, I get a lot of indirect benefits from blogging. I’ve been able to give presentations and write articles based on my blogging and teaching with blogs, and I’ve even made a little money from the whole blog thing. So that’s worth something.

And you thought you were full….

“Turkey gobbled up in 12 minutes,” as reported at Here’s a quote:

Sonya Thomas, 37, who weighs just 105 pounds (47.5 kg), beat seven men in the annual Thanksgiving Invitational: a race to eat a 10-pound (4.5-kg) turkey.

The smallest in the field, Thomas put her victory down to “swallowing fast.”

Interestingly enough, tonight’s CSI apparently features a crime involving competitive eating. Coincidence? I think not.

This makes a certain amount of sense

What Pulp Fiction Character Are You?

You’re cautious, a bit paranoid. You left the scene for the suburban married life, but somehow, touble seems to follow you and piss on your mornings. You are quick to share your point of view, but have no problems with giving in to the requests of wives and wolves.

Take the What Pulp Fiction Character Are You? quiz.

Tip o’ the hat to “Drunk Again!”

Things I’m Thankful For

  • I’m thankful that I’m not travelling anywhere this Thanksgiving season. Annette’s parents were in town last weekend and this is the year that Christmas is at the Krause’s, so we are staying in town. I’m especially thankful to not be travelling because the weather last night in particular was really crappy, blowing snow and ice and such. Ugly.
  • Thanksgiving 2005 weather

  • I’m thankful that Annette’s parents left before the weather turned really ugly. It was “cold” enough for them last week when it was in the 40’s.
  • I’m thankful that the Food Whole was open this morning, which allowed me to do some of the miscellaneous shopping we should have done earlier in the week.
  • Oh yeah– I’m thankful that, once again, I was not allowed to deep-fry a turkey because it turns out to be really freakin’ dangerous (video via boing-boing).

Happy T-day, everyone.

Turkey Post #1: Majoring in Video Games

This is the first of what I am imagining as at least two (maybe more) posts today and over the next couple days during the holiday break. Which is a break in the sense that I have a couple of days off from school and I’m not teaching tonight and we’ll be enjoying some Thanksgiving cheer at a friend’s house this afternoon, but it isn’t a break in the sense that I have much grading to do, I’m trying to roughly speaking plan my classes for the Winter term, and I have a ton of stuff to do around the house.

I suspect that my “holiday” is similar to many of yours.

Anyway, Right now, I want to make note of this New York Times article, “Video Games Are Their Major, So Don’t Call Them Slackers,” which is about a couple of different places around the country that are starting full-fledged programs in “Video Game Studies” at both the undergraduate and graduate level. There is some “pooh-poohing” of this, but most of the article is praise; here’s one interesting passage:

“The skills and methods of video games are becoming a part of our life and culture in so many ways that it is impossible to ignore,” said Bob Kerrey, the former Nebraska senator who is now president of the New School, which includes Parsons.

Parsons has offered game courses to graduate students for five years and this fall began an undergraduate program in game design.

“But if you just look at the surface of people playing games, you are missing the point, which is that games are all about managing and manipulating information,” Mr. Kerrey said. “A lot of students that come out of this program may not go to work for Electronic Arts. They may go to Wall Street. Because to me, there is no significant difference – except for clothing preference – between people who are making games and people who are manipulating huge database systems to try to figure out where the markets are headed. It’s largely the same skill set, the critical thinking. Games are becoming a major part of our lives, and there is actually good news in that.”

This is all fine and good, and as a professor in a field where sometimes the exact application of the degree can be fuzzy, I appreciate Kerrey pointing out the critical thinking skills that can be applied to things beyond game design.

Still, I have to say that, for the most part, video games have passed me by. Oh, I go through phases with games like The Sims 2, and I might get Civilization IV when it comes out for the Mac (and it will probably be available for the Mac at about the same time as I’m ready to get a new home computer, actually), but I can’t get into any of the PlayStation games. On the other hand, my 8 year old son plays video and computer games about as much as he watches TV and/or reads. It is for him an equal mode of entertainment, and I suspect that this is also the case with a lot of my 20-something students.

Of course, here’s the question: will today’s 20-something video gaming students still be playing when they are near 40-somethings like me? Hmmmm…..