Google RSS Reader?

Okay, I’m going to start doing what I really should be doing right now; actually, I’m going to start doing stuff I should have been doing a week ago. But I thought I’d post a link to my latest distraction, Google RSS Reader. I stumbled across this via boing-boing.

This is something that will probably figure into my teaching sooner than later. With RSS feeds becoming as easy and as flexible as this, I don’t think there’s much excuse to not do it anymore….

Tens of Thousands protest war in NYC

See this Washington Post article.

Now granted, New York and NYC is perhaps the bluest part of the nation, but as the weather improves, as the election season heats up, and as the situation in Iraq deteriorates– note that the discussion now is not about whether or not the situation is improving; it’s really more or less about whether or not Iraq is technically in the midst of a civil war or not– I suspect that this protest might represent a trend.

Or at least I hope it does.

Writing Cops?

Laurence Musgrove has an interesting piece in Inside Higher Ed called “The Real Reason Students Can’t Write.” I think it’s interesting because I agree with just about half of it.

Musgrove, who is an English professor-type who teaches first year writing and who has been involved in some writing programs at different schools, suggests the following causes of “bad student writing:”

I believe most faculty think that when they find an error in grammar or logic or format, it is because their students don’t know “how� to write. When I find significant errors in student writing, I chalk it up to one of three reasons: they don’t care, they don’t know, or they didn’t see it. And I believe that the first and last are the most frequent causes of error. In other words, when push comes to shove, I’ve found that most students really do know how to write — that is, if we can help them learn to value and care about what they are writing and then help them manage the time they need to compose effectively.

I think that this is all very very true. Musgrove also suggests that a lot of “bad” student writing continues to happen across the curriculum for two reasons. First, it’s a lot easier for most professors to complain about their student writing than to actually do anything about it– like, you know, teach (as opposed to merely assign) writing. Second, students rarely face serious consequences for bad writing; bad writing might receive a less than excellent grade, but rarely do students fail as a result of their bad writing.

But then Musgrove kind of loses me when he proposes this:

All faculty members are hereby authorized to challenge their students’ writing proficiency. Students who fail to demonstrate the generally accepted minimum standards of proficiency in writing may be issued a “writing ticket� by their instructors. Writing tickets become part of students’ institutional “writing records.� Students may have tickets removed from their writing records by completing requirements identified by their instructors. These requirements may include substantially revising the paper, attending a writing workshop, taking a writing proficiency examination, or registering for a developmental writing course. Students who fail to have tickets removed from their records will receive additional penalties, such as a failing grade for the course, academic probation, or the inability to register for classes.


Look, average people/students already think that English and writing professors are members of some sort of grammar Nazi patrol; this guy wants to give us the power to write actual tickets? No thanks.

I have been thinking lately though how it’s a problem that comp/rhet folks have reduced the role grammar, correctness, and proofreading in contemporary pedagogy too much. To me, I think this is especially a problem in writing classes beyond first year writing. But that’s another post for another time.


On Friday, I had the pleasure of being a parental chaperone-type with Will on his latest field trip, which was to “Rural Education Days” at the Washtenaw County Fairgrounds. Will’s teacher told me that this is an annual event that involves pretty much all of the third graders in the county to learn about agriculture and such. Here are a few highlights, complete with photos:

No parking in front of the cow

I drove myself out to the event– because I had plans after it was over, because there was no room on the bus, and because who really wants to ride on a bus with a bunch of third graders anyway?– and was quickly instructed where not to park.


The program began with an Abraham Lincoln impersonator giving a talk about agriculture and related products and industries in Michigan (sorry about the photo– I guess it was dusty in there). Given the fact that Lincoln didn’t have any connection to the farm economy of Michigan (unless I’m missing something), I have no idea why it was this guy doing the talking. I guess because this guy likes to dress up like Lincoln and because everyone thinks Abe Lincoln is cool.

Petting cow

Here is a picture of my charges petting a cow of some sort; you can’t see the cow since it’s behind the kids, but believe me it was there.

Turkey petting

As you can imagine, there were many other animals that could be petted and held and admired by the kids. Here’s Will and a friend with a turkey. There was a stall that was letting the kids hold a chicken, but Will would have none of that. Of course, there was little attention paid to the fact that these cute and fuzzy animals are darn good eating.

Samples!More samples!

There were many interesting talks and presentations at Rural Education Daze, including one on corn, soil erosion (I kid you not– both of these were interesting), and on dairy. But Will’s favorite was the barn where the kids walked around and sampled different Michigan agricultural products.

One more funny thing, sans photo. The dairy exhibit consisted of a college kid who talked about how cows are milked and how milk is processed. He stood behind a table with various dairy cow things (the do-hickey they use for milking, for example), and in front of a pen which held– surprise, surpise– a dairy cow. Just as our group 75+ third graders was filing in and finding places in the bleachers, the cow took the opportunity to pee. And when a cow pees, it is like a freaking fire hose of pee coming out of the back end. There was a loud and collective “EEEWWWW!!!” that simultaneously expressed horror and fascination and approval at the act. The cow appeared unmoved. I thought she was going to cap it off by taking a shit, but no such luck.

Anyway, it was a pretty cool field trip– very well done, interesting, entertaining, and incredibly efficient. The handout I received as a parental chaperone-type said students would be getting back on the buses at 12:06 and damned if the kids weren’t loading up right on time.

"How University Administrators Should Approach the Facebook: Ten Rules" (a command blog posting…)

Colleague/friend/golf player of sorts Bill Hart-Davidson commanded me to blog about this January 2006 post, “How University Administrators Should Approach the Facebook: Ten Rules,” which is on the very cool blog by a PhD student named Fred Stutzman.

Like Bill, I think Stutzman’s comments are spot-on about Facebook. But I’m not sure I agree completely with Bill. He accused me of being “too curmudgeonly about social networking apps.” Well heck, I like blogs, don’t I? And, as I mentioned just the other day, I think Facebook is a different animal in oh so many ways than MySpace. For one thing, if college students, who are ultimately “adults,” want to say things on the ‘net that may come back to cause them problems, that’s up to them. Stutzman suggests that people in the internet age, where search engine caches can always be retrieved, are being held to an unfairly high standard for mistakes they might have made in college on their Facebook (or other) sites. Maybe. But I seem to recall a lot of conversation about a young Bill Clinton’s status as a draft dodger or someone who did not actually inhale.

For another, according to Stutzman, most folks using Facebook are a lot more careful than the press would have us believe. I think he’s right about that; and again, that’s different than MySpace, IMO.

Anyway, go follow the Stutzman link– smart stuff.

The future of my own textbook…

Jeff Rice has a post where he discusses his participation in a discussion about the future of textbooks sponsored by the future of the book organization. Interesting enough, but… well… I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade, but I think there are three basic problems with the basic premise of open source textbooks (though what they’re talking about here is not necessarily open source, I don’t think):

  • The main reason why someone writes a textbook and also why publishers publish textbooks is to make money. (This perhaps goes without saying, but in my most recent past experiences, this is not a good reason to write a textbook, mainly because making “real” money from a textbook is essentially like winning the lottery.) In that sense, textbooks are very different animals from academic books, novels, poetry collections, etc.: sure, people want to make money with those kinds of books too, but there are other reasons for both writers and publishers for coming out with those kinds of books, reasons like scholarship to be counted on a CV, pleasure, and/or (dare I say it?) love.

    Some institutions will “count” a textbook for the purposes of tenure and promotion, but I don’t think anyone– writers, publishers, or readers students who have to buy the textbook– is in it for the pleasure or love of books.

  • The main reason why an instructor assigns a textbook in the first place is because a) she has to as some sort of program-wide requirement (this is of course common in first year composition circles, which is one of the reasons why publishers make a lot of money from these books), and/or b) the instructor has no interest in writing his own materials for a particular class. In my opinion, the best (and worst, simultaneously) textbooks out there are like cookbooks full of fool-proof recipes: add instructor and stir.
  • The history of software developed by small groups for a very particular thing– TK3 for example, or potentially this software being developed by these future of the book people– is not very good. It’s not that this stuff is bad software; it’s just that it seems to do only one or two things, and it doesn’t seem to do those one or two things (at face value, at least) a whole lot better than the accepted format. TK3 wasn’t a hit because it didn’t have that much more functionality for most users beyond Adobe Acrobat.

Of course, I wasn’t there; maybe the conversation/thinking that happened there addressed and solved all of these problems.

Anyway, having made those grand and sweeping pronouncements, I am also pleased to report that there is at least a chance that my own textbook project has some kind of, er, “future.” I hope I’m not jinxing this, but a deal is in the works with McGraw-Hill that would essentially allow me to take it to another publisher and/or put it up on the web.

I’ll have to see what this deal looks like and what it allows me, but my plan right now is to actually put it up on the web. That might not be the smartest move as far as publishing and money and such goes– once it is available electronically, I don’t know what my chances are of getting another publisher to pick it up. But publishing it as a web site would represent something that is at least different in textbook publishing so far, which might get the manuscript some attention it might not have otherwise gotten. And it is a move that might bring me a sense of closure. At this stage, closure would be good.

I wonder if EMU administrators will be my facebook friend?

Bob Whipple sent me an email a few days back about the president at Colorado College, Dick Celeste, reflecting on Facebook on his blog. First off, I think his reflections here seem similar to mine. Facebook doesn’t bother me as much as MySpace, I guess because these are college-aged students, because it’s limited to a particular school (at least I think that’s how it works; someone correct me if I’m wrong here), and because it is a lot more aesthetically pleasing to me than MySpace.

MySpace pages really are interestingly ugly, what with all the silly backgrounds and odd colors and music files. But I digress.

Second, it’s nice to see a college administrator– president of the place, no less!– take a look at what all the students are in to as opposed to just dismiss it.

And third, it’s pretty cool that this guy keeps a blog he appears to update on a fairly regular basis.

Something else I didn't know about:

I just stumbled across, which, as far as I can tell, is hosting free WordPress powered blogs. I have no idea how this works (I don’t think I need to sign up for another blog space account right now), but it appears to be yet another way to post a blog space for free with the fine WordPress software.

I do wonder how these people will make any money, though….

Not the laptop I'm lookin' for, Apple…

Apple has announced it’s latest intel chip-based MacBook Pro, a 17 inch model.


First off, this thing is just shy of $3,000, which is about $1,500 or more out of my price range. Second, this thing is huge. Opening up a 17 inch laptop in a meeting would be like opening up a suitcase. There are coffee shops I go to where I don’t think I could fit a 17 inch laptop and a cup of coffee on the same table.

Well, hopefully a smaller one will come out sooner than later. I’ve heard rumors that the MacBook Pro in the intel configuration is coming out as 13 instead of 12 inches. Close enough. And some time in the next week or two, I think I’m going to send in my current iBook and get a few things (like my power supply issues) fixed. Stay tuned….