They’re a little bit country…

The other day, I purchased the Dixie Chicks newest CD, Taking the Long Way. This marks two “firsts” for me: it’s the first time I have ever purchased a “country” album, and it’s the first time I have purchased a CD as a political statement. In brief, I bought this not so much because I’m a Dixie Chicks fan but because I admire their politics and I think it’s impressive that they continue to perform and speak out despite death threats and idiot assholes like this person.

So, how is it? Eh. Okay, I guess.

I like the song that’s getting airplay on radio and MTV now, “Not Ready to Make Nice,” probably the best. But on the whole, it seems like pretty luke-warm pop music to me, and, despite the fact that they are not (apparently) “real” country artists anymore since they don’t whole-heartedly support Bush and the stupid war, it still sounds pretty country to me. I dunno. Maybe it’ll grow on me.

If Blogger and MySpace had a baby which grew up to have plastic surgery by Apple…

Via the blog TechCrunch comes news that SixApart is going to be introducing “Vox,” which TechCrunch describes as “half a blogging platform for newbies (albeit with rich and deep functionality) and half social network.” There are some screen shots on this site, and that’s the reason why I suggested the plastic surgery make-over curtesy of Apple: it looks a heck of a lot like iWeb to me.

All of which reminds me that one of my “to do” items this summer is to redo the look of this blog….

See you in… Perth?

Via Jill Walker, I’ve learned that the CFP for the seventh annual International Digital Arts and Culture Conference is out. It sounds like a great conference that will be an interesting mix of digital stuff; among other things, the call says:

Topics of interests may include, but are not limited to, computer games, hypertext theory and literature, new media narrative, streaming media, interactive and networked performance, digital aesthetics, interactive cinema, theory, art, bio-art, nano-art, augmented reality, cyberculture, electronic fiction, electronic music, electronic art, games culture, games system design, games theory, interactive architecture, cinema and video, MOOs, MUDs, RPG, virtual reality, virtual worlds.

Oh yeah, just one thing: it’s in Perth, Australia.

Despite the fact that, from here, the directions to Perth are basically “go south and west halfway across the planet, and then turn right,” I have half a mind to submit a proposal. I looked up a flight from Detroit to Perth and was somewhat surprised to find that it was “only” $1500 or so. It costs $1200 to fly to Sydney, so to go all the way to Perth seems like a bargin. Heck, it was going to cost me $600 or so to fly to Lubbock; so compared to that, it’s down-right cheap!

Besides that, what are my chances for visiting Australia and getting (at least some) money from EMU to do it and writing the rest off on my taxes? Hmmmm….

Congrats to Clancy; What else happened in Lubbock?

Congratulations to Clancy at CultureCat winning the “blog of the year” prize handed out at the Computers and Writing Conference this year in Lubbock. A deserving winner, certainly. But I have to say I haven’t found a whole lot else out about this year’s events. Can anybody recommend a link for me?

The Happy Academic on Dissertating (10 years ago, more or less)

Both Collin and Johndan recently wrote thoughtful blog posts about the process of writing a dissertation and also reflections on their own dissertations. I’m not even going to pretend to really add anything too significant to that discussion; but these posts do remind me:

About ten years ago, I was in the midst of dealing with the nitty-gritty of my dissertation. I was largely done by mid-May, but according to the intro for the online version of my dissertation, I defended on June 12, 1996. Wow, ten years. Go figure.

In any event, in the spirit of unsolicited “happy academic” reflections and advice, I thought I’d pile on a bit about my experiences with writing a dissertation way back when.

  • From the very beginning, I had extremely modest goals with my dissertation. I recall one of my mentors at Virginia Commonwealth University, where I was in a graduate program in creative writing, telling me that if I wanted to go into a Ph.D. program, I should make every effort to go through it as quickly as possible. Even as clueless as I was back then, I knew that one of the key ways to do this was to keep my dissertation small and simple and doable. It was never even on the radar that my diss would be a brillant contribution to the field or even just the first draft of my first book. I distinctly remember a conversation I had with my advisor, Alice Calderonello, very early in the process where I said to her “My main goal with my dissertation is to finish it and finish it within a year.” Her response was “My main goal is that you finish and that you don’t embarass me or the institution.” And we were off.
  • In actually writing my dissertation, it turned out to be VERY helpful to have been trained as a “writer” in my MFA program. Which leads me to the absolute most important piece of advice I can offer to anyone working on a dissertation or a thesis: when you’re in the midst of writing, you have to do something with it every day. That “something” should be writing, reading, and/or research, but whatever it is, it has to be something. Some days, “doing something” means little more than just thumbing through the papers or scrolling through the word file– literally for 10 or 15 minutes. Obviously, if you only do this minimal browsing of your work, you’ll soon have a problem. But what I found was that when I skipped this step entirely– that is, when I took a day or two off from the thing to teach or work on other projects or whatever– it would take me more time to refamiliarize myself with it. If that makes sense. Anyway, I should also point out this is easier advice to give than to follow.
  • When I started my dissertation research, I remember a moment in the process where I had this horrifying feeling that my research topic was about everything, and thus it was going to be impossible. My advisor came to my aid on this one by reminding me of our mutual goals of finishing and keeping it simple. And I guess there are two lessons there: first, and most obviously, remember you aren’t writing about everything. Second, a good advisor is key. Also something that can be easier said than done.
  • The first parts of my diss, which are probably the best, were the most frustrating. I would write a chunk of a chapter or a chapter, pass it on to my advisor, and she would give me feedback, basically saying “not quite yet.” This apparently is the time-honored method. I was talking with my department head the other day– he was in Ph.D. studies I believe in the late 1960’s– and he described a similar process of giving chapters to his advisor, being told “not quite yet” again and again after each revision, and then, finally, apparently after he had suffered enough, being told “okay, now you’re done.”
  • For me, everything changed in the midst of writing chapter 3 because I was offered a tenure-track job. Then my advisor said, more or less, “just finish it.” This was probably good advice since the last thing anyone wants to do is start a tenure-track job without being done with the dissertation. And again, my mantra was and remains “a good dissertation is a done dissertation.” At the same time, this is also why my diss is kind of mediocre in my mind.
  • I had some problems with the reader assigned by the graduate college to my submitted draft of the diss. See, at Bowling Green (and my sense this is typical), there was an office in the graduate college staffed mainly with graduate students who reviewed the formatting issues with all submitted dissertations and theses– margins, following an approved style sheet, etc. Somewhere along the line, my reviewer tried to exercise what I guess I would call too much editorial control. For example, this person was convinced that it was “bad MLA style” to have contractions, so I was asked to change all of my “don’t”s and “can’t”s. And then there was the argument about italics versus underlining: this person was convinced that MLA style did not allow for italics and that I had to change all of my italicized phrases (and I had a lot of them) to underlined phrases. Long story short, this was a frustrating and time-consuming argument that I won.
  • Shortly after I finished my diss, I put it up online; it’s been at different sites for about 10 years now. I did it mainly because I could and because I figured that more people would stumble across an electronic version of it than would ever come across it in the library. Somewhere along the line, it got linked to various databases and resources associated with rhetoric, portions of it have been assigned in classes, and it still gets over 100 hits a week. In other words, it is true in my experience that if you build it, they will come.
  • Still, I don’t think there’s much I can do with it now. Long story short: when I finished my diss 10 years ago and got on with my first tenure-track job, the last thing I ever wanted to do was to go back and even read my dissertation, let alone revise it. And besides that, Grusin and Bolter came out with their book Remediation, which talks about some of the things I talk about in a more sophisticated way than I do and which also uses the term “immediacy” in a slightly different way. But that’s all okay; I got out of the project what I needed.

Anyway, like Collin, I’ll wish to all the summer dissertation and thesis writers. And remember: just sit down and do it and it will all be fine.

Tread-o-puter station, 1.0 (beta)

Not too long ago, when writing about my new desk set-up, I mentioned this “treadputer” workspace that was one of the finalist in this contest they had at the web site Lifehacker. It seemed like a good idea at the time, it seemed like a good idea as of yesterday (when I started to do the research), and it seems like a pretty good idea now as I try out my own version of the tread-o-puter.

By “research,” what I really mean is I went to the store where we bought our treadmill in the first place, my thinking being that perhaps there already was some sort of tray or something already on the market. No such luck, but the guy in the store was pretty entertained by and interested in the concept. He claims he gets asked this question about a way to do computer stuff while on the treadmill all the time and that there are some high-end models out there with computers built into them.

Anyway, I soon figured out that I was going to have to make something on my own. I considered various shelving options, but I am not exactly a fine woodwork kind of guy, and I didn’t want to spend that much time or money on this.

So I settled on two 99 cent spring clamps. When I got home, I cut off part of a box down here in the basement and clamped that cardboard to the treadmill and set up an old keyboard and mouse thusly:

So, while one the treadmill itself, I have a view sort of like this:

On the left there is the TV and DVD player, and on the right is my computer running on battery power.

On the one hand, this is a less than ideal set-up, and I’m not sure that this angle is quite right for both typing and looking at stuff on the screen. I’m writing this post while tread-o-puting, and it is taking some getting used to. It sort of hurts my neck a bit, maybe because of where the computer and the keyboard are located. And it kind of gave me a slight headache; it’s harder than reading and walking on a treadmill at the same time, and that’s bad enough. For this to work, I might have to get a bit more used to it. On the other hand, I’ve been walking (slowly) for about an half-hour now. And it cost me $2.

So stay tuned for more variations….

On the way to solving a problem in the computer lab where I teach

Via Johndan, I came across this very handy tip on how to get rid of permanent marker off of a dry-erase boards. This is a positively terminal problem in the computer lab I teach in, so if this actually works, this would be a cool thing indeed. I might go in special tomorrow just to try this out.