NYC, Baby!

NYC Times SquareSo, how was New York? Other than the luggage and the money, it was great. I’m not going to talk in detail about all the lost luggage crap here– that’s on the official blog here and here, if you’re curious. The short version is that the trip began very poorly, and we were detoured to JFK airport while our luggage went and sat for about a day at LaGuardia airport. This cast an obvious shadow on the trip, and this is a saga that I am sure will continue since Annette and I are planning on getting together to compose a formal complaint letter this week.

By “money,” I mean the rate of spending. As my wife is fond of pointing out, I like to spend money more than the average person, but these few days in New York City were ridiculous. It was if money itself were coal, and we were working at stoking the furnaces of the S.S. Titanic right after the iceburg was spotted and full reverse was called. Part of it was previously planned excesses (see below) and part of it was our semi-lost luggage experiences (see above), but part of it is that New York is just so freakin’ expensive.

But like I said, it was still fun. I have a set of photos on flickr here, but here’s a run-down of what happened:

We arrived into town a bit later than planned and without clean clothing, so it was too late to do any real conference “business.” Instead, we went to the gala Bedford/St. Martin’s Press party at the Tavern on the Green where we met Annette S. (For those not familiar with my line of work: this is a big party that one of the major publishers in composition and rhetoric puts on every year for folks at the conference I was attending, the CCCCs). I talk about this a bit on my official blog. It was a lovely affair. After this, Annette S. (our muse and guide in New York since she is our good friend and since she is indeed a genuine New Yorker) took us to Chez Josephine,which was (supposedly) owned and operated by the son of Josephine Baker. Nice place– very good vibe.

We went back to the hotel where Annette and I were staying, the Paramount, and met up with some of the “usual CCCCs suspects:” Bill HD, Steve B, and some of the fellas they hang out at with at this conference. Eating and drinking continued, though I missed much of it since I kept trying to talking with/yelling at the Northwest airlines people about the status of our luggage.

The other piece of drama was there was some party of people (we later found out it was a bunch of lawyers) where a woman was screaming, kicking, lunging, and hitting anyone in her path. By the time we left the restaurant on the mezinne level for the bar on the first floor, she was being held down in the lobby by some of her fellow patrons. I believe Annette found out the next day that six cop cars showed up when the bartenders finally called. So, what was it: a scorned lover? a drug trip gone bad? just crazy-time? There’s no way for us to know of course, but it was good theater, which, since we were in the “theater district,” seemed appropriate enough.

My original plans for Friday were to go first thing in the morning to go and do conference things. This was, after all, the reason why I was in New York in the first place. But we still hadn’t received our luggage, and, at this point, I smelled enormously. Annette only had one outfit too and she wanted to go shopping anyway. So instead, Annette and I walked down to Macy’s. We went our separate ways at this point and Annette spent more time shopping than I did. I was pleasantly surprised at the sales, frankly– good deals all around. Anyway, I bought a conference outfit (and a few other things), changed into my new clothes the dressing room, and went off to the conference, all clean and shiny and new.

Babbo front door

After the conference, I went back to the hotel, did a little school work (I was still “teaching” online during this whole thing), and then Annette and I went to meet Annette S. at one of the major destinations for this trip, Babbo. This is an adventure that actually began a month earlier. Annette suggested that a good birthday present for me (I turned 41 on Sunday) would be a fancy meal at a fancy restaurant in New York, and since Bill HD and his wife had been to Babbo and I had actually heard of it (it’s probably the highest-end restaurant that Mario Batali owns). I found out that to get reservations for a Friday night, I needed to call at 10 AM a month in advance. So that’s what I did. I must have hit redial 100 times, and 20 minutes later, I had my choice of reservations– well, before 6:15 or after 9:30.

The food, the drink, the desert– well, I could go on and on, but was all fantastic.

After that, we did some carousing in Greenwich Village– this is one of my favorite pictures for the whole trip, actually:

The Best Backrubs We did not discover the accuracy of the sign, but we did find a place for wine. After a while, it was time to go home and Annette S. put us on a subway. Like a couple of wide-eyed farm kids, Annette and I found our way back to our hotel.

Saturday afternoon, we got “a slice” and went to the Museum of Modern Art (very cool). We thought about going to a play, but decided on a piano bar outing instead. Now, I have to say that I was not familiar with the genre of the “piano bar.” I was expecting place where some person played the piano and where someone– either the piano player or some other singer. There are apparently several different definitions of the “Piano Bar.” In this particular case, there was a professional playing and singing, but the wait staff also sang and performed. There was also a few people who got up and sang karoke-style, but they sounded pretty darn good to me, like struggling Broadway actors.

Anyway, we were having a grand time, listening to the music, laughing, talking, etc., etc. Everyone in this place was doing this, actually. It was far from a concert. At some point, this couple of German tourists– let’s call the man of the couple “Gunter”– sat down next to us. I looked over and noticed that Gunter had three scotch and waters and they both were quite earnest at paying attention to the show. I didn’t think much of it, kept talking and laughing in my loud voice, and Gunter kept on looking over at us, kind of giving us some kind of stare.

Whatever. But then, out of nowhere, Gunter shouted out “Look! I am not here to listen to you talk! I am here to listen to the music! This is the cabaret!” Or something like that. Well, Annette S. and Annette and I looked at each other and laughed. “Is he serious?” Annette asked. Then I, in my too loud voice, kept talking with Annette and Annette S. about how stupid this all was, how this wasn’t freakin’ Carnegie Hall, there’s no cover, it’s a freakin’ piano bar, etc. And then we largely ignored Gunter again.
At one point a bit later, Gunter started taking pictures. Since I too was taking pictures, I decided to take a picture of him (note the cocktail in his hand):

I don’t know exactly why, but even now this makes me laugh.

Oh, an important postscript here:

A BIG BIG thank you to my parents who came out to watch Will and Sophie while we were off spending money. Besides keeping track of the boy and the dog, my mom straightened up/cleaned up the basement and my dad fixed our dryer so that it actually can dry a load of clothes in a normal period of time. So again, thanks a ton.

The CCCCs, Day Three: "Three and Three…"

What do I mean by “three and three,” you ask? Why, that’s the number of presenters on my panel and the number of brave souls who came to listen to us talk. Actually, it was about what I had expected for a 9:30 AM Saturday morning session, especially since I think our panel title could have just as easily been “miscellaneous.” Don’t get me wrong– the other two people on my panel (Elizabeth Weiser and Rita Hadin) had good talks; it’s just that was essentially no connection between these things. The basic reaction to my comic was “Huh. He made a comic.” Still, it was a friendly chat, which is about all I’m looking for out of most conference presentations.

I decided I needed to go to at least one “real” panel, sort of a combination of both a certain amount of “guilt” at my bad participation and a desire to get my money’s worth. Generally, I go to three kinds of panels at the CCCCs: ones with “stars” of the field, the ones with a bit of a “rock concert” feel; very specific computer topics I am interested in by people I know who are likely to have good things to say; or panels about some sort of topic I really don’t know anything about but which sounds kind of interesting. I picked the last type for this panel and saw Debra Hawhee give a talk in the eyes and the “vision thing” in Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Jeffrey Walker talk about declamation. Both were great talks, and I very much appreciated Walker’s ability to connect the particular declamation he was discussing to current events.

And that, as they say, is how she wrote– well, at least for official things. The unofficial/”fun” in New York side of the trip will come on the unofficial blog after I get back to Ypsilanti. Kind of a short conference for me made all the more short by Northwest Airlines, which still sucks. See everyone in New Orleans; I might even drive….

The CCCCs, Day Two (Sort of): Northwest Airlines Still Sucks

What is it that they say about the best laid plans? Deep sigh….

My original plan, before Northwest Airlines decided to just leave my luggage sitting at the airport for about 20 hours before doing anything about it, was to get up first thing in the morning and go to sessions and such at the CCCCs all day Friday. My lost luggage and highly smelly clothes changed that. So instead, I went shopping at Macy’s, actually changed into my new clothes at the store, and got to the conference at about 11:30. I shmoozed with various folks for a while, went to the book exhibit, shmoozed some more, went out for a long lunch with my near future colleague John Dunn so I could answer those kinds of questions he wanted to ask when he was on the interview but which he couldn’t ask (you know what I mean). And by then, it was three-ish, I was beat, I had dinner plans (I’ll post more about that on my unofficial blog eventually), and so my conference day was over.

Damn you, Northwest Airlines!

Of course, it wasn’t a complete loss. Thursday night began with the St. Martin’s party at Tavern on the Green. I felt like a proud papa talking with some colleagues at some PhD programs where we have sent/are sending some of our recent MA graduates and enjoyed some of the best food I’ve had at a St. Martin’s shin-dig. I was a bit surprised by Tavern on the Green though; not as nice as I thought it might be, but my expectations might have been too high.

Thursday night, I did end up meeting up with my usual partners in crime at the CCCCs, Bill H-D and Steve B (and the usual Purdue folk). Since I’m not splitting a room with Bill and Steve this year (my wife came with me to this CCCCs), we were only out comparing various notes while enjoying refreshments until about 1 or so.

When I did get to the conference on Friday, I thought the book exhibit was a little disappointing, maybe because it seemed to me like there weren’t a lot of presses there. The textbook business has been buying each other for a long time, but the same seems to be happening with academic presses as well. I noticed that Routledge has bought LEA, for example.

Oh, and our luggage did show up, finally– about ten minutes before we had to leave for our dinner plans.

And now I’m getting ready for my Saturday morning presentation. I’m actually sitting in the lobby of my hotel (my wife is still asleep), The Paramount. Basically, a thumbs up. It has this uber-pretentious/mod thing to it. The lobby has fashionably mismatched furniture, polished concrete, lighting designed for effect instead of visibility, and they’re playing 80’s pop music at a volume beyond atmosphere. My parents would hate this, but we think it’s kinda cool.

Originally, I was going to present and leave, but given my inability to go to panels yesterday, I’ll be hitting at least one panel presentation. Unless I run into someone, of course.

The CCCCs, Day One (Sort of): Nortwest Airlines Sucks, Part One

I’m writing this several hours before I can post it since I’m in the Detroit airport, soaking in textbook (perhaps that’s why it belongs on my official blog instead of the unofficial one?) examples of bad (with bursts of good) customer service.

First the bad: per my fetish for getting to the airport very early (almost 20 years ago now, I missed a flight because of the friend who took me to the airport, a chronically late sort of guy), my wife and I were sitting at our gate about an hour and a half before we were scheduled to depart. There was some flight leaving for Buffalo at our gate, and we didn’t think much about it. Around 45-30 minutes before we were scheduled to leave, my wife goes to the desk at the gate and finds out that our flight has been canceled entirely.

Now, I’ve been in situations where flights change gates, and I’ve been in situations where flights get canceled. But I’ve never been sitting the area near the gate and NOT heard this sort of thing being announced. Anyway, finding this out like this makes me mad. Really REAAAALLLLYYYY mad, and for those of you who have seen me shift into “Hulk Angry at Customer Service Person� mode, I have to tell you that it’s not pretty.

I get up, gather my stuff while my wife is doing the same thing, and go over to the podium. “Why wouldn’t you announce that the flight was canceled?â€� I yell pretty much as loud as I can (oh, and this is something that many loyal readers can confirm– I pretty much have the loudest voice of anyone you are likely to meet).

“Hey, didn’t you see there was no one around here?� the Northwest gate guy says.
Not having time to deal with this jerk, my wife and I scurry to some area to reboarding our flight. “I’ll do the talking, I’ll do the talking,� my wife keeps saying. Fine. So while she goes and actually arranges for the re-booking, I’m asking to speak to a supervisor, who turns out to be the person managing the line of people rebooking flights because of other cancellations. Angry at Northwest, this person, the world, etc. with a passion of a 1000 burning suns, I proceed to tear this person a new one, so to speak. This proved to be somewhat cathartic for me and great theater for the growing line of people, some of whom I am sure were waiting for their opportunity to have at this person.

Given that this “supervisor-type� seemed to have the job that might be best described as “get yelled at by angry customers,� this person was not going to give us a whole lot of satisfaction. We did end up getting booked onto a flight to JFK instead of LAG, and we headed to the gate.

I was still pretty pissed off, so I went to find a white courtesy phone to try and complain to some other Northwest supervisor. There was nothing on the other end of the phone– no dial tone, nothin’. So I hiked over to some desk with some other customer service folks hanging around, was told “oh sure, eventually someone will pick up the phone,â€� and hike back over to the not so curtious phone. Anger is seething in me, and I imagine the tease for my story on the local TV news services all over the country: “A seemingly mild-mannered college professor killed three Northwest customer service reps today at Detroit Metro. More at 11.â€�

Finally, a different Northwest rep comes over and says “hey, is there anything I can do?â€� I give the version of my story (at slightly lower volume), and tell him at this point, what I want is to figure out the deal with our luggage and to make up the difference in a cab ride from JFK (further away, a bit more expensive, etc.) Finally, this guy tries to make it right, explains the weather situation that canceled these flights, and he gives us a voucher for a limo ride to Manhattan. Okay, fine, there’s a brush of good customer service in there.

But then, when we get to JFK airport, and find out that a) we have much confusion regarding our the location of our luggage, though we’re told that we should receive the luggage yet tonight, and b) the car/limo service for which we receive a voucher does not appear to exist. In other words, what I was given in Detroit turns out to be worthless.

There’s more, but I’ll shake it off and get on with some conference things. But the point is this: There were any number of opportunities for someone at Northwest to try to make things right, and instead, they decided to keep making things wrong.

I’ll still end up flying Northwest because if you stay in the metro Detroit area and you want to get on an airplane, you pretty much have no choice but to fly on Northwest. But just to repeat: Northwest really sucks.

Pre-CCCCs: My presentation as a comic

Loyal readers will recall that I was somewhat disappointed about the technology options (or lack thereof) at the CCCCs this year. I’m not wholesale against writing a “traditional paper” for a conference like this, but I just didn’t think it made sense given my topic, which is about some of the challenges of dealing with my local tech support/ICT folks in setting up a server for WPA stuff. And really, I think it’s much less about “technology” than it is about “identities.”

Well, what I decided to do was make a comic book. Here’s a link to it.

I am very curious to see what people say about this. I have shown it to a couple of folks around here and have received very positive reviews, but I also can imagine people showing up to my panel (and btw, since I’m talking at like 9 am on a Saturday, I’m not expecting hundreds of people). I can easily imagine a lot of “Whhhhaaaa????!!!!”

Anyway, a brief Steven agenda (as if you care): I arrive on Thursday in time for the traditional St. Martins’ party, I’m at the conference all day on Friday (well, with very special dinner plans I’ll probably post about on my unofficial blog), I present on Saturday, and then I turn into a tourist. Stay tuned for details.

"Ditching" Microsoft Apps

Via cyberdash, I came across this article in InformationWeek online, “FAA May Ditch Microsoft’s Windows Vista And Office For Google And Linux Combo.” Here are the opening two paragraphs:

March is coming in like a lion for Microsoft’s public sector business. Days after InformationWeek reported that the Department of Transportation has placed a moratorium on upgrades to Windows Vista, Office 2007, and Internet Explorer 7, the top technology official at the Federal Aviation Administration revealed that he is considering a permanent ban on the Microsoft software in favor of a combination of Google’s new online business applications running on Linux-based hardware.

In an interview, FAA chief information officer David Bowen said he’s taking a close look at the Premier Edition of Google Apps as he mulls replacements for the agency’s Windows XP-based desktop computers and laptops. Bowen cited several reasons why he finds Google Apps attractive. “It’s a different sort of computing strategy,” he said. “It takes the desktop out of the way so you’re running a very thin client. From a security and management standpoint that would have some advantages.”

A bit of a poke into Google shows me that the same stuff is available to educational enterprises like this one for free, and the “premier” package is $50 a year.

I’m not familiar enough with these apps at this point to say if Google truly is ready to start charging $50 a year for what you get now, but I’ve been pretty pleased with gmail. I’ve started making the grand switch over, forwarding both of my personal and my school account to gmail, and the advantages of the interface outweigh the disadvantages so far.

The three things I like most about gmail at this point? First, the spam filter is dramatically more effective than what I had through my ISP, through EMU, and through Apple’s mail software. Second, the way that gmail sorts mail into “conversations” has turned out to be pretty handy. It’s taken some getting used to for me because you do have to dig into it a little bit to see what’s going on in a particular conversation, but the advantage is it keeps my inbox more compressed. And third, archiving everything with the ability to search through it easily means I don’t feel as compelled to sort every last email I get into a mailbox. I do label stuff that’s important still and I use that (basically) as a mailbox scheme, but just last night I found some message that I thought was long LONG gone just by sifting through a search. So that’s all been pretty cool.

So who knows? Maybe I’ll ditch MS Word next. I’ve already been playing around with iWork….

Of course, as far as Internet-based word processor or spreadsheet apps go, the disadvantage of having to be online to work with them are pretty obvious– perhaps not a big deal if you are working for the FAA and sitting at a desk all the time, but a bigger deal if you are a student or a teacher with a laptop who may or may not have decent wireless access at different points of the work day.

Composition Studies and the Writing Major

There was a “shout-out” about this on the WPA-L mailing list and I just thought I’d repeat it here:

The issue of Composition Studies that I worked on with some of my colleagues here at EMU has either come out or it’s about to come out. The WPA-L email says they’ve printed extra copies– I guess a “hot item” or something.

Anyway, I just wanted to say thanks in a public forum to all of my colleagues who worked with me on this, but especially Heidi Estrem. By the end of this project, she was the major organizer/force behind this project. So thanks Heidi!

Here’s what’s in the issue:

Estrem, Heidi. “Growing Pains: The Writing Major in Composition and Rhetoric”

Delli Carpini, Dominic. “Re-writing the Humanities: The Writing Major’s Effect upon Undergraduate Studies in English Departments.”

Clary-Lemon, Jennifer. “Hot Arctic: Major as New ‘Site’ for New Hires.”

McClure, Randall. “Projecting the Shape of the Writing Major.”

Howard, Rebecca Moore. “Curricular Activism: The Writing Major as Counterdiscourse.”

Shamoon, Linda and Celest Martin. “Which Part of the Elephant is This?: Questioning Creative Non-Fiction in the Writing Major.”

Schaffner, Spencer. “Grounding the Writing Major in the Socio-Graphemic Approach.”

Peeples, Timothy, Rosinski, and Michael Strickland. “Chronos and Kairos, Strategies and Tactics: The Case of Constructing Elon University’s Professional Writing and Rhetoric Concentration”

Taylor, Beth. “On Brown University’s New Non-Fiction Writing Program–A ‘Focus’ within the English Concentration”

Newman, Glenn. “Concocting a Writing Major: A Recipe for Success”

Scott, Tony. “The Cart, the Horse, and the Road They are Driving Down: Thinking Ecologically about a New Writing Major.”

Peele, Thomas. “What do We Mean by Writing?”

Lowe, Kelly. “Against the Writing Major”

Taylor, Hill. “Black Spaces: Examining the Writing Major at an Urban HBCU”

Flyin' low-tech at the CCCCs

Now that the EMU English Department conference is wrapped up, it’s on to my next task of this busy semester, getting my presentation ready for the CCCCs in New York in two weeks. My talk is called “Content Management Systems and Writing Program Administration: When Your Website is Not Something You Have, But Something You Are.” The bad news is that I’m presenting on Saturday morning; the good news is that I’m presenting at all because the only reason I’m on the program is because I asked if there was any way for the powers that be at the CCCCs to reconsider my proposal. They did and I’m on.

The other piece of bad news: I found out yesterday that the “technology” I will have access to at the conference will be limited to an overhead. If I want an LCD projector it’d come out of my own pocket, and if I wanted internet access (God forbid!), it cost me over $800. For just my session.

First off, I think one of the reasons that my tech access is so meager (and why I had a hard time getting on the program in the first place) is because I submitted this proposal not in the “Information Technology” cluster but in the “Theory” cluster. I did this because I see my presentation about ident(ities) more than about computer things, though, as the title perhaps suggests, I suppose it is about both. In any event, I guess folks in the “Theory” cluster don’t need any of that stinkin’ technology….

I briefly considered trying to borrow a projector from school to take with me, but I don’t think I want to be responsible for it (e.g., what if it breaks, what if it gets stolen, lugging the thing around, etc., etc.), and I’m not sure the powers that be at EMU would let me take it anyway. So while I’ve come to rely on somewhat elaborate PowerPoint (and now Keynote) presentations for conference talks like this, I guess I’ll have to figure out how to go back to “old school” with transparencies.

It’ll give me a chance to figure out how to print on the damn things again….