What’s the difference between “fan-cons” and academic conferences?

I took a day off today to go down to Columbus, Ohio to visit a friend of mine who was in town for Origins, which is a very large (10,000-13,000 people) fair/convention/conference about all things “gaming.” Now my friend Chris is heavily invested in this both for fun and for his job, and he made a drive halfway across the country to specifically attend this thing– well, that and travel to some other places. Me, I was doing the drive there/drive back trip solely to see Chris. I will admit that I do have a gaming past– mostly things like Dungeons and Dragons, but generally other role playing games. However, my gaming days were pretty solidly behind me once I left my teens, and in general, I’m not really much of game person. I rarely play computer games or video games, I don’t play poker or many other card games, etc. I probably would play bridge again (a game some friends of mine– including Chris– took up in college) if it didn’t involve sitting around with a bunch of old people, though given that I am rapidly closing the gap age-wise, I might be finding a bridge club sooner than later.

Anyway, I had no plans to go to the “con”; I figured Chris and I would grab some lunch and/or chat about our lives and that’d be about it. But it turns out that I was able to get a “teacher’s pass” based on my EMU faculty ID (membership does have its privileges), so Chris and I toured around a bit. I had a surprisingly good time.

Basically, people do three different but obviously related things at Origins (and I think this is true of most game-oriented conferences). First, they play games– board games (mostly of the war and/or fantasy variety– I don’t think you can play Monopoly at this thing), card games (see above– I don’t think there’s any poker or hearts tables or something), role-playing games, games with miniatures, etc., etc. Second, they go to panels of people talking about games and game related things. And third, people go to the large exhibition area to look at and buy games and game-related things. We just stuck with activity number 3, though we saw plenty of game playing, and there was a program of presentations and other events the size of a small-town phone book.

You see a lot of overlap here with other related geeky cultures/subcultures– people in various kinds of costume and/or “geek appropriate” attire and grooming. There was a lot of stuff on sale that was exactly like the kind of thing you’d see at the RenFest– fake swords and fake armor and stuff like that. Chris and I spent some time talking about the differences between game cons and science fiction cons (Chris, a fan of both, prefers the latter).

But I guess I was was left with two thoughts I’ll post for now before going to bed. First, I really am just not that much of a “fan” of anything, certainly not like the many people who I saw today, people (okay, almost all geeky guys) who travelled half-way across the country to play a simulation game involving armies of tiny figurines of gnomes or card games along the lines of Pokemon or Magic: The Gathering or any number of different games involving pirates. Pirates seem to be a big trend at these things. I don’t really have a favorite favorite sci-fi/fantasy character, and I’m not likely to dress up like one anytime soon. I don’t keep my day job so at night I can meet up with my buddies and the dungeon master and take on my role playing persona of Zandar the Pig Barbarian. These people do, and there’s something about this that strikes an outsider like me as just odd.

Second, I think there’s a lot of similarities between these kinds of conferences– or at least the motivations behind them– and academic conferences. At both, there are presentations, insider lingo, trends, conference badges, and “famous” (for that context) people sightings. People go to both kinds of conferences to attend presentations, to see trends in “the field,” shmooze with people they know only vaguely through email lists and other conferences, and to sell and buy stuff related to the topic of the conference. The outfits at academic conferences tends to be a bit more on the conservative side–not a lot of chain mail at the academic conferences, for example– but there are definitely “outfits/costumes,” and a real insider can spot the differences between the MLA, the CCCCs, and C&W just on the outfits alone– even just the footwear. And let’s face it: most academics treat their work with the same fanatic devotion that most of the people at Origins treat their hobbies.

I dunno, but maybe the organizers of academic conferences ought to see what kinds of tricks they can pick up from these things.

The weirdest spam I’ve ever received

I’m pretty sure this is the weirdest spam/email I have yet received, and, like everyone else, I get plenty. Or at least I assume it’s spam.

This comes from “Information Technician <service@hvr4s.com>” with the subject line “Requested update.” I present it in its entirety here:

Recipe: Overnight Fruit Salad


1 small head cabbage, shredded (about 5 cups)
1 15oz can pineapple chunks, well drained
2 11oz cans mandarin orange sections, drained
2 cups seedless green grapes
1/3 cups light raisins
1 1/2 cups cubed Edam cheese
1 8oz carton lemon yogurt
1 cup dairy sour cream

Instructions :

1. Place cabbage on bottom of large salad bowl.
2. Top with pineapple chunks, mandarin orange sections, grapes and
raisins. Sprinkle cheese atop.
3. Combine yogurt and sour cream; spread over salad, sealing to edge of
4. Cover and refrigerate for 4 to 24 hours. If desired, garnish with
lemon and lime twist, curly endive, and a grape.

That’s it.

Wha? And this frankly sounds like a pretty gross recipe. Though jeez, I hope I’m not offending some relative who has sent this to me disguised as a weird spam…..

And thus ends my duties as the Emperor of Writing

Along with my colleague Cheryl Cassidy, I had a couple of advising oriented meeting with some students about our MA program this afternoon– this while also trying to wrap up my spring teaching, too.  A couple hours after that, I had the pleasure of forwarding an email inquiry from a student directly to Cheryl, who is taking over as the new writing program coordinator starting, well, now.

And thus ends my era as the Emperor of Writing here at EMU.

Much of my thoughts on all this are more “insider politics” than is probably appropriate here, but basically, I am passing the torch on my position as the writing program coordinator.  I’ve been in this quasi-academic administrative position for two and a half years.  In exchange for a couple of course releases a year, I have been advising undergraduate and graduate students in all kinds of different ways, chaired the program’s committee, and done a bunch of other paperwork/dirty-work kinds of things.  On the whole, I’ve enjoyed it, but it’s time for someone else to have a turn and it’s time for me to step back a bit.

It ought to be interesting.  In the ten years I’ve been at EMU, I think I have “just taught” (that is, not have release time to do some kind of quasi-administrative thing) only two or three school years.  These releases are a mixed bag.  On the one hand, the responsibilities are typically too great to do them without release time.  On the other hand, because program coordinators receive release time, the general vibe of other faculty has been “hey, you get release time– you do it.”  I don’t have a particularly good solution to this, but there ought to be a system that gives faculty credit for doing this “extra” work while simultaneously encouraging a wider variety of faculty both “chip in” and to “buy in” to this quasi-administrative work.

In any event, I’ll be doing my part to chip in and help Cheryl out as much as I can.  At the same time, I’m looking forward to going to a while lot fewer meetings this fall.

“University presses start to sell via Kindle”

Speaking of things I want to link to that might come in handy for teaching English 516 next year: “University Presses Start to Sell Via Kindle,” in Inside Higher Ed. There’s been some discussion about this on the WPA-L mailing list, and my post there was basically that this just makes sense as the next logical trend for both the device and university publishing.

My friend Troy has one of these things and loves it; from what I’ve been able to tell (having not actually seen one in the wild), I don’t think these things are quite ready for prime-time. Still, if they come out with one of these things that can handle color, that can do a better job handing note-taking and such, and that is a little more affordable ($359 is a little steep for me), then I could see this being an important tool for both academic publishing and textbook publishing/reading.

U of Minnesota study on benefits of social bookmarking sites and the lack of digital divide

Via NCTE Inbox comes this article/news release from the University of Minnesota, “First-of-its-kind study at the University of Minnesota uncovers the educational benefits of social networking sites; Study also finds that low-income students, contrary to recent studies, are in many ways just as technologically savvy as their counterparts.” Not a very succinct title, but it kind of says what it’s all about. This press release also includes links to some video of the researcher talking about her study; at some point, I’ll want to actually look this study up.

In terms of the graduate class I teach about computers, writing, and pedagogy (ENGL 516), this stuff– access and social networking– was “the line” last semester. I pointed out at the beginning of the class in winter 2008 that I wasn’t going to accept any seminar papers/research projects about a lack of access, because I believed that a) access has been proven to be not a problem, and b) that argument was really an excuse for “I don’t want to do/learn this computer stuff.” This new study will probably add to that argument. But while I haven’t had a lot of students do research/writing on social networking yet, this still seems to be a line that many of my grad students will not cross, particularly those students who are practicing teachers and closer to my age. I ask my students to set up a facebook account for the class, and there are a few who believe that this will end their careers and/or destroy their private life.

Welcome to the Journal of Writing Research

I tend to think of the academic study of writing– as in “composition and rhetoric” in general terms– as a largely North American phenomenon. Sure, they do some of this stuff in Australia too, but the vast majority of people in the field I am in are in the U.S., and the idea of studying writing pedagogy and process is (sorry for the pun here) largely foreign to academics overseas.

Well, that perspective has always been wrong in different ways, and now there is a new journal to prove my wrongness: The Journal of Writing Research has published its first issue. It looks both potentially interesting and kind of weird, which, truth be told, is essentially my somewhat ignorant view of all things European. Take for example this abstract for one of this first issue, “The internal structure of university students’ keyboard skills” by Joachim Grabowski:

Nowadays, university students do not necessarily acquire their typing skills through
systematic touch-typing training, like professional typists. How, then, are the resulting typing skills of university students structured? To reveal the composition of today’s typical typing skills, 32 university students were asked to perform three writing tasks: copying from memory, copying from text, and generating from memory. Variables of keyboard operation that presumably reflect typing abilities and strategies were recorded with ScriptLog, a keystroke logging software; these variables include typing speed, keyboard efficiency, and keyboard activity beyond keypresses that become visible in the final text. Factor analyses reveal three components of typing behavior per task. The clearest interpretations of these components concern keyboard activity/efficiency and typing speed. Across tasks, typing speed is the strongest individually stable facet of keyboard operation. In summary, university students’ keyboard behavior is a multi-faceted skill rather than the mere mastery of a touch-typing method.

See what I mean?

Awesome Highlighter

For fall 2008, I’m going to be making 3 big changes to the way I teach the class all the time, English 328:  Writing, Style, and Technology.  First, I think I’m going to abandon/retire the web site assignment.  Second, I think I’m going to add/replace that assignment with a movie-making assignment (though I really haven’t figured out yet what I’m going to do with that).

Third, I’m going to incorporate/add/integrate contemporary and Web 2.0 technologies into the class assignments– google docs, reader, flickr, the blog assignment I have given for a while, perhaps some kind of wiki assignment, etc.  Toward that end, here’s a kind of cool little tool: the Awesome Highlighter, which allows you to highlight and leave notes on web sites.  It’s a simple and intuitive little tool.

Misc. posts while watching million dollar password and the movie “Resolved”

As the title suggest, I’m posting these things while watching TV, including Resolved, which is running on HBO right now. I thought I’d sort through my Google Reader feed with some links.

  • The Hyperlinked Society looks like an interesting read, certainly something to think about for ENGL 516 or ENGL 444. Via a thaumaturgical compendium.
  • The Reanimation Library, which looks like a kind of interesting installation art version on a library. Some cool pictures here. Via Earth Wide Moth.
  • Five Free Online Video Editing tools. In the fall, I’m going to experiment with a simple video assignment, and one of these tools might be useful/worth playing around with.
  • Obama as a Secret Vulcan, from culture critic extraordinaire Henry Jenkins. Pretty interesting analysis, and it’s better than saying he’s a secret Muslim– not that there’s anything wrong with Muslims, of course.
  • Alex Reid has an interesting post about this article in the CHE about an online and non-university associated (kind of) first year writing course/program called StraighterLine, which is being run by SmartThinking, which runs a lot of online tutoring programs at universities. Besides the critique that Alex offers– which I completely agree with, that there is generally speaking a disconnect between the best scholarship in the field of composition and rhetoric and the course that generically tends be called composition and rhetoric– it just doesn’t seem like an idea that’s very workable. I think that one of the big textbook publishers tried to do this a while back, tried to offer a course with college credit not associated with a traditional institution. As I understand, that program folded up. So I guess I’m just not sure what the plan/business model is here.
  • This also looks like a good book, one to think of for 516: Mechanisms: New Media and the Forensic Imagination by Matthew G. Kirschenbaum. Here’s a review at Grand Text Auto.

There’s probably other stuff I should put here too, but enough for now.  Oh, and go check out that movie, Resolved.

One hundred push ups: it’s worth a shot

I’m getting ready for a series of endings and new beginnings around here.  The spring term is wrapping up, and at the end of that, I’ll be passing the baton of writing program coordinator to my colleague Cheryl Cassidy– more on that another day.  Anyway, that seems as good as time as any to start getting back to exercise and losing weight.

I don’t want to make this about sharing too much information here, but basically, I was able to work out pretty steadily in the fall term, even if I wasn’t able to really lose much weight.  In the winter and the spring, I’ve been quite a bit lazier.  So I’m primed for a restart here.

Which leads me to this link, one hundred push ups.  The premise is very simple:  it’s a six week training program designed to get you to a point where you can do 100 pushups at one time.  Given that the training sessions don’t take that long, hey, what the hell?  I might as well give it a try.