It's 2006– now get back to work

Last year at about this time, I was resolving to get back to work on my textbook project. Well, that didn’t turn out so great.

My textbook project probably isn’t completely behind me because I think I still have some post-mortem work to do on that project, and also because it might yet have a life as a web site (that’s still being sorted out). Beyond that, I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s an article in this experience. Who knows.

But the textbook is mostly behind me. So, what’s next?

Well, 2006 promises to be a pretty busy year for me. Starting this term, I am the writing program coordinator at EMU. Basically, I’m the “lead person” for the undergraduate majors and the graduate programs, which means that I advise students, promote the programs, etc., etc. I’m teaching an over-load this coming winter term, mostly because I need to teach another online section of English 328 to further some scholarly projects. And because I like the class and I like the extra money.

I have a CCCCs presentation to get together and potentially an article sort of about my CCCCs presentation (again, another reason why I need to teach that online class), I have a speaking gig in early April, and I have to get together a proposal for Computer and Writing (which is also probably going to be about online teaching). And I think I am going to start reading and thinking again about my writing technologies before the computer project.

Oh yeah– I think I’m going to try to write a novel, too. But that’s not until May.

I read a great book while at the gym last month (my workout routine, to the extent that I have one, includes 30 or so minutes on either the bike or the elliptical machine while I read something kind of light) called No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty. Basically, the book is a “field guide” to how to participate in the contest/dare that Baty started called “National Novel Writing Month.” The goal is to write the first draft of a novel (defined here as 50,000 words, which is really a pretty short novel– think The Great Gatsby) in 30 days. November is the designated month by the organization, but that’s never a good one for me. So I’m thinking I’m going to give this a try in May. I’ll have just enough schoolwork on my plate to keep me busy, and I’ll have just enough freetime to justify a folly like this.

ObviouslyHopefully, writing something that is largely made up is different than writing something based on research. But beyond novel writing, I think Baty’s book is one I’d recommend to anyone who is “stuck” on a large writing project– a thesis or a dissertation, for example. Baty’s emphasis is on turning off the “internal editor” that all too often stops people from writing anything in the first place. He has great advice on where to find time in a busy schedule to write, and he goes into useful detail in describing strategies for finding the right kind of place to write. Some of his tips come across as a bit goofy (having a “writing totem,” for example), but in a weird way, they have a ring of truth to them, too.

And like I said, his book is ultimately about revision because the point of writing a draft of a novel at break-neck speed is so you can take your time fixing it and polishing it later.

I think I'll just lift these ideas and post them here…

Rebecca Moore “Schenectady Synecdoche” Howard has had a couple of interesting posts on plagiarism lately– first, this one, which is about a “plagiarism” contestat the Utah Desert News Web site, which isn’t really about plagiarism at all. It’s based on a short story that was “written” by two of the paper’s reporters where they took quotes from a bunch of short stories– all of which are cited with footnotes (and thus not plagiarism)–and then put them together. The story is called “The Rearrangement” (warning– this is an MS Word file).

The second post on “blog plagiarism,” which (as far as I can tell) is what I would be doing here had I not credited Moore for these links/posts in the first place. I agree with the premise of Moore’s post about the claim maide in this “techdirt” post, that the plagiarism problem doesn’t matter much if it is a small-time blogger ripping off content from Google or Yahoo or something. However, as the first comment on the post asks, what happens if Google or Yahoo or something rips off the small-time blogger?

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.

I guess I won't be writing a novel this month; get back to me in May?

Once again, National Novel Novel Month is off to an impressive start. You knew that November was National Novel Writing Month, didn’t you? As the web site puts it, NaNoWriMo:

“…is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Valuing enthusiasm and perseverance over painstaking craft, NaNoWriMo is a novel-writing program for everyone who has thought fleetingly about writing a novel but has been scared away by the time and effort involved.

I have to say that as a writer (not of fiction as of late, but I will probably go back to it at some point, probably soon) and as a teacher, I very much value this approach. I think the quest for perfection or just “doing it right” stops too many writers, and I also think that there is value to writing a bad novel even if the only person who reads it is the writer.

It’s just that November is too “middle of the school year” for me to contemplate a novel. Though this might be exactly the time to write a novel. I have a copy of NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty’s book No Plot? No Problem! (and, btw, the book is a hoot), and one of the pieces of advice he offers is to write when you’re really busy. He puts it like this: “If you have a million things to do, adding item number 1,000,001 is not such a big deal. When, on the other hand, you have nothing to do, getting out of bed and washing yourself before 2:00 P.M. feels like too much work to even contemplate.”

Well, regardless, it’s too late for this year. Maybe next, and I am quite serious about trying this in May or so.

Even MORE About the Illustrated Elements of Style (and the problem of "Writing")

Talk about a little story that has legs: on NPR’s “Morning Edition” yesterday (I actually started writing this post while listening to this show yesterday morning; it’s been one thing or another the last couple of days), there was a fairly long piece about the recently published illustrated version of The Elements of Style. Besides talking about the book and its illustrations, the story also talked about the “opera” (but not really so much an opera as a song cycle) that has words based on the book. They have a web site that includes samples of two songs, the story from earlier, and a few pictures from the book.

By the way, the music, IMO, is what Laurie Anderson once referred to in a piece of hers as “Difficult Listening Music.” But I’ll let you be the judge of that.

I don’t want to make too much out of this, and I do think that the Maria Kalman illustrations are hilarious and charming. But I guess I have two problems with the way that these reports talk about The Elements of Style. First, while there is a lot of useful advice in Strunk’s and White’s little book, there’s quite a bit wrong with it, too. The book doesn’t so much offer instruction as it offers Strunk’s (and, I am sure, White’s) “pet peeves” about grammar and useage. Strunk’s and White’s advice– “Be clear,” “Omit needless words,” “Do not affect a breezy manner,” etc.– are merely affirmations. They are to writing instruction what Dr. Phil is to psychotherapy.

And beyond that, Strunk’s and White’s editions of the book are elitist and down-right sexist. I say “Strunk’s and White’s editions” because the latest edition of the book and the edition that Kalman illustrated was published in 2000, about 15 years after White’s death and at least 45 years since Strunk’s demise. This is significant because there are some interesting differences between the 2000 edition and the 1979 edition: many of the examples have been changed to make the book at least a bit more inclusive, they actually mention computers (not significantly, but more than they did in 1979, of course), and they eliminate White’s rather defensive prose on the use of “he” for the generic pronoun. In fact, one of the examples that Kalman illustrates– something like “Chlöe smells good, like a pretty baby should” (Kalman has a picture of a big and pretty baby)– was originally “Chlöe smells good, like a pretty girl should,” which obviously has different connotations. There are dozens of examples like this. I suppose we can credit Strunk’s and White’s assumptions to the fact that the book is a “product of a different time,” but we shouldn’t gloss over Strunk’s and White’s view of the world with a revision that “corrects” them.

The second issue is more significant and more difficult to do anything about, the concept “out there” about what counts as “writing.” Just about every English professor or teacher in the universe has been in the situation where they meet a stranger (on a plane, at a party, waiting in a line, whatever) and after they tell the stranger that they are an English professor or teacher, the stranger says something like “Oh, I better watch my grammar.” And when I tell people outside of English studies (and sometimes inside, too!) that I do things in my classes like make web sites, study email exchanges, examine the balance between text and graphics, etc., etc., they get a bit confused.

I was reading Kathy Yancey’s CCCC 2003 keynote essay the other day (I think it was the 2003 keynote; it was published in the December 2004 issue of the CCCs) and I think she makes a pretty good argument about where we ought to be going with writing. One quote that sort of sums it up for me:

This new composition includes rhetoric and is about literacy. New composition includes the literacy of print: it adds on to it and brings the notions of practice and activity and circulation and media and screen and networking to our conceptions of process. It will require a new expertise of us as it does of our students. And ultimately, new composition may require a new site for learning for all of us.

Right on; now, the question is how do we convince people outside of our own narrow little world that this ought to be what they think of “writing?” And how do we get a story about this new concept of writing in the New York Times or on NPR?

"The Google Print Controversy: A Bibliography"

Via what looks like a library-oriented blog called DigitalKoans comes this bibliography about Google and publishing. Nice– I always like it when someone does the work for me. In any event, as I think about Computers and Writing for the winter in the back of my mind, I am thinking more and more about how I really need to have a unit on Google or electronic publishing or maybe both or together.

Can The Elements of Style: The Movie be far behind?

Via a New York Times article called “Style Gets New Elements,” I discovered this morning that Penguin Press has come out with a version of Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style which (or is it that? perhaps I should look that up) includes illustrations by the artist Maria Kalman.

What did she illustrate, you ask? As the article reports:

In the new clothbound edition, Ms. Kalman’s whimsical paintings are sprinkled through the text, often responding to the wry or quirky examples the authors chose to enliven what might otherwise have been a dry discussion of grammatical rules. On the topic of pronoun cases, they offer: “Polly loves cake more than she loves me.” On the uses of the dash: “His first thought on getting out of bed – if he had any thought at all – was to get back in again.” Ms. Kalman had no shortage of material.

I routinely teach The Elements of Style in an advanced writing class I teach called “Writing, Style, and Technology.” I won’t belabor it now, but my goal in teaching the book is to problematize it because, while I think Strunk and White offer a lot of good advice, I also think they offer a fair amount of bad or just plain “wrong” advice, too. And, along the way, they have a lot of kind of strange examples– thus the illustrations, which are a hoot.

The illustrations aren’t designed to explain the rules at all; rather, they are pieces of art that take their inspiration from the rules themselves. The result is some very funny and charming pictures, and I think it has this effect on the original that I can’t quite put my finger on yet. But basically, I think the illustrations change the book from being a bunch of pretty static and straight-forward rules into a kind of strange and surrealist “art” piece.

But wait– there’s more. According to The NYT:

…the young composer Nico Muhly offers a finely wrought “Elements of Style” song cycle, to be given its premiere tonight at 8 in a highly unusual, if oddly appropriate, concert setting: the Rose Main Reading Room of the New York Public Library.

Oh, and at the end of the article, they quote a letter White wrote in 1981 that mentions a ballet based on The Elements of Style.

At some point in the (hopefully) near future, I think I’d like to/need to write some sort of review or article about this thing. I don’t know who would publish it, but….

Misc. Post

I’ve been meaning to post about a variety of different things lately, but I’ve gotten a bit behind with school things (though I am about to come ’round the corner, too– I can sense it). So what I’m doing to do instead is post a few quick comments and links and such and let the chips where they may.

  • On the way home yesterday, I thought about what would happen if (for next year) I abandoned the eCollege software for teaching online and tried to do the whole thing myself with Moodle or Drupal or something. What would be lost? What would be gained? Would the powers-that-be at EMU be annoyed with me? Hmmm….
  • My routine has been thrown off by fund-raising time at public radio. Don’t get me wrong– I understand why they need to do it, and I am indeed a member of my favorite public radio station, WEMU. But I just find it annoying. So please, if you listen, give what you can so they can get back on with it.
  • Johndan observes that Apple computer controls are for lefties. He blames this on the mac, but aren’t the common short-cut commands for the PC (alt-x, alt-v, alt-c) all on the left too? Having this, I must say he might have a point. The touchpad on my laptop has been a problem for a while now, so I’ve been using a mouse, and the USB port is… on the left. But since I’m left-handed, this is totally okay with me.
  • Via Weblogg-ed cmes this article, “Web logs go to school” on C|Net News. com. It’d be interesting to share this piece side-by-side with the bad press that things like Xanga have been getting in high schools lately.
  • Speaking of which, via an email that Rich Rice sent to Tech-Rhet, I’ve learned that at least one school, Santa Clara University, is using the student blog angle in order to help market itself. Granted, Santa Clara U is a tad different from, say, EMU (SCU bills itself as “The Jesuit University of Silicon Valley”), but it’s interesting nonetheless.
  • Jenny Edbauer wrote about two interesting and free applications. First, there is a blog software called Blogsome, which gives users Word Press-like features. It’s worth thinking about instead of Blogger, that’s for sure (btw, now even Blogger is having spam problems! Is Word Press the last blogging software that seems to not have significant issues with this stuff?). Second, there’s Jot, which is another free wiki software. I’d like to compare it with PBwiki before using it, but I suspect that Wikis will play a role in my Writing for the World Wide Web class next time around.

Okay, enough catch-up with the blog. Time to catch up with the other things in life.

Fuzzy Writing

Via Kairos News comes a link for something called fuzzmail. Here’s my lame little test of this app.

It’s kind of a cute little thing, the kind of thing that looks like it came out of a class on working with javascript, though it isn’t quite what I was expecting. Still, it might be kind of cool to show in my 328 class for a couple of reasons. First, this is kind of a very mini/junior version of the sort of usability software tools, the things that tech writers and psychologists and computer geeks use to study in depth the kinds of things that people do when they actually “use” web sites. Though what disappoints me a bit is that this is a very mini/junior version of that.

Second, it does potentially fit in with the project(s) we’ll be doing in that class regarding “visual” rhetoric. We’re going to read McCloud’s Understanding Comics and at least one or two essays from Handa’s collection on visual rhetoric, and we’re going to do at least one assignment– possibly two– in which playing around with this site might make sense. We’re going to do something (you can see how well planned this all is in my head!) that makes some kind of connection between images and words ala McCloud. But I’ve been thinking lately of making the last assignment in the class (at least in the “face-to-face” class, where I know I have access to some quasi-decent software in our computer lab and much better hardware/software at other places on campus).

See, I’ve been interested lately in learning for myself how to use Flash, iMovie, and other “moving pictures” sorts of technologies, I guess because I’m impressed with presentations like this one, “Identity 2.0” or the fabulous one that Lawrence Lessig did at the 2005 CCCCs. Neither one of these examples (and I’m sure there are many others) are using exactly rocket science technology (jeez, these two examples are basically PowerPoint), both of these presentations required the speakers to actually write something out ahead of time because you can’t just “wing it” (as so often is the case with conventional PowerPoint presentations) when you have a whole bunch of slides like these examples, and I think that these presentations are pretty effective. And really, beyond my students doing these projects, I’m interested in learning more about doing these kinds of things myself because I think it would enhance the online teaching experience.

But I digress. In the short-term, fuzzmail is kinda cute.