Why does KitchenAid want to know if I have a dog?

As I mentioned the other day, we celebrated an “early Christmas” at my side of the family in Iowa (because this year, we’ll be visiting Annette’s side of the family in Florida). The “big gift” Annette and I received from my parents was a KitchenAid standing mixer. It’s not exactly the sort of thing that is good for the low-carb diet and we don’t have a whole lot of counter space in our kitchen for it, but we wanted it because it is of course a very useful piece of equipment and because we presume that this thing will be working for 20 years or so. Having used it to make a batch of cookies for Will to take with him to school, I can tell you that this is a fine mixer.

Anyway, in my on-going grading procrastination, I decided to fill out the KitchenAid product registration form this morning. It has turned out to be quite a procrastination activity because this thing has 22 questions. Among other things, they want to know my occupation, my spouses’ occupation, our family income, our use of credit cards, my home ownership status, and, on the “Please check all that apply to your household” question, if (among other things) I shop via the Internet, am a member of a frequent flyer program, if I own an Apple/Macintosh computer (not a PC, but a Mac), and if I have a dog.

I want to register our new mixer product, but it sure seems to me they want to know a bit too much about me….

Just what exactly is "bad writing?"

I stumbled across this review of the 2003 book Just Being Difficult? Academic Writing in the Public Arena, which was published (and, for some reason, made available on the web) in the journal Philosophy and Literature. Basically, the book is a response to Philosophy and Literature editor Denis Dutton’s “bad sentence” contest. Guess what? The review thinks the book is bad!

Time away from graduate school has softened my views regarding those who tend to be labeled as “anti-theorists,” but I will say two things. First, I personally subscribe to the “bad writing is relative” school of thought, and my teaching about “style” and “clear writing” continually reinforces this idea. There is no transcendent “good writing” because good writing always depends on audience, purpose, and desired effect. That being the case, how can these folks comfortably define “bad writing,” especially when it is reduced to a winning “bad sentence?”

Second, Dutton et al really are a bunch of “reactionaries,” in at least an academic sense. I was on the philosophy and literature mailing list maybe 8 or more years ago, and it was an incredibly irritating discussion to listen to and participate in. It’s sort of like what happens to me when I stumble across Rush Limbaugh: just about everything these folks said back then (and what Rush says now) angers me and makes me want to shout and explain why they are wrong. And they weren’t exactly thrilled to listen to me, so I signed off.

Slight Update:
I edited this slightly based on stb’s (somewhat nit-picky) comments. This is what happens when I write these things right out of bed in the morning and before I finish my first cup of coffee….

This one goes out for the ladies…

I came across two different links/articles today that I am sure will appeal to my female readers:

* First, there’s this blog entry by Jenny “Stupid Undergrounds” Edbauer about a guy pretending to be a gynecologist. Jenny is a grad student at the University of Texas at Austin who writes a very good comp/rhet blog which also has entries like this one. The short version is that a guy in Texas (of course it was Texas!) got busted for giving “exams” at a storage facility. Weird.

* Second, there’s this web site for the Christian Chick Lit Roundtable, which I came across at John “A Writing Teacher’s Blog” Lovas. As John points out, this is just another example of the “parallel universe” of religious readers out there, the same folks who have bought 18 million + copies of the “Left Behind” series.

Anyway, enjoy.

Copying, freedom of content, ripping/mashing/burning, vs. Plagiarism

I’m back from my homeland of Iowa, where I did the usual Thanksgiving things, along with the unusual. We celebrated Christmas with my side of the family (we actually opened gifts before the food) because this is the year we visit the “other” (eg, in-laws) side of the family.

And I also sat around and read stuff I normally wouldn’t have time to read, including Malcolm Gladwell’s “Something Borrowed” in The New Yorker, and, as an interesting companion piece, much of the November 2004 issue of WIRED magazine, which is about this cool CD I mentioned a week or two ago that comes with the November issue, along with issues associated with copyright, Creative Commons, the open source movement, and how all this stuff intersects with music. As long as I’m linking to this stuff here, I should of course link to this Collin Brooke post, which makes and then links to some other good commentary on all this. Good stuff for a class in the future, I suspect.

A couple of quick thoughts about all this before I forget:

In my own simplistic way of viewing these things, I think there’s a difference between “copyright violation,” “borrowing/stealing” without attribution, and plagiarism. “Copyright violation” is essentially a product of capitalism. People (or, more accurately, corporate entities, like record companies) get all worked up about this because there’s money at stake. I think both Gladwell and the stuff in WIRED problematize this effectively.

“Borrowing/stealing” seems somehow different and in-between copyright violations and plagiarism to me. As a couple of the blogs I mention above suggest, Gladwell “forgives” the playwright Bryony Lavery for lifting lines from his New Yorker article for her play, and this seems like an fitting response. I can understand that, though it’s worth pointing out that Gladwell, as a gainfully employed writer at a prestigious magazine, can probably afford to forgive Gladwell. Suppose, for example, that Lavery had “borrowed/stolen” a few lines from a piece of writing from a student in a playwriting workshop? I wonder if the “we all borrow/steal” crowd would feel “warm and fuzzy/this is just sharing/information always wants to be free” about all this under those circumstances?

I do think there is something to be said for the fact that Dorothy Lewis, the “real life” psychiatrist who is more or less the main character in Lavery’s play, feels “violated” by the whole thing. I mean, Gladwell had a few lines from one of hundreds of magazine articles “borrowed” from Lavery; Lewis had a version of her identity stolen and reworked by her. To me, she has more to complain about.

And then there’s plagiarism, which to me (since I am an academic) is very much a matter of academic rules. In my teaching, there are essentially two forms of plagiarism: accidental and purposeful. Accidental plagiarism is not getting the citation right in some fashion (forgetting to put something in quotes, forgetting a citation, citing only part of a quote/paraphrase, etc.). Purposeful plagiarism is when a writer presents a piece of work she didn’t write to an audience (generally a teacher) as if she did write it. This is the “bought paper” or the paper written for hire.

In my own teaching, I don’t worry a whole lot about the accidental variety of plagiarism (I find it easy to spot and I simply tell students they need to correct it), and I construct assignments that would be rather difficult to purposefully plagiarize. So I try to prevent plagiarism, but I don’t spend a whole lot of time with software like Turnitin tracking down possible violations.

Anyway, this is a long way of saying that I kind of disagree with something that Collin said: I don’t think we all plagiarize. On the other hand, I do think we all borrow/rip/mash/burn all the time. How could we not? As Collin talked about, we all obviously learn language (and just about everything else I can think of) by copying others. We all get ideas (like this post) by reading others, we all get notions of art, music, movies, anything, because we all live in the culture. Or, as I am fond of saying to my students, originality is highly over-rated because it is next to impossible to actually accomplish.

Family fun, fear of recognition in CF

I’m writing right now in a Panera’s in my home town of Cedar Falls, IA, the day after we had a combined Christmas/Thanksgiving celebration. It’s kinda short n’ sweet because this is the year all the Krause kids head to the in-laws (we’re going to Florida to see Annette’s folks) and also because some of my sisters and hubbies have plans. Jill and Dan (hey Dan, loyal reader, you!) left last night to catch a flight today, and Christine and family left early this morning so she could get back to her store for the busiest shopping day of the year. Hope it goes well.

Anyway, the thing that occurred to me just now is the possibility of being recognized by someone, especially someone who recognizes me who I don’t remember. It happens to me all the time. In fact, the last time I was sitting in this place, I talked to the father of someone I used to know, and I hadn’t seen this guy in at least 15 years. On the way up here, we stopped at the I-80 Truckstop in Wallcott, and some guy came up to me, introduced himself, and pointed out we went to high school together. I have no idea who he was. But that might not be that bad; I mentioned his name to my sisters, and they told me he wasn’t in my class.

It’s always a little strange going out and about in Cedar Falls like this…awkward is the word, I think. Maybe that’s the real reason why I didn’t go to my reunion.

Slight Update:
Will and I spent some time wondering around downtown Cedar Falls this afternoon. It’s an area of town that has really come a long way. When I was a kid, about all that was down there was the public library, Simpson’s furniture, and a bunch of bars. Those things are still there, but the library is in a brand-spankin’ new building (and a nice one, too), a lot of the bars are now restaurants, one of my favorite coffee shops anywhere (called “Cup of Joe”) has been open for at least four years now, and there are a bunch of artsy-fartsy stores of various sorts.

One thing I don’t get though. Downtown Cedar Falls also features a store where you can go and string your own beads to make necklaces and such, and two paint your own pottery stores. Who knew there was interest in pottery painting and beading here in the heart of the midwest?

Oh yeah– I'll be back after Thanksgiving

We’re packing up as I type for the family Thanksgiving trip. Like most T-Day holidays, I’ll be spending at least a part of it grading, reading, preparing my teaching for the close of this semester, thinking about the teaching I’ll be doing next semester, etc. But I won’t be posting here until next week. Don’t eat too much.

Stopping myself from putting anymore pots on my academic stove…

David Blakesley and Karl Stolley have sent around an email to the usual comp/rhet mailing lists about a special issue of Computers and Composition they are editing titled “Multimedia Composition: Pedagogies, Production, Possibilities.” It sounds cool to me, but while I generally have a favorable opinion about multimedia activities in writing classes, I did write a brief “cautionary tale” that was published in the online journal Inventio called “Yes, But is it Writing?” Essentially, this commentary piece raises questions of access and of expertise. I couldn’t do sophisticated multimedia (e.g., video, flash, animations, etc.) in first year composition classes if I wanted to because I don’t have access to the basic hardware to do it. But beyond that, I’m trained as a writer and a reader and not a film maker or a graphic designer, skills that seems to be a part of most multimedia productions. And these skills are key: anybody who has sat through a family slide show or video screening recognizes that just because you have a video camera doesn’t mean you can shoot compelling video.

Anyway, I was just going to send an email to David and Karl to ask them if they could see fitting a longer, researched, and more developed version of this essay into this issue, but then I started counting up the projects I have in progress right now. And I stopped myself. No more projects until I finish the ones on my list, no matter how compelling these new projects might seem.

Sigh. Okay, I feel better now.

So someone else, if you want to write the essay I was thinking about writing, go right ahead.

Will in a fractured Greek drama

Will has been in this kids drama class sponsored by The Wild Swan Theater, which is a great children’s theater program sponsored in town. I haven’t heard much about how this has been going from him because I’m usually teaching when this class is going on. Well, tonight was the final performance of the class, which was a re-telling of the Pandora story. You know, Pandora and Pandora’s Box, which was re-enacted here as Pandora’s Jar, which, as that wikipedia article suggests, is a reasonable translation. Anyway, the director of the program said that the kids read a story about Greek mythology, they were fascinated by the Pandora story, and they decided to make that the subject of the “finale” play.

Now, I will spare the details, but I will note two things. First, it was actually a heck of a lot better than I thought it was going to be. “Charming” would be the correct adjective. “Cute” would be another one. “Not boring” a third.

Second, Will played two roles: Pandora’s aged advisor, Zerkes, or something like that. I so wish one of us had a camera because the outfit involved a wig, a graduation robe of some sort, and a cane that Will toyed with a bit as if it would potentially become a play sword. His other character was “death,” which was one of the things that was released by Pandora. Now I ask you: when was the last time you saw a children’s play where one of the characters is death?

Will had fun, we had fun, it was a nice break from school, a good alternative to worrying about the stolen minivan.

Somebody stole our minivan!

I shit you not. Here’s the story:

We have (or perhaps “had”– more on that below…) a 98 Plymouth Voyager minivan. It’s purple– I think the official color name is “lavender” or “lilac;” anyway, it’s a light purplish color. For two or three years, it was our only vehicle; actually, we bought it to replace a Honda Civic hatchback we had that was totaled in a parking lot flood. That’s another long story.

Anyway, I got up this morning, and, still in my half-asleep/pre-coffee haze, I looked out the window onto the street in front of our house, and it took me a moment to register the fact that the van was gone. At first, I thought to myself “well, maybe Annette went out to get some coffee or doughnuts or something,” but then I as quickly realized that she wouldn’t have just left without telling me. So I called out “Annette?” and I heard her from the back room “What?” “Where’s the van?” I asked. And we realized that it was really gone.

So we called the cops, they asked us routine questions over the phone about it possibly being towed, etc., and then they sent someone out. When the cop came out, I met her on the curb and she pointed out to me that there were still wet tire tracks on the pavement, leading from muddy water on the curb and then turning left at the corner. That means somebody took this thing just a few hours before. The cop took down all the relevant info and she said that the thieves were probably just looking for a ride and something to party in.

What blows me away about all this is that a) the van isn’t exactly a “desirable” vehicle; b) it was locked up (I always lock the car) and they must have gotten into the thing without breaking a window because there was no glass on the street; and c) my neighbor has a real nice Ford Mustang convertible parked out on the street. And these knuckleheads take a crappy minivan!?

What happens next? Well, the cop more or less suggested three different scenarios: a) they might find it pretty quickly, just someplace on the other side of Ypsi or something, with no real damage; b) they find it in the next few days, anywhere between here and Detroit, and it’s pretty much trashed;) or c) they never find it. “B” is the most likely choice. Fortunately, we never got around to changing the insurance status so we still have “full coverage” on it, which means that we’ll get money for either “B” or “C.” Well, we assume… that’s a bridge we’ll cross when we get to it.

I’m not happy about this of course because even though I’ve always had a “hate/well, it’s okay I guess” relationship with this thing, it’s gonna be a pain in the ass to deal with this and it’s going to cost us a chunk of money.

And besides that, I had kind of settled into my “it’s okay I guess” feelings about the van. For the first couple years, when it was our only vehicle and we were putting lots and lots of miles on it, it ran like crap. We ended up dumping a lot of money into it for dumb things. We had to replace the air conditioning system, we had a lot of other minor and miscellaneous things that had to be repaired, typical used car stuff. Actually, I think a lot of the problem had to do with the Dodge dealerships where we were taking it. But since we got our other car (a Honda Civic, which we like a whole bunch), we don’t drive the van near as much. Last year, I think we put a total of 5,000 miles on it. And the van also started running a whole lot better once we started taking it to a local mechanic, which is a lesson to learn regarding at least some dealerships mechanics.

Anyway, while this sucks, it could be a lot worse. Annette and I will frequently leave piles of books and student papers and such in the car for one reason or another, but neither of us had anything too significant in the van. They didn’t take the Honda– probably because it would have been harder to steal. Nobody here was hurt, though it is a bit unnerving that someone stole a car from the street right in front of my house.

So we’ll see what happens. In the mean-time, if you see a light-purplish van with a bunch of left-wing bumper-stickers on the back, drop me an email….