Touching the iTouch

iTouchI was in the mall this evening with my wife and son and while my wife shopped for clothes and my son played computer games in the Apple store, I fondled er, played around with the new iTouch. My original thought was to buy one of these things immediately– in fact, I called Steve B. and asked him if he thought I should just buy one now or not (he thought no, but it was a moot point since the store was sold out anyway). After playing around with it a bit though, I’m not so sure.

On the plus-side, the iTouch looks great and the screen (when turned horizontal) is something I could see watching video on while on a plane or something. I liked the way the iPod stuff looked, though I couldn’t actually hear any of it. For reasons I did not understand, the store didn’t have any headphones hooked up to these things. I presume the sound quality is like any other iPod, but it would been nice to be able to listen because the controls seem a little bit different from a regular iPod.

There’s an address book where you can add contacts, but the calendar will only synch with a laptop or desktop Mac. I almost wonder if this isn’t something that will get fixed in some kind of update, though that might be a reason to put off a purchase.

The main reason I want one of these things is because of the wifi connection and the Safari browser. Basically, that means access to email, my google calendar, rss feeds, etc., etc., etc. all in my pocket. This is pretty cool, but I thought trying to actually do anything (at least in the store) was a little annoying. The keyboard stuff was tricky, I thought Safari’s performance was kind of poky, and really, would I use this thing or would I still carry a laptop around with me anyway?

So, I dunno. I think I’ll still get one, but I think I’ll probably wait a bit….

Where’s Tim Allen when I need him?

It appears it’s been a while since I’ve posted to the ol’ unofficial blog. I have been posting on my official blog and over at, and I also have been trying to write as much as I can on my sabbatical project. So far, so good.

But Annette and I have also been doing a fair amount of “home improvement” around here too, more than we have done in years. The first big project was painting the front of the house, which I did solo. Well, that’s not completely true; Will painted the window flowerboxes with much protest. But the rest of it was me, and I’m reasonably pleased with how it turned out. I’m going to start on the sides of the house next week I think (weather permitting), but this weekend, Annette and I have to prep to for the dude who is coming on Tuesday to put down some new vinyl flooring down in the kitchen. This means we’ve got to move everything out of there, and we figure we might as well use it as a chance to paint a but in there. And down the line, I think we’ll redo some stuff in the bathroom downstairs, touch up some things in other places, etc., etc.

The original plan was to fix up the house so we can move. But I’m pretty sure that we’re going to be victims of the real estate bubble bursting and we’ll be here for at least the foreseeable future. So now we’re fixing stuff for ourselves mostly, and that’s been relatively satisfying. Though time consuming, too.

Anyway, fingers crossed for the flooring.

Weird paper mill observations

I was scanning through some of the google alerts I have set up just now and came across this site,, which appears to be a pretty traditional paper mill kind of outfit– you know, you pay them and they write the paper for you. Old-fashioned cheating.

I guess I was struck though by two things in looking through the site for a few minutes. First, they have a “blog” of sorts, one that seems to offer free advice to students on getting started with their own research papers. It’s not a particularly good blog nor does it seem to have very good advice (in fact, it seems to repeat entries quite a bit for some reason), but it does seem to be a way of getting credibility– in other words, I think the implied message here is “Hey, we must be professional and credible because we’re offering some basic advice for free! Would a paper mill do that? Heck no!”

And second, there were some other kind of funny aspects of the site. For example, from the FAQ:

My teacher is very sensitive to plagiarism issue. What is your policy on it?
As a well profound company that really values its customers’ impression we follow a zero-toleration policy concerning plagiarism. Moreover, as proof we are holders of the special anti-plagiarism system that is used by most universities in the US. Every single written order is checked prior to being sent to the customer.

And then there’s this clunker describing the folks working with

Firstly, we employ the best writers available, and no other competitor can meet our level of professionalism. Every single writer has received a degree from a university in the United States, United Kingdom, or Australia. Their superior level is backed by diplomas (not like other companies who employ writers from India and Pakistan). Each writer employed by our company is a native speaker, and it does not matter how well a person knows English if he is a foreigner- he can not fully understand the culture of English writing.


Facebook friends article/Dunbar's number and blog communities?

My “real life” and Facebook friend Rachel sent me a link to this Slate article, “The Facebook Commandments,” which is really about the practice of “friending.” It’s a light and amusing piece, something that might be a nice little reading for ENGL 516. Here’s a good quote that taught me something too:

Noted anthropologist Robin Dunbar found that the mean clique—a group of primary social partners—consists of around 12 people. Average maximum network size—a group of real friends plus friends of friends—is around 150. I don’t know about you, but most of my primary clique isn’t on Facebook. My social graph and my social life overlap, but not nearly as much as they would if all of my close friends were on Facebook.

That’s why college students find Facebook so addictive. An undergrad who doesn’t have a Facebook profile is regarded as a Luddite, the social equivalent of leading a survivalist lifestyle complete with flintlock rifle and bandana. In this case, Facebook works as it should. Even if you have 700 friends, the site susses out your real bosom buddies—they post on your wall, they trade messages with you, and they pop up on your News Feed way more often.

I think the other reason why college students have so many different Facebook friends is because they have so many friends, period. I never knew as many people on a first name basis as I did when I was an undergraduate.

But the thing I learned was the bit about Dunbar’s number, which (maybe I think this because it’s just on my mind) might be something worth exploring in terms of my BAWS project. The opening sentences of the Wikipedia entry for Dunbar’s number says 150 “represents a theoretical maximum number of individuals with whom a set of people can maintain a social relationship, the kind of relationship that goes with knowing who each person is and how each person relates socially to every other person. Group sizes larger than this generally require more restricted rules, laws, and enforced policies and regulations to maintain a stable cohesion.” The po-mo English professor in my very much wants to resist “rules” like this, but as I think about my experiences with blogging the last year or so, it makes a lot of sense. On my own blog, which I suspect is “regularly read” by about 40 or 50 people tops and which receives few comments, I don’t feel much need for “rules.” On the other hand, on, the community blog I run for EMU that has thousands of “regular readers” and that receives hundreds of hits on even a slow day, a variety of different ruckuses over the year really called for/required me to write up some pretty specific rules for proper social conduct on the site to “maintain a stable cohesion” and just simple order.

Yet something else to research perhaps….

Buy a laptop, get a laptop

From the NYT comes this piece “Buy a laptop for a child, get another laptop free,” which is about the Nicholas Negroponte “One Laptop Per Child” initiative. Here’s a quote:

The marketing program, to be announced today, is called “Give 1 Get 1,� in which Americans and Canadians can buy two laptops for $399.

One of the machines will be given to a child in a developing nation, and the other one will be shipped to the purchaser by Christmas. The donated computer is a tax-deductible charitable contribution. The program will run for two weeks, with orders accepted from Nov. 12 to Nov. 26.

Besides being good reading for ENGL 516, I think it might be something I would be interested in doing personally. I like the idea of the goal of this project, and I suspect my 10 year old son and I might enjoy playing around with this new machine. I’m trying to convince him to be more of a computer geek by pointing out it isn’t just for games anymore….

A ten (or so) minute post on sabbatical stuff so far

I haven’t been posting here (or my unofficial blog, for that matter) much lately, I suppose because I’ve been busier than I thought. Doing what? Well, in no particular order:

  • I would like to say that I’m making incredible process on my book project, but that would be an exaggeration. I am making some though. I think I am taking what I can only describe as the “National Novel Writing Month” approach to the academic/quasi-academic book project: what I’m doing is more or less writing as much stuff as I can by just sitting my ass down and just writing with the plan of going back later to do much rewriting based on reading and research. We’ll see how it goes.
  • I do have a survey of sorts in draft. Right now, I’m just sharing it with some friends/colleagues, and on Wednesday, I’m talking to someone at EMU about constructing this survey so that it will be workable.
  • I still have to do the paperwork for what at EMU is called “Human Subject Review” but which tends to be known as “Institutional Review Boards” or IRB. It is a pain, but for this project, I don’t think it’s that big of a deal. danah boyd had a blog post recently where she listed the pain in the ass nature of IRB as one of the main reasons why she isn’t going to pursue an academic career. I can kind of see her point, especially given her interest in things like how minors use MySpace (minors always complicated permissions). But it is also kind of a cop-out IMO, sort of like saying “I don’t like putting my own gas in the tank so I’m refusing to take that cross-country trip.”
  • The verdict is still out on my “sabbatical lite” thing. I feel very pulled between two contrasting emotions/thoughts, one where my lack of teaching and general presence on campus makes me feel “out of it” regarding various department and program matters, and the other where I feel like the things I do need to do on campus because of the way I am splitting up my time is taking away from reading and research and writing. Push and pull. I think it might take a while longer before I know for sure how good or bad of an idea this will end up being.
  • I am also using my time as a bit of “time off” in the sense that I have been busy painting my house (the front is done) and generally fixing stuff up around here (next week, new flooring in the kitchen), and I have been trying to hit the gym as much as possible (though that is also where I do most of my scholarly reading). The truth is I’ve probably spent more time doing this than I have spent actually writing and reading. I at first felt quite guilty about this, because I earned this sabbatical based on a proposal that promised that I would write a book manuscript and that’s what I should be doing. But colleague after colleague have told me that a sabbatical is as much about taking a break and getting away as it is about anything else. The other morning, when the weather was beautiful and I decided that it was more important to take one more long bike ride instead of sitting in my basement in front of the computer, I recognized the point my colleagues were trying to make.