The Virginia leg continues…

When I last left my travel log updates, I was in the historic Linden Row Inn. Now I am in a less historic hotel in Harrisonburg, Virginia, where we are visiting an old friend from PhD studies. At one point, Annette had grand plans of hikes on some nearby trail through the bucolic hills. But with the wind howling and being more or less “tourist-ed out,” I think the plan is to meet our friend, go to her house, and eat pizza and drink beer.

Anyway, a few highlight from where I left off before:

  • Thursday night we met Dennis Danvers for computer fun and dinner. Dennis and I were in the MFA program at the same time at Virginia Commonwealth University, which means I have known him and been friends with him now for over 20 years. Kinda scary. And also interesting is that I think we’ve become better friends since I left Richmond in 1993 via email.

    Anyway, we went over to his house first so I could help him update the software he’s using to run his web site, a job that I thought would take about 15 minutes. Instead, I screwed it up royal and I had to restore one of the two backups I wisely made before I began the process. Oh, and while I was doing that, Will and Annette played with Dennis’ incredibly energetic dog, Ethel.

    But I’m happy to say that all is back to the way that Dennis’ web site was before I started, so no harm, no foul. Still, after causing Dennis some obvious worry, I thought the least I could do was buy at Cajun Bangkok, which was a fusion restaurant of sorts between Cajun and Thai food. It was a fine time– a very sweet and shy waitress, good food, and the fusion stuff worked pretty well for me. I had chicken-fried steak (though it was actually “chicken-fried chicken”) with a peanut sauce. And we talked and tried to convince Dennis to sign up for Facebook and appreciate the joys of the iPhone, both unsuccessfully.
  • Friday morning, we had breakfast at Joe’s Inn, which is a kind of “must stop” for us whenever we are in Richmond (which isn’t often, really). Dennis joined us again, and there was much chatting of science fiction, fantasy, and young adult readings, mostly between Annette and Dennis. Then we took a little walking tour that included stops at Annette’s parent’s house before they moved to Florida and a bit of a stroll down Monument Avenue.
  • Then it was on the road again to Harrisonburg (with a brief drive-through visit in Staunton, where Annette had her first reporting job way back when, and which has become in recent years kind of a quaint and quasi-touristy sort of town) to visit Mary. And there’s not much to report there, though with homemade pizza, wine/beer, and complicated television in the form of the new series Dollhouse, it did feel a lot like the way we often would get together in Bowling Green. Thanks Mary for good times and also for letting us watch the kooky new Dollhouse instead of your usual Friday Night Lights.

And that’s pretty much it. Back on the road today to Ypsilanti, hopefully an uneventful trip.

The Virginia leg of the trip begins…

This morning, I am making a trip down memory lane while simultaneously and electronically clinging to the present. We are staying in the Linden Row Inn in downtown Richmond, the same hotel where Annette and I had our wedding rehearsal dinner and where family stayed that weekend. But this morning, while Annette and Will sleep in a bit, I am also making some updates to the online classes I’m teaching and I’m listening to Michigan Public radio on my iPhone. In other words, I’m pretty much doing what I would be doing on a Friday morning in Ypsilanti, only I’m doing it in Richmond instead.

Anyway, my internet access has improved and I did manage to upload photos to a Flickr set here. A few highlights/recollections of the last couple days:

  • On Wednesday and almost as an after-thought, we started our day at the National Museum of the American Indian, which I thought was awesome on many levels. They had a great collection of artifacts and information, cool multimedia presentations, and it did an amazing job of emphasizing the subjectivity and “presentness” of history. It was a sort of postmodern museum, in my view. I’d say more, but maybe later. In any event, I’d call this a “must see” for the DC visitor, personally.
  • If you do go to the National Museum of the American Indian, take the tip we took from a guy we struck up a conversation with on the metro: eat lunch in the cafeteria. They had a great mix of quasi-authentic native peoples foods.
  • Went to the air and space museum, which was okay (Will thought it was great, of course), and which was also weirdly empty, which is another tip: going off-season to DC does make a difference.
  • I think the consensus was we were kind of “museum-ed out” by then, so we went back to the hotel, chilled for a while, and then went to Petits Plats on the recommendation of the Concierge. My steak and fries was very good; Annette’s salmon was actually over-cooked for her (and that’s saying something); and Will’s calamari was not fried as he had assumed (though it was quite good). But if ever go to this place, get the mussels. We had an appetizer portion that was fantastic, and they serve dinner portions in giant, heaping bowls. And Monday was “all you could eat” mussels night. Makes me want to stay a few more days.
  • Went to Fredericksburg for lunch with Laura and her friend Jim. A very nice time, and some interesting conversation about the not so bright future of the newspaper business (Laura and Jim work for a newspaper). After lunch and some shopping, we took a tour of an old time Apothecary that was pretty cool.

But more later– now it’s on to breakfast at Joe’s.

Sketchy internet access/on the road in DC

Unfortunately, my wifi access has been sketchy at best in our hotel room in Washington,D.C. On the one hand, it’s rather irritating because we’re staying at a very nice hotel that ought to be able to provide decent access. On the other hand, we are on a vacation of sorts (even though Annette and I are both working quite a bit), and we at least have the iPhones. I actually started this post on my iPhone, and thanks to it, I have been able to check my mail, post a few things on Facebook, etc. But it looks like I’m going to have either wait until I get home, get better internet access, or figure something else out before I can upload any significant amount of photos to Flickr.

The short version of the trip to date:

  • We’re taking it mainly because we can. This is the first time ever in which our break from EMU lined up with Will’s teaching. Since we didn’t have a parental visit of obligation and since we had been in warmer climes this past Christmas, we decided to take a family trip our own.
  • Our first stop was in middle of no-where, Pennsylvania. Light snow the whole time, which added that extra wang to driving on the turnpike.
  • The first day, Will had a fever just around 102 or so. I’m happy to say (skipping ahead a bit) he recovered fine, though it made for a bad day and a half for him.
  • Went to dinner ridiculously early on Monday because of travel, a sick kid, and generally tired parents. Had Ethiopian food at what I swear was the same restaurant where Annette (who was just pregnant with Will) and I had with some Southern Oregon folks when I was working for them way back when. Good stuff, and, in another weirdo twist, we ran into an Ypsi neighbor/friend of sorts. The person in question does lobbying/environmental activism stuff in Michigan and comes to D.C. on a regular basis. It was a weird and small world event.
  • We were awoken last night by what I thought was a group of young and drunk people but which Annette thought was an angry couple arguing. Other than that and the sketchy internet service (which seems like it works better early in the morning), it’s been a nice place to stay.
  • Got up unnecessarily early to get to our previously reserved U.S. Capitol tour, which was also unnecessary– the reservation, that is. The place wasn’t empty, but close. We got a chance to help break in the posh new Capitol visitor center, which opened this past December.
  • The Capitol tour was so-so. The group was too big, the tour guide not very good, it included lousy audio equipment, and you didn’t really see much. The intro movie in the new visitor center was pretty good, and the highlight was our tour ran into Speaker of the House Nancy Poloski on the way back to her office.
  • We went to the Natural History Museum, which was a must for Will but kinda boring for me, personally. Seen one dinosaur, seen ’em all.
  • Went to the American History Museum, which I think I enjoyed more than the rest of the group. They did a nice job restoring the “original” flag that inspired the “Star Spangled Banner,” and I very much enjoyed seeing Julia Child’s kitchen.
  • By this point, we had walked for what seemed like 12 or 15 miles, so we took a cab to the Lincoln Memorial/Viet Nam War Memorial area. Both were very nice, of course, but also over-run with high school kids.
  • Got to a metro, grabbed a quick bite at an okay Irish pub (Annette had her last bit of chocolately goodness before giving up sugar for “lent”), came back to the hotel, watched Obama, who was speaking that evening very close to where we were this morning.

Mardi Gras party fun (and a recipe for Fatty-club Gumbo)

We had our annual Mardi Gras party last night. I say “annual” because we’ve had it three times now, which I guess makes it an event that is more than a one time deal. Basically, Annette and I throw two big parties a year: the “Indian food party” and the Mardi Gras party. The Indian food party tends to be smaller, a dozen people tops, and it usually features as a “guest of honor” a new hire in the English department. The Mardi Gras party is the bigger, more blow-out of the parties.

Here’s a set of Flickr picts.

Of course, one of the main attractions is food, mostly food that I make. This year’s menu was pretty typical: stuffed jalapenos, fancy cheeses, and veggies and fruits, but mostly New Orleans (esque) fair. Most of my recipes came from a site I like a great deal, The Gumbo Pages. This year’s recipes from that site included a vegetarian version of red beans (I grilled up some andouille sausage for a side with this, all of which immediately disappeared) and King Cake (which is actually an Emeril Lagasse recipe and, with its cream cheese filling, was excellent). I also made my version of a Lagasse shrimp cake recipe that is too complicated to recount here, and a gumbo that I make on a fairly regular basis that I will describe:

Krause’s Fatty Club Gumbo

This is my interpretation of a gumbo recipe from a Weight Watchers cookbook we have. The original WW recipe features a fair amount of crab, which a) I’m not all that crazy about in a soup, and b) is kind of expensive. Gumbo purists will probably turn our their noses at this version since it does not involve a roux. But it is easy to make, it’s mostly healty, and it seemed to be a hit the other night.

Like all gumbos, this is one of those recipes where there is a lot of room for substitutions and modifications. But this is the basic version that has worked for us around here.

1 or so tablespoons of olive or veggie oil
1 green pepper, diced
1/2 an onion, diced
6 or 8 green onions, sliced
2 celery stalks, diced
2 boneless skinless chicken breasts, thinly sliced
1/2 of a ring (I guess 1/2 a pound?) of low-fat turkey or pork kielbasa sausage,* cut into small pieces
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon of cajun seasoning
1 teaspoon thyme
salt and pepper to taste
1 package (16 oz I guess?) of frozen and sliced okra, defrosted
1 can of diced tomatoes (15 oz)
1 quart of chicken stock
1/2 cup rice
1/2 pound to 1 pound of frozen raw shrimp with the tails on, defrosted and cleaned to your preferences**

  • Heat oil on medium-high heat in a large pot (I like to use a dutch oven for this), and sweat green peppers through sausage. The idea here is to “cook” all of this stuff without browning it too much.
  • *I generally like to use turkey sausage for this, but when I made this for the party recently, I used a low-fat pork sausage that I liked a great deal. In any event, the choice of sausage here is up to you. If you use something like andouille or chorizo, your soup will be a lot more spicy and a lot less fatty-club friendly. But hey, that might be pretty good too.
  • Add cajun seasoning (I use Emeril’s– you know, BAM!– but there are many others on the market), thyme, salt and pepper to taste, and okra, and cook for a couple of minutes. Don’t skip the okra because it really is an excellent vegetable in this recipe and it thickens up the soup in a pleasant way without the roux.
  • Add the chicken stock and the canned tomatoes, bring up to a simmer (just barely a boil) for about 10-15 minutes.
  • Add the rice and keep simmering for about 8 or 10 minutes.
  • Add the shrimp and keep simmering for about 8 or 10 minutes.
  • **My preference for the shrimp is medium to large shrimp that are cleaned but with tails on, mainly because I like the little extra flavor the shrimp tails give the dish, but I am too lazy to clean fresh shrimp for this, and I frankly don’t think it’s worth it. On the other hand, I wouldn’t use previously cooked shrimp because I don’t think they taste as good in a dish like this. In any event, the choice is yours.
  • Serve with your favorite hot sauce and bread and whatever else you want.

Online conferencing

There is not one but two online conferences of sorts going on right now that are kind of interesting to me. The first is the online portion of Computers and Writing, which features sessions spread out over the next week or so via a Sakai site (asynchronous), SecondLife (though there doesn’t seem to be that much going on there), and AdobeConnect. Actually, with the AdobeConnect synchronous sessions, there was one yesterday and one today.

The other one, which I found here via elearnspace, is the Association for the Advancement of Computing in Education. The theme of this conference is on improving online conferences, which probably isn’t a bad idea for a discussion.

In theory, online conferencing ought to be one of those things that I ought to be all for: I like teaching online, I like interacting online, I like reading and writing online, and I’ve published more online than not online; what’s not to like about the online conference? Well, so far at least, online conferences seem like the sad second cousin of the face to face conference, with fewer presentations and less “prestige” or weight as something to list on a CV. I mean, I could count it at EMU, but I can imagine many places where the response of a tenure and review committee to an online conference presentation would be a laughing snort.

But besides that, one of the reasons I go to conferences is to travel someplace else: you know, to see colleagues and friends and to attend sessions in a “real” time and space that is not the same as every other day. Often enough, part of conference going is sight-seeing and socializing, which is why Computers and Writing in Hawaii was well-attended, and which is why the CCCCs is not likely to hold its annual meeting in a town like Omaha anytime soon (even though maybe they should). But beyond the junket factor, going to a conference is a way of doing “work” while simultaneously getting away from the usual work routine.

And we already have on-going “online conferencing” of sorts: mailing lists and, increasingly more important IMO, blog spaces. The blog post is in some ways like an online conference presentation. I write a post, and it shows up in various people’s RSS feeds, kind of like a promised article/presentation in a program schedule. Some folks come by and take a look, but most don’t, which is also very much like a conference. In fact, judging by some of the small audience numbers at some conferences I go to, it sure seems like a lot of folks’ idea of “attending” a conference is going someplace, thumbing through the program, and then doing all the fun stuff of conference going.

Don’t get me wrong– I like the idea of an online conference for the same reason I like online everything, and sometimes the travel is simply not realistic. But maybe the format has to be different somehow. Maybe the blog carnival or some kind of wiki-based exchange is more viable than just mapping the traditional conference presentation onto an online space. Or maybe I just need to attend some online presentations and see how it goes.

“The Library Web Site of the Future” and the Espresso Book Machine

I am basking in the semi-warm glow of being vaguely caught up with my teaching for the first time in two weeks. Not that it means that much; I still need to get back in gear with research and writing, we need to get ready around here for our an annual function for this weekend, and we still haven’t quite figured out what we’re going to be doing when we go to D.C. next week. But none of this has stopped me from posting something that might actually be useful to the ol’ blog. Besides posts about bacon, of course.

First, there’s this Inside Higher Ed article, “The Library Web Site of the Future” by Steven J. Bell. I can imagine this being handy for English 516 for the electronic library angle on things, but I can also imagine it being interesting for English 444 too. Most of the article is about how academic-types find most university library web sites/portals are not user-friendly and/or useful. I don’t know if I agree with that or not when it comes to EMU’s Halle Library web site, to be honest. I have always found it pretty easy to find journals and such through it– though oddly, there seems to be some glitches in the book catalog. Of course, part of my comfort-level with the library’s web site comes from the librarians: when I have questions, I ask; when I take students to the library for orientations about doing research in the library, I inevitably learn something myself. So maybe part of the “usability” part being left out of Bell’s article is the fact that most academics– certainly faculty but also students– don’t interact exclusively with the university library web site. Most of us manage to get over to the building once in a while to talk with actual librarians and occasionally touch actual books.

I did think this passage was kind of interesting though:

Several years ago academic institutions shifted control of their Web sites from technology wizards to marketing gurus. At the time there was backlash. The change in outlook was perceived as a corporate sellout, a philosophical transformation of the university Web site from candid campus snapshot to soulless advertiser of campus wares to those who would buy into the brand. I observed that academic librarians feared what the marketers wrought, and would resist efforts to let any advertising consultant or marketing vice-president take control of the library Web site. They might just make it more about marketing than connecting people to information.

I was one of the resisters. Now I think the marketing people got it right. The first thing librarians must do after ending the pretense that the library Web site succeeds in connecting people to content is understand how and why the institutional homepage has improved and what we can learn from it. Doing so will allow academic libraries to discover answers to that first question; how to create user community awareness about the electronic resources in which the institution heavily invests.

Of course, instead of just talking to the marketing people, the library-types could talk to people in academic programs interested in usability and web design… just sayin’….

The other thing I heard earlier today that I thought might be good to bring up in 516 at some point was a story on Michigan Public Radio about the Espresso Book Machine. It was actually on the “Environment Report” because the angle was on how these machines can save paper. The story also took the angle of how these machines would replace browsing for paperbacks in Borders or something, but that strikes me as unlikely. No, the real value of this sort of “on demand publishing” machine is clearly in academic publishing where the press runs are already pitifully small and expensive.

Quite frankly, I’m surprised there aren’t any academic publishers now using this technology; or am I wrong about that?

New Kindle thoughts lawsuits, pirates, and PDF wishes

Amazon has released Kindle 2— or rather, they’ve released the opportunity to buy one (I’m not sure when they are actually going to be available). There was a NYTimes article about this last week.

Among other issues/controversies, it would seem the Authors Guild sees the new Kindle’s potential/ability to read text aloud is some kind of copyright violation. I like this response from Neil Gaiman about this via boing-boing. I also thought this article was interesting: “Why aren’t ebooks taking off? Not enough pirates,” which I found via Stephen’s Web. Very smart article, pointing out the differences between the music industry and the book industry when it comes to pirating and sharing of files. Besides the fact that it is a ton easier to “share” and/or pirate music than it is to do the same with a book, there are places right now “for sharing this information that’s wholly supported by the industry (you might know them as libraries).”

My friend Troy has a Kindle and absolutely loves it. In fact, I toyed with the idea of buying one myself back in November/December. I might try to get EMU to buy me one (it wouldn’t be easy to do though) because it really is something I’d like to have to demo in the classes I teach. Or who knows? Maybe a bunch of money and/or a Kindle will just fall on me from the sky.

At this stage, I’ll probably wait for a while. For one thing, since me and the Mrs. just got iPhones, I’m a little tapped-out right now gadget-wise. But the other thing that I want that I don’t think is quite there yet for the Kindle is the ability to handle PDFs well. Quite frankly, I don’t read that many of the kinds of books that are readily available for the Kindle. I do read a lot of academic stuff, particularly journal articles that are increasingly available in PDF format, or things for my teaching that I make available as a PDF and post on eReserves. So what would be very useful is if this thing would handle PDFs as well as Apple’s Preview does– allowing for highlighting, notes, etc. It’d be very nice to have all of these articles and chapters in PDF format for my teaching right there on one device instead of the mountain of paper I forget to file.

Oh, and maybe they should put a phone in this thing.

“Wikipedia bolts its open door” (and where’s my WordPress Plugin?)

From TimesOnline: “Wikipedia bolts its open door,” which is about how Jimmy Wales is going to suggest some particularly sensative pages and biographies of living persons will be restricted to “core users.”

First off, this is obviously something that would be useful for teaching in a variety of different classes. But second, since I also posted this on my English 516 blog just now, it makes me wonder: there must be some kind of WordPress pulgin that allows you to post a blog post in multiple places. Does anyone out there know what it is?