WIDE-EMU 2012: A Few Misc. Thoughts

WIDE-EMU 2012 (or is it WIDE-EMU 2?) happened Saturday at Michigan State and it all seemed to go off without a hitch, more or less.  There might be more later, but I thought I’d  write a down a few thoughts before I forget now.

  • This is the second version of the conference we ran successfully last year at EMU, and for me, I guess there are two related reasons why I think what we’re doing is important and valuable. First, there are not enough small, local, and low-stakes kind of conferences happening in the field, at least not in Michigan. I had a couple of folks from smaller colleges come up to me today and thank me (well, me and Derek and Bill too, of course) for doing this. Second, the WIDE-EMU is a “proof of concept” of the idea that if a conference remains small, if you can get a free space (in this case, classroom space at MSU), if most of the amenities (e.g., food, printed programs, other swag) are cut out, and if everyone embraces a little DIY spirit, and if you use tools like Google Sites and a few “borrowed” photocopies in the department– if you can do all that, then it’s really not that hard to run this kind of conference for free. And increasingly, I’m interested in conferences like this one: small and inexpensive.
  • My conference day started out helping people get started, registered, name-tagged, etc. I actually forgot a name tag, which is kind of bad since I’m one of the people who has preached the “bring your own name tag” message loudest. Anyway, after things got going, I wandered around and stuck my head in a couple of different sessions and I ended up staying for Becky Morrison’s and James Davis’ make/talk, which had become a sort of “let’s chat about our topic” since there were only four of us. I thought it was a great conversation.
  • Next, I went to Karl Stolley’s workshop on github– here’s a link to the materials.The good thing about it was I kind of feel like I want to learn something more about github (which is basically a place to share versions of open source code in a way that controls versions of that code) for all kinds of reasons and Karl knows plenty about it. The bad thing is/was I spent like 45 minutes trying install the necessary software and tools only to find that my stupid EMU computer is set up in such a way that I don’t have control to the root directory. (Note to self: erase EMU computer and start over on my own as soon as I have time).
  • Bill HD and Karl had had a little Twitter argument earlier in the week over the role coding should have amongst rhetoric/writing people; Karl obviously thinks “yes” and Bill had a blog post here more or less arguing “no,” or perhaps more accurately, “not so much.” I think both of them are right and wrong in that I don’t have the time/expertise/inclination to spend as much time with coding things as Karl would; on the other hand, I also don’t have programmers handy the way Bill does, so I have to do a little DIY if I’m going to get anything done. Besides, I think learning a little code– or even learning about code– goes a long way.
  • Anyway, after that was Bump Halbritter’s plenary talk “Teaching/Learning/Knowing Writing as Symbolic Action,” which was pretty good. I recorded it with my EMU’s new video camera and I’m trying to get it ready for YouTube on my other computer as I type this, so it should be available soon. Hopefully it turned out decent. His talk was largely about his forthcoming book, Mics, Cameras, Symbolic Action: Audio-Visual Rhetoric for Writing Teachers, which I’m looking forward to reading for my own multimedia writing classes.
  • Lunch was kind of a bust: the original plan was to get everyone to go to this food court area that was supposed to have a variety of options, but the only thing open was a very busy Subway. So there was more dispersal to different parts than I would personally have preferred. Bill and Derek and I ended up going back to the conference building and ordering Jimmy Johns, keeping Derek’s streak alive.
  • I went to an afternoon session on “Robots” lead by Bill and Mike McLeod. It mainly focused on a neat little tool called If This Then That and other stuff involving APIs. Again, I go back to coding versus not coding: on the one hand, some of this stuff is too difficult for me to wrap my head around, as I wrote about here in foolishly trying to teach HTML5 coding last winter. I feel like a lot of the programming/coding required to do cool Web 2.0+ things are beyond my level of expertise. On the other hand, I am constantly reminded that a little coding and experimentation goes a long way, and it is better to know something about these kinds of things than it is to know nothing.
  • I shared my session with Geoff Carter, who introduced an interesting assignment in interrogating/considering videos in writing courses and Michael Salvo, who kinda summed up the conference and Geoff’s and my presentation.

Here’s a video recording of my talk:

I think it turned out okay; it occurs to me now that this is the first quasi-scholarly presentation/thing about MOOCs I’ve done that I can legitimately put on my CV since I jumped on that MOOC wagon earlier in the summer. I am certain there will be more of that soon.

  • Then it was on to the #beerrhetorics, which was a chance to relax, eat, drink, and talk to good friends/colleagues from around the midwest who came into town for this year’s festivities. Good times, and I was the proud program coordinator/mentor as a number of folks spoke highly of the EMU grad students who presented this year. Well done!

Assuming I can get the movie of Bump’s talk to work (and I just got an error trying to import it– oh-oh), I’ll be posting that soon too.

So that’s about it. About this time last week, I remember thinking (and maybe even saying to Derek) I don’t see any reason to do this again, it’s a lot of work, I’ve got so many other things to do, blah-blah-blah, etc. And now after just wrapping it up, I’m already thinking about what we could do the same or differently when we do this next year. So the WIDE-EMU just might be rising again in 2013.

 

Radiohead v. Red Hot Chili Peppers

Annette and Will and I went and saw the Red Hot Chili Peppers on June 1 and then Annette and I saw Radiohead just this past Monday.  Besides putting me way WAY over my usual “one big arena rock show every two or so years,” I thought I would do a little comparison/contrast.

Who/what kind of music:

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Post punk funk pop music, heavily influenced and identified with Los Angeles, CA.  They’ve been around since 1983 or so, meaning they are my age or older– well, the original members are at least since there has been quite a bit of rotation with a brand new guitar player in his thirties.  They just got into the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame, too.

Radiohead:  British quasi-pop alternative rock, eclectic and sometimes “difficult listening music” with lots of electronic and experimental music influences.  Cerebral lyrics and complex sounds ranging from really loud to really quiet, often within the same song.  A little younger, but not much– early 40s.

Performance style:

Red Hot Chili Peppers: Shirtless and/or baggy shirts with pants that inexplicably had one  leg cut short with colorful soccer socks.  Much running about, jumping, leaning against each other, dancing around, etc.  Chatty with the crowd and jam playing between songs.

Radiohead: Jeans and shirts– could have been a bunch of GAs. Standing and playing, save for Thom Yorke’s twitchy dancing.  Not a lot of talking and it seemed like they had to completely rearrange the stage and every instrument between every song.

The crowd:

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  White, mostly middle class, and a variety of ages– Annette and I were fairly close to the middle of the age demographic, though there were plenty of college kids and even kids Will’s age.  In my view, a sprinkling of frat boy and/or hard rock kinds of folks.

Radiohead: VERY white, which I found striking from our seats looking at the “festival seating/standing only” floor.  More college-aged– Annette and I were a bit more on the older side, though not by much.  Annette said she hadn’t seen this many “geeky white boys” at a show in a long long time.

Setlist:

One of those not new (but new to me) web sites is setlist.fm, which is “the setlist wiki.”  So, want to know what they played?

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Lots from the new album, but also lots of “greatest hits.”  Looks like they pretty much play the same list pretty much every night.  One encore.

Radiohead: Lots from the new album, lots of older songs and a number of kind of obscure songs, too.  To the extent that they have “hits,” I guess they played them, though I personally was disappointed that they didn’t play more from In Rainbows.  They appear to mix up the song order and choices a lot and even played a brand-new song in the first encore (they always do two) that they premiered the previous night.

Lighting/Special Effects:

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Very elaborate light show with lots of moving parts and a big screen that showed a lot of narrative-like movies/images accompanying specific songs.  Loud, of course.

Radiohead:  Very elaborate light show with lots of moving parts, though a lot more abstract, which makes sense given the more varied setlist.  Loud, of course, with bass that made my fillings rumble.

The venue(s):

Red Hot Chili Peppers:  Joe Louis Arena, which is both conveniently and inconveniently located in downtown Detroit.  Home of the Redwings, which is pretty obvious no matter what direction you’re looking in that building.  It’s old with dubious bathrooms and crowded walkways outside the actual arena.  I thought we were going to get crushed by the crowd surge on the way out of the show.  We were stuck in the parking deck for close to an hour.

Radiohead:  The Palace of Auburn Hills, which is both conveniently and inconveniently located far north of Detroit.  It’s about an hour away from us, and the easiest way to get there was to actually drive downtown first and then get on 75 north.  “State of the art” pro basketball facility (the Pistons) with grand walkways and elaborate restaurants and bars outside the actual arena.  Huge parking lot (and not a parking deck), which really worked out well for us:  we saw this show on a Monday before Annette was going to Boston and I had to teach, so getting back home at 1 am was not an option.  We left before the second encore, avoided the crowd, and whisked out of the parking lot and on to the interstate.  We were well on the road before the show was over.

And thus ends big expensive shows for a while.  I would have liked to have gone to Deathcab for Cutie (they are going to be in the area in July), but these concerts and the kitchen budget are probably going to prevent that.

After X-Mas in Florida

Normally, Christmas is an “every other year” thing with different sets of parents: one year we go to Iowa, the next year we go to Florida. But because of the way the holiday fell this year, because we decided to celebrate Krause Christmas the weekend before the actual day itself (a good time was had by one and all, btw), and because we don’t start school at EMU again until January 7, we decided to double-dip with family visits. So we flew down to Southwest Florida Christmas day, and we’re leaving New Year’s Eve day.

Florida is always a strange place to visit for me, and the holidaze time is not much different. It’s nice to be sitting by the pool and enjoying sunny weather in the low 80s, but it is strange nonetheless. It’s a lot more crowded than I remember this time of year, too.

Anyway, one of the highlights of the trip has been the visit to Everglades National Park and the Shark Valley Trail. Basically, it’s a paved road that goes out into the swamp 7 miles to an observation tower. You can get out there by tram, but, as the video above documents, we rented bikes (well, Bill and Irmgard brought their own and one for Will). The video doesn’t do complete justice because there were a ton of birds, quite a few big turtles, and many many more alligators. From the observation tower, we saw some giant crane kind of bird swim under water, catch a big fish, and gulp ’em down. Pretty neat stuff, though I cannot imagine how awful it would be to be out here in the summer.

Tonight Annette and I are going out to see Sweeney Todd and out for a fancy dinner. Tomorrow, we’re going to the beach. Monday, we’re going home. And in-between all this, I’m trying to get my ducks in a row for Winter term.

Snow day sledding

Today was a snow day for pretty much every school in Southeast Michigan following the biggest snowstorm we’ve had around here in a number of years. Frankly, I thought the snow day thing was very unnecessary, at least in Ypsilanti. Sunday was pretty bad, but by last night, everything seemed pretty much plowed to me. I think what really happened here is that collectively and spontaneously, all of the school districts in the area decided that this was going to be the one and only legitimate chance to get a snow day yet this calendar year and they took it, necessary or not.

Anyway, the unnecessary snow day gave us the chance to go sledding– or rather, for Will, Costas, Rachel, Eli, Celia, and other various kids went sledding while I stood on the side of the hill behind Ypsilanti High School drinking coffee and recording with the trusty FlipVideo camera. Here’s the result:

A good time for one and all; besides the coffee, I (and Will and Costas) enjoyed some excellent hot chocolate afterwards. I even found some marshmallows that weren’t stale.