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.

"Authors are saps" about Google

Via boing-boing this monring, I found an editorial by boing-boing co-editor Xeni Jardin in the LA Times titled “You Authors are Saps to Resist Googling.” The particular authors/saps in question are members of the Authors Guild, which is a group that represents author (about 8,000, according to Jardin). BTW, if you go to the Authors Guild web site, you can see plenty of links about why they are fightin’ mad at Google.

I think Jardin is totally right for at least three reasons. First, Google’s plan isn’t to show an entire book as the result of a search; rather, they’re just going to show a portion of the book relevant to a search. It isn’t going to be possible (apparently) to just get the whole book.

Second, the VAST majority of writers/authors that I know really want readers to read their writing; they aren’t as concerned with how many books they can (or really, can’t sell). Writers write for a lot of reasons, but one of the reasons I write is because I like the attention, and I for one have gotten a lot more attention from things I’ve published on the web than I anything I have published in traditional print.

Third, putting information about books online– including big chunks of content– helps sell them. As Jardin writes:

Perhaps the Authors Guild members would prefer that search companies pay them for the right to build book search services. If Google has its way, their logic goes, we’ll lose control over who can copy our work, and we’ll lose sales. But Internet history proves the opposite is true. Any product that is more easily found online can be more easily sold.

Amazon.com’s “look inside” feature works similarly. And, surprise, the Authors Guild has squabbled with it too.

Yep. Saps.

Plagiarism: The Lawsuit/Web Site, The Building, The Movie

Here’s kind of a catch-up post on some stuff I’ve come across lately:

  • Bill H-D sent me this link to an article in Inside Higher Ed, “New Tack Against Term Paper Providers.” Here’s a quote:

    Lawyers for a graduate student named Blue Macellari filed a lawsuit in federal court in Illinois alleging that three Web sites that sell term papers made a manuscript she had written available without her permission. She is charging the owner of the sites (as well as the sites’ Internet service provider) with copyright infringement, consumer fraud and invasion of privacy, among other things.

    But it gets a bit more complicated than that.

    According to Macellari’s complaint, a friend doing a casual Google search of Macellari’s name last January came across references to a paper she had written during a year abroad at the University of Cape Town in 1998, which Macellari had posted in 1999 on a personal Web site at Mount Holyoke College, where she earned her degree.

    But the friend found links to the paper not on her Mount Holyoke page but on two Web sites, DoingMyHomework.com and FreeforEssays.com, that said the paper was in their databases. Macellari says she later found several hundred words of her paper on another site, FreeforTermPapers.com.

    In other words, Macellari’s essay got lifted from her web site by some online papermill. Great, just great. Those papermill/spam bastards ruin it for everyone.

    Stopping students from publishing their writing on their web sites obviously isn’t much of a solution. But it is probably not a bad idea for me to recommend to students that they slap a creative commons agreement on their work. It isn’t going to stop people from taking their work, but it might give them ammo for a legal remedy.

  • In the “building” department and via Johndan’s blog comes this article “Brothers From Another Mother,” by Clay Risen and published in a web periodical called “The Morning News.” Here’s a quote from the first paragraph:

    Plagiarism is usually associated with college term papers and the occasional historical bestseller. Recently, though, the big story in architecture circles has been a growing list of supposedly “copycat� designs—in other words, architectural plagiarism. The hot architecture gossip blog, The Gutter, has made a regular feature—called the Gutterland Police Blotter—out of tagging similarities between, say, Rem Koolhaas’s elevated subway sheath at the Illinois Institute of Technology and a train station in Santiago, Chile. In a groundbreaking ruling earlier this month, a federal judge allowed a suit against Freedom Tower architect David Childs to go forward; the suit, by a former architecture student, accuses Childs of stealing the tower’s design from one the student had presented in a class project. And a recent New York Times article noted three other high-profile clashes between purported plagiarizers and their alleged sources.

    Johndan talks more about this on his site as well; for me, it raises some interesting questions about what counts as a “text,” what’s the difference between “copying” and “imitating” (I guess, as they say, doing it well is part of it), and do the rules of “words in a row” literacy apply to things like architecture.

  • Finally, Plagiarism the Movie. Well, okay; just kind of a cool flash intro to Washington State University’s plagiarism site, which also has some good info.

A novel approach to podcasting

Now that we are more or less done with the significant unofficial project of the weekend, it’s back to work around the official blog and it’s time to wrap up some lingering textbook work and to get ready for the quickly approaching school year. My son starts third grade tomorrow; my wife starts various new faculty orientations on Wednesday; I have a department “retreat” on Thursday; I’m sure there are various meetings I haven’t remembered that I should attend next week; and classes beging at EMU on September 7.

One of the things on my mind this morning is (once again) podcasting since I’m planning on using at least a version of it for my online class this term. When I brought this up with a few of my English professor colleagues at a party earlier this summer, there was some confusion about my desire to podcast. “Can’t students just read what you write?” these colleagues asked.

Well, I think that this article, “A Novel Approach to Podcasting” in The Book Standard web site, kind of answers that question. To quote from the opening paragraph:

Scott Sigler first published his science-fiction novel EarthCore in 2001 with iPublish, an AOL/Time Warner imprint. When a promotional ebook version came out first, it hit No. 1 on Barnes & Noble’s website, and as plans to release the print version were going full steam ahead, Time Warner decided to scrap the whole imprint. After making sure he held the rights to the book, Sigler started looking for another way to get it an audience. In March, the author began podcasting a serialized version of his novel, which has now been downloaded more than 10,000 times. “When podcasting rolled around, I thought it would be a great way to release a novel,� he says. “I did a lot of research on it. There are 23 million Americans with an MP3 player, and the most popular form of radio is talk radio. So I thought, ‘This is just going to be huge.’ �

In other words: Duh! Books on tape!

This article also mentions a site called Podiobooks, which is aiming to hosts podcasts for books. There’s not much there yet– according to the Book Standard article, they have five titles: four science fiction and one business writing– but you can imagine the potential.

The worst sentence of the year

Well, at least the worst sentence of the year according to The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, where the goal is to write the worst possible opening sentence to an imaginary novel. Here’s this year’s winner by Dan McKay of Fargo, North Dakota:

As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.

Yeah, that’s pretty bad….

Check out the site for more humorously bad writing.

Finally, "The Writing Show" goes on: thoughts and conclusions

Finally, it was time for the grand event itself, “The Writing Show.” Here’s how it went:

The event was held in downtown Richmond at the Creative Change Center, which describes itself as “a community space and an organization of collaborators promoting creative, innovative and entrepreneurial endeavors in the region.” It’s a cool and funky loft space in an old warehouse, but one where some group spent a lot of money making it cool and funky. My guess is it’s used on a day-to-day basis as a “spill-over” space by the advertising agencies on the second and first floors.

Anyway, it was set up pretty much like Dennis promised: there were some couches and chairs with microphones up front, and Dennis sat stage left (as is the tradition on most talk shows), the other two guests (Jeff Lodge and Doug Childers) and I sat stage right. Dennis asked us questions, we answered and chatted. There was an audience of about 20, which I thought was reasonably good (how many conference presentations and/or readings have you been to with much smaller crowds?), though it’s apparently small for this thing. Past events have had much bigger crowds, 80 or so people. Of course, the timing of this event, late July, probably meant a lot of people were out of town, and, in my experience, the internet and its related geeky factors often make writerly-types and English majors seek cover pretty quickly.

The intention of the format was for us to talk amongst ourselves for the first hour or so and then take questions from the audience, but the crowd jumped in pretty early with questions and comments of their own. People on the panel did a few “show and tell” things as they came up (I showed folks Stuart Moulthrop’s web site when a question came up about using to web to do things other than as a publishing vehicle for more or less “traditional” print writing, Doug showed the web site he did for a writer in Richmond, Jeff showed some links, including the electronic journal he helps edit, Blackbird), but mostly, it was, well, like a talk show.

Personally, I thought the format worked pretty well, and I’m thinking about ripping it off borrowing from the concept. I think it might be kind of an interesting teaching tool (groups of students put on a talk show about some kind of writing concept for other writers), or it might just be kind of cool to try to replicate the concept in the Ypsi-Arbor area.

The only thing that marred the event a bit was at the very end. Dennis was cleaning things up and I was milling around, talking to him, talking to a few straggling audience folks. All of a sudden, Dennis and a woman named Colleen (who, it turns out, is the director of James River Writers and the only person who is actually paid to do any of this stuff), start having this confrontational, ah, discussion. Colleen didn’t think the event went all that well. She said she wanted to see more people taking notes (actually, a lot of people were taking notes), she didn’t think people were all that engaged (though the fact people were interrupting sort of suggested to me they were), and she didn’t think we were really delivering the right “product” (which begs the question “just what exactly were you expecting?”).

It was a kind annoying/marketing wonk way to end the evening. I’ll let those folks sort out their own internal political issues, but I guess what annoys me about the whole thing is the way she treated me. Or rather, didn’t treat me. Sure, I did come in and do this because I wanted to make a road trip to Richmond, to see Dennis, to participate in a unique kind of presentation, etc. And I’m not exactly a “superstar” or the sorts that can draw people just with my name. But that doesn’t give this Colleen person the right to more or less just ignore me (I don’t think she ever said “thank you” or much of anything else to me), and I thought it was bizarrely unprofessional to have that “discussion” right there. It’d be too bad if a good idea like “The Writing Show” was sunk because of petty politics and “creative differences” and micromanagement.

Anyway, even with all that, it was cool and fun. Now I gotta hit the road.

Day 2 of "The Writing Show" road trip: Dennis makes the news?

Dennis being interviewed

Annette and I said farewell to friend Mary and headed to Richmond, first for lunch at Joe’s Inn (the original, mind you) with Laura, Sarah, and “Writing Show” organizer and host Dennis Danvers. A fine time was had eating at Joe’s (Annette and I split a spaghetti ala Greek– ah, memories) and then wandering about in Cary Town (not to be confused with Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown).

As we were about to part ways, we were approached by a channel 12 news crew asking for an interview. Since Dennis was the only local, he was the interviewee. They were asking about the prospect of a new movie theater in dowtown Richmond, something Dennis certainly favors.

Okay, this doesn’t have much to do with “The Writing Show” or even using blogs for creative(ly) publishing writing with the Internet, but I thought folks might get a kick out of it nonetheless.