Risk Analysis Meets Mr. Media

Space Shuttle crashes and the subsequent Document Analyses have been a staple in Technical Communication. The last Shuttle breakup (and I would contend, the gradualness of the breakup and the horrific possibilities) has bent the typical Shuttle risk analysis. Seems that the pressures are starting to wear on the engineers:

"Schedule matters," he said. "It shouldn't matter to the point of causing people to do dumb things or to take ill-advised actions.... We want to launch Discovery when we can because the completion of the international space station depends upon an expeditious launch schedule. We don't want to launch it sooner than we can."

Tech Comm teachers often take the "look at the moment it went wrong in slow motion" approach, which distorts the "rock-and-hard-place-in-real-time" reality that makes ethics and representation so much more challenging. I would like to see our community create Wiki case-studies that integrate these newer iterations into the narrative. See the strand chronologically would change the way that we teach this stuff--at least in my opinion.



Weirdness in Holding Pattern

Yesterday, we had a "freak" snowstorm (I put freak in scare quotes because all of the natives insisted during last week's 80 degree weather that we *would* get hit by another storm). Well, a low front parked over Lake Erie and the "finger of god" poked straight south from Canada and made it cold enough to snow all day. I just hope that it the blossoms don't croak, since it really didn't get below freezing.



Analytic-Symbolic Worker goes "Real World"

CFO (Chief Financial Officer) Magazine has a story on managing knowledge.

"In the late 1990s, consultants and academics began talking incessantly about the ascent of the "knowledge economy." This invisible system, they posited, encompassed the collective set of ideas and innovations generated by a global workforce. As the competition for customers grew more intense—fueled, in part, by the rise of electronic commerce—companies that mined the collective intelligence of their employees would come out on top. In this gray-matter economy, originality and fresh thinking would be king, and a company's most valuable assets would be those located in the body electric.

Back in the real economy, however, a stifling recession dashed most talk of a knowledge economy, as companies went into survival mode, paring costs and shoring up balance sheets. But with the recent surge in the U.S. economy, the concept of knowledge management is staging something of a comeback. This go-round, though, companies seem more concerned with what they don't have, rather than what they do have"

So, tech writers, the 90s weren't a bust. Let's go out there and keep turning the wheel...er, arranging the grid (or something like that).


Sunny here in Northwest Ohio

Gone fishin! (or something like that). Get outside and enjoy this weather.


The Diminishing Pyramid of Professor Privilege

Over at the Chronicle, a humanities professor has written a beautiful description of what many of our colleagues countenance to teach their students. Go over and read the entire essay (you won't regret it). It reminds me of the fact that I shared a desk with 7 other people in the corner of a basement cubicle farm (no joke) when I started at Penn State. The really lucky grad students got their own desks. When I went to work in Corporate U.S.A., I actually shared my office with only one other person (much luckier than my Wendy's days of standing in the back room next to the potato oven and resting against garbage containers to catch breathers). Now I actually get my own office. This essay describes holding class in a Quonset hut and meeting students for office hours in a car while putting coins in the meter. Here is my favorite part:

"I once had an office -- a cubicle really -- in the physical-plant building of a major university. Gigantic machines rumbled all around me. My coffee mug sometimes vibrated off my desk. I used to pretend that I was an oiler in the engine room of the Lusitania. The room was well below ground level, and, during the rainy season, the entire floor would flood, sometimes to a depth of 18 inches. There were high water marks on the cinder-block walls from previous inundations. Mold ascended the fabric sides of my cubicle until, finally, it looked and smelled like a forest floor in the Pacific Northwest.

After a couple of months -- and conversations with the other workers -- I learned that I could reach various points on the campus through underground steam tunnels. On my way back from teaching a class, I could pretend that I was Jean Valjean evading Inspector Javert in the sewers of Paris. My cubicle was so far from the center of campus that students rarely found me. Once, shortly after teaching Conrad's Heart of Darkness, I asked one of my advisees "Are you an assassin?" And he said, without missing a beat, "No, I'm an errand boy sent by grocery clerks." We laughed for two minutes. It was the high point of my semester."


Dr. Berube on the Power of Theory

Last night, I dusted off my copy of Wild Orchids and Trotsky that I bought and was supposed to read in the "Research Methods, Disciplinary Issues, and Other Myriad Wonderings Omnibus" Course in my first semester in the Penn State Grad Program (I must confess, I did not read any of the essays, and Dr. Berube was nowhere near enough to smack me upside the head). My wife and I read his entire essay out loud and nearly cried upon meeting another group of people that tries to live the difficult-to-pin-down-yet-indespensible lessons that one learns from taking theory and learning and community and caring seriously (the group being his family). The detail about Papa Berube's learning that Home Despot doesn't have kiddie seats unlike grocery stores (thus demonstrating a gendering fungo bat at work in the social text) made me wish that I had somehow picked up this book as a new graduate student (alas, our entire class glossed over class material trying to get through A.S. Byatt's Possession). It is in these small stories of lessons learned and taking the care to share your growth that demonstrates how these scary things like "theory" and "antifoundationalism" not only matter--they can get us to that "moral center" that so many want to impose by gun.

Read his post if you want to see just how down to earth and righteous a theory head can be.


Culture in the Ohio Wasteland

Last Friday I went out to toast a colleague's birthday and returned to one of my favorite restaurants in this part of Northwest Ohio (scratch that--make that my favorite)--Cohen and Cooke (Please excuse the atrocious spelling in the linked-to review--"pablano," "civiche," and "gonache" [!]--apparently the copyeditor died that evening). For a pretty respectable price, I shared a diver scallop with mustard slaw and grilled apple appetizer, a grouper with black rice and papaya appetizer (big enough to be an entree), and a cheese plate. Unbelievably good, and I know the money is going to support people who do good work and not just lining some foreign crony's pockets. Eating sabayon with wine-soaked figs in a historic, beautiful, and funky place AND you're keeping the money local...

The owners have scratched out a mini-empire here in Bowling Green since I arrived about two years ago. They occupy parts of what used to be a hotel. First they built a restaurant that serves prix fixe and heartbreakingly fresh fish and fine food in the evening. Soon, they bought the adjoining hotel lobby and made it into a lounge (the "stage" is the old grand staircase and landing--too cool). Soon after, they bought a neighboring coffeehouse. Now, they are building what I think is a taqueria. Although their fine eating restaurant serves a really good lunch, I can't wait for the new addition.


Johndan Letting it all hang out

I remember reading Johndan Johnson-Eilola's writing when I was in graduate school (right about the time he left Purdue for Clarkson). Reading his books was one of the ways that I distanced myself from the stuffy Literature and carping Creative Writing Types. Reading Nostalgic Angels and such just made you feel cooler. Recently, his blogs and writing have seemed....well....academic (or just not quite as "ubercool"). His recent posts on painting his fingernails and wiping his hard drive seemed a bit confessional and gratitutous at first (at least for the editor of the stodgy Central Works in Technical Communication), but the more I think about it, the more I like to see these glimpes of the *old* Dr. Johnson-Eilola--the bad boy of Tech Comm. Welcome back Johndan.


Alternative Energy Blog

This Blog is updated with new developments in alternative energy Give it a whirl if you are interested in a non-partisan glimpse into what's going on in alternative energy.


Gore TV

I'm actually excited by the idea of a television station that plays videos/films made by the viewers. Seems more like a Lessig idea than a Democrat/Liberal one, to be honest. Wonder what the lawyers are going to do this this, considering how litigious the entertainment industry currently is.

Right on the Nose

This guy is absolutely on the money! Nice work, Mr. John Wylam. I couldn't agree more!

Horowitz showed off weak writing

By John Wylam
April 05, 2005

I attended the David Horowitz event at the Union last Wednesday, saw protests from the right and left, and wanted to mention a couple of things. First, it was interesting that an individual who admonishes his adherents to go into classes and purposefully disrupt couldn't see the same strategy at work in Olscamp.

He should've recognized that what people on the left were doing was really fairly simple: showing him how this approach works in practice. If he recognized the approach, I didn't see any evidence of it. It would've been better for him to acknowledge that dissent by defusing it rather than stoking it as he did, but to be honest I believe he wanted loud, boisterous dissent. He struck me as someone who feeds off such things, which I found quite abnormal.

The second point is Horowitz's lack of true intellectual rigor. I don't often see public work so bereft of depth. I'm not referring to his speech, although its rambling, pointless, me-monkey sensibilities should've made people cringe. I refer instead to his writing, which is shallow and steadfastly refuses to do the very thing he insisted that teachers on all sides in turn insist upon from their students' essays: that they use credible sources, argue well, use counter-argument and refutation without demeaning the other side.

His own attempts are slow-witted; he lacks the enthusiasm for even risking a challenge to his own preset beliefs; and on a stylistic level, his writing is a horror show.

As an ACS instructor, I find serious value in conservative argument. In fact, the idea of checks and balances in the classroom are important, but what's needed in class more immediately than Horowitz's Stalin-esque notion of purging academia of its liberals is for conservatives to speak up more often in class, challenge liberal assertions through evidence to see whether they hold up and if they don't, find ways to strip that argument.

If you bring me that type of essay, well-written and serious, I'll notice. Sadly, Horowitz as a writer quite simply doesn't have game. I'm sorry about that. At least he understands the need to provide argument, as he mentioned in his speech. On that point, at least, we agree. Most likely agreement ends here.

I understand the feelings of students on the political Right. Those of us who teach here have to apprehend this, because we all ought to know who we're working with. Personally, I never presume a liberal tendency in the classroom; that's a terribly dangerous idea. As to ideology, I'm not interested in changing your mind about who to support in the next election but in helping hone your skills in argument and hopefully give you more than one new view of the country in which we live.

I might be able to get you thinking in ways you haven't before, but if so, that means I'm doing my job as a teacher, not as a political operative.

There are intellectual voices on the right who I respect and admire. Tucker Carlson's surely one, and if I might make a public request of the campus Republicans, he'd be a fascinating and engaging speaker, far better read than Horowitz and fully capable of nuanced argument.

Someone like Carlson would not only attract a good-sized audience, in my view, but there wouldn't be nearly the vituperative reaction Horowitz received.

And why did he get that reaction? Again, I think he invited it, so the inevitable reaction was his own fault, not the left's and certainly not the Campus Republicans, who by the way raised the $5,000 speaking fee themselves. My respect to them all, because that was anything but easy. I'm honestly grateful to them for bringing Horowitz; I may think little of him myself, but as a public voice (notice I do not refer to him as an intellectual) he still ought to be heard.

And if he invites political theater, particularly at the university he ridiculed online, maybe we shouldn't be terribly surprised. In any event, it remains vitally important to know what the other side has to say, no matter which side you're on.