Friday Teacher Blogging

Before I fly off to Washington D.C. to meet up with some blog researchers and run the Marine Marathon, I want to mention a teacher that I have never seen teach: Dr. Rob Scott

How do I know this guy can teach? Well, as I was getting my coffee this morning, the barista mentioned (university baristas can be good for dirt) that a student had bought this teacher a cookie and an apple to sustain him during a morning of conferences. Now, you may think that the price/hour ratio is low here, but these artifacts are precisely the kinds of things you want to put in your tenure file. Cards and letters are all great artifacts for the file, but a shrink-wrapped "teacher offering" cumbly cookie would probably pressure any tenure committee to make the right decision. Here's to chocolate chip evidence of teaching excellence Dr. Scott!


"Grey Bowl" provides backdrop

Took this snap today. The grey bowl may have descended, but it hasn't yet conquered the flaming brilliance of leaves losing their chlorophyll. BG is a nice place to be if you keep your eyes open at the right time.


Gantt Chart for Online Docs

Here is how far my Online Docs students have progressed in their two major projects. I don't know if Tufte would be pleased with me.


The "Grey Bowl"

Before I moved to Northwest Ohio, one of graduate-school friends from Akron informed me about the 6-month "Grey Bowl" that descends upon Ohio in October and stays for six months.

The Grey Bowl has descended.


Friday Teacher Blogging

Your sixth grade teacher. Sixth grade happens during that age between innocence and the "Lord of the Flies" boot camp that is Junior High. Sixth grade is the year that helps you learn how to pick up your books and straighten your clothes after you've been tripped. Your sixth grade teacher was the person who helped you break out from the expectation that family political tricks to solve everything.

Go back and thank your sixth grade teacher. I did. As soon as I came back from my year abroad, I went and saw Ms. Baumann to thank her for all of the inspiration she serendipitously slipped into my day. While I was busy racking up a record for after-school detentions (mostly for speaking out of turn or forgetting to bring my homework), she patiently showed the class her adventures in "Up With People" (yes, the "Up With Everthing" parody in the Simpsons actually refers to a real group). Her pictures of travelling in Europe and her singing eventually convinced this rez boy to try some new and unusual things--like becoming an English major and a voice minor. Ms. Baumann broke our hearts and eventually became Patricia Ore (only kidding--we are all happy for her) and has worked her way up to principal. I'm sure she is a stellar administrator, just as I am sure she is still helping adults-in-training to learn how to take risks and to ignore the initial social stigma of being different and bold. Thanks teacher!


Odds 'n Ends

Ms. Mentor has a great column at the Chronicle. My favorite lines:

After all, taking sides puts everyone in a category, and academics love to categorize. Whole subject areas are built on classifying, polarizing, separating, labeling, and dating. Subtle and unsubtle distinctions are the bread of life. If you are not a Platonist, perhaps you're a Freudian, a Marxist, a Whig, or a dendrophile.

But Professor Stickler's cohorts seem to have reduced it all to one question: Are you Dean Titan's toady?


Perhaps Dean Titan knows exactly what he's doing: Words are pronounced the way I pronounce them, because I Am the Head Nabob in Charge.


Go read the whole thing at the Chronicle and drop her a nice note. She's been through a lot, as have all of the Louisiana and Alabama residents who were in Katrina's path.

Item #2. Here's a picture of Dr. Michael Bérubé a few years ago.

I can't help but think I saw this in an A Ha video. Take on me? Take me on? (I'm only kidding, Dr. B.)


Fake crises

This is what happens when you put the beginning of a news story with the end.


College costs going nowhere but up

As they have for the last ten years, college costs rose faster than inflation this year, according to the report "Trends in College Pricing 2005," released Tuesday by the College Board, a non-profit association of 4,500 schools, colleges and universities.

The rate of growth in tuition costs at four-year private colleges was about the same as last year -- 5.9 percent -- to $21,235. But growth slowed in tuition costs at four-year public universities. They rose 7.1 percent to $5,491. Last year, public school tuition jumped 10.5 percent.

Tuition costs, of course, are not the whole nut. Including room and board, the cost of attending a private college is $29,026 per year on average, and $12,127 at four-year public universities.


But many college students don't pay sticker price. 63 percent of students receive some form of aid, either loans, grants or both, according to the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

On average, full-time students at private institutions get about $9,600 in aid in the form of grants and tax benefits. At public four-year schools, the average is $3,300.


In an accompanying survey, "Education Pays 2005," the College Board analyzes the benefits in lifetime earnings trends of those who've earned a college degree.

In 2003, workers with bachelor's degrees earned a median of $49,900. Those who'd completed several years of college with no degree had median earnings of $35,700, while those with a high school diploma averaged $30,800.

Projecting this over a 40-year career, the study calculated that a college graduate will earn about 73 percent more than a high school graduate.


So, in other words, average pre-aid college edcuation at a private school costs about twelve years of the extra money you'll make after graduation (about $20,000 per year to pay for the tuition and to make up for four lost years of earnings). That is worst-case scenario here (paying full tuition, having no job in college, etc.). If you factor in average grants, it takes about 10 years (two, if you are counting only tuition expenses). It only takes you one year to make up the tuition of a state college. Yeah, I know, you've got loans loans loans. I've got them too. I also had three jobs in college. In the long run, a college education is still the best investment you can make. Moreover, the American college system is still, by far, the best in the world. This "tuition crisis" is really a disguised healthcare and energy crisis (that's where the expenses are coming from) piling on top of states paying MUCH MUCH less to state schools. If schools just busted out those parts of the budget and put it on the state to explain, I think we might get a better energy and healthcare policy, frankly (and we might be able to tell students to pressure the state legislatures to step up to the plate). Until we do, I expect more of these "universities are just so expensive" diatribes to divert away from the real crises.


Friday Teacher Blogging

Today, I'm going to describe a little different teacher. While I definitely think that biped teachers kick arse, there are all kinds of teachers. For today's "Bloggy Teacher of the Week," I want to mention a hiking trail that I used to take periodically when I lived in Albuquerque. Fittingly, this trail was named La Luz. Like many of my other teachers, this trail forced me to examine my beliefs about the world. This trail, which climbs 3,400 feet over the course of its eight miles pushed me out of four suburban assumptions about my daily choices:
1.) You can go anywhere you want at any time.
Not true with this trail. The trail is closed in the winter (like many other trails), and also has a rainy season that makes you decide if you are going to make the ascent early in the day. By three P.M. in the afternoon, if you are not finished, you have a pretty good chance of getting caught in a rain storm and exposing yourself to lightning.
2.) Nature is either too big to control, or entirely controllable.
Neither ring true on the trail. The incredible variety and precariousness of nature is all there on this hike. From the cacti at the trail base, to the wild raspberries (that taste great) in the middle, to the aspens at the top, you can touch the incredible variety of nature. It is too big to put your arms around, but you can see the path people cut into "nature" at every point. Nature as either terrible Ktaaden, unspoiled wildness, or as tendable garden doesn't fit the experience.
3.) Experiencing something once teaches you enough.
I hiked this trail maybe a dozen times and it never looked the same. From snowball fights to walking through the clouds' mist on the trail, I can recall nearly every conversation and switchback I experienced on this hike.
4.) All lessons can be described.
I would say more about this but...

I never managed to do the "La Luz Annual Trail Run", but I did spend a lot of time with this old friend. Thanks for the lessons.


My Sides Hurt

Apple reveals iPod video and the skeptics crawl out. My favorite? THIS guy:

"The video iPod was born from arrogance. Apple has been so successful with the audio iPod that it thinks it can't go wrong. But it will this time. This is an example of a technology that is being launched only because it can be, not because anybody wants it."

I expect this kind of doomsaying from the paid and unpaid minions of other companies sprinkled throughout the packetsphere (anyone remember how the press dogged the original iPod as "just another mp3 player"?).

I'm an Apple fan, to be sure, but I think this will likely eventually work (if not for Apple, then for someone like Sony) for a few reasons.

1. The video market is ripe for selling single episodes of television shows, commercial-free. With a splintered pipeline (we call it cable), it becomes important to hit the high-end demographics. These bo-bos want quality narrative and they want it commercial free. HBO does it for dedicated-cable network viewers and Netflix does it for the fans who want to wait until it can be compiled and put on DVDs. This hits both the unwired (me, incidentally--I don't even own a T.V. and I subscribe to Netflix) AND the folks who don't want to watch episodes on schedule, don't want to bother with TiVo, and don't want to wait for the DVDs. This isn't a huge group, but this group certainly has money.
2. Nearly every major television network has podcasts right now ("Foxcasts, NPR, ABC, ESPN, CBS, NBC, etc.). People know that it is all about multi-channel marketing and sales, and that, for now, iTunes is a big part of that landscape. ABC, er Disney, er Pixar, is the only network that has content for now. I doubt it will be that long before other networks will want to see their shows repackaged for iTunes and competing with Disney/ABC/ESPN/Pixar (and yes, I think this signals Pixar re-upping with Disney now that Eisner is toast). Selling a few thousand downloads at 2.99 a pop isn't the point. Being able to promote shows on podcasts and sell the music or audiobooks being hawked on the shows IS the point. You build mindshare and stickiness by making the mediation process seamless/painless and by minimizing the "push" aspects of the marketing (removing ads, keeping the interface uncluttered but full of choices, etc.)
3. The small "television" is not the point. I don't think hooking it directly into your TV will be the point either (although I do think Apple will focus on this thing in the near future to make the bridge--it's what people have). I think the future is projection onto a much wider variety of surfaces. This makes eyeglasses television possible (think about watching a weather vlog on your way to work; think about video in the back seat of the car with the iPod controls in the front where Dad and Mom can get to them; think about hooking an iPod into a video projector at home (with wireless to the stereo system). Narrative on Demand. Now you can purchase shows and throw a themed party. Select a favorite episode whenever it pops into your head.

Jobs and company have been too far ahead sometimes (the cube; the Newton, etc.), but I think Apple is on the breaking edge of this wave. Should be a fun ride.


Now We Are Getting Somewhere

Technical Communicators, take note. Here come the interfaces we have been looking for:

*snip* (from Physorg)

Color displays may one day be used practically everywhere. And this would be possible even where it’s unprofitable today for cost reasons, such as on food cartons, medicine packaging or admission tickets. At the Plastics Electronics trade fair in Frankfurt, Siemens developers exhibited extremely thin, miniature color displays that can be printed onto paper or foil. And the displays can be produced at very low cost compared to LCD panels. The first displays will become available on the market in 2007. The displays show information about products, or even operating instructions for devices, directly on the packaging.


Michael B.'s post on blogging

Doc Berube's (Paterno Professor of "All Things Literary and Bloggy" at Penn State) recent post lamenting the non-tenure of a poly-sci Assistant Professor at the University of Chicago (presumably because he blogs--although the evidence isn't easy to ascertain) got me thinking about why I blindly charge into this public arena.

To be honest, I don't really know. Michael Berube's blog is one of the most entertaining pieces of performance art I have seen in a long while. He textually jousts with David Horowitz (Doc B dances and cavorts around the paleolithic D.Ho., all the while cutting texuatl M.B.'s into D.Ho's arguments, much as Zorro carves his eponymous tri-slash into the clothes of his slow-witted opponents). Dr. Berube also fiinds a medium that combines his love of the working class (hockey) with his love of the erudite and elite (latin, literary theory, etc.) in a forum that allows a back and forth with dozens of people. He mixes that with his ostensible subject, Disability Studies (and I'm not meaning insult with the bracketing, because he does that with aplomb. He just does so much else well, it is hard to say that is his especial purpose). I know why Michael Berube blogs (and why others go there). What is less clear is why an obscure Scientific and Technical Communicator blogs with little feedback other than the occasional polite TC prof, wandering-eye student, or "Sir Spamalot" waiting in the comments section.

My main guess is that people who blog love three things: conversations, technology (in some form) and community. Maybe we are looking for the conversations that don't happen in our class or in our departments to occur out in cyberspace. After all, universities are much like any other company--everyone has to hold their breath a bit and make sure that they don't put themselves out there too much in any work situation. I had to do this when I was a Wendy's fry cook, a theater bouncer, a football player, a tennis team captain, a tutor, a registrar intake secretary ("bullet sponge"), a T.A., a technical writer, and now as a professor. I think this is our chance to share our thoughts with a larger, lurking public (perhaps not like "Mr. 1.8 Million Hits Berube," but better than sharing with just those who see us as a door to bigger things). Blogging is a nice way to organize our thoughts, and to make visible the creative and destructive process that writing embodies.

But the Internet is Different!

Uh, maybe not:

"We will not agree to the U.N. taking over the management of the Internet," said Ambassador David Gross, the U.S. coordinator for international communications and information policy at the State Department. "Some countries want that. We think that's unacceptable."

Go read the rest, if you like.


Ignore that "To Do" item

If any of you are around when I encounter the "23 mile training run" on my "To Do" list, let me know that one is already done.

Pray. For. Mojo.


Where the Rubber Meets the Road

The food tribulations continue here in Northwest Ohio:

As the Northwest Ohio Rib-Off, one of downtown Toledo's biggest events each year, threatens to take its tasty ribs and sauces elsewhere next year, mayoral candidate Carty Finkbeiner said if he's elected Nov. 8, he'll get the Rib-Off back downtown.

But Mayor Jack Ford's administration said it's already doing all that can be done to keep the Rib-Off in Promenade Park, where it has been held for 22 years.


Friday Teacher Blogging

See the guy on the left? That's Peter White. Not only is he a top-50 violin maker in the world, he was a hell of a teacher and mentor. He started our 19th-Century Literature seminar by showing us a film depiction of religious persecution (reformation torture, I think) and then plopping hundreds of pages of Calvin in front of us to read. By the time that class was over, I had nearly doubled my reading in the period and had written a meticulously-researched paper. Considering that my biggest priority that semester was to learn how to make a kick-ass coq au vin in a crockpot (made with $4 wine), I would consider that more than a minor miracle--and in no small part due to his enthusiasm. Here's to you, Pedro Blanco.


"Below the Fold"

Noam Chomsky, whatever you may think of his politics (and I'm have mostly mixed feelings about them myself), he has an interesting take on where the "news" lives in news stories. During his talks at MIT and Harvard, he cites widely-available information to make his points about government co-opting democracy. He does NOT take his information from the top of news stories. Instead, he encourages his audience to read the last few paragraphs of the story to see where the news really lives. I agree with this assessment. The Front Page sells copy by appealing to reader prejudice. The payoff is usually buried beneath the fold--or more often on page A21.

This pattern is also followed in Internet tabloidism in interesting ways. While the tech press was have a field day over Motorola's CEO comment "Screw the nano," (a comment given with a wink, supposedly), his most interesting comment gets buried, IMHO:

On a more serious note, Zander bemoaned the lack of engineering students in the United States. "One big issue is our investment in education. We're not pushing enough science and math. Go around the world, and see the kind of national programs to push the sciences. We ought to own biotech, high tech and other areas," he said.

The business community often gives short shrift to funding education, or, at best, pretends that globalism is the answer to the declining advantage we have with our world-class universities. That a multinational CEO would say that "We ought to own biotech, high tech, and other areas" and that we should push "our investment in education" should be receiving MUCH more attention than an ambiguously pissy statement about an mp3 player. Seriously.


In case you haven't heard

So, you may have heard a thing or two about the film school editing project that hit the meme-stream, and, lickity-split, this lad has calls coming in from Hollywood. Now, I could reinforce the idea that all one has to do is to just do good work and put it on some secret server and that dream job will come calling. Sometimes happens, but not often. Instead, I'm struck by the irony of a person remixing Hollywood intellectual property (in this case, turning footage of The Shining into a parody of a comedy trailer), and when it gets out into the public domain, the "Pirate Hunters" offer this guy a job. Reminds me of when hackers were getting jobs as computer security consultants (my boss' son actually made 100 million dollars when he ditched his military decryption--a.k.a "hacker"--job to build and subsequently sell a computer security firm). I think it reveals the motivations of the culture industry in enforcing intellectual property "rights." So-called "Liberal" Hollywood is all about the bling.


So I Went to See "Serenity"

I'm not going to give *much* in the way of spoilers here, but don't read this if you want to see the movie.

A few random thoughts about the movie.
1.) Great television show, good movie. Joss Whedon had some of the most innovative science fiction writing and filming with this show, so it is hard to make it more "innovative." I wish he had about 10 million more for special effects and about 10 million for marketing.
2.) The dialogue was still good. Joss has a way of "scuffing" dialogue. In this movie, he rubs western cliches against science fiction, with a generous dose of humor. It works really well--way better than "Buffy" ever did, in my opinion. I just don't cotton to valorizing high school talk. I didn't respect it when I was in junior high or high school, and I still don't respect it. Now, I don't like Western conventions because I grew up on a reservation, but I find that the mixture of speaking virtuosity, constant character attempts to decipher what the others mean, humility, and humor sounds exactly like what I remember on the rez. Last show I remember doing the same thing was Northern Exposure, but I digress.
3.) The "imperfect" film technique (CGI odd angles, treating the ship like a character, putting in light flares and off-center shots) makes this "Millenium Falcon-Stagecoach" (Whedon called his show this in the first season DVD documentary) scenario feel more authentic. George Lucas could have saved a lot of money and grief had he just kept more imperfections to let people get closer. After the first two Star Wars movies, I stopped caring about the characters. In Firefly, and Serenity, I never stopped caring. I think this is a result of Lucas making his films more technically correct and cold and Whedon keeping the focus on the characters, including the spaceship, as imperfect, and imperfectly knowable.
4.) The characters. I can't believe that my favorite character doesn't make it. I felt like I lost a best friend, and I'm still in denial. Seriously. I've never EVER mourned a fictional character, and I mourn this poor soul.
5.) My biggest gripe with with the use of Papyrus font for not only the poster (puh-leeze hire a better marketing firm--one that doesn't double as a wedding invitation publisher), but also as the lettering on the side of the Serenity. As a typography geek, I am offended that someone would spend millions to make sets look completely real, but won't take a trip down the mac font menu to see how incredibly common their font choice is. Everyone with any passing typographical experience (you know, educated people who work at their desks) will probably recognize this as a ready-made font. The font choice is what most people will notice when they see the poster and trailer. While they were at it, maybe they could have included some Word clip-art too. The coup de grace was when Inara is seen painting the same font on the side of the ship at the end. Wow, that's bad. I know, only a typographic geek would care. Still, all of the work that is done to make the movie live and breathe as a unique world should extend to the invitations (trailer, movie poster, internet banner ads). Wait! Maybe they should have hired a custom wedding invitation company to make the poster. I'm sure they have tons of interesting fonts...


Freakonomics Blog

Just bookmarking this so I can put it in the links later. Remember when blogs did that?