Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Temptation

Post tonight? I shouldn't. It's that time of the semester - more to do than hours in the day for getting it done, but this moment is one to save, one to visit again (and again). What better place for keeping of track of treasure than the safe keeping of a blog? The added benefit is sharing the moment ... ahhhhh ... with friends.

Kudos to the source: Uncrate - one of those luscious places to visit dreams of maybe and someday, and thanks to Matt who introduced "us":

The Dornbracht RainSky E Shower 11.29.05

Ok, so this one is only for those outside the US and Canada - unless you want to go against building codes - but it's so cool we have to tell you about it. The Dornbracht RainSky EShower ($7000-$9000) produces three different types of "rain" that can be chosen alone or together, all with synchronized colored light - and the panels of the system are available in stainless or brushed finishes. It's almost enough to make us move somewhere else.

It's almost enough to make me willing to "go against building codes." Ok... not, but omgoodness! Tempting.

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Thursday, November 24, 2005

Keep It Moving

It's a good day: the words in my world have had the music of thanksgiving. My daughter called - she's currently on duty just outside Baghdad, and we shared the joys of the day in news that she would be gathering to celebrate with friends. My sons and the women in their lives are even now finishing the meal they made together at our family home in Minnesota. I've spent a restful day of catching up on school work and clearing my workspace in preparation for burrowing into a paper due on Monday. I visited with friends online in the blog-bits they left of themselves as notes of grace, kindness, and thanksgiving - a chorus of remembrance for those things most important to them ... to all of us.

Winston reminded me to take time from the day for slowing down. Ronnie made dessert, and Kat brought the best music for the occasion - she always does. It was Kat's posting of Alice's Restaurant that kicked my own ball down the hill into a trail of thoughts that would culminate in this post: the story of Arlo Guthrie took me to the story of Woody Guthrie that led at last to the Wikipedia entry containing this Woody Guthrie quote:

"Life has got a habit of not standing hitched. You got to ride it like you find it. You got to change with it. If a day goes by that don't change some of your old notions for new ones, that is just about like trying to milk a dead cow."

I'd drifted in and out of contemplation today, weighing first one idea and then another and wondering how best I might express a "bottom line" for which I am most grateful, and this quote does it for me. I am thankful that all of life keeps moving. I am glad for family, friends, and good days, but above all else, I am grateful for the ride.


Happy Thanksgiving, All.

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Sunday, November 20, 2005

Equipped With Power: 18 and Voting

Election day in an "off year" of voting can come and go without notice; a fact that in a country the size of the United States can make it even more difficult to assure the many 18-year-olds I teach that there is substantial power in the privilege of their vote.

Congratulations and thanks therefore to Hillsdale, Michigan's mayor-elect, Michael Sessions, who will take office tomorrow, becoming America's youngest mayor and claiming the office in a victory won on the strength of only two votes! Mayor-elect Sessions makes my case for the power of a single vote at the same time he makes history following his month-long campaign.

Sessions who turned 18 in September, too young at that time to make the ballot, ran for mayor as a write-in candidate launching his campaign just a month ago with the money he made from summer job, $700, just a little bit behind what Mayor Bloomberg spent to be reelected in New York City -- $67 million.
Credit for the image above goes to MSNBC. Click here for more from that story and an interview between Sessions and Newsweek's Keith Olbermann.


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Homeland Security: Rising Cost of Rhetoric

The federal government, under the auspices of the Federal Communications Commission, is reaching back 11 years to the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act of 1994 to justify legislation for new surveillance access to information digitally exchanged in the public forum.

The 1994 wiretapping law required telephone carriers to re-engineer their switching systems in such a way as to facilitate easy access by federal agents enacting surveillance and to do so at their own expense. That law is now being extended to include current internet-based technologies. In a mandate recently issued by the U.S. Justice Department, every college campus in the country as well as any library, airport, commercial internet provider, or municipality that provides internet access to their residents/constituents will be required to complete necessary system upgrades to accomplish compliance with the new law by spring 2007 and to do so at their own expense.

Estimated costs to the nation’s universities alone are currently expected to reach as high as $7 billion, a cost translating to an annual tuition hike of approximately $450 per student. Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president of the American Council on Education said of the recent action, “This is the mother of all unfounded mandates.”

Some federal officials responded skeptically, minimizing the notion of a burdensome economic impact with reminders that “schools would be required to make their networks accessible to law enforcement only at the point where those networks connect to the outside world.”

Here is yet one more opportunity to realize the “slide” of words and the difficulty of securing “common understanding” within the crosscurrents of competing interests and compelling rhetorical compositions addressing “homeland security” and national interest. Exactly where does "the outside world" begin and end? What is "outside" in today's global community? Who are the "insiders"? And what kinds of tensions must be navigated when language so loaded with predisposition insists on being suckled on federal budgets? The costs for constructing a culture of fear and its consequent justifications in "deep concern" reach well beyond the boundaries of the $4.7 billion dollars a day funding the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.

When the Justice Department issued its request last year for the extension of the 1994 law, the rationale turned on the need to insure law enforcement’s ease in collecting information to “accomplish its mission in the face of rapidly advancing technology,” to aid “in their fight against criminals, terrorists and spies.”

Do I recognize the need for an eye toward security? Yes. I agree with Thomas Friedman on this point in recognizing a need for a federally funded agency that holds as its sole purpose the cankerous responsibility for living in suspicion, expecting trouble, endlessly waiting for attack, and I wholeheartedly believe that those accepting some part of such a difficult task on behalf of their grateful nation should be protected and regarded among the nation's heroes, but this is not the way for a whole nation to live – especially not a nation so profoundly great and globally influential as the United States.

What would $7 billion buy if turned toward research and development, if anchored in projects composed with the rhetoric of innovation, collaboration, inclusion … peace? Though I have my own political and often impassioned point of view about our current military involvement overseas, as I write this post, it is not the war overseas about which I am most concerned; it is the war of words taking place here at home that most wants our attention. There is no doubt an “iceberg” lies dead ahead in the water - the certain need to redirect our rhetoric into currents of productivity able to inspire confidence and emergent technologies. It takes time to turn the Titanic around, especially where passions have enflamed investment in identification with privilege.

When it comes to the words we are choosing to use in the United States today (and the money that follows those words), it is perhaps time we begin the serious work of promoting new vocabularies. Be sure that we won’t build a secure future until until we do.

This posts responds to information from “Colleges Protest Call to Upgrade Online Systems,” reported October 23, 2005 by Sam Dillion and Stephen Labaton.


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Information Wants to Be Found

In 1984 at the first Hacker’s Convention, Stewart Brand gave words for what would become mantra to the open source, freeware, shareware, and swapping cultures engaged in negotiating the birth of a 21st century digital nation: “information wants to be free.”

Judging from the results of a meeting held at the New York Public Library on Monday night, his notion may be finding new weight in agreement at least in this measure:

Information wants to be found.

Google has been taking its place as the “library” of the 21st century, and it is to this end (as I understand it) that Google seeks to translate the print materials from three of the nation’s major universities into digitally searchable format. The emphasis here (again, as I understand it) is on the notion of “searchable,” with plans to return only three to five lines of text to any search of a digitized source and consequently remaining, as Google sees it, well within the lines of “fair use.” Authors and booksellers disagree, however, arguing that permissions should have to be acquired from copyright holders before texts can be copied and that any newly generated profits should be shared.

Representatives from various major concerns met at the NYPL on Thursday evening to air concerns at an event aptly titled, “The Battle Over Books.” Attendees at the debate included representatives from Google, the Author’s Guild, the Association of American Publishers, and Lawrence Lessig (Stanford Law School and Creative Commons founder).

Of course, we’re currently inside the very topic at issue – each of us texts increasingly known even to ourselves as digital identities, so it’s understandably difficult to form a perspective able to escape the gravity of personal interest. The conversations –negotiations – have only just begun, but a part of Thursday’s installment as reported by Edward Wyatt of the NYTimes helps me to position my own thoughts in response to a piece of the discussion. Here Professor Lessig differentiates between the interests of those in the music industry raising similar concerns and those of the booksellers currently being raised in resistance to the “findability” Google means to provide:

Lawrence Lessig, a professor at Stanford Law School and the founder of the university's Center for Internet and Society, also raised the question of harm. He drew a distinction between publishers and music companies, which in their Internet-related lawsuits were able to show that they were defending themselves against the losses caused by the illegal copying and sharing of music.

"What you want to do is to get a kind of revenue that right now you don't get at all," Professor Lessig said. "So it's about taking part of the value that's created here" by Google, "not about protecting yourself against losses as produced by this new technology."

Mr. Adler said Google's contention that its search program might somehow increase sales of books was speculation at best.

"When people make inquiries using Google's search engine and they come up with references to books, they are just as likely to come to this fine institution to look up those references as they are to buy them," he said, referring to the Public Library.

To which Google's Mr. Drummond replied, "Horrors."



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Maintaining Pace

Every next day comes with an always already "full plate" of things to do - especially when ... , and here I replace the ellipsis with "[when] you're completing coursework in graduate school," but which of us doesn't have her own way of finding the plate full, huh? I regularly get help in managing my relationship with perpetual demand from friends blogging at Lifehacker, 43 Folders, and now Open Loops.

A recent post at Open Loops spoke into my world when suggesting strategies for "quick and dirty reading" or what I have before heard referenced as "surgical reading." I'd known and used some of the suggestions given below, but Bert Webb here composes a strategic approach to reading efficiency anchored in an 80/20 rule of thumb: "For our purposes, in any given book, 80% of the value of the book comes from 20% of the words within it. So our first job in reading is simply to find and read the 20% of the words that contain the value we need. Read those and no others - unless the particular value we require lies with that other 80%. When that happens, we turn to deeper reading."

Strategies that recognize and help manage an often unavoidable shortage of time are good for me, but I especially appreciate the acknowledgement that an 80/20 rule will yield (about 20% of the time) to the demand for a closer and more thorough read in order to realize 80% of the value given. Read thoroughly when you can; when you must read "surgically," this approach may help:

1. Read the title of the material.
2. Read the introduction.
3. Read the Table of Contents.
4. Flip through the material, scanning the chapter titles and sub-headings. Note the words that stand out as bold, different colors, underlined, or italicized.
5. Look at the illustrations and captions, charts and diagrams, pull-quotes and sidebars.
6. Scan through the index look for particular buzz words.
7. Now read the first chapter (or paragraph if the work is short).
8. Flip through the book and read the first sentence of each paragraph.
9. Read the last chapter (or paragraph) and executive summary, if there is one.
10. Read any information provided on the cover or dust jacket.

Thanks, Bert!

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Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Pretty Kitty

(via Bitch. Ph.D.) It purrs, it plays, and it watches for mice ... all this without the bother of cat hair of my dark wool pants. Click here to play with the cat.


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Writing "Tips" From Late-Night Wanderings

Another late night at the office - new strategy in forcing myself awake for a next ten pages of reading. I continue making my way through the semester and through material that is as difficult as it is interesting, but "brain breaks" from time to time are a must, and this night is no exception. I wander in the quiet of fourth floor Heavilon Hall, seeing more in the early-late hours of the day than seems there for the viewing in daylight.

My students are wrapping up project two now in our English 106 class at Purdue - putting last minute polish on the 5-7 pages assigned, so it was a particularly well-timed delight last night to shuffle by the following list of "writing tips" taped to the glass of an office door near mine. For those of my students reading here, pay careful attention; for all other reader-writers, enjoy!

"Ten Tips for Writing Well" (author unknown)

1. It's wrong to ever split an infinitive.

2. Contractions aren't necessary.

3. The passive voice is to be avoided.

4. Prepositions aren't the words to end a sentence with.

5. Be more or less specific.

6. Go around the barn at high noon to avoid colloquialisms.

7. One-word sentences? Eliminate!

8. For good writing, who needs rhetorical questions?

9. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.


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Wednesday, November 09, 2005

American Diaspora

In the biggest mass migration in U.S. history, 3.2 million people were displaced from their homes. The American diaspora following in the wake of Katrina is graphically represented by the map shown here. Though many people from New Orleans and the surrounding areas will return to their homes in the foreseeable future, thousands of others will pass years in relocation before the possibility of returning can be made real. This visual from ePundant reminds me of what I already know … endings for dramatic stories are “neatly” packaged only in make-believe. I’ll be one more person at the benefit this Friday, at the Riehle Brothers Pavilion (2230 Concord Rd.) in Lafayette, Indiana.

The above map was based on more than 40,000 postings on Internet "safe lists" by Katrina survivors. ePodunk analyzed messages containing both the person's hometown and the location after fleeing the storm.

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Podcast of the Year

Hilary at PodCrawl keeps my students and me informed on happenings in the world of Podcasting. Hilary “scours the web for the best” in independently – no less professionally – produced audio feeds available online. Podcasting (though admittedly only in the strictest sense as beginners) finds it’s way into the writing course I teach at Purdue as yet one more way writers can compose themselves for the 21st century. Students begin as "readers" by surveying recommended feeds and aggregating those they find of interest, and then, as the course progresses, some of the students try their hand at adding voice to their own writings (see Rita’s post here for example). It’s a modest beginning, and when it all comes together, it’s pretty darn cool!

This week Hilary points us to the “Best of Show” awards that are being announced from the Portable Media Expo taking place this weekend in Ontario. If you’d like to sample the polished work of one of the best in podcasting, check out the winner of this year’s “Podcast of the Year” award: Eat Feed, an audio blog that “takes you back in time, across the country, around the world, and back to your own table” in ongoing discussions about “pretty much anything to do with food, drink, dining, feeding, and entertaining that is tasty, innovative, intelligent, and surprising.” … a great next “find” along the way on this digital adventure. Thanks (again), Hilary, for your work as guide, and congratulations to the creative team at Eat Feed for the award and the due recognition.



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Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Seeing Engineers Everywhere Now

I don’t pretend to understand the significance of these new developments in molecular technology, but recent connections for me at work have opened networking opportunities with engineers, and now the word “engineer” is catching my attention whenever/wherever it shows up. This handiwork from professors of mechanical engineering, computer engineering, and electrical engineering showcases a one-molecule nano-“car” that is a little wider than a strand of DNA and comes complete with a working chassis, axle, and wheels.

Its wheels are hollow spheres composed entirely of carbon atoms, known to chemists as buckminsterfullerenes (named for the inventor Buckminster Fuller), or buckyballs for short. This means that the nanocar functions much like a real automobile, moving forward at an angle of 90 degrees to its axles as its wheels turn.

Working at approximately one twenty-thousandth the width of a hair, scientists hope this research will be only the beginning of productive operations functioning on the molecular scale. Read the rest of the story here.


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This Is Why I Teach

Why do I teach? Why do I love it? This bit of story opens an angle on a piece of the answer:

Gordon Weliky is one of the writers in a first-year composition class I teach at Purdue University. The syllabus sequence through which I guide my students works out its title, “Composing the Digital Self,” as it directs students through a daily discovery of on- and off-line tools with which to hone, polish, and amplify their command of language and their exactness in writing. Nearly all of the writing for this course work is done … online! The digital experience can be a tough transition for some students and take the better part of a semester to open up for others: Gordon caught his “ride” today with a lift from Urban Dictionary. Here’s the email I received from Gordon … his telling says it all:

Mary!!!!!!!

Holy crap, I made the front page of Urban Dictionary!!!!!!
Hopefully its still there when you check Urban Dictionary, but if not,
they posted a comment on my blog. They quoted the last sentence of my
blog on the front page of Urban Dictionary and included a link to my blog!!!
If you can’t already tell, I'm pretty excited. I cannot wait to check
stat counter and find out what kind of traffic I’m going to be getting!!
Gordon called his parents, other members of the class, and likely his entire roll call of friends back home. I called my own list of notables; I can’t honestly tell you which one of us was more excited. It’s loads of fun to win a moment of digital celebrity – a terrific “win” for Gordon … a bucket of personal satisfaction for me!

You can drop by Gordon’s blog by following this link, or you can follow the Urban Dictionary “link back” to Gordon's blog by going here - look for “purdue blog.” And, if you’d like to read more about the happenings for this course in general, you can check out some of the other student writing by clicking on links from the blogroll at right: scroll down until you come to “Purdue English 106 Class Blogs.”

It's all too darn much fun!


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