February 2003 Archives

i've always wanted to have a neighbor just like you

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I cried yesterday when I heard about the death of Fred Rogers. And I cried again, reading the lovely tribute to him by Charles Taylor in salon.com.

The oft-quoted line that opens L.P. Hartley's novel "The Go-Between" -- "The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there" -- applies to nothing so much as to our own childhood selves. It's very easy to forget how difficult naming or even admitting your fears can be for young children. To do that is, for a child, almost to will those fears into being. Fred Rogers found a way to name those fears and to tell kids that admitting them was a way of being strong enough to deal with them. The softness of his approach, the determined zipper-cardiganed and tennis-shoed niceness of it, shouldn't obscure the greatness of his achievement.

it's official!


Walked into my bi-weekly breakfast with RIT's president and provost, and the first word out of each of their mouths was "Congratulations!"

I'm tenured.

It wasn't a surprise, but it was an extraordinary, enormous relief.

My deepest and most heartfelt thanks to all of you who provide support--direct and indirect--through this process. E-mails are forthcoming to the many who wrote letters on my behalf.

a visual oasis

After a day of non-stop grading, I needed to clear my mind of student web sites before going to sleep. A strange trail of links (too strange to explain or list) led me to the photos of Emese Gaal, whose blog has been added to my daily list.

It's also a wonderful example of why I don't buy Jenny Levine's argument that using RSS feeds is simply a choice of "substance over style." In some cases--and this is surely one--the substance is inextricably bound up with the style.

subverting the quantitative hierarchy

I am a qualitative researcher. I tend to believe stories before I believe statistics. Anne Galloway has a lovely post about the value of qualitative perspectives on blogging.

And Meg at Mandarin offers up an irresistable opportunity to play games with Daypop's new "word burst" tracker. Use the word "oulipo" in your blog, she says. Consider it done.

And when the statisticians total their columns and find a burst like this, what will they make of it? Without the stories, it means nothing.

through a child's eyes


Yesterday, Lane (my 8-year-old son) brought me a tumbler full of gatorade, and then stood tentatively near the door. "Dad says you might have food poisoning," he said, sounding quite concerned. "That, or a bad virus," I replied.

He stood silent for a moment, then asked "Mom, why would anyone want to poison your food?"

I reassured him quickly by explaining what we meant by "food poisoning," and he left the room looking greatly relieved. It was a good reminder of how literally children take what they hear.

on my living room wall...

crane.jpg ...is a gift I received from my stepfather. It's not a cheerful image--it's a picture of a shrouded woman, done in muddy reds and browns. Below it is the last stanza from "War is Kind," a poem by Stephen Crane.

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

I first read the poem in high school, and it touched me then, in a way I didn't understand, but that most of us who love to read have felt more than once. And when I saw the picture in my mother's house after she married my stepfather, I coveted it immediately.

Today, when I look at it, I am grateful for two things. First, for my stepfather's generosity in giving me the picture. Second--and more importantly--for the fact that my children (ages 6 and 8) are still too young to be conscripted into the war that draws inexorably nearer.

(Will post a photo of the picture later, if time permits.)

temporarily awol


There's nothing like a severe case of gastroenteritis to put the rest of your life in perspective.

I put the computer down at about 1am this morning because I was feeling queasy. nearly 20 hours later, I'm just starting to keep clear liquids down.

So, forgive me for starting all kinds of interesting dialogs and then disappearing entirely from the conversational space. Not only am I not up to sitting up with the computer for more than a couple of minutes at a time yet, I've now lost nearly an entire day of grading, and the pressure to get that done will have precedence over the pleasures of blogarian conversation for a day or two.

But I'll be back, soon.

misinterpretations and misunderstandings

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I shouldn't post anything when I'm in the throes of grading because it's sure to be misunderstood. :-)

But I feel I must respond when Dorothea posts about what she sees as the horrible effects of academia on my otherwise right-thinking brain: " And yet the system has warped them such that they both get a twinge when somebody else comes out with a perfectly good idea, just because they didn�t come out with it first."

I'm pretty sure that's not what I said in my post. What I did say was that I found myself "torn between excitement and envy," and that I wished I'd had more time over the past few years to explore the topics that I had been so interested in as a grad student. The twinge isn't that somebody else came up with the idea first--it's that I want to be able to contribute more to the body of knowledge on the subject than I've been able to do.

All my bitching and moaning about academic politics aside, I wouldn't trade my job for any other. Academia has its warts, sure...and those are what get most of the attention. What gets left out are all the reasons that so many of us work so hard to get here...and to stay once we're here. So, let me list some of those.

  • Autonomy. In no other job I've ever had (including working as an entrepreneur) have I had the amount of autonomy I have in this job. I get to define what I teach, and how I teach it. What matters is results--if my students are learning, if I'm demonstrating scholarship. Not how I get there. That's totally up to me.
  • Flexibility. Not only do I get to decide what and how I teach--for the most part, I also get to decide when. If I need to be home to meet my kids when they get off the bus two days a week, I can schedule my classes and office hours to accommodate that. If I want to be home for bedtime every night, or at the gym every morning--no problem.
  • Collegiality. I work with a bunch of incredibly smart, incredibly dedicated people. I never lack for someone to have coffee or lunch with, or someone to go out for a beer with on a bad day. If I want help solving a problem--instructional, technical, theoretical--there's someone only steps away ready to help.
  • Students. This is big. There is nothing--nothing at all--like the feeling of seeing your students grasp a concept and run with it. Today I spent two hours watching my Web Design students present their final projects. They were fabulous. Check out this, and this, and this. How cool is that? Those of you who are parents have some idea of what this feels like...but I get it all the time, almost every day, and I get paid for it.
  • Creativity. There aren't too many jobs out there where you're encouraged to write about things you really care about. My job rewards me not just for the traditional academic stuff, but even for this blog.
  • Summer. The summer after I started teaching, I remember sitting outside on my back deck, looking at my garden, thinking that this job felt a bit like that old joke "Why are you banging your head against the wall?" (Answer: "Because it feels so good when I stop.") Now that I've acclimated to the annual workload, summers are an incredible blessing. Not only do I get to share them with my family--travelling, swimming, playing--I also get to spend time thinking, imagining, exploring new ideas for teaching, and...if I can get my intellectual act together this year...even writing.

I know Dorothea had a terrible experience her last time through graduate school. But I guess I take umbrage at the characterization of academia as such a wicked, evil place. It's not. It's full of people like me, Alex, Jill, Larry Lessig, and a host of others (many still sans blog). And it has no more of the evil, backstabbing, wrong-thinking type of person than any other work environment I've been in--from corporate to non-profit.

trackback problems


Ack! Upgraded to 2.6, and now (even though it's turned on in the preferences), auto-discovery of trackback links doesn't seem to be working. Even worse, when I manually enter the trackback URLs, it claims to be sending the pings successfully, but they don't show up at the other user's site. :-(

Any suggestions on what could be the problem?

creative commons angst

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I find myself deeply puzzled by the anger and angst that some of my most respected blogging friends have expressed lately regarding creative commons licenses in general, and Movable Type's implementation of those licenses as an option in version 2.6 in particular.

So, dear readers, help me understand why allowing your words to be distributed freely is such a frightening concept, particularly in the context of weblogs.

As someone who's struggled to get more than one book out under a deadline--and had to live off the fruits of her intellectual and creative efforts for longer than she'd like--I'm certainly not advocating the Swartzian position that profiting from those efforts is a form of theft.

But the CC licensing does not restrict you from profiting from your works. It allows others to distribute your copyrighted work--typically with attribution, and not for commercial use (that appears to be the version most folks choose).

If my weblog content is broadly distributed, with attribution, it helps me. It extends my reputation, makes me recognizable. And if I later choose to write a book that draws from my weblog material, I think it's that much more likely to have buyers.

Cory Doctorow's experience with Down & Out in the Magic Kingdom seems to support this idea. While the work is freely downloadable and distributable, it hasn't stopped him from selling copies of the published work. (Same argument so many use in the context of music distribution--I'm among those who buy more CDs because of the samples of work I download online.)

When I supported myself and my family as an Internet trainer, I made all of my materials available freely online--because I knew that my presentation of the materials was what was valuable. When I bought my copy of Down & Out, I did so in part because I felt it was the right thing to do, but also because I'd much rather read a nicely-bound hardcover book than screen after screen of digital text.

Weblogs are a nice way to read small chunks of content--but I wouldn't pay for them. I might, however, pay for a work deriving from that content, which is something that most CC licenses do not grant, but that I as copyright holder can create (and profit from).

I think critics are right that it would help if CC provided both sides of the argument on their site. But given that MT is specifically a weblog management system, and that weblogs are a medium based intrinsically on sharing of content (through links at the very least), including CC licensing capability as a part of MT strikes me as a pretty reasonable approach.

In the comments on Tim Hadley's excellent analysis of the CC licenses, one person asked rather plaintively why anyone would want to use a CC license, and I responded there, pointing to the CC site. I suppose what I'm still looking for is a convincing argument as to why someone wouldn't want to use the CC license on their weblog. Why shouldn't the "commons" approach of free distribution of ideas be the default rather than the exception? Can someone pointn me to an example of specific harm--past or anticipated--that they see resulting from these licenses?

A while back, Shelley posted something that confused the issue a bit, by implying that use of a CC license was tantamount to (a) placing a work in the public domain, and (b) renouncing copyright. Neither is true. The example she used, in which she excerpted someone else's text--without attribution--would clearly violate the terms of most CC licenses. As would her suggestion that "you could even charge for this writing."

Besides not being an accurate depiction of the impact of a CC license, it also made the error that so many of my students make when they plagiarize on a paper. It confuses the legal obligation of copyright with the moral obligation of intellectual honesty. CC license or no, I'm likely to ask Shelley's permission before excerpting more than a line or two of her work. And I would always cite her as the source.

Update: Ooops. I goofed. Just noticed that the site Shelley used as an example had used one of the less commonly-used CC licenses, which does in fact dedicate all of the work to the public domain. However, that still doesn't address the difference between legal and ethical responsibility. While Shelley could legally use Doc's words under that license, that's an explicit choice he's making. And if she does use those words, and fails to cite them, it's still intellectually dishonest. If she did it on a paper she turned in to me for a class (or in a "briefing document," as the UK govt did), she'd be called out for plagiarizing. That's a whole different issue than the legality of using the material...

Jonathon, in his post today, says that CC "does a shithouse job of explaining why people might choose not to use their license ... But that�s less of an issue, now that Tim Hadley has done the job properly." But I don't see that in Tim's analysis. It's not a discussion of why you wouldn't want to use the license--it's a discussion of what the legal boundaries of that license are.

So..."Jonathon":http://weblog.delacour.net? Shelley? How 'bout a "non-shithouse" version of why people might choose not to use the license, that can live side-by-side with the CC discussion of why they should? Not a harangue, or a sky-is-falling piece, but a thoughtful analysis of the potential harm that could come to a writer as a result of adding the license to his or her work.

redesign in progress

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Comments/feedback welcome. Have tested in Mozilla, IE5, and Safari on OS X; IE6 on Win ME.

I'm very fond of the dotted line border that CSS provides, but neither IE/Win nor Safari render it properly--they substitute a dashed line, which is much less aesthetically pleasing. Ah, well. Will think about changing to solid lines.


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The problem with finding a slew of interesting academic blogs is that it's left me feeling intellectually unworthy.

When I was a graduate student, with time and energy to spare, there were all kinds of interesting research agendas I wanted to puruse. From examining online discourse (circa '93) in the context of Habermas' ideal speech situation to applying Bourdieu's sociology of culture to reputation and interaction in CMC.

And then the real world interceded, and I ended up at a teaching institution, with a 3-course-per-quarter load, 300+ students per year to teach, advise, and evaluate, and no time to think outside the constraints of the classroom.

With the burst of the dot-com bubble, our torrent of new students is slowing to a trickle, which brings with it problems (what will happen to the faculty hired at the top of the bubble?) but also blessings (a significantly more manageable teaching load). So like Rip Van Winkle rising from his 100-year-sleep, I now find myself looking around at a new landscape, blinking in surprise and confusion, trying to figure out how to re-establish my ideas for research and exploration in new communication media.

I've found little to indicate that others have taken and run with the concepts I was toying with in grad school. But I'm going to spend some of the upcoming quarter break digging a little more deeply.

Meanwhile, when I stumble across scholars like Kieran Healy in my net travels, I'm torn between excitement and envy. It's a feeling I remember all too well from graduate school, one that Anne Galloway has recently expressed in her blog. I'm thrilled that someone is exploring topics like "Digital Technology and Cultural Goods"...but I hate that I have contributed nothing significant of my own, ten years after I first starting exploring the topic. And I'm wondering if there's anything I have to say that goes beyond what's already happening, or that comes close to the level of clear articulation that so many others are displaying in their writing.

In some ways, I suppose, I'm hoping that saying this publicly here on my blog will force me to move forward. We'll see. Watch this space. By end of summer, my goal is to have at least two articles--perhaps based on those earlier grad school papers--out the door and into editors' mailboxes.

points of intersection

Too much time on my hands today...it's the calm before the grading storm, with final web class projects due at midnight tonight. Outside, it's cold and gray, with rain turning to snow, so there's no temptation to head out. So instead, I'm blogsurfing. Most of my blogly neighborhood has been pretty quiet today, which meant I was tempted to venture further out, using technorati's interesting newcomers list as my starting point.

That led me to sociology professor Kieran Healy's blog, which appears to have made the list in large part because of its wonderful parody of ready.gov. And Kieran, in turn, pointed me to Swarthmore history professor Timothy Burke, whose blog is worth looking at just for its title and tagline (and worth putting on your blogroll for its interesting content). Burke has a link from his blog to a piece he wrote called How to Read in College, which I intend to make required reading the next time I teach a theory-focused grad class. (Very sad that most of our grad students need this as much as--if not more than--our undergrads, but it's true.)

So my "academics" blogroll is expanding, which is a good thing (for the richness of ideas I'm finding), and a not-so-good-thing (for the time it will inevitably take to read and reflect on their writing). But particularly interesting to me right now is where the points of intersection--if any--are in these circles of blogs. While these are people writing and thinking about issues that I'm seeing in the blogs of many of my current "blog circle," they're names that I've not encountered before. And their blogrolls have almost no names in common with mine.

I wonder...do the blogs that tend toward the upper boundary of Shirky's power law distribution serve as the "connectors" that Gladwell describes in The Tipping Point? Or are the connectors found more in the middle of the curve. Those are the kinds of questions I'd really like to find a way to answer.

halley's baaaack

I don't mean from her trip to England. I mean from her recent flurry (snow pun intended) of short little posts. And her ode to the guilty pleasures of blogging is delightful. (So's the dinner discussion.)

Glad you're back, Halley.

synchronicity and collaboration

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A few months ago, I wrote about the way blogs allow us to see ideas emerge simultaneously in more than one place. At first, I found this somewhat threatening and/or disheartening. My ideas seemed so much less original when I saw them echoed in multiple places--especially when the other people saying those things seemed to be saying them in a way that was so much more thoughtful and articulate than what I'd managed. But Jill Walker and Seb Paquet made comments to that post that I found cheering, and I started to see that process of parallel idea emergence in blogs as an exciting thing.

Normally, academics work so much in isolation--guarding their work until it's ready for peer-reviewed publication, trying to "scoop" each other in the process. But the culture of blogs seems to be enabling a change in that approach. Recently, Alex Halavais wrote about the initial "gut-wrenching" that he felt when he saw that concepts he's been thinking about were already being researched and written about elsewhere. But Alex also wrote that his initial unhappiness (fueled by a "senior colleague" who warned he'd have a hard time getting published now--more on that later) gave way to guarded enthusiasm over the fact that this gave some legitimacy to his research agenda, rather than torpedoing it.

Today, two blogs I read got me thinking more about these topics. The first was Anne Galloway's purselipsquarejaw, where she said "I'm feeling discouraged and disinterested. I don't want to maintain a blog. I don't want to finish my PhD. I don't want to be a consultant. I've got nothing interesting to say. My perspective is not unique. My voice is weak." Gosh, that sounded familiar. :-) But for me, at least, that was temporary feeling. While other people are, indeed, talking and blogging about topics that I at first thought were my unique ideas, I still feel as though what I bring is a unique perspective. Much of my perspective is based in what Seb called my "eyes-wide-open librarian" approach--I read a lot, and I like putting pieces together.

That's connects to my other blog-related discovery today. David Weinberger pointed me to a new blog (actually, a new category-based page generated from an existing blog, which is an excellent way to use tools like Movable Type) by the Happy Tutor, on the topic of "Philanthropy, Democracy, and Weblogs." It apparently emerged independent of what's been going on with the Emergent Democracy discussions initiated recently by Joi Ito.

What's so cool about this is that without weblogs, the simultaneous exploration of this topic by two really interesting people would probably have happened without direct connections being made. Joi and the Tutor move in separate blogcircles--but here is where the permeability of those circles comes into play. Joi and I are in each other's circles, and the Tutor is in circles that I'm connected to. So it took very little time for me to find and connect the two discussions.

And the synchronicity continues with what the Tutor is proposing, because it's so very close to what's in my NSF grant proposal...and the research agenda that I'm talking about pursuing in the short term. Need to spend some time over the upcoming quarter break connecting these dots ("threading the needle," as Shelley Powers would probably put it), and seeing what kinds of collaborative, synergistic activities could emerge from the synchronicity of these simultaneous ideas.

weblogs and sense-making

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With the grant proposal done, it's time to turn my attention to how to formalize my interests in what's going on with blogs. Without a plan, I'm likely to spin my wheels for too long. And without making that plan visible, I'm unlikely to stick with it...so starting to give it shape here makes the most sense.

The emergent democracy discussions that Joi has started have got me thinking about how to combine my interest in qualitative methodologies like Sense-Making (which I used in my dissertation) with my interest in the interactions occurring in weblogs.

The Sense-Making methodology--which was developed by Brenda Dervin, a communications professor at Ohio State--has been used to study a variety of communication tools and media. The potential for this methodology in the context of weblogs is significant, since past Sense-Making studies have included topics near and dear to the hearts of webloggers--gaps between audience and media, online communities and "ideal speech" situations, and assumptions regarding the relationship between information and democracy.

As I've been pulling together the cites for this post, my thoughts are clarifying a bit...which is one of the most interesting and powerful aspects of weblogs, I think. They bridge the gap between private notes and publication, providing a structured but still malleable environment for idea forming.

So, that's where I'm going right now, I think. Time to think about what the path to that place will be.

what's the buzz?

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Last week, before all hell broke loose with my son's health, I had the opportunity to participate in two conference calls on the topic of "emergent democracy and blogs," arranged by Joi Ito. The participants included Clay Shirky, Ross Mayfield, Seb Paquet, and a number of others (more than I'm willing to type in).

Somebody in the group (Pete Kaminsky?) christened it a "happening," and the name seems to have stuck. As a result, the refrain from a song in the musical Jesus Christ Superstar has been running through my mind..."What's the buzz, tell me what's a-happening." I looked up the rest of the lyrics, and found them serendipitously interesting in this context:

APOSTLES What's the buzz? Tell me what's happening. (Repeat eight times)

I could give you facts and figures.
Even give you plans and forecasts.
Even tell you where I'm going.
[ . . . ]
Why should you want to know?
Why are you obsessed with fighting
Times and fates you can't defy?
If you knew the path we're riding,
You'd understand it less than I.

In the first conference call (which involved only the call, without other media) I asked Clay what his response to the "so what?" comments on his power law essay from people like Jonathon Delacour and Alex Halavais. Part of his answer led to the question of what will happen to blogging as the conversational space scales? He believes what will result will be too complex to have a single name applied to it. The heavily linked blogs will become a form of media outlet (think Andrew Sullivan, Glenn Reynolds, et al). But he didn't really address the part that Jonathon raises, and that I"m most interested in...what's happening "in the middle"?

In my heart, I'm a qualitative researcher, not a quantitative one. I don't want the "facts and figures," "plans and forecasts," so much as I want the stories. It's not that I don't want a big picture, it's that I want one that emerges (there's that word again...) from the details, rather than one that comes from an aerial view. Knowing that we're "baked into" power law distributions doesn't tell me anything. ("If you knew the path we're riding...") I want to get inside that curve, ride it for a while, listen to what people are saying about it, figure out the path ahead from the people who are on it.

We talked about this more in the second conference call, which made me feel woefully inadequate as a multi-tasking member of the new media world. I was tasked with note-taking, which would have been fine if it had just been an audio call. But the call was accompanied by a chat session that had nearly 20 participants at its peak, and by a wiki site that was changing as we went. So I had three windows to work with -- a browser for the chat, another browser for the wiki, and the text document for notes. And I was trying to listen, too. Doesn't work well for me, I found. (And that's a serious understatement.)

But I did still manage to extract key concepts from what we discussed. Key among them was the rallying cry among several participants that "We are not ants!" What does that mean? Well, we were discussing Steven Johnson's book Emergence, in which he discusses the emergent behavior/intelligence in environments like ant colonies. The problem, several of us noted, is that ants do not have much self-awareness, while people do. (Yes, I know, that can be argued on many levels. Let's take it as a given for now.)

Some of the most interesting social scientific writings I've read have looked at social phenomena from a critical theory perspective. Scholars like Anthony Giddens have specifically addressed this reflexive character of human behavior--that when we study behavior, and write about it, what we write feeds back into the very environment we describe.

Bloggers who spend a lot of time "metablogging" tend to get flak about it from readers--but in an environment as fluid as the "blogosphere," those reflections on practice and participants are incredibly powerful in shaping the environment. To dismiss them as "naval-gazing" is short-sighted. As Giddens says, "reflections on social processes (theories, and observations about them) continually enter into, become disentangled with and re-enter the universe of events they describe." This is particularly true with blogging.

As a result of the "happenings," my reading list has grown. I have to actually finish Emergence, which is on my shelf with Smart Mobs, both half-read, half-skimmed. And I've ordered a copy of William Calvin's How Brains Think, which several participants in the call recommended highly.

Happily, our quarter break is approaching fast, so I might actually have a chance to read these books. I hope so, because the conversation that's beginning here is a fascinating one, and I want to be actively involved.

on the mend


Lane in the Hospital Here's how you know your child is better. You say "don't press the buttons on the remote so fast, you'll go past the channel." And he says, in an oh-so-exasperated voice, "I know what I'm doing, Mom."

He's definitely on the mend...eating bacon, pancakes, and corn pops for breakfast, washing it down with chocolate milk, and carefully evaluating the quality of the Yu-Gi-Oh cards he received from his dad last night.

The surgeon says he may be able to go home later today if his appetite continues to be good. And we'll both be happy to be out of the hospital, where quality sleep is an impossible dream, and even the delights of a remote-controlled bed and permission to wake your mom up by throwing a shoe at her can't compensate for the comforts of being at home.

Thanks for all the warm wishes we've received, via comments, e-mail and telephone. Your support is greatly appreciated!

(you can click on the photo for a larger version. he's holding a Valentine's "bumble-bear"--half bear, half bumblebee--that I gave him before he went into surgery. he's christened him "Mr. Wonka," for reasons unknown.)

Lane is minus an appendix


Gerald again. Liz just called to say that Lane is out of the operating room. He did, indeed, have acute appendicitis. There were no complications. He is now in recovery and will soon be taken to his room.

I will take Liz's computer to her this evening. You may hear from her tonight.

Lane is in the hospital

Gerald Lawley here, posting a note for Liz. Our son Lane is in the hospital right now for an emergency appendectomy. Liz is with him and asked that I let people know that she will be offline for a day or two.

If you were expecting some of the information she was going to post today, please check back tomorrow.

ten years ago today...

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I took a Valentine's Day cruise on the Betsy Ann Riverboat with Gerald.

We'd been together for just over a year. In the fall of 1991, we "met" on a FidoNet echo on, of all things, "New Age Spirtuality." If you know either one of us, you'll understand just how improbable that sounds. (When I asked him, months later, why on earth he'd been on that echo, he responded simply "I was waiting for you.") I was living D.C., in the middle of separating from my husband of three years, and applying for doctoral programs in Library & Information Science. He was in Montgomery, Alabama, doing computer and accounting work for a truck stop.

When I first read his posts, he was holding forth on the word "baraka". I was taken with his style of writing, and his obvious intelligence and humor, and we quickly moved from echo-based banter to private e-mail to hours and hours and hours on the phone. (I fall quickly and easily for men who write well; I met my first husband on a DC-area Macintosh BBS called TMMABBS.)

As my interactions with Gerald intensified, I wavered between believing that I'd finally met my soulmate, and thinking that I was suffering from temporary insanity brought on by the stress of the separation/divorce and indecision about my future. So to get the whole thing out of my system, and burst the bubble of virtual impressions, I hopped into my car on New Year's Day of 1992, and drove the 800 miles to Montgomery to meet him in person.

When I tell this story, this is usually where I jump right to "and the next thing I knew, I was barefoot and pregnant and living in Alabama." :-) But that leaves out a lot. And today I feel like telling the longer version.

I think we both knew, within hours of my arrival, that our instincts had been right on. We were intoxicated with each other, and there was no doubt in my mind that I had to rethink my plans for the future.

I clearly remember calling my father from a payphone in the truck stop (they generally have one at each table, given their clientele), and telling him "Dad, I'm calling from a truck stop in Alabama, and I've got something to tell you..." As you might imagine, the news that I'd fallen in love with truck stop employee in Alabama, and was changing my grad school plans to the University of Alabama (rather than Michigan, Pittsburgh, Rutgers, and the other A-list schools I'd been considering), went over like a rock. I'd always been the golden girl of the family--perfect GRE scores, respectable profession, etc. This was a fall from grace that took some time for us all to recover from.

But I knew it was the right thing to do (backed up by the professional opinion of the psychiatrist my mother had paid for me to see, in hopes that I'd realize how insane it all sounded), and U of A snapped me up in a heartbeat. In June I quit my job in DC, emptied out my meager savings to get me through the summer, and headed down to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where the temperature was well over 100 degrees the week I arrived.

Following my heart turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made. Gerald and his family made me feel at home in Alabama--a tough thing to accomplish for someone as Northern born-and-bred as I am. (Although I still remember meeting his infamous aunt at one of my first big Lawley family gatherings, and having her say "You're from Buffalo, aren't you? We know some people from there. Bless your heart, I hope you're not as rude as they are." Delivered with a drawl and a smile, of course.)

It didn't take me long to feel like part of the family--or to realize that UA was an excellent place for me to study. It was a new doctoral program, and I had the flexibility to define my program in a very interdisciplinary way, taking courses in feminist theory, computer science, and communication theory as well as more traditional LIS offerings. They gave me a full-ride fellowship for two years, so I could focus on school and not live the life of an indentured servant GA. It was a grad student's dream--weekdays to immerse myself in books, classes, and writing, and weekends with Gerald in Montgomery or at the farm in Lawley.

In January of 1993, Gerald told me that he wanted to move to Tuscaloosa. I knew that wasn't something he'd do unless he was ready to make a commitment, so I wasn't shocked by his Valentine's Day proposal. But I was delighted. He was friends with the riverboat captain, and made sure that they'd have the song I wanted to dance to, and that there'd be a dish of Valentine's candy hearts (don't know why I like them, but I do) on the table. The ring was in that dish. I was a starving grad student, and he was quitting his job to finally (at age 41) go back to school and finish his college degree, so the ring's not fancy, or ostentatious. But it was simple, and beautiful, and just what I wanted.

We got married four months later, barefoot on the beach in Jamaica. His daughters--ages 14 and 16--were in the ceremony, but the rest of our families were at home. It was a second wedding for both of us, so we wanted it to really be for us. And it was perfect. In September, I was pregnant. And in May, our son Lane was born, followed by Alex in 1996.

In 1997, we packed up our belongings and our children and moved north to Rochester, where I found the perfect academic department, and the kids (and I) could be near grandma (and her incomparable chicken soup and brisket).

So here we are now...ten years after that proposal...still in love, still together. There have been plenty of moments over the past ten years when one or both of us has wondered if we did the right thing, and if we'd make it. But we've weathered those storms, and come out of them stronger. I look around today at the life that I have, and the political storms of work and world take on far less significance. At the macro level, the world around me often seems in disarray. But at the micro level, it's better than anyone has a right to hope for.

I love you, Gerald. Thank you for this wonderful life. And Happy Valentine's Day.

note: minor editing changes/corrections made at 11:30pm 2/14.
broken links updated 1/16/11

i'm an icon


liz2.gifMeg at Mandarin made me an icon! I'm delighted and flattered.

It's part of a tutorial on how to create those nifty icons she uses to navigate to blogs she reads.

ming the mechanic on education

Just discovered Flemming Flunch's weblog ("Ming the Mechanic"). He's got a great post this week discussing the problems with education generally, and technology education specifically. Here's a sample, but read the whole thingc.

I realized some horrible things about education some years ago when it was part of my job to hire computer programmers. I hired a dozen or so programmers over several years. To do that, I had to look through the stacks of thousands of applications we'd gotten, and I needed to interview hundreds of people and pick the ones to hire. And a disturbing picture quickly started forming. Very often, the more advanced a degree the person had in Computer Science, the more hopeless it was to expect them to program anything real. Well, generalizing is dangerous, so let me point out that I'm talking about those who didn't have real jobs as programmers while they were studying, and who didn't spend all their sparetime programming video games. And, don't get me wrong, there are some really useful things on the curriculum in Computer Science, which all programmers really ought to know. What I'm talking about is the people who just went through the college courses and exercises and exams, hoping to be great computer scientists, hoping they'd have a career once they were done. If it were just a Bacherlor's degree, there might be some hope that they could actually program, and that they might apply some of what they learned. If it was a Master's degree, it was probably too late. And the clerk in the store where we bought our computers, he had a Ph.D. in Computer Science, the poor fellow.

The point is that here we have some people who've worked hard for years, and they've learned to get things *mostly* right, who've learned that if they get 80% of the questions right, they're doing well. If they can regurgitate what the textbook says, and make their answers look about right, they do well in school. They've been thoroughly trained and validated into doing things that look sort of right, but which aren't.


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Steven Johnson weighs in today on the ongoing power law debate:

The most interesting thing to me about Clay's essay -- and the subsequent response -- is that the active participants in the power law system are having a conversation about the distribution and what it means, and whether they want their little ecosystem to look like that.

Most systems that display this kind of behavior 1) don't have component parts with that level of self-awareness, and 2) don't have the opportunity to change the dynamics of the system if they choose.

Many moons ago, I wrote a paper called Discourse and Distortion in Computer-Mediated Communication, in which I talked about this reflexive quality of CMC environments.

Here's a relevant quote from that paper:

The idea of a reflexive nature of social life--referring to the way in which the structure of activity is created and recreated by the very activities constituting it--was put forth by Giddens (1984) in his discussions of social theory. This image has particular applicability in the context of CMC. We cannot study the effects of CMC upon the participants without at the same time studying the role of the participants in shaping and reshaping the context. Because the actors in this process are self-aware, theories developed and disseminated through the study of the medium can result in the use of that theory by the participants to further modify their communicative environment. As Giddens says, "Reflections on social processes (theories, and observations about them) continually enter into, become disentangled with and re-enter the universe of events they describe."

It's interesting to me to see the research ideas that were just beginning to emerge in the early 1990s--as e-mail was taking off, and the web was poised to change our world--coming back again with the emergence of blogs as a communicative phenomenon. I do so wish I'd followed up on those threads at the time, but the reality of needing to finish and get a job with a salary sufficient to feed my kids outweighed following my nose. And in the hustle and bustle of every day life, I lost the threads. Time to pick them back up again, I think. Now that the grant proposal has kick started my thinking and writing processes, I should spin that article into a weblog version, and shop it around...

.: added at 12:40am :.
How could I have posted about Giddens and not included this link?!? Or this one? Shame on me.

academic/disciplinary power struggles

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Last year, RIT established a new "College of Computing and Information Sciences," taking three departments that had previously been part of a large and heterogeneous college ("Applied Science & Technology") and putting them together under one roof (courtesy of funding from Paychex founder and perpetual gubernatorial candidate Tom Golisano).

One of the things that is happening as a result of the new college formation is growing battles over the valule of various curricular aspects within the departments, and the value of the departments themselves.

Ever the historian (A.B. in History from Michigan, '84), and the librarian (M.L.I.S. from UM, '87), I decided tonight to poke around a bit on the subject of academic politics, disciplinary boundaries, and other related topics. Too often at RIT we seem to think that we are unique in the world, and fail to look outside our boundaries for examples of how others might have handled similar problems.

Didn't take long to find something relevant. Seb Pacquet pointed to the work of Brian Martin on higher education. Martin's book "Tied Knowledge: Power in Education," which is available in full-text on his site, had the following gem in chapter 4:

At the Australian National University, I witnessed long battles between pure and applied mathematicians for control of departmental prerogatives. This included denigration of the other side's talents and activities, appointment of supporters, encroachment on course content to steal the middle ground, and inability to agree on allocation of resources to proposed common courses. Claims about the definition of a 'mathematician' were used to exclude appointments or promotions to those too far from the conception of the key power-brokers. In this struggle, the ideological resource of the pure mathematicians is the autonomy of their knowledge from other departments and thus the prestige of pure mathematics as a 'higher knowledge' than other disciplines. Applied mathematics, to the extent that neighbouring disciplines overlap with it, is harder to establish as a separate knowledge base. Hence in a struggle with pure mathematics, applied mathematicians instead can form alliances with neighbouring disciplines such as theoretical physics and computer science. The outcome of battles between pure and applied mathematicians will depend on the balance between the advantages to pure mathematicians given by greater internal control over knowledge in the discipline and advantages to applied mathematicians given by the interests and demands of related disciplines. The intrinsic political advantages to pure mathematics are such that in many universities applied mathematics does not exist as a separate department, and the subject matter of applied mathematics is taught in the departments of physics, biology, psychology and other areas where mathematics is applied.

Amazing how well this fits the current conflicts occurring between my department of information technology (an "applied" area), and our sister departments of Computer Science and Software Engineering.

woohoo! it's done!

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Finished the NSF grant proposal today, uploaded it to the NSF site, and posted it on the blogresearch blog.

Many thanks are owed to all who provided positive reinforcement, and especially to those who offered tangible support for the project in the form of institutional commitments--specifically Torill Mortensen in Norway, Thomas Burg in Austria, and Joi Ito in Japan.

Still hoping for a good California connection to provide workshop space.

Meanwhile, I go from 12 hours of teaching/writing/meetings/politics to the cub scout's "Blue and Gold" dinner where my kids will get their Pinewood Derby trophies. Then home to open a bottle of wine, and pass out from exhaustion. No meetings tomorrow 'til lunch, so I can try to reduce the sleep deficit I've accumulated over the past week or so.

more evidence of procrastination


Top Ten Lies Told By Graduate Students:

10. It doesn't bother me at all that my college roommate is making $80,000 a year on Wall Street.
9. I'd be delighted to proofread your book/chapter/article.
8. My work has a lot of practical importance.
7. I would never date an undergraduate.
6. Your latest article was so inspiring.
5. I turned down a lot of great job offers to come here.
4. I just have one more book to read and then I'll start writing.
3. The department is giving me so much support.
2. My job prospects look really good.
1. No really, I'll be out of here in only two more years.

thanks, i needed that

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(a laugh, that is)

These two things provided just what I needed at the end of a week that's been far too serious.

First, this extraordinary abridged version of Bush's state of the union addres. I laughed so hard tears ran down my cheeks. (via Alex)

Second, Mark Pilgrim's comments on a Mac OS X article:

Mac OS X Hints: An early review of iMovie 3. "It is now possible for a Mac user with a fast machine to create beautiful Video CDs in faster than real time." Amazing! I�ve always wanted to work faster than real time.

counting my blessings


No, the proposal's not done, though I've made progress. Yes, departmental and college politics continue to churn, preventing any real work from getting done during the day. And, of course, I'm coming down with my son's cold.

But tonight my older son and I had a long talk about his frustrations with the growing social stratification in his elementary school. (Third grade seems to be where it all really begins.) It brought back a lot of memories of being the nerdy outcast as a kid. And as I tried to reassure him that what's popular in elementary school doesn't necessarily last a lifetime, I realized just how true that really is.

Despite the list of woes I began with, today I'm acutely aware of my blessings--all of which take the form of people. My husband, who's been leaving breakfast outside the bathroom door each morning as I rush to get ready and get to the office; my kids, who screech "MOM'S HOME" with delight as I walk in the door (later each day); my buddies at work who are always ready to grab a cup of coffee and chat, lift a beer at lunch on Fridays, or send me something in e-mail that makes me laugh; and, these days, my new friends in blogaria, whose writings inspire me, comments encourage me, and offline email warms me.

So it's easy for me to reassure my son that so far as friends and popularity are concerned--as my father used to tell me, incessantly--"this, too, shall pass." And I know--even if he doesn't--how true that is.

write...write like the wind!


Grant proposal due next Wednesday. Draft of said proposal due this Friday. Budget for said proposal due tomorrow.

We cease blogging immediately, and heed our friend's urging to "write like the wind." Expect no updates until the draft is done Friday, and scold me soundly if I poke my head out for any reason other than to announce that it's done and posted on the blogresearch blog.


in praise of inconvenience


Boston Globe Online / Magazine, on Google and the ease with which it allows us to retrieve information on other people:

"It's the collapse of inconvenience," says Siva Vaidhyanathan, assistant professor of culture and communication at New York University. "It turns out inconvenience was a really important part of our lives, and we didn't realize it."

That's an interesting and important idea. If I weren't in a faculty meeting right now, I might be able to write more about it. Later, I guess.

beyond the boundaries

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Nick Denton says:

Exploration is driven by greed and rivalry: the quest for gold; trade routes for spices; rivalry between European powers; the superpower conflict.

Maybe. But exploration starts well before greed and rivalry set in. Exploration starts when our children start to crawl, and begin to push the boundaries of their known world. Exploration is as much--if not more--the curiousity of a child as it is the conflict between adults.

He also says "When it comes to space, even the most rational of writers put romance over return. They're wrong."

I hope they're not. If we stop putting romance over return, if we live our lives driven by the bottom line rather than by enthusiasm and emotion, we lose the joy in what we do.

When my son asks why he should bother going to school (not just the physical building, but the participation in an ongoing learning process), it's the ability to explore that brings his motivation back. To explore worlds of thought, worlds of words, worlds outside of worlds.

Some time back, I talked about boundaries. And after I did, I thought a lot more about outlines, edges, boundaries, and how the most interesting things seem to happen at the edges. The edge to edge linking of blogs...the interdisciplinary ideas that emerge at the boundaries of traditional thought...and the excitement of crossing boundaries--whether they be physical, intellectual, or emotional.

Manned space travel gives us surrogates who cross boundaries in a way that stirs people, and inspires them to learn, to challenge their boundaries.

I heard a story this morning on NPR about students at a high school in Syracuse, NY, who had designed an ant farm experiment that was aboard Columbia. For three years, students at this school worked on the experiment...selecting materials for the farm, hypothesizing the behavior of the ants. They corresponded regularly with professors at Syracuse University, the scientists at NASA, and the astronauts themselves. During the 16 days of the voyage, they studied the live feeds of data, and continued their correspondence. They were vested in this mission, in these people, in the process of learning and exploration.

There are so few heroes in our world today, but those kids in Syracuse had seven. Seven men and women who were doing something that they could ream of doing themselves. Seven who could share not just the "data stream," but also the emotion and romance of the journey.

What's the "bottom line" in inspiring hundreds of disenfranchised inner city teens? What's the bottom line in making millions of kids' (and adults') eyes light up when they see a real person go beyond the boundaries of our world?

We all know that the "anyone can be president" dream is a crock. It takes money, connections, all the things that most of us don't have, to make it to the top of the political heap. But becoming an astronaut--that transcends economic and cultural barriers. The multiracial, international group aboard Columbia showed us that this dream is a reachable one--that these boundaries are permeable--for those who want it badly enough.

That's a message I want my kids to grow up with.

lessons learned

This Fogelberg song has been playing in my head for a week or so now. Had to write it down. My memories of it were triggered by my recent experiences with workplace politics, but the lyrics seem particularly appropriate in light of this weekend's tragedy.

Lessons learned are like Bridges burned
You only need to cross them but once
Is the knowledge gained
Worth the price of the pain?
Are the spoils worth the cost of the hunt?
Are the spoils worth the cost of the hunt? Borne
On the first warms winds of
Feelings newly found
But remember
Don't look down
Take as much as you think you ought to
Give just as much as you can
Don't forget what your failures have taught you
Or else you'll learn them all over again
Or else you'll have to learn them
All over again.

symbols and heroes


Why does the loss of the shuttle, and the seven astronauts aboard it, affect people the way it does? Why do I feel a sense of loss over the deaths of these seven people, whom I've never met, when I don't feel an equal sense of loss over the innocent people who die in my city, in my country, in my world, every day? Why does it strike me as right, and proper, to fly flags at half-mast in recognition of this loss, and not fly them at half-mast daily because of the many lives cut short for no good reason?

It's not the deaths of these seven men and women that I'm mourning. It's the loss of seven heroes, of seven symbols of humankind's unending urge to explore, to cross the boundaries, to see and know more than we already do. The astronauts are the clearest symbols to all of us--especially our children--of the reasons we push ourselves to learn and explore.

As Glenn Reynolds says "It's not that astronauts' lives are worth more than those of anyone else; it's what they do, and what it stands for."

When we lose a symbol--the twin towers, the space shuttle, a president or leader--it affects us differently than the day-to-day tragedies of life. The loss goes beyond the people, to the ideas and hopes and dreams. People like Dorothea Salo and William Gibson (and many others, I'm sure) share their childhood memories of the ideas and reality of space travel. As a post-boomer, I just barely remember the first moon landing--but I do remember it. And I vividly remember where I was and what I was doing when the Challenger exploded. These are historic events, events that shape our memories, and those of our children. (My six-year-old asked how many of the astronauts were moms and dads. Later in the day, he took apart his 3D puzzle model of the Discovery shuttle. Yes, he'll remember.)

While I've never been all that fascinated by the space program, I found myself shaken by yesterday's tragedy. And while I can understand that not everyone shares my sense of pain and loss, there are some things that are beyond my comprehension.

Jeneane, whose writing I generally love and respect, says about the debris:

Anything that lands in my yard is mine.

If it falls on my street, and no one's looking, and it's a small piece, I take it. I put it in a baggie in the garage workshop and save it for Jenna to sell on ebay when she needs money for school.

I am a capitalist by nature. I was unworried by the reports of toxicity. The official bunch standing around the debris didn't look too worried about toxicity. I might be worried they'd shoot me though.

I do not believe the little piece I would take would make any difference in finding out what happened. They have reams of data for that.

Sometimes I am slimey like this. And I don't mind. At least I admit I'd do it. That's something.

I was shaken, deeply, by this. I'm appalled by the belief that profiting from tragedy--no matter how removed you feel from that tragedy--is a legitimate expression of "capitalism." I'm trying to imagine how Jeneane's daughter would feel, years from now, if her "money for school" was acquired through the sale of this debris. I'm wondering if Jeneane's belief that "anything that lands in her yard is hers" extends to human remains--heck, those are probably worth even more, right? Likely to fetch a bundle on ebay from collectors.

Why this makes me so angry, I'm not sure. I suppose it's because it comes from someone's whose writings I trust--someone who writes so beautifully about her relationship with her daughter, her frustrations with injustice. It's hard to reconcile this self-described "slimey" statement with the person I feel as though I've come to know through her writing.

Update, 2/4/03, 10:35am
Jeneane responds to my post, and I've replied in her comments. Shelley wrote about my response, too, and I briefly responded in her comments. We need a better way of integrating comments into the web of trackbacks and pings...

virtual graffiti

This is too much fun. My son Alex is entranced. I'm quite entertained.

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