March 2003 Archives

trackback example (for students)

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My colleague Steve Jacobs is having his students in the "Writing for Interactive Multimedia" course use blogs this quarter. Several of them seem to be struggling with trackback, so I'm using this post to (a) point them to Ben & Mena's new trackback tutorial, and (b) link to their posts so that they see a trackback in action.

So, Lauree, Kunal, Keith--here's a ping in your direction. If you've got "allow pings" turned on in your blog preferences, this should result in a trackback to your entries.

If you want to test the process in reverse, you've got two options. First, you can make sure autodiscovery is turned on in your blog config, and simply link to the permalink for this post (http://www.it.rit.edu/~ell/mamamusings/archives/000406.html). MT should automatically determine the trackback URL. Alternatively, if you didn't want to link to the post, but did want it to register a trackback, you could put the trackback URL (http://www.it.rit.edu/~ell/mt/mt-tb.cgi/395) into the "URLs to ping" box at the bottom of your entry screen.

the glue factory

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From today's dive into mark:

In the future, there will be so much open source software available, programmers will be judged by how much they know about it and how well they can glue it together to build solutions.

Yes!! That's exactly what I want us to be teaching our students--undergrad and grad. We're well on our way already with the courses we already offer, but we've still got room to grow in this regard.

social software graduate studies

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A colleague once told me that what you want to strive for in your academic successes is inspiring 90% admiration and 10% jealousy. My friend and blog progeny Andy Phelps has managed to accomplish that with me in less than a week of blogging.

Not only was Andy slashdotted this weekend, but it has garnered him an invitation to the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference from none other than Tim O'Reilly himself.

It's Andy's focus on the "social software" aspects of gaming that drew Tim's attention, and that's exciting. We're in the process of retooling our graduate program in IT, and I'd like nothing more than for it to become the premier location for studying social software in all of its forms--not just gaming, though games certainly factor into that.

If you're reading this blog, you probably have more than passing interest in the concept of social software--since blogs are clearly a key component of this growing area of technology development and research.

So...here's what I want to know from you, since you're probably our target audience.

First, is there a need for a graduate degree program focusing on the development and implementation of social software? I know that NYU's Tisch School of the Arts has an Interactive Telecommunications Program that already has a strong social software focus (how could it not, with Clay Shirky teaching there?). But what RIT can probably bring to the table is a stronger emphasis on backend skills and development processes.

Second, if there is a need (and/or interest) in such a program, what should it include? What would a graduate of such a program need to look like in order to be valuable in today's development world?

new blogs

I feel a bit like a proud parent announcing the new Corante blog "Got Game?"

Written by my friend and colleague Andy Phelps, it's an insightful, entertaining, well-written look at the gaming industry.

Andy has been working with another friend and colleague, Steve Jacobs (happy birthday, dude!), on a new gaming development degree program here at RIT. And Steve has also launched a new blog this week, with the delightful name of "Memeweaver."

So welcome to the blogosphere, guys. Link long and prosper.

no, not that grant!

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Got a phone call this morning from a program director at the NSF, letting me know that a grant proposal that I submitted in November has a very good chance of being funded.

Wow.

That's the first grant proposal I've ever written. We (a colleague and I) wrote it fully expecting to get turned down. Neither one of us has a "track record" of funded research; heck, neither one of us has a track record of publications in our current field. We figured we'd get comments back, and that would be a learning experience that would help us work towards a funded project.

The grant's not funded yet...but it now seems likely it will be. And it's hard for me to describe just how wonderful I feel about this. Because I'm at a teaching institution, I've let scholarship fall by the wayside over the past six years. I haven't been publishing, and I haven't been doing research. This was the first time that I gathered myself up and actually wrote something to share with the outside world. And to have it warmly received by people I respect and admire...well, that's worth more than I can say.

No, this is not the microcontent/blogging grant proposal. That wasn't submitted until last month, so it will be quite some time before we hear anything on that. The funny thing is that everyone I've told today about the call from NSF immediately assumed it was "the blog grant."

"No, not that grant," I've had to tell them all. But a grant, nonetheless. So tonight I'm celebrating. In the words of Sally Field, "They like me! They really like me!"

introversion and presumption

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Let me start with a disclaimer. I like Jonathon Delacour -- at least, I like the persona he displays to us through his weblog. But he had to know that I'd be compelled to respond to his recent post "The Unbearable Lightness of Babble." I hope that he also knows that what I'm responding to here is the ideas, not the person...and that I find this kind of debate quite enjoyable. I'm writing this while laughing, not cursing or muttering. That being said...

I suspect that my husband will weigh in on Jonathon's comments, if only to reassure him that the past ten years have not felt to him like an extended session of fingernail-pulling. But there are a number of things that Jonathon says that I want to respond to myself.

For example:

One only needs to spend ten minutes or so with most people in order to predict, with a high degree of accuracy, their position on any issue. The introvert�s pain at being trapped in a conversation with extroverts is caused partly by boredom�we�ve already formulated all the arguments in our heads.

That statement strikes me as breathtakingly presumptuous. Jonathon do you really believe that "most people" are that completely predictable, straightforward, without potential for change or creative thought? That within your own mind, you can hold all possible arguments, all points of view, all versions of the truth? That there is nothing that you can hear from other people that could change your mind, shift your perspective, force you to challenge your own assumptions?

In fact, doesn't that fly in the face of your later statement: "But then I�m not attracted to the traditional link + quote + comment weblog, which I instinctively believe is more likely to belong to an extrovert than an introvert." Why would introverts need to spend time writing about an issue in detail, when they can assume that right-thinking people will already have figured everything out on their own? Give them a couple of links, let them think quietly to themselves, and they'll all reach the same conclusion, no?

Jonathon also says:

I suspect it�s this ability to hold simultaneously contradictory viewpoints that makes the internal triangulation possible, though the end result�a state of almost permanent ambivalence�is frustrating for those who see issues from one perspective or another.

That, to me, has little to do with introversion or extroversion. (I'm reminded of a favorite F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.") I may be an extrovert, but that doesn't make me single-minded on any given issue. In fact, my desire to discuss an issue with others is a conscious attempt to add perspectives to the ones already in my mind. And I've met more than my share of introverts who seemed incapable of seeing more than one side to an issue.

If we go back to the much-maligned MBTI typing, what I think Jonathon is describing here is not the difference between extroverts and introverts, but rather the difference between those characterized as "sensing" ("S") and those characterized as "intuiting" ("N"). I'm as far off the scale on "N" as I am on "E"...and I suspect that many of the bloggers that I (and Jonathon) read and respect are heavy on that side, as well.

Jonathon then asks me a specific question:

does Liz make ten times as many calls as her husband? Does he, as I do, have his phone switched off most of the time? Does he, as I do, delete all messages before listening to them? (I guess not�if I were married, with children, I think I�d listen to my messages.)

We have one mobile phone, which we share. I take it to work, he uses it when I'm home with the kids and he's out and about. We seldom even come close to using our low-end 200 minutes/month plan. Very few people know the number--my best friend, my mother, the regular babysitter. Its primary use is for Gerald to find me on campus, since I don't tend to be in one place for a long time--"Do you know where the boys' homework is?" "Can you pick up some Indian food for dinner on your way home?" "Call your mom, she needs to talk to you about weekend plans." "I got the grant! I got the grant!" That's about it.

Finally, Jonathon ends with a comment about intuition in relationships, mentioning his "conception of the ideal relationship (between introverts who can intuitively share their thoughts and feelings)." And Dorothea responded immediately, saying:

Yeah, sure, I can finish David�s sentences with some regularity and rather better than random correctness. That is not a function of �intuition� or anything related to introversion. It�s simply a function of twelve years of interaction and shared context. A pair of twelve-years-involved extroverts doubtless finishes each other�s sentences as well as David and I do."

Don't need to add much to that. (But hey, I'm an extrovert, remember? I'm compelled to add a bit more.) I agree completely. What Jonathon describes--the idea/l of shared thoughts and feelings--isn't a function of introversion or extroversion, it's a function of intimacy. And intimacy is not the sole domain of introverts. Yes, Gerald and I can often finish each other's sentences. (Elouise and I often can, as well.) But there's a danger in believing that we always know what the other is thinking. That's the presumption thing again. Gerald loves me. He knows me. He often knows what I'm thinking...sometimes before I know it. But if we ever reach a point where I've lost the capacity to surprise him...or him me...well, I'll be very, very sad.

On that note, I'll end with Kahlil Gibran's On Marriage, in which he says

But, let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone. Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together yet not too near togetherness:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart, and the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

twenty (?!?) years later

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In an attempt to avoid grading this evening, I decided to do a quick Google search on the name of an old college friend with whom I'd lost touch after graduation--Cecilia Mu�oz.

Cec was an "RD" (resident director) in the dorm where I was an "RA" (resident advisor). I have many fond memories of spending Sunday mornings in her room our senior year--we'd listen to Brandenburg concertos and eat bagels (on good days, bought at Zingerman's) while we did our homework. As you might imagine, early Sunday morning isn't a busy time, even in a dorm like ours (which held over 1400 freshman and sophomore students), so it was precious quiet time for us.

At one point that year, she invited a few of us home to meet her family in Detroit. They were immigrants from Bolivia, and her mother cooked the most wonderful meal for us--explaining the significance and origins of the various foods she prepared. I don't remember any of the dishes, but I do remember how incredibly delicious it all was!

After we graduated in 1984, we went our separate ways. I got occasional stories about how she was doing from a mutual friend, but then he and I lost touch as well.

I hadn't thought about her in a very long time, but tonight for some reason her name surfaced in my mind, and I did what any 21st century blogger would do--I googled her.

Much to my delight, I discovered that she has become what one biographical source calls "an intense, prominent voice on behalf of Hispanic American rights." She's now the vice president of The National Council of La Raza, a major advocacy group for hispanic immigrants. She's debated Pat Buchanan on CNN, been interviewed on the NewsHour on PBS, and testified at a number of congressional and senate hearings.

None of this surprises me at all. She was smart, funny, and passionate about things she believed in. And it's wonderful to see that she's parlayed that not only into personal and professional success, but also into bettering the lives of others.

You go, girlfriend. I'm proud to list you as one of my friends...even if it's a friendship that's grounded in the past rather than present.

Update
Looks like she won a Macarthur "genius" grant in 2000!

i made the news today, oh boy

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A Japanese grad student of mine sent me this link to a Japanese Yahoo! News article that mentions me by name. Cool. :-) Now if only I knew what it said! (Joi? Masako? Anybody? Help! ;-)

I'm guessing it's a reworking of the CNet piece that appeared Thursday, but I'm not 100% sure.

authenticity and the baghdad blogger

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Paul Boutin does some investigative digging, and comes to the conclusion that Salam Pax's Dear Raed blog is probably for real. Read his analysis here. (Thanks, Joi!)

My gut agrees. And I have pretty good instincts. There are, in fact, a lot of subtle clues that one can use to assess whether a series of writings are authentic. It's not an infallible process, but those of us who spend a large percentage of our time reading (grading papers, reading e-mail, participating in mailing lists, reading blogs, etc) start to develop a good sense. Authentic voice is very hard to fake. It can be done, but it takes a great deal of skillful effort. And there's no evidence that there's an agenda in Salam's writing--what would be the motivation for someone to go through the significant effort involved in creating a believable virtual persona in this context?

So I'm with Paul, but for different reasons.

I got interviewed by a CNET reporter today about warblogging. Apparently, in the national "profnet" system used by reporters to identify professorial experts on topics, I'm linked with blog concepts. Cool. I gave her Salam's URL. And Allison's. And Kevin Sites'. We talked for quite a while, about the voice and personal connections to the net that weblogs enable. Will be interesting to see how that gets shaped into a story--if at all. Will provide a link here if it does go live.

on the lighter side

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We all can use some levity today, I think. So, in lieu of a Homeland Security icon, or a "countdown to the showdown" clock, I present the following things that made me smile today:

  • Using the word "mellifluous" in a sentence. I like that word.

rosenberg on the war

Scott Rosenberg, the publisher of salon.com, wrote a stunning piece about the coming war in his weblog this week. It should be required reading for everyone.

Here's an excerpt:

In the name of protecting the U.S. from terror attacks, [Bush] is launching us on a campaign of imperialism; in smashing open Saddam Hussein's dormant nest of horrors, he will spread the seeds of destruction to a thousand new plots. These are not just vague, eve-of-war fears. In a Fresh Air interview tonight that I can only describe as "dreadful," in the primal meaning of the word, CIA historian Thomas Powers put details on the face of these fears. He predicted, as everyone does, a swift U.S. victory in a month or so. Then a couple months of calm. Then, a gradual awareness: That this project of installing a client government in Iraq, even in the sunniest of outcomes, must last a generation or more. That hundreds of thousands of American troops have now become sitting-duck targets for suicidal terrorists who will have no need to hijack a plane to access their foes. That these troops will now sit on the border with another "axis of evil" enemy, Iran, which, like Saddam's Iraq, also seeks nuclear weapons. That this war, like Bush's larger "war on terrorism," has no clear definition of its aims, its scope or its foes -- and that such a war has no end in sight and can have no victory.

devil went down to iraq

(Expect more current events posting than usual over the next few days. Sorry. Will try to sweeten it with tech and teaching content as much as possible.)

Those who follow the music business may have seen the recent rant that Charlie Daniels wrote--and his publicist e-mailed out--about "the Hollywood crowd's" traitorous stance on the war.

What you might not have seen is the response to Daniels by Jeff Wall, a disabled veteran who publishes TwangZine.

I'm not a panty waist liberal. But I'm not a right wing whacko either. I'm just a middle of the road, old half crippled, fat guy doing his best to feed his family, love his kids and keep the lights turned on. As for your statement of "You're either with us, or you're against us", well all I can say to that is fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck yoooooooooooooooooou Charlie. Here in America, I got just as much a right to say I think war with Iraq is wrong. Hell, it ain't even a right, It's a responsibility. And you dishonor my dead shipmates by saying otherwise. Feel free to disagree with me. I served 20 years to give you that right. My shipmates died for it.

poetry for today

Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
-- William Butler Yeats

another reason to homeschool

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Over at Idlewords (where they're celebrating "French Week"), they've provided a telling comparison of two school lunch menus. One from an elementary school near Paris, France; the other from one right here in a suburb of Rochester.

Following the comparison, there's some pretty damning commentary--none of which, as a parent of a child in an American elementary school, I can really argue with.

School administrators (along with many parents) will argue that they have no choice in what they can offer, because kids just won't eat healthy food. But that is Lord of the Flies logic. If you applied it in the classroom, you would be forced to teach English from comic books and math not at all. In fact, some schools do take this line of thinking it to its logical conclusion, and allow fast food franchises to take over their lunch programs. Many more set up vending machines that give kids unrestricted access to candy, soda, and snacks. The dirty fact about American school lunches is that they are a dumping ground for surplus and substandard beef, chicken and dairy products. Many of these foods cannot be served fresh because they would be too dangerous to eat. This is especially true for ground meat, which is at times so contaminated with bacteria that it would not be legal to sell it in a supermarket.

movable gripe

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Far too many hours of my day yesterday were eaten up by trying to turn Movable Type into not only a general purpose content management tool (using category restrictions), but also a pseudo-discussion board (using MTThreadedComments). (My own fault, I know. I'm not griping about the software so much as I am my own foolishness at attempting to make MT do so much in one place!) None of this was for my site--it was to help a friend.

If you've been wondering why so few people use ThreadedComments (I think the only person I read regularly that does is Phil Ringnalda)...stop wondering. The functionality is very cool, but it's a b*tch to install, especially if you're trying to implement it in a non-standard (i.e. you've modified the index and archive templates) environment.

I was trying to think about how to blog this technology-wrestling experience I just had, when I stumbled across AKMA's post this morning regarding the Trotts' visit to Seabury, and his request to them for a "trackback for dummies" page (as well as other "dummified" docs for MT). He's right, of course. Those of us who grok the power of trackback try so hard to evangelize it. But for some reason, the concept is really hard to convey to the rest of the world. So the geeks merrily trackback each other's posts, and build TopicExchange ping aggregators, and wonder all the while why nobody else seems to be jumping on the bandwagon.

This is always the problem, isn't it? The best toys start out as the hardest to use, and that ends up stratifying users. For me as a technologist, MT is like a giant tinkertoy set. Or maybe Lego is a better metaphor. Blogging as Lego construction. You can go for the Duplo blocks version, the basic blocks set, or splurge on the gears and motors and even the robotics. Movable Type is clearly the geek tool of choice--bells and whistles galore in the basic package, and a plethora of plugins to take it even further. Someone trying to...oh, avoid hearing about the fast-approaching war...could spend hours and hours tweaking templates, adding functionality, playing with features.

But I know that those of us who take pleasure in that kind of tinkering are the exception, not the rule. I sat down yesterday with two friends--both sophisticated users of technology, but new to the world of blogging software. After a couple of hours with them, it was obvious to me how difficult it still is to explain how a tool like MT works, and get them up to speed on it.

Is the problem with the tool? I don't think so. But there are definitely still things that need to be improved before MT can go "mainstream." The installation, for example. It's very well documented--but it's daunting nonetheless. The customizing of interfaces for entry. The customizing of templates for display.

So, to follow up on my "blessed are the toolmakers..." entry from a few days ago, here are the kinds of things I'd love to see in Movable Type (and, by extension, other sophisticated social software tools). I'm not asking Ben & Mena to do this--lord knows, I'm grateful enough for the software they've provided, and I'm certainly not trying to be churlish. But when people ask "what's left to do?", or e-mail me asking for ideas for their graduate projects, these are the kinds of things that come to mind.

  • An installer package--all I should need to know to install it in basic mode is the existing directory structure of the server it's going to. The installer should modify the files based on user inputs to prompts, create the necessary directories on the server, upload files, change permissions, set the user id and password, and configure the initial blog.
  • A plug-in installation engine. Make adding new functionality as close to drag-and-drop as possible. Don't make me use FTP--give me a web-based interface that lets me select a plug-in and install it.
  • Easier ways to change the look and feel. For most users, the style sheet is intimidating. A web-based interface that let you specify aspects of the style sheet and then rewrote the .css for you would help a lot.
  • A wysiwyg template building engine. How about an application (doesn't have to be web-based, but that would be nice) that lets you drag and drop template tags from a list into a page, and see what the result would look like?

I know there's more, but I'm tired and grumpy and sore (pulled an abdominal oblique muscle yesterday in the gym), so I'm going to take a hot bath and then drag myself into the office.

more words worth reading on war

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From what I can tell, Salam is for real. An Iraqi blogger, telling us about life in Baghdad.

And in today's NYTimes Book Review, Margo Jefferson has an excellent essay entitled "Wars and Rumors of Wars." In it, she quotes the following line from Elegy for Kosovo, by Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare: "Blood flows one way in life and another way in song, and one never knows which flow is the right one."

I've wavered about putting Salam on my blogroll (yes, he's there now, under "Political Blogs"). Not because I don't think his site is worth reading, but because I'm afraid. Afraid that I'll begin to read it, and become that much less able to pretend that what's about to happen isn't happening. Afraid that I'll hear too much about the blood that's about to flow.

Today was a glorious day, weather-wise. In Upstate NY, we don't get a lot of 65°F days in March. I had a rare kid-free breakfast out with my mom, thoroughly cleaned the interior of my car for the first time in longer than I'd like to admit, got the Delta-Sonic "Super Kiss" car wash & wax, and took Lane out for dinner and then a long walk. The whole time, I pretended to myself that I didn't know war was around the corner. But it creeps into the corners of mind. It's there at the edges, always looming. The boys and I talked about it a bit tonight before bedtime. It's hard to know what to say to them. How much should they know? And why do I want them to know it?

ego surfing

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It's been a lovely 24 hours. Went dancing last night with my friend Elouise ("Weez"), at a relatively new club in town called Rain. We were particularly delighted by the ladies' room, which sports a lounge with couches and tables, a private window to the bar, and a one-way mirror that lets you make sure that unwanted suitors aren't hovering by the door before you leave!

DJ Lino was spinning tunes--which is relevant mostly because Weez just finished his web site. Nice, huh? She's good. Hire her. (freelance...she's got a day job, teaching with me.)

Then my husband let me sleep late--until 10am, an unheard-of luxury for me. And when I did drag myself out of bed, it was sunny and nearly 50 degrees outside. Bliss.

I was in such a good mood, in fact, that I even sat down and did our taxes (which I should have done some time ago). Hefty sum coming back to us, probably quickly due to e-filing and direct deposit. (Thank you, TurboTax.com!)

toptenfirstnames-small.gifAnd to cap off the evening, after I sat down with a glass of an excellent local Riesling, I did a little ego-surfing and discovered that I'm to #7 in Google on a search for "Liz". (I've been hovering at #10 for weeks now.) Since it seems clear that I'm climbing rather than clinging, I've hereby awarded myself David Weinberger's "Top Ten First Names" award.

So, all in all, a day to be thankful for. Good friends, good weather, good wine, good surfing. <happy sigh>

blessed are the toolmakers...

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...for they shall help the meek inherit the 'net.

Or something like that.

I've been involved in a number of interesting online and real-life discussions lately about the role of toolmakers (programmers, info architects, interface designers, etc) in shaping the new social spaces that are emerging on the 'net.

It's left me very excited about where I am and what I'm doing right now, since I believe that our program at RIT has the potential to become a key source for intelligent, well-rounded, toolmakers. People who understand both the tool development and the contexts in which they'll be used.

We've danced around this, getting closer and closer to it, for a long time. We include human factors, interface design, and technology transfer classes in our undergraduate core, for example. But I don't think we've totally achieved the goal of integrated the human components with the technology development. The "human element" courses aren't nearly as tightly integrated with the programming and implementation courses as they could be. And they also fail to draw from the wider range of subjects--from political science and sociology to literary criticsm and even theology--that could help provide the larger context for tool development.

What excites me about the conversations I'm beginning to see in weblogs and mailing lists right now is that they are more integrative in their approach. From the emergent democracy discussions to the community/individual dichotomy, these are the kinds of topics that the toolmakers--present and future--need to be involved in.

real-time war reporting via blog

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So I'm probably the last to know that CNN war correspondent Kevin Sites has a blog. But just in case, I'm mentioning it anyway.

Funny how the "audblog" post that he called in from the Iran/Kurdistan border strikes me as so much more compelling than a comparable report on CNN itself would be.

The personal nature of blogging, I think, fundamentally changes our relationship to the content. It's all about voice, of course. In his blog, it feels like Kevin is talking to me. I don't feel that way about mass media journalism.

weblog tool projects

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Today I had two different graduate students come to me with ideas for blog-related graduate capstone projects (an alternative to theses for our students). How cool is that?

It looks like the first one is going to work on multiple authoring issues associated with Movable Type. Ideally, I'd like a way to create an MT blog that has almost Wiki-like "add yourself as an author" capability. I'd also like a way to easily select among "simple" and "advanced" editing/authoring interfaces. Anybody know of things already happening in this arena?

The second is going to work on a kids' interface to MT blogging. My 8yo, Lane, has expressed interest in blogging--but the standard MT entry environment is not particularly kid-friendly. I'd like a kid-focused interface that keeps things really simple, preferably integrating some of the functionality that plug-ins like MT-Textile offer, but also giving a UI that's really kid-friendly (and kid-tested).

After too many years of supervising yet-another-ecommerce-project, it is incredibly exciting to have students who want to work on the things I really care about. And because our students take classes in everything from programming to database to HCI, we have an incredible opportunity to turn them loose on the LazyWeb and have what they do help the larger social software community.

I've waited a long, long time to get to a point where my personal and professional interests intersected so well, and in a way that has long-term professional potential. I have to keep pinching myself these days. :-)

On the not-quite-such-good-news front, my cholesterol test results came back, and it looks like it's a very good thing that I've made myself publicly accountable on the exercise front. Need to change the diet, too, it seems. <sigh>

words worth reading on war

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I don't want to be a "link-and-comment" blogger--not that there isn't value to links and comments, or that they can't tell you a lot about the person providing them. It's just that this blog is more valuable to me as a place to work out my ideas and thoughts than as a collection of annotated links.

That being said, here's a link from the Washington Post, The Urge to Help, The Obligation Not To. And a comment--read it.

It's powerful stuff, written by Ariel Dorfman. According to the bio on the page, Dorfman, "a native of Chile, teaches at Duke University. His latest books are Exorcising Terror: The Incredible Unending Trial of General Augusto Pinochet (Seven Stories Press) and In Case of Fire in a Foreign Land: New and Collected Poems From Two Languages (Duke University Press)."

(Thanks, Eszter!)

i got the box right here

I seldom repost items in their entirety, but this is so good...

From Greg Costikyan's blog, which is called "Games * Design * Art * Culture", and should be added to your blogroll immediately.

I GOT THE BOX RIGHT HERE sung to the tune of "I Got the Horse Right Here"
by Greg Costikyan, with apologies to Frank Loesser

I trust in Microsoft, I got a Wintel box,
We've come a long way since the days of DOS.
We got the user base, we got the apps that rate
And all the best games you can play to date.

CHORUS:
My box is best, there's no doubt it beats the rest.
It triumphs on every test.
My box is best.

I love my Macintosh, because Jobs's da boss
And ease of use puts it at the top.
Besides it makes the scene because it's tangerine
The chicks all dig it, it's a cool machine.

(Repeat CHORUS)

I code for BSD, because it's free, you see
And open source makes for stability
I email rms, I got his net address
And there ain't no doubt my OS is best.

(Repeat CHORUS)

(Repeat three main verses as a round, ending in CHORUS).

public accountability

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No, this isn't a post about politics, departmental or global. It's a much more personal level of accountability. It's about getting my sluggish self back into the gym on a regular basis, after months of lethargy. Last April, when I turned 40, I was in the best shape of my life. And it's been downhill since then. I got out of the habit of going to the gym over the summer, couldn't find a time to hook up with my regular workout partner this year, and have let a thousand excuses bloom.

The good news is, I've only put on about 8.5 pounds since early summer (haven't been on a scale since then). The bad news is that those are all in the places I want them the least...my face and my stomach. And my endurance and strength are way down. So my goal is that by the end of this quarter (11 weeks, if you include exams), I'll be back to feeling good about my physical self again. This isn't about dress sizes, or bikini-preparedness (though that would be nice...)--it's about energy and strength and confidence.

New quarter begins today, and a new routine goes into place along with it. And to keep me honest, I'm putting a "gym update" into my left sidebar. Am working on writing a little bit of scripty goodness in PHP so that that if I don't update it, it shows that I did nothing--and making an easy update form so that if I do make it in to the gym, I can put in the results.

I realize that most of you care about this not at all. But I know that if I'm publicly listing my accomplishments (or lack of them) I'll be more motivated. So ignore it if you're uninterested. Or use it as fodder for scolds or praise when you e-mail.

open source courseware

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I have spent most of this weekend wrestling my course materials into the proprietary courseware framework that our university has invested in. The system, called Prometheus, boasts what may be the all-time worst user interface I've had the displeasure of working with in many years.

I'm taking the time to do this because, in my experience, criticism of a bad system is only taken seriously when the person doing the criticisim has made a good-faith effort to learn and use the system. So I'm using our Prometheus-based "myCourses" system to support both of my classes this quarter--one on-campus, one distance-learning.

So far, we're off to a bad start. Simple things that I ought to be able to do aren't possible at all--from moving a reading from one course meeting slot to another, to creating custom dropboxes for file submissions. The labels for sections and tasks are counter-intuitive, and the entire system seems to have been designed without regard for the user's needs (at least the faculty user...we'll have to see what my students say). While some of the Prometheus system is apparently customizable by "IT Administrators" at a given school, none of it appears to be customizable by the actual people who have to use it. I can't make it less ugly. I can't fix the UI problems. I have almost no control over the look-and-feel, which is a very large part of the overall "online classroom" experience.

It's the equivalent of being asked to teach all my classes in a dark, dingy basement classroom, with no control over lights, desk locations, etc. Sure, the "institution" has the ability to change it. But as the instructor, I don't. Blech.

What's worse, however, is that I realized after I was done that there's no way for me to make any of the course information publicly accessible--something I've always done with my syllabi. While there are some aspects of the courseware--like the testing and grading functions--that should be private, those are the exceptions. I resent using a system that won't let me share the basic information about the class with anyone who's interested.

Last year, I started building a PHP/mySQL system to generate my syllabi. You can see it in action with my web database, xml, and web design syllabi from earlier this year. But I can't show you this quarter's thesis prep or intro to multimedia courses, because they're hidden inside our proprietary system.

Why isn't there an open-source courseware package that's as easy to use and customizable as something like Movable Type??? Is that so very much to ask? I did some poking around tonight, and didn't find anything that really excited me. This is not rocket science...it's a customized content management system (CMS) application. People make them all the time.

(Interestingly, Prometheus started out as home-grown "community source" software at GWU, but was purchased by Blackboard, a commercial competitor.)

Is there something great out there that I don't know about? If so, I'd love a pointer. And if not, I guess I need to start fleshing out my little homegrown system, and looking for people to work with me on it to make it more robust and usable in multiple contexts.

academic debate

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Have enforced a cooling-off period for myself on this topic...will respond this weekend to some of the comments, but I'm not sure there's much that's new to say at this point.

However, for those who have been following the discussion, here's a link to an interesting relevant article from The Chronicle of Higher Education, entitled "Opting Out of Academic Science." Stories. I like stories. They show us a more multifaceted world--one where broad labels for entire groups of people ("academics," "politicians," "bloggers") just don't work.

Actually, the whole "Career Network" section of the The Chronicle is full of stuff related to this recent debate. Another one is "The Two-Year Attraction," about the growing number of people choosing to work in community colleges rather than 4-year institutions.

Update:
Oh, one more, specifically addressing the explotation of adjuncts, something that Invisible Adjunct raised in his/her comments here. "All Right Already, We're Exploited."

overlapping cosmos

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I wish Technorati would add a feature that would let me see the overlap between two (or more) cosmos. For example, who's in both Seb Paqet's Cosmos and Jonathon Delacour's? And which of those are not in mine? Being able to do that kind of boolean logic on Cosmos sets would be really useful for finding new blogs relevant to your own interests.

Not sure if Technorati makes any of their data available, but I'd love to turn a couple of students loose on projects like this...

flyguy

welcome to blogaria, allison!

My friend Allison Kaplan Sommer, a writer who lives with her husband and two kids in Ra'anana, Israel (a suburb of Tel Aviv)--has started a blog. Yay! Allison and I have been part of the same mailing list for over seven years now (a list that started when all the members were pregnant and due to give birth in September of '96), so I know just how wonderfully she writes.

Unfortunately, the events she's writing about these days are frightening and often depressing. But if you want a real person's view of what's happening right now in Israel, written by someone with a reporter's eye (she used to write for the Jerusalem Post) and a mother's heart, put her on your blogroll.

a not-so-academic rant

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Let's play a little search-and-replace game. From Gary Sauer-Thompson comes this quote about academia:

Basically I couldn't wait to get out. Political life was a breath of fresh air and I felt alive once again. I had no desire to return. Today if tenure was offered I would not take it. The security is not worth the sacrifice of autonomy by living a sick mode of life.

Then this morning, after breakfast, I read this and this by Dorothea; this by Alex; this and this by Liz and this by Baraita.

What did I came across in my reading? Insularity for one thing.

Few looked beyond the walls of academia to see themselves in the context of public policy or political life. Most were concerned with their life within the institution.

Hmmm. I am truly amazed to find these particular stones being hurled out of the glass house of politics. So, let's try this version:

Basically I couldn't wait to get out. Political Academic life was a breath of fresh air and I felt alive once again. I had no desire to return. Today if a tenure politicial appointment was offered I would not take it. The security power is not worth the sacrifice of autonomy integrity by living a sick mode of life.

Then this morning, after breakfast, I read various cites removed all these attacks on academia.

What did I came across in my reading? Insularity for one thing.

Few looked beyond the walls of academia their own experiences to see themselves in the context of public policy or political life thoughtful analysis or philosophy. Most were concerned with their life within the institution organization.

Ooooh...that was fun! Was there ever a field more ripe for this type of criticism than professional politics?? Certainly if I had to pick an area that was rife with insular, twisted minds, that would be the one I'd seize up on first. But you know what? There are also people like MB Williams--and, I suspect, Gary himself--who show us another side.

Okay, I realize I'm getting cranky here (thus the "curmudgeonly" category), but really, now. Can we please stop with the blanket dismissals of all academics as insular and self-absorbed, and academic environments as sick and wrong?

In terms of the numbers of academic bloggers, which Gary dismisses as negligible--I'd argue that as a percentage of their population, there are quite a lot of academic blogger. And so far as I can tell, most of them regularly look at larger political and public policy issues (and the relationship between their field of study and those issues). Look at the people on my academic blogroll (and add in AKMA, of course) for just a few examples.

And to assert that these people are all "insular" implies to me that Gary must not be reading anything except our posts responding to Dorothea. Did he bother to look at the grant proposal I recently wrote on blogging/microcontent? At the conversations between me and the Happy Tutor? The mix of academics and other bloggers in Joi's recent "happenings" on Emergent Democracy?

Most "academics" with blogs (and, btw, how do we define that? Is Lessig an "academic?" Reynolds? Both are professors...) have links and conversations with a wide variety of people outside of academia.

Why I allow myself to get so irritated and drawn into these straw man debates, I don't know. It's clear that the people determined to characterize academia as "sick" won't be swayed by any of my "insular," "survivor bias" comments. But it's spring break, I don't want to clean house, my kids are in school, and I obviously have way too much time on my hands to pick fights!

an extrovert speaks (quelle surprise!)

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Now that exams are over and the tenure decision is in, I'm able to pull out some ideas that have been back-burnered for a while and give them some thought.

Since I'm an extrovert, however, thought is synonymous with talking out loud. And, not coincidentally, the topic I'm thinking and talking about today is the extrovert/introvert divide.

(Caution: this is quite lengthy. I wrote it Sunday while sitting in the "parent's corner" of the local gaming store during my son's Yu-Gi-Oh tournament, but couldn't post it 'til today because I was waiting for permission to use material from private e-mail.)

do not adjust your browser

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I'm experimenting with some changes to my trackback functionality. If you're trying to ping an entry, and get an error, let me know.

why bother?

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I've avoided responding to Dorothea's continuing self-described "rampage" against academia, because I suspect that nothing I write will change her well-entrenched negative view of academia. Clearly, Dorothea's got some "issues" on this topic--not just her grad school experience, but her experiences with her father, as well.

But hey, I'm an extrovert. I think out loud. So I'll respond, but not in a point-by-point attempt to rebut each of her assertions. You see, I don't disagree that her view is in some ways accurate. I just don't think it's complete. Academia, like every other human-constructed environment I've ever seen (from the nuclear family to the nation-state) can be ugly or beautiful, depending on your own context and experience.

I feel particularly compelled to counter Dorothea's assertion that "survivorship bias" is tainting my view. In fact, she might want to consider reading my dissertation. The topic? A qualitative ("Sense-Making") inquiry into attrition in doctoral programs in my field. (And what field might that be? Library & Information Science--the same field in which Dorothea has recently been accepted into a graduate program. Which makes me wonder how she can say things like "Deeply sick and sad system. I�m so glad I�m out of it for good I couldn�t begin to tell you," with a straight face...).

I went into the project fully expecting to hear angst-ridden tales of woe from those who'd left their doctoral programs. In fact, that was the exception rather than the rule. Most of the people I interviewed had few regrets about their departure from doctoral work. They'd tried it, found it not to be what they wanted, and moved on.

It was necessary for me to do a great deal of related reading and research into graduate and doctoral attrition, and one of things that really became clear during this process was how very different the environments were from field to field. The experiences of a doctoral student (or a professor) in biophysics are extremely different from those of a sociologist, or a library scientist, or a literary theorist. And beyond that, the experiences of a student in any of those fields will vary significantly based on the country in which they study.

All of which by way of saying, it's not the specifics of Dorothea's complaints that I question. It's the broad brush she uses to paint an entire world of teachers, students, and scholars--based solely on personal anecdotal experience.

timeless evil

Goering image and quote: Why of course the people don't want war. Why should some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece? Naturally the common people don't want war neither in Russia, nor in England, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the peacemakers for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country.

symphonic blogging

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I'm writing this from the balcony of the Eastman Theater here in Rochester, where in a few minutes the RPO (Rochester's symphony orchestra, for which my stepfather is a cellist) will begin playing. I like this moblogging stuff.

At intermission, we're to meet up with AKMA, his wife Margaret, who are here visiting their son, Nate. My first second blog "meetup"! (The first was Brandon Barr, who I actually met through my mother rather than his blog...)

Am looking forward to finally meeting another faculty member from "Blog U"--detils to follpw tomorrow. And now--Mozart and Rachmaninoff await. Yum.

moblogging at last

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I've been waiting to post about this until I was sure I was keeping it. Now that I'm sure, I can admit that I fell--hard--for the siren song of Amazon's "free after rebates" deal on the Sidekick. (Alas, they've raised their price, and it's now $50 after rebates.)

The short version: I love it.

The long version:

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