ZeFrank interview

Just found a Cecil Vortex interview with ZeFrank shortly before The Show ended February 2007. In addition to gems such as "morphological synthesis" (an inventive approach) and an interesting discussion of how audience provides generative boundaries benefitical to the creative process, he offers this conclusion:

With The Show project, I've also been thinking a lot about this culture of authorship that we're entering into. You've got so many people that are making things now, whether it's emails or instant messages or uploading images to Flickr, making movies, creating audio on cheap prosumer technology. What's really interesting to me is that, as anyone knows who's gone into a creative discipline, the second that you start doing those things, the world around you changes. If you draw, you start seeing the edges of things, and you start seeing the deformities of their shape when you move around them. When you start playing guitar, you start noticing notes in all the music you play, and in fact, the music that you listen to never sounds the same from that point on. I think that a lot of people are focusing on the content that's being produced right now. And I think it's the wrong thing to look at. It's actually the pursuit and the perception change that I think a lot of people are experiencing about the world -- that's the thing to focus on and the thing to celebrate.


This dynamic he mentions is to me the McLuhan or the Ong factor: the idea that the communicative media we use influence perception, thought, and expression. Medium is not invisible (though I don't go quite as far as to say that it is the message--its more murky than that. It influences the message. My argument is that when people engage in communicative media that connects them to more people, well, they'll start noticing those people differently. More positively? Perhaps. But I think an appreciation of difference has to be cultivated.


Smashing Magazine and Networked Research

As we start planning out our Blogging as Composition syllabus (see also me and Wishydig and Mrxk), I've been thinking about what kind of research assignment we could have students work on. The obvious project to me is a two-phase wikipedia project: first fact-checking an existing page, then providing a re-write (with detailed synopsis of changes) of the page.

But I've also been thinking of other ways that research appears on the web. I am particularly interested in Smashing Magazine, which at times has found itself in a bit of controversy. For those not familar, Smashing provides reviews, tutorials, research on web design and technologies: from font choice to microformats, color theory to linkbaiting. What's the controversy? Well, Smashing often collects wisdom from around the net--bringing information from a variety of sources into proximity with little original contribution. Take, for instance, Smahsing's recent article on linkbaiting.

After a brief introduction, the article isn't an article as much as a collection of lists. Something in my old Socratic-Augustan brain cringes at this--shouldn't there be more synthesis to count this as research? And something in my Derridean-Complexity brain says: maybe. In the networked, digital scene, collection, linking, relating, selecting, mixing is high level intellectual activity--it is turning the desert into the rainforest (Steven Johnson's metaphor), helping to build the eco-system. Thinking of Spooky, its the digital writer as DJ, spinning information harmoniously together--a symphony rather than a synthesis. Its Rhythm Science.It also presents information in a wreaderly way (we can assume that digital readers are interactive? that they expect to engage rather than consume?), a Levinasian way, a way that invites others to offer their own interpretation.

Therefore, I think the Smashing format could be incorporated into the wikipedia-research project: the step that shows the student can find and organize the voices on their subject area: that they can, in a sense, capture some of the parlor's exchanges, map the conversation, (etc.).


Barabasi's Linked

Just finished the first few chapters of Albert-Laszlo Barabasi's Linked: How Everything is Connected to Everything Else and What It Means for Business, Science, and Everyday Life. Barabasi, a mathematician, details the development of network theory's most popular maxim, "six degress of separation," and the impact that digital networks might have in creating an increasingly small-world. Despite the fact that there's six billion people on the planet, each is connected to any other by an average of only 5.5 "links"--Barabasi writes that the development of the internet could reduce this number to three.

So far I'm enjoying this book, although I am still waiting for an argument to emerge (and I'm 40 pages in). Like Weinberger, he attributes the coming changes to society to overcoming physical limitations:

Six degrees is a product of our modern society--a result of our insistence on keeping in touch. It is aided by our relatively newfound ability to communicate over great distances--often over thousands of miles. The global village we've grown used to inhabiting is a new reality for humans. The ancestors of most Americans lost contact with those they left behind in the old country... No postcards, no phone calls. In the subtle social networks of those days, it was rather difficult to activate the links that had been broken when people moved....The world is shrinking because social links that would have died out a hundred years ago are kept alive and can be easily activated. The number of social links and individual can actively maintain has increased dramatically, bringing it down the degrees of separation.

The resulting small worlds are rather different from the Eulcidean world to which we are accustomed and in which distances are measured in miles. Our ability to reach people has less and less to do with the physical distance between us... Navigating this non-Euclidean world repeatedly tricks out intution and reminds us that there is a new geometry out there that we need to master in order ot make sense of the complex world around us. (39-40)

Early on Barabasi's book doesn't seem completely able to look past Eulcidean spatial dynamics: for instance, he consistenly considers navigating the web in terms of links, discounting the use of search engines. This topological consideration of navigation (moving through the web one link at a time) and relationships (pages linked to each other) strikes me as a bit odd--who doesn't navigate the web primarily through search engines? And isn't tagonomy the growing organization of the web? Barabasi's approach seems to be built on the idea that the web can be mapped--a collection of static objects. I think I look at it as a bit more dyamic (incapable of Being mapped) and multiple: nodes simultaneous constitute so many different overlapping networks that any attempt to create one objectification Becomes a bit ludicrious.

Of course, its time I R-(the rest of)-TFA, then I'll post some more. Probably about how wrong I am on Barabasi.


I didn't make this...

...but my students did. Here's the winning project from my "Project Website" design challenge this past semester: a new Indiana Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster site. Six groups of students redesigned and coded the website of a local non-profit organization. The organization then selected their favorite design. All the pages should validate as XHTML and CSS (making the web that much more sustainable, semantic, and accessible one page at a time).

the new invoad homepage, a dark gray background with bright green headers and buttons

I got the idea for this project from Jeremy Tirrell and am incredibly pleased at how well it worked out. It reaffirms my faith that designers / coders of any level can produce 1.0 Strict compliant sites with just minimal training--all six groups produced sites up to code. And, although I'm not sure this design screams disaster relief, it does demonstrate how standards-compliant coding doesn't have to sacrifice aesthetics. Can't wait to do this one again next spring!


Sorry so sloppy

But I'm in the middle of an (obvious) redesign, something inline with my homepage. The blogger templates use a pretty heavy amount of divs, so its a nice little rubix cube puzzle.

Time to go play with margins and padding.

UPDATE: No idea why Blogger is putting in such large breaks between paragraphs. Yup, its kinda driving me crazy. I've zeroed just about everything out, tried some other selectors, and yelling at my screen. Might have to sleep on this one.

UPDATE on the UPDATE: Apparently, the paragraph spacing isn't entirely generated through the CSS, it also depends on whether you have your line breaks set to auto-space. I did. Now I don't. Now I have to back through the code and increase the spacing a bit.

Yet another UPDATE: Think I've worked out my margin and padding issues--now I have a typography decision. My regular site uses a small px Gil Sans MT. Apparently, blogger doesn't like that idea. I must say, I am growing accustomed to the Trebuchet MS. Decisions.


Computers, Writing, & Productive Mess

Just got back from Detriot and Computers & Writing, our talk went well. Three of us presented on wiring classrooms together for massive forum discussions (80 students participating in one discussion on the history of the higher education in the west). Here's a link to my Computers & Writing ppt.

Wired recently published an excerpt of David Weinberger's book Everything is Micellaneous. Weinberger introduces the selection, I really like the succinctness of this passage:

Until we started digitizing everything, we organized either the physical things themselves (what Everything Is Miscellaneous refers to as the first order of order) or we physically separated the information about the things and organized that (the second order): Think of books and card catalogs, or merchandise on racks and a catalog of products. With the third order, for the first time we can organize information, ideas and knowledge free of the limitations of the physical. And that enables us to get past the notion that there must a single right order, whether it's Aristotle's, God's, or Linnaeus' best guess.

I'm particularly fond of Weinberger's use of "messy"--in our C&W talk a coined the term "productive mess" to describe the chaotic kinds of rhetorical encounters students experience in online forums. Ideas don't necessarily synthesize cleanly or develop into neat and polished arguments. As student ideas come together, they break apart--encountering other opinions and the sharp edge of scrutiny. But these kinds of encounters are productive, depsite being messy than traditional (lets call it analog) writing.

Of course, my attraction to Weinberger is rooted in the similarity of our projects: the relationship between dynamic communication technologies and metaphysics of differAnce/Otherness over universalism and synthesis. Yup, that's my language, not his. But, our freedom from the imposed singularity of the physical will likely affect more than just information taxonomy, it will likely affect how we understand the subject who taxonomizes. New thinking will engender a new subject, hopefully one more connected to her social network and more responsible for her actions.


Victory is Mine!

Working from Dr. B's tracking of daily accomplishments, and an appreciation for Stewie's rally cry, I hope to post celebrations of my greatness (this should provide a bit of motivation to complete mundane tasks that would otherwise go undone). I hope others in my local community grab hold to this little trend.


Sorry Casey, Still No Flying Cars

This article by Charlie Stross is making its way through the interweb. Like some of the research I am working on Stross argues that the "progress" of the future won't concern processing power, software engineering, or even (Other help us) internet governance (which I assume includes front end and back end web design). Stross:

All of this is irrelevant. Because computers and microprocessors aren't the future. They're yesterday's future, and tomorrow will be about something else.

The future, argues Stross, lies in the often overlooked rise of "bandwidth" (and Stross defines this term broadly as the speed and capacity to transfer information--from an airliner shipping DVDs to the hard cable feeding my digital cable). Looking at this bandwidth increase, Stross imagines an archived future--every minute of every day of every person on the planet; a completely searchable human archive: as he puts it "think of it as google for real life." Of course, such an archive risks abuse--and Stross is quite concerned for the types of abuse on the horizon. But also, this future is rife with possibility:

And with ubiquitous lifelogs, and the internet, and attempts at providing a unified interface to all interesting information — wikipedia, let's say — we're going to give future historians a chance to build an annotated, comprehensive history of the entire human race. Charting the relationships and interactions between everyone who's ever lived since the dawn of history — or at least, the dawn of the new kind of history that is about to be born this century.

Total history — a term I'd like to coin, by analogy to total war — is something we haven't experienced yet. I'm really not sure what its implications are, but then, I'm one of the odd primitive shadows just visible at one edge of the archive: I expect to live long enough to be lifelogging, but my first forty or fifty years are going to be very poorly documented, mere gigabytes of text and audio to document decades of experience. What I can be fairly sure of is that our descendants' relationship with their history is going to be very different from our own, because they will be able to see it with a level of depth and clarity that nobody has ever experienced before.

As a Levinasian, I hope the depth of total history actually resists totality--by exposing us not only to similarities, but to differences. To expose ourselves before the machinations (human and computer) without a presumption of synthesis, but rather with a nod toward complexity. Such an exposure, however, must be cultivated. And therein lies the rub, since "cultivate" is a secular humanist term for "indoctrinate." But I'd like to think that I choose my symbolic violences wisely.

For those down with the "blogging" syllabus, this might be an interesting article for discussion early on: why should English classes deal with blogging? Because sharing information is "the way of the future." And it deserves critical attention--not only in terms of invention, but also in terms of ethics.


NBA Draft

Yellow Dog had an interesting post on whether the NBA draft is overrated, looking at the lineups ofthe teams in the playoffs. This really sparked my interest, since I initially assumed the NBA draft to be the most important in all sports: since you only start five players, adding one quality player must be important, right?

To add further research, here's a quick glance at the top 8 lottery picks of the last four drafts.

I almost wanted to include the 2002 draft just to show how special the 2003 was... but coding this kind of table is pretty boring. I don't think it is easy to draw any clear conclusion, other than Darko being the worst pick in the history of the NBA draft (in context). Besides that, even in 2003, half of the top picks failed to make the all-star team. So, Jeff's probably right--the draft is overrated. Still, given how bad the Celtics have been, chances are I'll be watching. I just hope I only have to watch one pick:

With the first pick in the 2007 draft, the Boston Celtics select G. Oden, center, Ohio State University


Introductory Blogging... I mean Composition

This fall a few colleagues and fellow bloggers have decided to network our introductory composition classes (at least four classes). The idea is to structure our course around blogging, having our students write often for "real" audiences, on a specialized topic of interest to them. The idea is to increase the quantity of writing and to expose them to each other's writing. The classes will divide into 15-20 topics with 3-5 members each. Topics will be voted on by students, we will provide them with a list of suggestions. Each student will be expected to produce three posts per week.

I worked with three other teachers last fall on a similar format--in which students from multiple classes posted on the purpose of education. We're presenting on this topic at Computers and Writing (we're meeting to work on our presentation tomorrow). We had success last semester with creating forum roles (launch posts, query posts, extension posts, etc)--and we might try something similar in the Fall. Essentially, I want students to understand the logic of a post--either a pointed pointing at an online object, an informed opinion built around a claim (you should look at "x" because) and evidence, or a query/exhibition, where an idea is worked out in public (like, say, this post).

Besides the blog load, we have a couple of project possibilities in mind. I am really tied to a Wikipedia reliability check--having students fact check a wikipedia entry that has something to do with their blog subject. I'd also like to see some kind of internet/cultural "map" of their subject area. We'll probably do a paper as a guide introducing their subject. And I think I'd like to see a podcast/documentary film for a final project.

I'll post more details as they develop, but I'm also interested in ideas, and cool blogs. We're going to spend the first few weeks reading sample posts. Here's some ideas I have so far (possible sites in parentheses).

  • Video Games (Gamasutra, Joystick 101, Penny-Arcade, Slash.dot Games)
  • Sports (Baseball Toaster)
  • Web design (see my blog roll)
  • Music (Pitchfork, Last)
  • Movies (DailyFilmDose)
  • Celebrities
  • T.V. (no idea--but can't be a single show, I don't think you'd get enough out of it--it could, however, be a genre of shows)
  • Fashion (no idea)
  • Politics (is this a bad idea?)
  • Photography
  • Art
  • Poetry
  • Cooking / Restaurants (do freshman eat enough to do these?)
  • Major (I know that I've learned as much about rhet/comp from reading blogs as I have from reading articles!)

If any of you have suggestions for good, topic-oriented blogs for anything above (or if you'd like to propose your own topic), hit up the comments! Here's what I know: I want to make sure students are exposed to "quality" blogs, ones perhaps they are as of yet unfamilar with.


Clemens: Can You Go Back (and forth)?

Some quick thoughts on Clemens as a Yankee (again): he's undoubtedly the greatest regular season pictcher in baseball history (give me Gibson or Schilling in game seven), and the Yankee rotation needs a player to solidify that rotation. Roger's conditioning is unparalleled, he will be in shape and should remain injury free.

I don't think he will be the force he was in the national league--between the DH, the monster AL East lineups, and his increasing years, we can probably expect an increasing E.R.A.. Here's my prediction: 11-5, 3.98 E.R.A.

Here's my other prediction: his "I-only-have-to-show-up-the-days-I-pitch" clause will be a media nightmare. That might fly in Houston, but it won't in New York. It wouldn't in Boston or Phily, either. It might in Chicago. In these baseball worshipping cities, everything is analyzed under a microscope. And the first time the Yanks lose four in a row, here's the media backlash: why pay 106 dollars per MINUTE for a pitcher who isn't there to lead? The first extra inning game where Roger isn't available "just-in-case." The first time he gets racked around for a couple of runs in the first inning.... you get the point. In NY, as in Boston, there has to be a reason everytime you lose. 150 million (Boston) and 215 million (Yanks w/Clemens) dollar payrolls don't just lose. They lose for a reason. Roger's absence will become first a backpage and then a frontpage reason, whether it is or not.


Two Conversations?

Finally got around to creating a link list today: included every blog currently in my RSS. God I love Safari's easy RSS folder organization. Yummy. I decided to "segregate" the conversations: one list for English / academic discussions and another for design / technology discussions. Some of these, such as work/space or sbj cover both, but for the most part I would say these distinction hold up (perhaps not along everyone's interests, but certainly along what they write about). This threw up (albiet a small one) a personal ethical dilemma: is it o.k. to classify, exclude, or differentiate in the name of usability? Let me explain: I differentiated bewteen these conversation on the basis of "usability": it both makes it easier for me to find a link and for visitors to find like-minded sites (I have a few friends that have no interest reading about conditional comments for IE 6.x and a few friends who have no desire to read about the metaphysical underpinnings of J.C.I. in comparision to classical, modern and postmodern philosophy). So, in the name of others, I seperate others into groups of the same. This might seem like useless babbling, but this is the shit that keeps me up at night: the intersection between postmodern ethics of the other, web design, and rhetorical considerations of audience. And I stayed up late last night reorganizing my office, overslept, and missed two advertised sales for a Nintendo Wii.


A List Apart


Three posts in one day? Clearly a record. I even managed to mow the lawn today. Victory is mine.

A Friendly Response: Fuck theory and leave Derrida Alone

A friend sent me this video on Derrida this morning. It is funny, and I encourage my friend and others to send me such things. But I do want to make a response, a response perhaps too serious for the kairos, but a response that I am forced, by affection, to post. And, yes, it requires some adult language, sorry to the censors. Here it goes: O.k., sure, some might say Derrida deserves this. Derrida is intentionally difficult. We've been over this before: if he presented linear, ontological, easy to interpret prose arguing against the possibility of easily interpretible prose, then he would be dismissed or ignored, or even worse: mis-interpreted as interpretable. See Kenneth Burke and Burke-lovers arguments that Burke was doing "deconstruction" years before Derrida--did-ya notice how no one noticed? What Derrida produced is, in many ways, illogical. Unreadable. An utter interuption of our daily practices. And there lies much of its profundity. It produces an affective response ("what the fuck is this shit?") and that affective response engenders a wave of activity. Productive activity. Activity that does not merely reproduce, but still inventive activity ("maybe it could mean..."). And, I would add, that Derrida is not empty of thought, or of original thought. Yes, his thought connects to pre-Socratics. That's why, as a rhetorician, I am drawn to him. But I don't think such a connection devalues his ideas or his rather unique critiques of Heideggerian ontology, Hegelian teleology, and Kantian / Platonic metaphysics. He contributes to the move from truth as Being to truth as Be-coming. And he brought this movement "to the people" of the academy. People who are/were/will choose to particpate in a very specialized, historic conversation over the meaning of life, relation to God/Otherness, and the possibility of peace, consensus, community, and relation. This discussion, he reminds us (as many others have), takes place in.through.with.around language. And language is not "full" of meaning. And language continues, infinitely, through a series of ands in a constant struggle to erase its limitations. I relish Derrida's difficulty. It is a poetry. I don't necessarily read it for transferable meaning. To do so is to ask it to BE as I see it and to force it into the tradition which it seeks to deconstruct (define: expose the underlying assumptions). Rather, I strive to participate in a mutual be-coming (semination, a semination that dis-es traditional phallologocentric BE(cum)ings). What becomes? Both wreader and text--impossible to Rightly write, a differAnce (this is the worst part of the clip--the book is Writing and Difference and painstakingly introduces the complexities of differance--a neologism that simultaneously expresses the difference between signifier and signified, the impossibility of distinguishing between the different signifieds for a signifier, and the infinite, repressed deferal (deference) of these impossibilities). Differance -> Impossibility -> I am impossible. "I think therefore I am" or "I desire an I (think therefore I am)" or"desire seeks embodiment, I get in the way" or something Otherwise than Being altogether. I rarely read fiction. I haven't purchased a volume of Poetry in more than eight years. Instead, I invest my interpretive/inventive/imaginative energies in theory. While I recognize this might not be for everyone, I am sick of the "because-I-don't-get-it-it-must-be-empty-and-worthless" stuff. Just a little bit. And, of course, this video has created an affective response (raised heart-rate, sweaty palms, nervous shifting) that has triggered my more "logical" machinations. And, volia, post. Constructive participation with others in light of Other engenders production--a.k.a., Fuck theory. Was it as good for you as it was for me?

Levinas website

I can't remember if I posted about this before, but I finished the new NALS (North American Levinas Society) website a few weeks back. This morning I coded the conference schedule for 2007--an amazingly boring job that claimed 2 hours of my life. And I still have to do standards validation--right now the page has a record 122 errors (I am almost positive that most of them have to do with special characters--a French e with accente-grave being the leading culprit).

As my del.icio.us scroll indicates, I have been reading up on microformats--coding for machines to understand, co-ordinate, and process code/data rather than just render/deliver it. Neat concept. I think this will have to be integrated into 419 next semester (my multimedia writing class), I am going to vamp up the resume project to include more consideration of rhetoric, audience analysis, and framing. If "keywords" were the key concept for the last ten years w/ resumes, I think you'll see micorformats become the next job-search craze. I worked my first microformat into the levinas conference page--using the address property for the conference location. One small step for Marc, one giant leap... oh, whatever.

Few thoughts on the Levinas site (since I still have to" write it up" for my portfolio). The goal for the site was to create an open, inviting space that simultaneously and paradoxically created a solemn and pensive tone. That is, I attempted to invoke Levinas in the site design: his theoretical approach to difference, violence, and o(O)therness. The original site design eschewed idology, and, of course, I wanted to stick with that approach. The society also wanted to maintain the solemn entrance page, although I reformatted it and combined the image of the dove with the image of the deathcamp. I used a few filters on the dove--transforming it into a transparency and washing it with the red used on the site.

I also wanted to create a flexible design--since I think this is the key contribution Levinas can make to coding. Rather than imposing a design / hierarchy upon the user, we (standards motivated designers) can create websites that invite the user. Being a new "mac" user, I am particularly cognizant of screen browsing habits (see this great poll of saavy users over at Berea St.); as a PC user, I almost exclusively maximize windows; as a mac user (Safari), I almost never maximize windows. With the Levinas site, as with my own site, I make a conscious effort to design a layout that works for a number of different heights and widths: anything from 600px to 1200px. No easy task. Height is important, too. Looking at my student websites for 419 (and a post on how awesome these are is coming soon), my one blanket criticism is that they "waste" a lot of header space. I am consistently trying to code sites that have economical headers, thus saving screen space (and no doubt this is connected to the materiality of my browsing: my macBook screen is tinie winnie compared to my old desktop. Don't waste space on me! Don't make me scroll!)

Gotta get better at keeping posts on topic...this post:

  • Complains about coding Levinas schedule
  • Begins to discuss Levinas design inspiration
  • Interjects a thought on microformats
  • Discusses browsing habits

What is this, like a hypertext or something...sorry, couldn't help myself.

Anyway, some final thoughts about the Levinas site: I wish CSS 2.x had a "border-image" property. If you look at the page in Firefox, Safari, or Opera (screw IE), you'll notice that the header and footer lines have a very light texture technique, employing a lighter shade of red in a dirty splatter pattern (the same pattern runs over Levinas' name--I wanted to interject a bit of chaos to keep the page from BEING too Modern clean. I would have liked to put the same texture into the sidebar, but the side bar is created through a "border" technique to ensure that it stretches as long as the main content. I've seen a few other work arounds for this, but there is no way to ensure that I know of to ensure that a background-image will "fill" such a space. Perhaps I need to look harder.

Oh, God, how many validation errors was that again? Find and replace, the standards-compliant designer's best friend...