Every Once in Awhile...

I read something and hear in my brain a voice:

That can't be fucking true. No way.

It is usually triggered by an internet news story with dubious sources. I heard the voice this morning while scrolling through my slash.dot feed. A nice little post:

"The Pacific Ocean trash dump is twice the size of Texas, or the size of Spain combined with France. The Pacific Vortex as it is sometimes called, is made up of four million tons of Plastic. Now there's a proposal to turn this dump into 'Recycled Island'. The Netherlands Architecture Fund has provided the grant money for the project, and the WHIM architecture firm is conducting the research and design of Recycled Island. One of the three major aims of the project is to clean up the floating trash by recycling it on site. Two, the project would create new land for sustainable habitation complete with its own food sources and energy sources. Lastly, Recycled Island is to be a sea worthy island. While at the moment the project is still more or less a pipe dream, it's great that someone is trying to work out what to do with one of humanity's most bizarre environmental slip ups."

I admit that I don't really keep a close eye on the news. Its just not my thing. But I'm surprised I haven't heard about a trash island larger than France and Spain combined before today.

That can't be fucking true. No way.

But the links in the post seem legit.

And so do all these other links to Mother Nature Network, CNN World (although its a story by an independent news group VICE buried on the site), and The Times Online.

Wikipedia already has a scientific name for this phenomenon "The Pacific Ocean Vortex," which sounds much nicer than its original moniker: "The Pacific Ocean Garbage Patch." George Carlin just let out a chuckle from the grave. (See about 57 seconds in on the distancing ourselves from reality. I'm becoming increasingly interested in this as I think of the legacy of modernity and postmodernity as we move into the era of posthumanism, globalization, and actor-network theory/ecologies). For those that haven't read/heard/seen Carlin's bit on war and shell-shock, its worth a few moments.

And so, if any of you care, I will be in a delirious fit of rage for the rest of the morning. Rest assured I'll feel powerless and apathetic by tomorrow.




Some Good Web Comics

The web comic "Stuff No One Told Me" has become my daily little moment of Zen. He's on vacation for awhile, but that doesn't mean you can't take a stroll through the archives.

And there's always a quick visit to "My Milk Toof" if you need a heart-warming pick me up.

If you are into comics, or new media, you should check out balak01's "About Digital Comics" and the sequel (which doesn't rip off Twilight) "About About Digital Comics." They're both really worth your time. I found them via workspace.


Ulmer Riff: Recipe

My class is progressing with our mystories. In an effort to help them grasp Ulmer's approach to relay and imitation, I crafted what I call the recipe assignment. Its inspired by a visit from poet Robert Pinsky this past Spring; in response to a question on how a young poet can improve her skills, Pinksy advised: "learn to read like a good cook eats." Its not just about savoring the flavor, but about tasting the technique. Beyond understanding what something is, its about tracing how something becomes.

Ulmer uses a number of examples in his chapters, what he calls relays. Along the lines of classical and neo-classical imitation, these relays provide models for approaching the larger assignments. I've asked my students to break into groups. Each group is required to take one of Ulmer's extended quotations and re-mix it into a recipe, distinguishing ingredients, equipment, time, and step-by-step directions.

Judging by the temperature of the room, it seems to be going well.


Ulmer Exercise: Term Extensions

Today in class we are working on two exercises from Ulmer's Internet Invention; the first of which is his Term Extensions exercise.

Using the history of the term "culture" as a model, select a different craft (other than agriculture) and develop its figurative possibilities as a new extension of the meaning of the term culture


If human development of learning can be like agriculture, what else might it be like? Or, if human development in general may be tended in the manner of a crop or herd, what about your particular specialized area of work? What sort of craft makes a good metaphor for developing knowledge in your career field? (35)

For my term, I picked "assembly." Here I admit I didn't pick a "good" term, but rather an unfortunate one. This keeps with the logic of my career site since I am examining the Scantron machine as my disciplinary invention. The assembly line, in connection with Fordist industrialization, appears as a trope for contemporary education in a number of places, particularly Aronowitz's book The Knowledge Factory. It is also the underlying trope driving Asimov's short story "Profession."

To help with this assignment, I used the Oxford English Dictionary.

Without getting too much into specifics, there's essentially two historic meanings for assembly. The first, whose origins date back to around 1333-1436 and is still in use today, speaks to bringing some things together. It can refer to assembling an army, a governmental body, or a flock of birds singing in a tree ("The byrdes..syttynge in assemble vpon an hye tre").

The second meaning refers more to the industrial process and emphasizes putting something together. Unlike with the first meaning, the parts here constitute little if taken separately. It is only in the right combination, guided by the proper process, that the parts gain utility or significance. This meaning begins to develop around 1914. From a 1914 Engineering Magazine article: "The boards travel..down the line, growing in completeness as they move, each ‘team’ working simultaneously on opposite sides of the board, adding some step to the assembly."

As with Ulmer's definition of culture, we have two different intonations here. If we consider education in terms of the first, then we think of students as individual entities whole before they arrive in the classroom (be it to fight, deliberate, or sing). If we follow the second, then students are incomplete entities before they arrive on our doorstep. Students lack. Teachers provide.

There are, of course, distinct overlaps to the definitions of culture Ulmer highlights--Arnold's and Taylor's. Recall that Arnold's specifies a particular and higher culture as the aim of education/enculturation. Arnold's students lack. Taylor, however, sees culture as something central to all humanity everywhere, he isn't interested in articulating a particularly proper culture as much as he is in identifying those things that all cultures do (even if they do them differently).

My objections to Scantron were routed in its homogenization of education, its dedication (and glorification) of efficiency and singularity. It makes sure students are getting what they lack.