Category Archives: Print Culture

the high summer turn, books, and a consideration of method

I don’t look forward to it, but the week of the 4th of July strikes high summer – the turning point of summer towards autumn. The green starts to fade, the wildflowers start to seed, and I have to get my fall book orders in and start some serious work on syllabi.

The bookstore asks faculty to get book orders for fall in to them by April – five months early. Lately, the request has become a demand as they try to set deadlines for book orders. If I know the course is ready, I try to get an order in during spring. But for upper-division clases, and classes that need revision, I use the first month of summer to re-think the books. If a book didn’t work in the last offering, I want to change it – and that means reviewing student feedback on the course that comes in after the course is over.

I changed books in three of four classes this semester. Tech Writing remains the same: Graves and Graves, A Strategic Guide to Technical Communication. For A&E, I’m staying with OUP’s So What? but have changed the target text – the text we’re all reading to see how scholarly argument proceeds. This year it’s Jenkin’s, Ford, and Green, Spreadable Media. It’s written in the scholary register that students in Argumentation are expected to use.

For the Comp Theory grad seminar, I updated to Villanueva and Arola, Cross-Talk, 3rd edition – not because it’s a better edition but because the 2nd is no longer in print. And I dropped Wysocki, et al, Writing New Media for a broader source book, Lutkewitte, Multimodal Composition. That was a sacrifice, but new media has moved on and a sourcebook provides a better starting point for grad students in theory.

I made the biggest change in E-Rhetoric. For the second time, I’ve dropped Stoner and Perkins, Making Sense of Messages for Longaker and Walker, Rhetororical Analysis. Stoner and Perkins is far stronger on method, but Longaker brings in more focus on rhetorical concepts. Cheaper, too.

I keep finding that undergrad students are not enamored by a focus on method. They want to get to the rhetorical concepts and use the ad hoc methods they have developed informally in high school and their first couple of years at college. It’s frustrating. I say, “Look, there’s a method to this madness, a set of practices your professors use to figure out what a text means and how it works. We don’t work by intuition. You can learn the method. It takes some practice, but it will hold you in good stead.”

“Nah. Let’s just start and you can tell us when we’re right. We learn video games by trial and error. Let’s try that here, ok?”

A focus on method lets us develop far more insightful and significant analyses, but the process is intially tedious, requring repeated close observations and close description before bringing in rhetorical concepts. So I’ve toned down the emphasis on method for the looser hit-or-miss approaches students are in the habit of using. I’ll sneak in method by way of exercises and illustrations of how to proceed. It’s back to correcting student making instant conclusions and moving away from the analytical terms of rhetoric to informal terms, but those corrections are how we tend to learn: by closer and close approximation. Anyway, I’ll remix a lite version of method from Stoner and Perkins and bring that in as How to Proceed. Scaffolding.

digital media: why think?

From The Mechanical Bride, McLuhan, 1967 (1951″>caption id=”” align=”alignleft” width=”299″] From The Mechanical Bride, McLuhan, 1967The Mechanical Bride haunts the interwebs.Both texts myopically focus on readers as bored passive consumers and writers as lackeys to the market. While they both cover (rather than question”>/caption]I just looked over two texts from Rutledge for possible use in digital writing and rhetoric courses, and came away disappointed. Saddened. Without anything good to say. Both books give an unintentionally clear look into the cold heart of darkness that is written mass media. Neither delivers what they suggest they will. Both have a distinctive ordour of journalism-as-marketing-the-brand shaping both the texts themselves and the advice they present as understanding.Writing and Editing for Digital Media is misnamed. Its emphasis is on writing and editing for digital marketing.Digital Innovations for Mass Communications has a similar problem in the title: There aren’t any real innovations in the book so much as continuations of the what McLuan critiqued in the 1940s. The Mechanical Bride haunts the interwebs.Both texts myopically focus on readers as bored passive consumers and writers as lackeys to the market. While they both cover changes in media distribution, they do so superficially, and without concern for semiotic changes in affordances, rhetorical function or situation. They build their work on the purported commonalities: this web thing – it’s not that different when you get right down to it, and Good Writing is Universally Good Writing, as it was codified, variously, by StrunkNWhite, Orwell, and Confucius. Their own directive is poorly worded, oddly aligning “a person writing” with “the principles are”: “Whether a person is writing a news story, novel, letter to the editor, or advertising copy, the principles of good writing are the same.” (Writing for Digital Media, 1.)  Gertrude Stein is just below the surface:

Whether a person is writing. A news story novel, letter, to the editor or advertising. Copy the principles of good writing. The same.

Not far off from How To Write.

In keeping with the easy emphasis on The Universal, the text gives the typical (copy and pasted) lists of Advice (active! verbs!). What seems new are tricks of how to generate heads using Wordle, and how to lace up stories with words planted for SEO. But the goal of the advice betrays the mindset of a marketeer, c 1955: Drugstore shelf space and the cover photo used to be the magic for selling pulp; today, keywords are the new currency.

noindent”>You lace up your text, not to create a better article, and not to inform your readers, but to up the article’d search hits. The writers of this text are even chary of suggesting the search-engine optimized article is going to be read: the aim is not reading or any universal but to “further the likelihood of your pages coming up in searches.” Of course, works need to be found, (Morville at, now retired, and Ambient Findability) but the aim in lacing up in search terms is to spoof Google into a first-page listing – and readers into clicking the ads.

As for readers: Here’s Digital Innovations’s simplistic sense of audience as content consumer motivated by desire: bored, superficial, but thrifty.

noindent”>And here is the obligatory nod to convergence culture – the very idea that makes both these texts untenable. Digital Innovations gives a nod to Henry Jenkins’s, keeping the focus on his head-shot rather than his ideas:

noindent”>But with the next paragraph, they change the direction, away from Jenkins’s emphasis on the activity of the consumer driven by unnamable desire and towards the institutionalized presentation within museums.

noindent”>This is less a remix of Jenkins than a selective appropriation. Jenkins’s focuses on pro-sumer agency with “A whole range of new technologies enable consumers to archive, annotate, appropriate, and recirculate media content and in the process, these technologies have altered the ways that consumers interact with core institutions of government, education, and commerce.” But there’s nothing like the institute of a museum to say Hands Off the Content! Stay behind the velvet rope, children. These artifacts are fragile. They need to be handled by the professionals.

noindent”>Digital rhetoric is at cross-purposes with these examples of digital marketing-journalism. So where are these two texts useful? In courses that look at how the print market is driven. In courses engaged in media archaeology. In courses looking at digital rhetoric in order to question what is being presented as mainstream values. In courses that aim at authorizing the digital reader, that aim at giving the digital reader some agency other than consumption.

some notes on using the iPhone as a notes reader that ends in paper inertia

What I’d like to do

Make docs and some images available from a desktop and laptop to iPhone for reference and for use in classes. These are mainly rtf notes, but I’d also like to access to pdfs for articles.

I keep my course and research notes in DevonThink. They get into DT in a number of different ways, but I work on them mainly in DT.

Ways to go about it

  • Use an online notetaker like Evernote. Problem: Files aren’t available without network.
  • Use a wiki. Problem: Can be hard to read in a browser, doesn’t handle pdf, and see above.
  • Well, use a wiki and Instapaper. Store the notes on a wiki, then then read it on the phone with Instapaper. Problem: Need to remember to hit the page with Instapaper twice: Once to store the page, and a second time before class to store it on the phone, in case the network goes down.
  • Use a utility to transfer files from desktop to iPhone. Problem: Sometimes the file is on my desktop, sometimes on a laptop. Issue: I’d rather not run Yet Another Client on the desktop to make files available. Using a browser is only slightly less clunky.
  • Print everything out.

I’ve eliminated a few utilities that I’ve tried (DataCase, Air Sharing, NoteBooks), which seems to leave me with two options.

OneDisk. Accesses iDisk files and folders. Needs MobileMe. Clear interface, landscape view. Can email files from the app. No luck reading a Numbers page, but it’s supposed to. The pdf reader is as good as any. Can set bookmarks and create folders.

Briefcase. VPN, I think. Uploads and downloads from phone to computer via Bonjour. No desktop utility needed. Can access any folder on the computer. Interface similar to that of OneDisk. Landscape view. Reads the usual suspects.

In both cases, getting files onto the phone requires some planning – nothing major, but planning akin to – and no less hassle than – printing out the notes. Planning means forgetting.

Using OneDisk, files have to be uploaded to iDisk from the computer, and then downloaded to the phone. Upload times can be a longish for larger documents. Upload now; download later.

With Briefcase, files have to be loaded directly to the phone using the phone near the desktop. Transfer now. Read later.

From a step back, the whole idea of moving notes to the phone for reference in class seems about the same as printing stuff out.

Even worse. The problem isn’t just in transferring stuff but reading it. Unless they are formatted with screen reading in mind, notes are difficult to read on a mobile device. Pdfs are just too difficult to read on a small screen. Pdf is for paper. My best luck so far has been with some rtfs – using 14 pt Helvetica, which is what I use when I print out the notes.

What I need – when going from desktop to phone top – is an app that will reformat .doc and .rtf files for reading on the phone.

And that might lead back to Instapaper. It’s the formatting and the local storage that help.

Then there’s the consideration of going the other way: from the phone to the desktop.

Makes me want to just make a paper notebook (video) -but my handwriting is unreadable and, well … Paper, that just defeats the whole purpose, doesn’t it.

Any other ideas?

Other links

e-planning planning for spring

E-rhetoric textsIt might snow Sunday, and that means it’s time to start to select texts for spring classes.

Our campus bookstore wanted selections by mid-October, and while I’d like to accommodate the corporate giant, it will have to wait. Two courses I’m teaching in spring, E-Rhetoric and Weblogs and Wikis, benefit from using the most recent texts and addressing some of the most current ideas. And I’m still looking for the right texts, and will be right through the US Thanksgiving.

For E-Rhetoric, I’m considering a look at digital and new media poetics. Our Creative and Pro Writing BFA students don’t get much exposure to the work that’s going on in poetry and short prose in the electronic world. While an e-literature course might be best, E-Rhetoric can take a look at current electronic modes and productions. A new literature brings with it a new rhetoric: a new set of affordances, a new way of making and articulating meaning. The difficulty in this section of the course might be keeping a focus on the rhetorical dynamics of the object rather than the object as an expressive artifact. But digital products tend to be collaborative ventures, which moves us away from self-expression and towards semiotics.

In the same vein, I want to look at digital- print hybrids and social- digital mapping. There are projects possible. I’m thinking of having students annotate a journey or two through the campus or sections of downtown. Students from the visual arts department have done a little of the preliminary work for this, chalking some of the academic buildings, and annotating the doors.

While it would be nice to have everyone with an iPhone or a laptop post to geo-located walls using something like graffitio, we might be able to do this as a mapping hybrid along the line of the proboscis projects. The idea of leaving text annotations at the particular site is interesting. The next move is a rhetoric of geo-cacheing.

The rhetorical angle: Look at the places students choose to define as noteworthy, the contexts they place those places in, the language they use to give them importance. If rhetoric is calling attention to something, then inscribing it with a building name or sticking a 3X5 card on it is a starting point. Annotating makes the campus into a campuscape, a gallery, a narrative, an argument.

The rhetorical choices behind social scape annotation starts to stand out when we compare citizen annotation of the campuscape with the authorized labeling: building names (former faculty and presidents for academic buildings, tree species for student residences), the Deputy Arch, the names of scientists carved into stone on Sattgast, campus maps, advertising banners, even labels on some of the benches. There’s more going on than first seen.

Mobile Learning. A lot is just about to happen with mobile technologies and learning in the field. E-Rhetoric’s interest would involve how language is used and shaped to suit onthefly learning. Perhaps by annotating the urban landscape.

Persuasive Technologies. I get blank stares when I mention captology to students. How does your car persuade you to slow down? The E-Rhetoric students can benefit from a brief look at captology, less as a field of study and more as a way of thinking about technologies in the world.

For Weblogs and Wikis: Jill Walker Rettberg has a new text on blogging (Yes!) that addresses it as a social- and professional act. I’ve been making that up-hill argument for six years, and it’s good to have back up. Students tend to view blogging more as diversion than substance; faculty at large tend to see it more as daily diaries from amateurs. Faculty with a stake in print place it as a diversion from the Real Work of writing and publishing. No editors! Certainly second-rate writing.

I’m still waiting for / writing the similar text for wikis. But I reckon I’ll be able to slide laterally to apply Rettberg’s observations on weblogs to wikis. And I’d bet I can do the same with Wikipatterns: use it to apply to weblogs, especially collective weblogs.

What’s in my bookbag?

I wait until the snow flies to make the final choice, designing a syllabus around the texts I have in mind to see how it all might fit together.

Education doesn’t need to be driven by the self-serving deadlines of bookstores.

three weeks on the phone: are we literate yet?

We’ve been living with iPhones for three weeks now and it’s still a toss up between Christmas and hell. Essentially, the phone is another computer – one that does voice but really just another computer. So we have to learn to deal with another set of computer idiosyncrasies: typing issues, restarts, crashes, syncing, settings…. The reading and writing spaces are different again from laptops and even the Palm TX that I’ve been using for the last year and a half. Learning a new interface brings forward the affordances we learn to work with in writing and reading. Writing on the iPhone is a little like 10th grade typing class and a little like using PC Write. I wrote a 130 page thesis in PC Write, and I got a B in typing.

I’ve been using the iPhone as a notepad while I was fixing a server snafu this last week. Useful that way. I emailed myself annotated extracts from man pages that I had reviewed on a laptop that I could refer to as I worked, and it was useful to have a second screen to work from.

(On the other hand, composing sentences on the touchpad makes for some really annoying and sophomoric constructions. Composing on point is influenced by the means of input. I handle a keyboard better than a touchpad and a pencil. The more rapid the input the more compositionally sophisticated I can get. I’m making sytax moves on this keypad I would never make on a keyboard. Crap moves that demand an editing to clean up. And they are not oralisms.)

As a notepad ok. As a writing space for more extended prose, not so good.

Access to stuff is brilliant: newsfeeds, proper news, Flickr, podcasts, mail, maps. For access, the iPhone almost replaces a laptop – but it’s best when the data has been scraped and formatted for the screen; there’s lot to be said for web apps and standalone reader apps. A laptop is more versatile; it can make more stuff accessible more readily. But the iPhone is far more portable for the typical stuff I need to do. Sort of a Mini Cooper compared to a Toyota.

Games and drawing apps: pretty good. Easily equal to a laptop – as long as the game is designed for the small screen. Card games can’t simply be ported. The card faces need to be redesigned for the small screeen. Compare solitaire games and you’ll see. Pips aren’t necessary on the small screen.

Always on – always connected. This is interesting because I find myself doing things I hadn’t done before. I can check prices online while in the store. I can take pics and upload on the spot. Viv and I can share lists.

Ok: These are mundane uses, either unnecessary or easily handled in other ways. Yep. Superfluous. Bourgeois. Silly. Mundane.  But it passes the time.  And what’s mundane can be valued by others. Historians pour over 13th century shopping lists to get a sense of day to day life.

Most recently, I added a nifty WordPress plugin to this blog that handles displaying it on the iPhone. A lot of sites are going to need this sort of re-fit to be really useful on the phone – especially for education. It’s a matter of usability design.

media arriving by post

proboscis package.jpgI have gotten so used to getting stuff online that receiving a package by post is an event.

Ok: I take that back. Most of my books come in by post. And some software. And most hardware. And spices because we can’t get much locally. Ok, and the magazines and journals. And Viv’s inks. And paper.

Ok, except for those things, I get most of my stuff online. But I got a package of stuff today. is a think- / project-tank in EC London who have been doing some interesting projects with storytelling, gps-annotation mashups, and re-remediation. Their projects involve using digital devices to map experience and understanding to material spaces: mapping day to day experience to the cityscape by way of public authoring and gps devices; mapping stories to cubes as a heuristic; re-mapping writing and images to inexpensive paper ebooks that are made to be further enscribed.

I found Proboscis by way of a mention on if:book, and started re-working course materials from wiki to paper using their in beta Generator. My work is timid so far, but last winter, Andrew Hunter offered a course Anarchaeology: Collecting, Curating and Communicating Culture making use Diffusion projects at the U of Waterloo. There are some interesting possibilities for First-Year Comp. Freshmen Map the Campus?

I have to put together a sabbatical project for 2009 – 10. Maybe London’s calling.

cooking for engineers

Barbecue Pork Ribs Baby Back or Spare – Recipe File – Cooking For Engineers

When the cook lives in a technical mindset, the kitchen becomes a problem space and cooking an analytical solution.  Michael Chu’s instructions – words, pics, layout –  are models of clarity and enjoyment, from an engineer’s perspective:

After about 1-1/2 hours for baby back ribs or 2-1/2 hours for spare ribs, the meat should have shrunk away from the bone substantially. The temperature of the rib meat should be over 180°F which means much of the collagen in the meat has probably converted to juicy and unctuous gelatin (the reason we love ribs).

But what’s really nifty is his recipe layout, like this one for ratatouille:

Someone’s been reading Tufte.

link journalism and rhetorical work

Just a few rhetorical notes on this (relatively) new meme.

From an elearninspace post

Perhaps the most significant contribution the web has made to society – outside of providing increased access to information – is the forced consideration of perspectives and opinions outside of our own. While we might not always take advantage of it, each link is a simple access point to a new perspective. We can build echo chambers if we so desire, but the ability to encounter random views and perspectives is valuable and worth pursuing in its own right. A similar occurrence in traditional media.

which led me to an example of what Scott Karp at Publishing 2.0 sees as link journalism at The Lede, and his commentary:

Nizza isn’t just lazily linking to these stories — he’s read them, compared them, identified shortcomings, extracted key facts and issues, and connected the dots.

In a traditional newspaper article, all of these facts and analysis would have been synthesized, but the reader wouldn’t have had the opportunity to read for themselves the source material. This post does what journalism is supposed to do — empower people with facts, understanding, and perspective about important issues.

and back to consider elearnspace:

the ability to encounter random views and perspectives is valuable and worth pursuing in its own right.

Links, wherever and however included, don’t present random views or perspectives. They are select, and selected. – even in a google search. Link journalism ups its ethos and illustrates its logos by linking (Karp is persuaded to value Nizza’s post by the rhetorical work Nizza has done in drawing the sources together). Linking might make it possible for readers to look at the evidence and come to different conclusions, but the linker is still in control, presenting, at best, a multiple set of vital perspectives, but still a contained set; and presenting a rationale, more or less out in the open, as to why these links, this evidence, are important, and how this evidence is best interpreted. The dots are selected from a background of dots, and they are connected to show a coherent image – and not another, possibly equally coherent, persuasive image.

Link journalism, that is, is no less a matter of management than any other form of persuasion. And that makes it really really interesting.