Wednesday, November 30, 2011

No outrage, no deep thoughts--just writing

I know it seems all tech tips and web-o-matic writing inspiration (but it does work) around here lately. The thing is, I've been spending time on the Big Project, and to do that, I have to talk to myself.

Talking to myself is taking the form of a research journal or writing journal in which I argue with myself--"Do you want to put in that part? Why not?"--that sort of thing. I write it out, and then I answer my objections, and then eventually I go away and write. A few bullets of this week:
  • After stuffing one already published piece into this new material I'm writing, I figured out that one chapter really needed to be two. No more stuffing, and a more coherent chapter--or at least I hope so.
  • My own NaNoWriMo this month was to try to get on every day and write something. Sometimes I'd spend all day editing and rewriting, but when evening came, I started itching to get to that clean expanse of the site and type something. If you don't write, you can't edit and make what you wrote better, and even if what came out was repetitious, it worked: the repeated version was usually better and made the editing task easier the next day.
  • Writing this way made me realize again that writing is discovery. If I was writing in the research journal file or at, I kept thinking of things as I wrote. I know--that's an old saw about writing, but it hadn't been working as well lately.
  • The problem with writing is that academics have to read before they can write: we can't spin webs like a spider unless we have the material already packed away somewhere from someone else's words. Unlike creative writers, we're spiders with a backpack of that kind of material, and once the backpack is empty, we have to fill it back up again no matter how much we might want to write.
  • I was so committed to this that I graded all the papers, tests, etc. at the very beginning of Thanksgiving break--I even felt like doing it then--so that I wouldn't have to think about grading or classes for the whole break.

    This isn't the most exciting post, but I didn't want you think this was becoming Pogue's Posts over here.
  • Thursday, November 24, 2011

    Happy Thanksgiving! (and an iMessage tech tip)

    Giving thanks for better weather, family on the way, and a reasonably stress-free day so far. Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

    And the tech tip: if you have an iPhone, iPad, etc. and have been trying to use iMessage (free text messaging among Apple products) without success (like thousands of other frustrated users), try adding as a DNS server number.

    To do this:

    1. Go to Settings -> Wi-Fi -> (name of your network) and click on the blue arrow. When the screen showing the details of your network opens up, look at the line that says DNS.

    2. You will see one or more numbers that look like this: 89.87.61 (or whatever). You might have one or more than one sequence of numbers like this.

    3. Add a comma to the last number and type in and exit the screen. Example: 123.333.33, 89.87.61,

    Some sites say to erase the old DNS numbers, but I just added this one ( to the string that was there, and now iMessage works.

    Wednesday, November 23, 2011

    Francis Ford Coppola on writing

    UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: The question I wanted to ask is, actually, if you could talk about your writing process, your habit, sort of what's a daily writing day like for you.

    COPPOLA: Well, the thing about writing is if you really try, if you do it every day, and you put in your time, you get better. I don't know if there's a - I think with acting that's possible, too, but writing is something that if you really plug away at it, you can get better.

    The important thing is: A, choose the time that's good for you. For me, it's early morning because I wake up, and I'm fresh, and I sit in my place. I look out the window, and I have coffee, and no one's gotten up yet or called me or hurt my feelings.


    COPPOLA: It's very important that your feelings are very, sort of, just stable. You know, you don't want to have a heartache when you're trying to go fly on some adventure of writing. At any rate, it's very important for the young writer to, when you finish the six, seven, eight pages, to turn them over and don't look at them again, because I believe there is a hormone that is injected in the blood of the young writer that makes him hate everything he has just written.

    And so just don't read it. And then when you finally have done it over the, you know, 30 days or how many days so that your stack of pages is in the 80s or something, then - and you feel you have it at some completion, then sit down and read it, and you'll find that your reaction will be very different because you will have a little distance.

    And you realize that the first 10 pages that you would have just torn up and rewritten, which is to say never go back. If you don't read it, you're not going back and rewriting anything at first, because you don't know yet. And maybe you're just going to cut those 10 pages out, and they're not even going to be in it. So you would have been rewriting something that's not even in the piece.

    So give yourself that chance to put together the, you know, 80, 90 pages of a draft and then read it very, at a - you know, in a nice little ceremony, where you're comfortable, and you read it and make good notes on it, what you liked, what touched you, what moved you, what's a possible way, and then you go about on a rewrite.

    And I'll rewrite a script a trillion times. So rewriting is just the middle name of writing.

    [Note: Coppola wrote the script for Patton, for which he won an Oscar, when he was 24 years old.]

    Monday, November 21, 2011

    A "keep your chin up" post, comfort food edition

    If you read the news, it's easy to get discouraged. On the national side of things, this means one party trying to "Kill the Poor" and heap benefits on the rich beyond all reason, with some candidates so venal that they make Richard Nixon look good. On the university side, it means the events at Penn State and the police attack on students at U C Davis. Last year was the 40th anniversary of the shootings at Kent State. I hope we're not headed back in that direction.

    So, to keep my chin up, and yours, I'm going to offer you some comfort food: a recipe for cranberry-apple cobbler (or apple brown betty, apple crisp, or apple crumble--name varies regionally).

    1. First, get out your apple corer, if you have one (they are fabulous devices) and peel and core about 5-6 reasonably tart apples: McIntosh, Cortland, Honey Crisp, Wealthy, Northern Spy, or Granny Smith. Use all the same kind of apple, though; the cobbler will taste better. If you use sweeter varieties than these, use some lemon juice put the juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon in the recipe, depending on the sweetness of the apples.

    Cut the cored and sliced apples in quarters so that the slices are small.

    2. Preheat the oven to about 400 degrees and get out a pan, the size you'd use for brownies or a one-layer cake--about 8 x 11." Butter the pan.

    3. Put the apples in the pan along with about a cup of fresh cranberries. Combine 1 c. sugar and 1 tsp. cinnamon in a bowl and pour it over the apples and cranberries. Toss this together with the fruit so everything is coated with the cinnamon-sugar mixture.

    4. In another bowl, cut together with a pastry cutter or knives: 1 stick (i.e., 1/2 cup) of butter, 2/3 c. brown sugar, 2/3 c. rolled oats, 1/3 c. flour.

    5. Spread this crumble mixture over the top of the apples and bake for about 35 minutes, until the fruit bubbles along the sides and the top is browned.

    This is good served warm with ice cream and also just by itself.

    There, don't you feel better now? It sure helped me.

    Wednesday, November 16, 2011

    Deep silliness at the Chronicle: banning all but ebooks

    Just in time for a little Thanksgiving levity, The Chronicle publishes an article so deeply silly that it'll do your heart good: "In the 21st-Century University, Let's Ban (Paper) Books". The credits line lists some books that the author has written, including one on our old friend the "digital native," but I'm having a hard time believing that he's ever read any.

    First of all, the "digital natives" will have to be "weaned" off physical books, because . . . well, because otherwise how will this guy make any money? they won't be being all modern and 21st century and such. I always thought if technology made life easier, students would use it, because they're rational beings. But if they use physical books because books serve their purposes better? Now, that's just wicked stubborn, and those books have to be taken away, like pacifiers, for their own good.

    Leaving aside the issue of paper versus e-form, what about content? Don't worry:
    Much of what students need to study is already in the public domain and can easily, in instances where it hasn't already been done, be converted to electronic form. Most contemporary works exist electronically, as do a huge number of historical books and documents. This would be an incentive to scan more of them.
    So copyright is no problem? These books are free? "Much" is in the public domain? Well, all right, then! Just point me to the planet where this is true, please.

    What about our books? No worries there, either: "Professors would have a limited time in which to convert their personal libraries to all-digital formats, using student helpers who would also record the professors' marginal notes." I love this--"limited time." What happens then? Does Oskar Werner come in and incinerate the rest after the "limited time"? Has this person ever worked at a university where even getting the TPS reports in on time is a major challenge and subject to faculty complaints? Oh, and who's paying for all these student helpers and scanning? Universities in the grip of, in Roxie's phrase, "Excellence Without Money"?

    Just in case you haven't got the point yet, there's a rousing scolding waiting for you in the conclusion:
    The idea of having one's own personal library of physical books, so useful in earlier times, is no longer worth passing on to our students. ...Academics, researchers, and particularly teachers need to move to the tools of the future. Artifacts belong in museums, not in our institutions of higher learning.
    I could tell you what I'd write on a student paper that used (1) sweeping generalizations, (2) illogical leaps of reasoning, (3) irrational and pointless abuse of a perfectly reasonable technology--paper--as "old" and useless, and (4) a complete lack of evidence for the conclusions, but I guess I'd better get busy scanning my notes while I still can.

    Saturday, November 12, 2011

    Cast a cold eye

    While I admire what Historiann's doing with her roundup of "What's the matter with higher education?" posts in response to Anthony Grafton's piece, I just don't have anything useful to contribute and so will look forward to the posts. Roxie, Notorious Ph.D., Dr. Crazy, and others already have some great posts up in response, and there'll be more.

    My short take would be that it's a resources divide: being starved of money is forcing public and private universities to face compromising either their educational mission or their existence as an institution. It's a mirroring of the gap between the 99% and the 1% all over again. I'm especially struck by this:
    Americans, as Malcolm Harris recently pointed out, now owe almost a trillion dollars in student loans, more than they owe in credit card debt. Student debt, he explained, “is an exceptionally punishing kind to have. Not only is it inescapable through bankruptcy, but student loans have no expiration date and collectors can garnish wages, social security payments, and even unemployment benefits.” The burden is distributed by the reverse of the Matthew principle: to him who hath not, no one gives anything.
    . As one student with $200,000 in student debt put it in the New York Times not long ago, it's like graduating with a house on your back, but a house that you can't live in. If you marry, you saddle the person you love with this debt. You put your life on hold to pay it back, which may be never on the wages you can earn. There's something profoundly wrong with this system.

    So. In other news, and to push down the previous post, today's the day I cast a cold eye on all I've written so far on the big project to see where everything is going, if it is indeed going at all. When I started this post, that's what I thought I was casting the cold eye on, but now I see it's not the only thing that needs scrutiny.

    Friday, November 11, 2011

    Short link post on Penn State news

    Update 11.22.11:Huffington Post today reports that the mother of Victim 1 (see story below) was dissuaded from reporting by

    The principal of the school, Karen Probst, a woman.
    The school counselor, also a woman.

    Mother 1 wanted to call the police immediately, and that's when she was given the "Mr. Heart of Gold" speech. By the principal. And the counselor. Two women.

    It's not about gender here. Protecting power is about protecting power.

    I am horrified, like everyone else, about the sexual abuse news from Penn State. And can we PLEASE stop calling it a "sex scandal"? "Scandal" implies some sort of delicious gossip about celebrities; this is just horrifying. And "sex" implies consent. This was not "sex" with consent but the rape of children. Go read these powerful posts right now:
    One message is pretty clear, and it's an old message: Power consolidates and protects itself, even at the risk of missing a heinous crime; and those who want to challenge that culture are dissuaded from doing so, sometimes forcefully and sometimes by a more subtle degree of intimidation. Buried deep in one article about the courageous boy and his mother who came forward is this:
    Increasingly worried about the boy's behavior, including his reaction to the phone calls from Sandusky, Gillum said the victim's mother asked school officials to help identify the problem. Gillum said the boy eventually told a school official that "there was an issue" with Sandusky, although the boy declined to elaborate.Gillum said a school official relayed the information to the boy's mother in a meeting.

    The official, who Gillum declined to identify, then reminded the mother of Sandusky's solid reputation in the community. The psychologist said the official characterized Sandusky as having "a heart of gold."

    The mother told the psychologist that the official advised her to think about the situation for a few days before taking any action.

    "She was angry," Gillum said. "She was upset about that and felt that she was being dissuaded" from taking action. The mother did not respond to a request for an interview.
    She felt she was being dissuaded because she was being dissuaded. The message there was clear: "He has power; you have none. He is important; you and your son are not. Are you sure that you want to bring down the @#$%^storm of misery that reporting is going to bring with it? Because, trust me, it's going to hurt you more than it's going to hurt Mr. Heart of Gold."
    It's all part of the culture of silence that allows predators to continue their activities.

    Saturday, November 05, 2011

    Grading Papers on the iPad Redux

    (Go here for the original post.)

    Here's an update, part experiential and part technical. The technical part is here because I hate it when people rhapsodize about doing something on the iPad that you know from experience is tricky to do and then don't tell you how it's done.

    The experience: grading on the iPad now doesn't take longer (or much longer), and it's fun. [Update: It now doesn't take any longer, although it would if I were including long explanations of errors as is possible with autotext.]

    Experience update

    1. I invested in a wireless keyboard, which makes the whole typing on the iPad thing much easier and with many fewer typos.
    2. I like reading the papers on the iPad. It seems to be easier to get a sense of the big picture of the paper, since the .pdf conversion usually changes double space to single space.
    3. I didn't time the papers this time, as I did before, but the cumbersome features that made the process longer last March have largely been eliminated.

    1. There's still no Autotext feature. That means that students have to rely on their handbooks or other aids to look up what may be wrong with a sentence, since I am certainly not going to type out 5 sentences on what a comma splice is every time they write one. On the other hand, we've already talked about these things in class and this isn't their first paper, so perhaps it won't be a problem.
    2. There's still a few more transfer/downloading/renaming steps than if I were using Word.


    Importing the papers

    First of all, it's not necessary to change the papers (which are usually in Word or some variation) to .pdf using a third-party program. iAnnotate will do that if you open them correctly.

    Do NOT try to open them directly in iAnnotate unless they're already in .pdf format; they won't show up.

    1. Open Dropbox. Go to the folder where you've stored the student papers.
    2. Touch (click on) the paper to open it. It'll show up in the Dropbox window, but tell it to "Open in" iAnnotate. Click on the box with the arrow in the upper right-hand corner to do this. You may have to scroll down to see iAnnotate as an option when the menu for this box opens up.
    3. iAnnotate will convert the file to .pdf and then open it.

    Marking Up the Papers

    Second, write your comments using iAnnotate's commenting features. I don't draw freehand lines and circles, since it's slower for me than just inserting comments, but it's possible to do that.

    Update: In addition to using the commenting features, I now mark directly on the .pdf with a stylus. I don't do much with the stylus--circle a few words, add a "good point" in the margins--but the paper looks a little more as though it has been touched with human hands if there's handwriting on it. It's also a more immediate and "natural" way to respond it you're used to writing on paper.

    1. To insert a comment, tap on the pencil icon at the side of the screen and tap on Note. You'll then have two choices: Note and Typewriter. Choose Note.
    2. Type your comments in the Note space just as you would do with the Word comment feature. [Thanks to Stacey for bringing that up.] It works exactly the same.
    3. Click on the minus sign to close the note when you're finished typing.
    4. I used to use Typewriter for a final comment, but it shows up as a big black oblong with no text in some readers (like Adobe Acrobat). The Notes, on the other hand, seem to show up fine in Adobe, which is probably what most students have installed.

    The Notes will show up in most desktop readers (including Adobe and Preview for Mac) and in iAnnotate but not in Goodreader, NoteTaker, CloudReaders, and other readers for the iPad. You can also "flatten" the annotations so that they'll be more readable. If you "flatten" the annotations, they will show up as a numbered list of comments at the bottom of the page instead of a pop-up message that shows up when students mouse over the comment.

    Return the papers

    Third, either re-upload the paper to Dropbox or email it to the student. You can email it by clicking on the box, which is on the left side.

    But what if you want to re-upload it to Dropbox so that you can later upload the papers to a CMS? This is not an intuitive move in iAnnotate.
    • File cabinet icon? No.
    • Upload arrow? No. It will tell you that the file has been uploaded to Dropbox, but the file doesn't upload.
    You would never guess this one (or at least I couldn't after many attempts), but here's what I found from drilling down on the iAnnotate support site:

    1. Click on the file folder-like tab at the top of the document (the Document Context Menu).
    2. Click on Share.
    3. Click on Upload.
    4. Now you'll see your Dropbox account. Click on it and your file will upload.
    5. Note: It will probably upload to the iAnnotate folder rather than to the folder from which you downloaded it.

    You'll still be stuck with the same filename, since the Gods of Apple Products have an insane prejudice against a Save As feature, but at least you'll have them all where you can rename them and upload them to your CMS or whatever.

    Wednesday, November 02, 2011

    Questions that don't need an answer

    • "Hey, Professor Lastname, can I write my paper on this very specific topic using two books that are not only not in our course but not from the same century or country as the literature we're studying?"
    • Do you think that this student just might have an already-written paper from another course that ze wants to turn in for this assignment?
    • "I don't have your papers to turn back to you today; I haven't graded them." Student: "Yes, but have you had a chance to look at mine?"