Sunday, September 30, 2012

Creativity: the best time to do everything

In "Your Body's Best Time to Do Everything," The Wall Street Journal provides a little pop psych that I can believe in, more or less.

  • 8 a.m. Write upbeat tweets. [No thanks.]
  • 9 a.m. High energy and clarity; have difficult talks now. [No thanks. Use that energy ]
  • 10 a.m. Do cognitive work. Working memory and concentration tend to peak mid-morning. [Good writing time!] 
  • 2 p.m. Take a short nap. Sleepiness hits its peak. [Don't we wish we could all do this?]
  • 4 p.m. Do physical work. Eye-hand coordination rises in late afternoon.
  • 5 p.m. Work out. Muscle strength and flexibility rises later in the day. 
  • 9 p.m. Work creatively. People's freshest, most original thinking may occur at non-peak times of the day, which for most people is evening. Fatigue may lower inhibitions and open the mind to offbeat ideas and solutions. [Finally a research finding that confirms what I've experienced for years.]
Here's a writing inspiration post from Inside Higher Ed

Friday, September 28, 2012

You want to ask me again?

  • If the papers were posted, you would see them posted. 
  • If they are not posted, they are not posted.
  • If I said I would let you know by email when they are ready, I will let you know by email when they are ready.
  • If you email me about the papers, what I think about is the guy in the pickup truck who roars up behind my car when I'm already going a safe amount over the speed limit: it will not make me go any faster, and it will not improve my mood.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Using iAnnotate with JStor, Project Muse, and downloaded .pdf files

For those who've been frustrated (as I have) by iAnnotate's quirky refusal to sync files that you download into it directly.

To get .pdf files from JStor, Project Muse, or another database into iAnnotate:

1. If you're on an iPad: Go into Project Muse, JStor, or whatever. Bring up the article in .pdf
2. Touch the upper right corner to get to the Open In buttons. DO NOT press Open in iAnnotate. If you do, you'll mark up the text for nothing, since iAnnotate won't save or sync it. Instead, press Open In and choose Dropbox.
3. Choose the destination in Dropbox and save it.
4. Once it's saved in Dropbox, select the file. it will open in the Dropbox window.
5. Click on the little arrow that's in the corner. Your options will be Print or Open in. Select Open In and choose iAnnotate.
6. Now that it's been loaded from Dropbox, you can mark up the article and the annotations will sync properly.

To get .doc and .docx files to convert and sync properly: 
Short version: you can't do this any more.

 It used to be that you could download a .doc or .docx file from Dropbox, convert it to a .pdf using iAnnotate, mark it up, and re-upload it to Dropbox using the tab at the top of the document.

Now, all you can do is mark it up and admire it on your iPad, because there's no way to upload the converted file.

There is a workaround: 1. do all of the above. 2. email the converted file to yourself. 3. save it in Dropbox. Why make us do the three extra steps, though?

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Writing Inspiration: Ta-Nehisi Coates

This struck me as good writing inspiration material: Ta-Nehisi Coates on why he doesn't spend as much time gaming any more: 

Writing has, increasingly, taken up residence in the space where I used to put fandom. Even nonfiction writing, for me, requires an act of imagination because I am always thinking of ways to afflict the reader with some of what I feel. I'm not simply trying to afflict him/her logically, but also emotionally. The writing must emote. To do that I employ the same imagination I once put into the nasty poison-spewing green dragon (or was she blue? red?) from the Isle of Dread, and redirect to (attempted) acts of literature. 

Popular culture in the classroom

Bardiac and Jennifer Finney Boylan, in a guest post at Tenured Radical, recently wrote about the cultural references they share (or don't share) with younger colleagues (Bardiac) and students (Boylan).  Boylan says that the last piece of common ground seems to be Harry Potter, which is probably about right, and that she'd watch SNL but that the host is Seth McFarlane, and she doesn't know who that is. I do know, but primarily because of listening to Fresh Air, which is for non-cool people like myself the place where we find out what's going on in the culture.

Except for a few television shows (Arrested Development, and that's an old one to them), I don't think my students and I share many cultural references beyond Santa Claus and current internet memes.  I know from asking them that Mad Men and Downton Abbey aren't on their radar screens--as why would they be?--but then again Futurama and Family Guy are only dimly on mine. Music years are like double-dog years to them: a song from 2010 that I heard and liked would be approximately 14 years old in cultural time, so I don't even try with music.

The places where we find common ground are those that you can't help knowing about even if you've never read or seen them: Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, usually Star Wars, and maybe Star Trek in all its variations.  But since my interests lie much more in the popular culture that's way back in the past even for me and far more so for them, I'm happy to learn from them what they choose to tell me about what cultural touchstones they share, and I try to find analogies from the past that might help.  They seem to enjoy educating me, and the feeling is mutual.

How do you bridge the culture gap?

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Can MOOC's sell textbooks? King Gillette and the Razor Blade

Jennifer Howard's article "Can MOOC's Help Sell Textbooks?" raises some interesting issues, to wit: if  MOOC's are supposed to be gloriously free for everyone, is it even ethical to require a textbook? A snippet, with some pieces removed: 
But online courses do have recommended-reading lists, and enrollments in the tens of thousands. If even a small percentage of those online students buy books, the sales could add up to a nice boost for a textbook. 
"We are actively tracking the development of MOOC's and believe they do represent a promising market for university-press titles," said Ellen W. Faran, director of the MIT Press. 
Online-course providers continue to draw the line at required reading, and instructors—including those with books to sell—have abided by such guidelines, at least so far. 
"We do strongly urge instructors not to require any textbooks that cost money, since we want the courses to remain accessible even to students that cannot afford to purchase a textbook, including the many that don't even have a credit card," said Ms. Koller, of Coursera, in an e-mail interview.
So it does seem to be profitable to have a MOOC that recommends or requires a book, since "strongly urge" does not mean "prohibit." That's assuming that the student chooses to pay for the printed version instead of reading the book online at  (or, if it's not there, probably illegally uploaded to a web site). I'm assuming a worst-case scenario here, in which textbooks are required.

But isn't this the same issue as an instructor requiring students to buy the book that ze has written, multiplied by 40,000 instead of 40? The common wisdom on that, which I've gleaned through conversations with others and lurking on the Chronicle's forums, is that if you require a book through which you receive a financial benefit, even if it's the key textbook on the subject, you're supposed to remit the royalties to the students, donate them to a student fund, or otherwise ensure that you don't profit from having the power to require students to purchase the book. How does that work when you have 40,000 or 100,000 students in other countries? One principled professor (can't recall his name) got the publisher to agree to distribute his textbook for free to his Coursera students, but that apparently isn't the norm.

This does answer one question I've had about MOOC's: how will they make money? Here's an analogy. The story goes that King Gillette,* when he was trying to get men to adopt the safety razor rather than the straight razor, decided to give away the razors and charge for the razor blades.  Because they couldn't use the razor without the blades, he'd have them as customers for life, so it was worth taking a loss on the razor to sell a man blades for the next 50 years.  Printer manufacturers do the same thing today: they all but give away the printer and charge a hefty fee for the printer ink cartridges. I wonder if the maker of those machines that use those little coffee pods that are so fashionable now uses the same model, but I haven't looked.

So you lose money on the course, because it's free, but you make money back on the peripherals: you charge for the exam that students take for certification, for textbooks, and, I'm betting in time, for access to the bulletin boards through which the discussion is conducted, since that is already a model being used in traditional universities.

And say you're an elite university: let's call it MegaBucks U. You're the only kind that will have the status to offer MOOC courses while other universities, until they're forced out of business, will be pressured to accept MOOC credits.  You'll make money on the tests, which you'll write and contract out for someone else to deliver; on the textbooks, from your university press; and from the increased visibility and good press that MegaBucks will receive by making "the world's knowledge available to millions" or whatever catch phrase is being bandied about this week.

And you still won't allow MegaBucks U's students to take a MOOC course for credit, because that would be very wrong and dilute the brand.

Again, I ask you: what am I missing here?

*Wikipedia says he wasn't the first to do it, but he's the most iconic figure, so I'm sticking to the analogy.

Edited to add: I am not categorically opposed to any of this, but I really want to see these questions answered. 

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Midweek RBOC

  • Drive home, change clothes to go for walk/run. Lie down just for a second and fall asleep instantly. Yeah, getting up at 5 to write but then staying up till 11:30 to prep classes will do that to you. 
  • I've been writing in a notebook after rediscovering it and realizing it was easier to read that in some ways than to leaf through all the pages of the research notebook as computer files.  It was also sort of fun to see what I was doing 3-4 years ago at this time--working through ideas, failing at keeping up a Boice chart, and all that. 
  • Get a Life has some good strategies, and, as she says, things go better when you plan. Falling dead asleep instead of getting at the evening's work was not part of the plan.
  • For the first time I've heard people referring non-ironically to "protecting my time," as in "protecting Fridays" or "keeping my Fridays for research days." They're unapologetic about it, and now, so am I.  "I'm not available" is about all I say, but it does the trick. Our new chair seems to support this perspective, too, which helps. 
  • My goal is not to get Rhett Butler back, but after today's crash into sleep, I'm repeating to myself, "tomorrow is another day." 

Saturday, September 15, 2012's new plan is experimenting with off-line retailing, including brick-and-mortar stores and a locker pickup service for people who can't be at home when the UPS or FedEx truck rolls around.

Instead of shipping to your house, Amazon will ship to the locker.  It will also charge an extra $2-3 for the privilege of picking up your stuff, although if the lockers are located inside stores, the store owner may choose to eat the cost to get more customers into the store.

It'll be cheaper for Amazon to deliver to a locker, and "Amazon could entice customers to use the service by offering discounts or freebies, such as same-day delivery at no extra charge, Harvey said."

Let's review:

  • To buy from a traditional bookstore: Drive to bookstore, browse, pay for book (including sales tax), and take book home for instant reading.
  • To buy from this future iteration of Amazon: Go online, browse, pay for book (including sales tax), pay for shipping unless you have Amazon Prime. Wait a few hours or a few days, drive to pickup center, pay pickup center charge, take book home for reading. 
  • Or as above, with an extra charge for shipping this to your house, because a "discount" for picking something up at a locker center translates into an extra charge for what's now free if you have Amazon Prime: shipping to your house.
I can see how this would work for unusual or hard-to find items, but for most books? How is Amazon's plan more convenient? I'm not seeing it, unless you're ordering an academic book or something that you might otherwise buy at Madio Mack if they hadn't irritated you beyond belief in your previous contact with them. 

Friday, September 14, 2012

Weekly roundup of academic issues

  • I'm late in posting about the CSU "expiry date" ad (now changed), but Dr. Crazy and Historiann and Sisyphus and now Timothy Burke have weighed in on the unfairness of it all. 
    • I don't have anything to add to this one, because you've all addressed it so well.
  • On MOOCS, Indyanna over at Historiann's place quotes from Tamar Lewin's piece: 

    Isn’t that amazing? At my school the Political Science department couldn’t develop a course on non-governmental organizations, nor could Physics and Astronomy decide to teach about superstring theory without jumping through a year’s worth of committee and senate hoops to persuade every cook and baker and horse-shoer who happened to hold faculty status anywhere that the change was not going to affect somebody else’s enrollments, or cause somebody’s external accreditor to question the credentials of their majors. But U-dacity can just slide onto a campus with a “proctored test” and kaboom, the credit hours will be rolled onto the transcripts.
Isn't this true, and doesn't it say just about everything about MOOC cheerleading? And, by the way, proctored and created by whom? Who creates those tests?  Who vets the tests, since the faculty doesn't get to vet the course and the university is not going to bother vetting it? How do faculty members know that they're valid or equivalent to a course? Or doesn't the faculty's consent to courses matter if it's a MOOC?

  • A mostly-civil discussion about whether David Perlmutter was right to urge candidates to take jobs even in locations that are outside their comfort zone (comfort zone = New York, Boston, Chicago, or Berkeley). Alexandra Lord replies, nope, that's bad advice: better a non-academic career in a place that you love. This fits in with a piece last fall, where "Emma Thornton" didn't like the weather at her "Fine Southern University" and gave up her tenure-track job to be an adjunct in England. 

  • Can't both of these options (academic job in a place you don't know and non-academic job where you want to live) be valid options? Why is there such animus and snark and defensiveness about one choice or the other? It's true that if you give up a t-t academic job, you may well never get another one (see bullet point #1), but that doesn't mean that you won't have a happy life outside academe, if you're living where you want to live.  Isn't the main thing finding work that will support you and your family, and, if possible, satisfying work? Academe isn't the only place where that can happen. 

    The thing is, as everyone has said many times, is that as an academic you don't usually get to have both: close proximity to family or major cities or whatever is important to you and a tenure-track job.  Knowing this, why are both camps on this issue so defensive? It's  "my intensity of commitment to academe beats your lack of intensity" versus "well, I care about my family/the arts/living a full life and you don't." Why does each feel so judged by the other? 

    In an old novel one time, I read a quotation that went something like this: "Are the people telling you how to think and act going to help you in any way? No? Then why do you care what they think?" 

    [Update: See also The Professor is In for her take on this.] 

    Saturday, September 08, 2012

    I-journalism, a rant

    From nicoleandmaggie comes this link and nicoleandmaggie's comments on it:
    This post from Wil Wheaton reminded me why NPR annoyed me this morning.  They had some commentator come on to say that Obama’s speech failed because she didn’t think it was as good as Michelle Obama’s or Clinton’s.  Even if that’s true (and I think the speeches were all good but they were focused on different aspects of the message), I wasn’t aware that Obama was running against Clinton and Michelle Obama.  I thought he was running against Romney. 
    Wheaton (at the link) goes on to call out whatever fool listed things you could do in the time taken by Clinton's speech to say "Because reading 12 pages of Proust is so much more important than understanding how badly the GOP has **** the country" and goes on from there.

     Absolutely right, n&m and Wil Wheaton! The persistent I-journalism and snarkiness that made me give up entirely on NEWSWEEK and a lot of other "real" media outlets (cough *TIME*cough) fails to notice that in its obsession with being "relatable," mainstream journalism is losing track of the big picture. It doesn't report; it opines. It doesn't analyze; it gives lists like the stupidly precious one that Wheaton cites.

    Articles begin with four paragraphs of how the person discovered the issue or how it relates to hir life or, better yet, makes hir feel. The article continues with opinion, mentions the subject of the story, and ends with a catchy snapper of an ending that says nothing. When I hear or read "My journey began" or "I recall as a child" or some such thing, I say to myself "who cares what you think?" and turn the page or the NPR dial. (What I actually say is "Who gives a -- what you think?" but this is a family blog.)

    Opinions are cheap, and, like feelings,  I've got 'em, and so do you. If you don't know more than I do about something--and although there are well-informed journalists, sometimes it's clear that they don't have a clue--then spare me your opinion.

     I didn't realize how bad this had gotten or how much I wanted actual, you know, facts and context until I started to read THE ECONOMIST, which despite its political bent actually provides information beginning with the first paragraph. Bill Clinton's speech gave that kind of information, too.

     Why can't we have information instead of "Why Clinton won over Obama in the media" or "5 Ways Michele Obama Gets Fabulous Arms" or "How Random Person feels about an issue that he's never give five minutes worth of thought to" or "Random stupid quotation from a politician" or "Click through this slide show to see 10 political scandals"?

    Why does the media turn every issue  into some kind of gladiator sport with winners and losers?

    Why does an episode of THE DAILY SHOW contain more information in 22 minutes than an hour of cable news?

     I know: I'm not providing facts here, either. But this is a blog, not a news outlet, and I am not a journalist. To the journalists out there: we are hungry for this stuff, which is why we liked the Big Dog's speech. How about it?

    Wednesday, September 05, 2012

    New year, new start, new energy

    It's a time of new energy, and not just from taking a few minutes out to watch the Big Dog's inspiring nomination speech this evening.

    Even things that take time are energizing.

    We have some new administrators at Northern Clime, and there's a sense of hope and change. People are energized at meetings, and more gets accomplished at them since there's a clear direction.

    I volunteered for some committees and am--yes--excited about serving on them. Part of the reason for this is that I get to talk to colleagues about things I care about, and finding opportunities to talk to people is a pleasure after a summer of talking to the cats.

    I'm excited about the new course I'm teaching despite the extra time and reading that it takes, and I'm working on innovative ways to refresh and enliven the courses I've already taught.

    Dame Eleanor's writing group is energizing lots of us, myself included.

    And talk about energizing: the  Madwoman with a Laptop has a fabulous theory workbook plan for students that will make you rethink what you want to do for spring semester.

    Monday, September 03, 2012

    And Dickens had a writing house . . .

    or a writing chalet, to be exact. It was across the road from his house at Gad's Hill, and he got there via a specially dug tunnel underneath the road.

    Another writing house fantasy for your workday musings.

    (Image is from, and the Shedworking site, the second link, has lots of pictures of writing houses for the daydreaming academic.)

    And in honor of the day, and Dickens's championing of the disenfranchised, a little Pete Seeger ("Which Side Are You On?"): The version I know best is by The Weavers, but this is stirring, too.

    Sunday, September 02, 2012

    An accountability post for Dame Eleanor's writing group

    Over at Dame Eleanor's writing group, here's what I said I would do:

    --Main goal: finish two partially drafted chapters of the book manuscript. I have to write a couple of conference papers, too, but they are short and draw on some previously drafted work.

    Actual progress: dream that I went to the two conferences, which in the dream were held at the same time, and forgot to go to the session where I was presenting a paper.
    --This week: deck clearing, including the last few paragraphs of a chapter; polishing (references) for a piece that’s due, and looking at the overall picture.

     Actual progress: printing the book manuscript and seeing what's good, what's bad, and what's ugly. (Cue Clint Eastwood music here and also the image of a frazzled woman yelling questions about what to do next at an empty chair.)

    --I’m writing these in a notebook, too, to help keep myself accountable.
    Actual progress: Paralyzing indecision about what notebook to use. New Paperblanks one? Usual task notebook? Excel work record? Research journal in Word? What am I least likely to ignore?  That's a trick question: when the fit is upon me, I will ignore them all with equal aplomb. 

    For writing inspiration, I have Simon Callow's Charles Dickens's Great Theater of the World and Claire Tomalin's The Invisible Woman. This is no news to anyone, but Dickens was a walker--20 miles a night, maybe, or more (30 miles) if he got really steamed up about something. This is in addition to putting on  and acting in plays, editing Household Words (and other magazines), working on plans for Urania House with Angela Burdett-Coutts, visiting his usual haunts with Wilkie Collins or John Forster, and did I mention writing prodigious amounts of prose all morning and into the afternoon? The usual polite walk for visitors, says Callow, was a 3-hour walk at 4 miles an hour, after which guests would eat dinner, play shuttlecock, put on plays, dance into the wee hours, and gamely try to keep up with their host.  

    Question: If one walks as much as Dickens, or even half as much instead of 1/5 as much, might one write as much as Dickens?  Or might one fall over at the front of a classroom out of sheer exhaustion?