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Tuesday, August 7, 2018

As we near the start of the academic year, I've been reflecting on my summer. Some things of note:

Speaking of the press, two things of note:

  • We finally released the site redesign, after a full year of coding, writing, and revising it. Much of this work happened between and around teaching and research obligations—which means the evenings & the weekends. Statamic donated a license to the press, and we are grateful for that. There are still parts of the site that I plan on adding and changing, but it's a good start.
  • We also published three books this summer: Racial Shorthand, Making Future Matters, and Soundwriting Pedagogies. Like most academic projects, these were all years-in-the-making, so it's a pleasure to see them published and finding an audience.

Friday, July 6, 2018

My media diet for June 2018

Westworld. Sigh. This show. Season two seemed to strain against the simplicity of its Michael Crichton source, feeling like a high school philosophy primer wrapped in a sci-fi shell. This is also a show that is more puzzle than narrative, and it routinely commits my most hated storytelling move: deliberately withholding information from the viewer/reader in order to build suspense or set up a twist. None of this worked for me. There were a couple of episodes that functioned well as stand-alone stories, but otherwise this season seemed more interested in narrative trickery or puzzle-like stage setting. And, honestly, if I wanted a puzzle, I would play a video game. This might be the first HBO show in some time that I abandon. Grade: D

Exit West. A beautiful & harrowing novel that uses magical realism to consider our current moment. In Hamid's story, doors appear & offer immediate transit to other areas of the world. We follow two protagonists—Nadia and Saeed—as they move through those doors, searching for safety in a chaotic world. The story is powerful & poignant, and I particularly loved the book on a sentence level: Hamid crafts beautiful phrases and rich characters. Grade: A

Legion. Another fragmented narrative. I liked and disliked this show in equal parts, until a terrible, unforgivable final episode. This will be another TV show I abandon. Grade: F

Infomocracy/Null States. Older's Infomocracy, the first book in a series, is wonderful. She imagines a world where citizens participate in microdemocracies (instead of nation states): small groups of ideologically-aligned populations. Some are based on corporate sponsorship, others on interest, others on policy or values. Within this political context, Older tells a great spy story—a set up that reminds me of something like Neal Stephenson's Reamde. The second book (Null States) has an equally-compelling premise, but I liked it a bit less. Still, the series scratches my cyberpunk itch, and I'll be back for the third novel. Grade: B

A Series of Unfortunate Events. Given my critiques of Westworld and Legion, this show offered the playful & delightfully linear narrative that I wanted. Is it a kids show? Yeah. But does it offer a thoughtful approach to language and compassion and the aloofness of adults in an unsafe and often uncaring world? Yep. And right now, that kind of story is a welcome (and all too familiar) one. Grade: B+

Thursday, June 21, 2018

This year's student ebooks

I'm catching up on end-of-academic-year filing & storing and wanted to note that I've published the two ebooks produced by my 2017/18 Print & Digital Editing students. (Both book covers link to their respective pages in the iBooks store.)

Come Write Here Book Cover The Writer's Brew Book Cover

When I took over the editing course at Miami, I wanted to give students two experiences: Of editing, but also of being edited. In the second half of the course, each student contributes a short chapter for a class book, and then in groups the students collect those chapters and wrangle them into a cohesive whole. Each student then has the experience of making difficult editorial decisions (as an editor) but also of experiencing how their individually-written chapters change based on the editorial decisions of others.

At the end of the semester I upload the books to the iBooks store because I want that editorial work to have real stakes, and I want the students to have the opportunity to produce professional texts that can circulate beyond the classroom. (I wish I could post them to Amazon, but Amazon won't allow me to offer a book for free. Sigh.)

The Miami Professional Writing students have always taken great pride in this work, and each year their books are wonderful. This year's projects are no exception.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

My media diet for May 2018

The Americans. The best TV show in a decade worked its way to an appropriate ending—tense, understated, and heartbreaking. I tend to be a more careful observer of writing and directing than I am of acting, but Noah Emmerich was incredible, and his character pivoted in ways that I didn't see in the earlier seasons. Give that man an Emmy. As I watched the final episodes, I realized that there are few weekly/serial shows ready to fill its space. I applaud the Americans for its measured pace and slow consideration of work and family, and damn—I'll miss it. (Grade: A+)

Blackout/All Clear by Connie Willis. A friend recommended these novels to me, and although I don't have a particular interest in the period (World War II), I found Willis's depiction of the period to be absolutely captivating. I wanted a bit more of the sci fi to be foregrounded, but maybe I'll get that in Willis's other work, which I've now added to the (forever growing) reading list. I read All Clear in two days—I couldn't put it down. (A-)

Kindle Paperwhite. Speaking of books, I bought a Kindle Paperwhite—partially due to ailing eyes and a growing reading-on-screens aversion, and partially due to my love of Overdrive. The state of Ohio has a wonderful library system, and Overdrive's new Libby app makes it very easy to import books into the Paperwhite. I'm sure I'll still buy too many paper books, but right now the Paperwhite is really working for me. (A)

God of War. My interest in video games is waning, and I rarely play games to their conclusion anymore, but this one was a compelling exception. I was engrossed with the world-building and the development of the father/son relationship, and I spent a fair bit of time sailing around the world, looking for new mysteries and story threads. There's a lot of critical hype around this game, and I think it's well deserved. (A)

FC Cincinnati. Cincinnati now has a major league soccer team. Given how terrible the Reds are this season, should I pick up soccer as a second sport? If I get on at the ground level—depsite the hype—can I avoid being bandwagonesque? (Grade: Incomplete)

Saturday, May 5, 2018

My media diet for April 2018

Where did that month go? April is the worst month of the academic year, so my media diet was lighter than usual as work crept into everything. Still, a few highlights:

Homeland. For the past few seasons, I've been hate-watching Homeland. This would be a much stronger show if it they would make it exclusively a spy story, or if they would find a new protagonist, or if they would make the narrative less didactic. This recent season was one of the stronger ones, but only because there was plenty of popcorn-movie spy intrigue. Still, after each season, I often ask: Why am I still watching this? (Grade: D)

Peaky Blinders: The rest of it. The narrative picks up steam in the later seasons, but this show is best when it considers the cultural and personal damage caused by the first World War. It's less compelling when it falls into antihero tropes. Still, generally recommended. (Grade: B)

Fangraphs' Effectively Wild Podcast. This carried me through my many April commutes, and it's the right mix of nerdy and amateurish. Many episodes end with a series of hypothetical scenarios and story problems that are, I think, unique to baseball fandom. (Grade: A-)

Apple Magic Trackpad 2. Ok, not media, but I've given up on mice and adopted the trackpad lifestyle. I'm a believer. (Grade: A)

Better Touch Tool. Of course, the trackpad only works if you can hack together a series of swipes and taps and gestures. Better Touch Tool does all that and more. It's an incredible piece of software. (Grade: A)

The Cincinnati Reds. Still terrible. (Grade: F)

Saturday, April 7, 2018

My media diet for March 2018

Counterpart. I found this show via a Todd Vanderwerff recommendation at Vox, and it was a complete surprise—smart, captivating, and well written. If it weren't on Starz, I think it would occupy more space in the pop culture conversation. Perhaps it will show up on Netflix & gain an audience. Thus far, my favorite show of 2018. (Grade: A)

The Chi. A smart social critique wrapped in a terrible police procedural, where there's never any depth or doubt as to which police officer is good and bad. I couldn't see this show outside of The Wire's shadow, and I hope it picks up some of the Wire's nuance in season two. (B-)

Peaky Blinders: Season 1. Watched two episodes of this in February and dropped it for a bit. Came back in March and found that it really picks up in the latter half. The Irish accents are so thick that you might need to turn on closed captions, and that's ok. Like all great British shows, it's a short season—six episodes—and easy to watch. Looking forward to season two. (B+)

Kottke.org. I've intermittently read Kottke across the years, but in March I added his blog to Feedbin. I also stole his media diet format for this post, a variation of which I'd previously kept in a text file. Recommended. (A)

Feedbin. Speaking of Feedbin, I've been a user of the service since Google discontinued its RSS Reader. Feedbin recently added Twitter to the service, meaning I can follow specific accounts in my reader without venturing into the muck of Twitter. Highly Recommended. I would drop a lot of my other software subscriptions before I would consider dropping Feedbin. (A+)

The Cincinnati Reds. I followed a fair bit of Spring Training in March, and I don't have high hopes for this Cincinnati Reds rebuild. I am glad, however, that baseball is back. (Reds: D / Baseball: A)

March Madness. I cheered for Virginia Tech and the Cincinnati teams, and they all departed too quickly. But there were great underdog narratives, and a Philly team won it all. Not bad. (B)

Swift Programming: The Big Nerd Ranch Guide. I worked through this book during Spring Break, and it was a challenging & helpful introduction to Swift. Non-programmers would find the book helpful, but it requires a patient reader, as there's a lot of programmer jargon. (B+)

Mourning Doves. Two mourning doves are building a nest outside my office window. They fly—with a twig in beak—to the window ledge, wait for a few seconds, and then zip into the neighboring tree, where they seem to be constructing a rather flimsy base within the branches. They work incessantly from sunup until early afternoon, and they have access, it seems, to an endless number of twigs. In the evenings, one of them sits in the nest and watches the dog walkers going by. It's wonderful. (A+)

Monday, April 2, 2018

Piano Day, All Week

Nils Frahm's "Piano Day" aligns with the start of spring, and his annual playlist provides much of my working music for April. This year's playlist has nine hours of music, and it includes a number of my favorite contemporary composers (including Sophie Hutchings, Library Tapes, and Bruno Sanfilippo) as well as several new tracks from artists on the stellar 1631 Recordings. Listen, listen.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Manifold publishing

Today, University of Minnesota Press launched Manifold:

Manifold Scholarship is an open-source publishing platform that enables authors and publishers a means to showcase and enhance the electronic content they already produce in their existing workflows: texts are displayed in a responsive, elegant reader crafted for all modern browsers and devices—desktop and mobile.

I haven't had a chance to look through the source code yet, but Manifold appears to be built with Javascript, Node, & Ruby On Rails. If so, Manifold could be an incredible resource for academic publishing—assuming that presses can find (and afford) staff to deploy and maintain the software.

Thursday, March 29, 2018

Be More Kind

I'm looking forward to Frank Turner's upcoming album, Be More Kind, and this song—the title track—has offered me a bit of solace in an otherwise difficult political and cultural moment.

In my teaching, I often talk about generosity: Of assuming the best of others, of working toward shared goals, of valuing collaboration and service more than personal gain. But I think Frank Turner says it much more simply: "Be more kind, my friends, try to be more kind."

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Apple's Education Event

Michael Tsai has a nice roundup of responses to yesterday's Apple Education Event. Google is currently dominating the education sector, and I hoped that an Apple education event would signal a greater shift in strategy from Apple. It didn't.

Anecdotally, my campus uses Google Apps for Education, and many of my students have forgotten about Microsoft Office (to say nothing of iWork). They take notes in Keep, they store files in Drive, they make Google Presentations, and they write in Google Docs. And then there's Gmail. For many of my students, productivity "software" means Google.

I still have hopes that Apple might offer competition in this space. I would love to see more students exploring Swift Playgrounds or writing iOS Workflows or experimenting with AppleScript. There's also space for growth in open textbooks, and the EPUB format offers an accessible point of entry into markup and experimentation.

For example, imagine if Apple put more effort into iBooks and iBooks Author—if they developed the apps more rapidly, provided more tutorials for educators, or just simply marketed the software. I can picture an alternate future where more professors write course textbooks or compile course packs in the EPUB format. Today, higher education is mired in PDFs, and aside from a few textbook vendors, few people are pushing against that. Which is a shame—EPUB offers all the benefits of HTML (reflowable, scalable text) in a form that students can easily download and keep.

Instead, I see Google—not Apple—driving education technology, and their vision is one of server-based consumer apps. Until Apple can offer a lower price for entry, or offer a meaningful competitive difference, I don't see much changing in ed tech.

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Tending the digital commons

This morning, two excerpts from Alan Jacobs' "Tending the digital commons" resonate with me. Jacobs writes:

It is common to refer to universally popular social media sites like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Pinterest as “walled gardens.” But they are not gardens; they are walled industrial sites, within which users, for no financial compensation, produce data which the owners of the factories sift and then sell. Some of these factories (Twitter, Tumblr, and more recently Instagram) have transparent walls, by which I mean that you need an account to post anything but can view what has been posted on the open Web; others (Facebook, Snapchat) keep their walls mostly or wholly opaque. But they all exercise the same disciplinary control over those who create or share content on their domain.

and

To teach children how to own their own domains and make their own websites might seem a small thing. In many cases it will be a small thing. Yet it serves as a reminder that the online world does not merely exist, but is built, and built to meet the desires of certain very powerful people—but could be built differently. Given the importance of online experience to most of us, and the great likelihood that its importance will only increase over time, training young people to do some building themselves can be a powerful counterspell to the one pronounced by Zuckerberg, who says that the walls of our social world are crumbling and only Facebook’s walls can replace them. We can live elsewhere and otherwise, and children should know that, and know it as early as possible. This is one of the ways in which we can exercise “the imperative of responsibility,” and to represent the future in the present.

For the whole of my teaching career, I have privileged a focus on web & HTML-related standards and technologies. I believe in the power of learning to produce and circulate your own digital texts. I'm quick to acknowledge these tools aren't the digital panacea they were once thought to be, but I think they serve an important role in the world of a writer—and in our culture broadly.

I don't think we can fix the world with personal domains and text editors, but I do think they offer us a way out of the advertising-driven and aggressively polemical spaces of contemporary social media.

Like Jacobs, I believe in small things that can help us reimagine the bigger ones.


Link: "Tending the Digital Commons: A Small Ethics toward the Future" from The Hedgehog Review, Vol. 20, No. 1.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Jekyll websites and blog subdirectories

This site is using a single Jekyll installation for a static portfolio website and a blog. I wanted the blog in a /blog subdirectory with its own HTML layout & stylesheet, so I added the following files to my Jekyll installation:

├── _layouts
|   └── blog.html # HTML template for blog
|   └── blog-archive.html # HTML template for the blog archive
├── blog
|   └── index.html # jekyll loop for main blog page
|   └── archive.html # jekyll loop blog archive
├── css
|   └── blog.css # blog style sheet

Here's the breakdown:

  • _layouts/blog.html: contains the markup for the blog's homepage.
  • _layouts/blog-archive.html: contains the markup for the blog's archive page
  • blog/index.html: contains the jekyll loop for the main blog page. It should include YAML metadata at the top that specifies layout: blog. When you run jekyll build from the terminal, Jekyll will import the contents of this blog folder into the generated site, so the folder needs to be titled "blog" and this file needs to be named "index.html"
  • blog/archive.html: same as above, but this is the archive loop. It gets a layout: blog-archive YAML entry, which will wrap it in the contents of "_layouts/blog-archive.html".
  • css/blog.css: The blog has its own CSS file so I can easily tinker with the design. (This is called in the /_layouts files.) I could've instead added the blog's styles to the site's main .sass file, but I found it easier to just work with standalone css.

Finally, you'll need a couple of YAML values in _config.yml for permalinks and pagination. Here's what I'm using:

permalink: "/blog/:categories/:year/:month/:day/:title.html"
paginate: 20
paginate_path: "/blog/page:num/"
plugins: [jekyll-paginate]

I pulled all this from several different blog tutorials (thank you, generous Jekyll bloggers!) and the Jekyll docs. This setup makes much more sense in context, so if you're trying to do the same, you might find it helpful to look at the this site's source code on Github.

The Last Snowstorm of the Year

It's March 24th, past the start of Spring, and Cincinnati is waiting for several inches of snow today. Me, I'm listening to Hippo Campus's excellent cover of Low's "Last Snowstorm of the Year":

Friday, March 23, 2018

Old Blog, Meet New Blog

I'm moving all of my new blog posts to this url (/blog) so that I can maintain my personal website and a simple blog with a single Jekyll installation. Here's hoping it motivates me to stay on top of things. I still see a fair number of hits to my old posts, so I'm keeping the old blog intact and archived at the blog.timlockridge.com subdomain.