Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Crooked Timber: Graduate Students and Technology

Here’s some suggestions for skills graduate students should have.

* How to use Powerpoint in lectures
* How to manage a large course website, including interactive features
* How to setup maintain a large database for administrative tasks

And by ‘skills’ here I don’t mean the basic ability to do these things without looking really stupid, but the ability to efficiently integrate them into your daily routine when they are needed. Future faculty who can do these things will be better academics. At the very least they will be better teachers and better at running things like job searches and graduate admissions, and of course they can do much more than that. If the academic job search market were efficient, these skills would be rewarded. Even in the real world, departments would be doing the profession a service by turning out colleagues-to-be with these technical skills. Books | The Salon Interview: Neal Stephenson: "I had been reading all these accounts by other writers about how they produced their magnum opus and they all followed something I'll call the distillation narrative. Which was: 'I sat down and wrote a manuscript that was a foot thick and it had some good stuff in it, but it was too long. So I rolled up my sleeves and went to work and edited. Toiled. I cut and scraped. I hacked. I shortened and rearranged and got it down to six inches, but it still wasn't good enough. So I went back and yada yada yada. And eventually I wound up with this trim little manuscript that had all the good parts in it.'

That was a reassuring theory of how to write because it didn't require you to sit down every day and turn out good material. Instead it required you to sit down for eight hours a day and produce a huge volume of material and hope that there was something good in it. Then you'd go back later and cut out all the crap. Whatever works, but it failed for me, and it failed kind of expensively in the sense that I spent two or three years on that and produced a miserable, incoherent pile and sort of ruined a decent enough idea. I ended up feeling very anxious when I got to the end of the process and came to terms with the fact that this was not a publishable book. Then I panicked and wrote another book very quickly that got almost immediately accepted for publication and that was 'Zodiac.'

How did you change your writing process after that?

I did figure out that I tended to write good stuff first thing in the morning. So I had all this free time in the rest of the day that I had to occupy with something other than writing. Because if I sat and wrote, I'd just bury the good stuff I'd written in crap and have to excavate it later. I did some construction work with a friend of mine. Basically the work habit I developed out of all that was of setting things up so I could write in the morning and then stop and exercise my penchant for getting into the nitty-gritty details of physical things. Not because that was productive in any way but because it kept me from screwing up whatever I happened to be writing. I tried to pattern things that way ever since. That's worked fairly well."

Q: How does the writing process work for you?

A: A good deal of the work that I do takes place in the background, which is a computer-ese way of putting it. It is a process that runs quietly at an unconscious level while I am doing other things and that goes on 24 hours a day.

The actual putting of words on paper might come out to 2-3 hours a day. I’ve found that from long experience that the best way to facilitate that process is to do that 2-3 hours of putting words on paper then stop and do something as completely different from writing as I possibly can. Specifically, to get it off my conscious mind. That can be just about anything. For me, what works is doing something of a practical nature. Playing around with technology is a convenient choice because I know how to do it and I can get the stuff I need pretty easily. Anything to get the hands busy and take the mind off the actual work in progress.

Tuesday, April 20, 2004

gladwell dot com / The Sports Taboo: "Or consider, in a completely different realm, the problem of hypertension. Black Americans have a higher incidence of hypertension than white Americans, even after you control for every conceivable variable, including income, diet, and weight, so it's tempting to conclude that there is something about being of African descent that makes blacks prone to hypertension. But it turns out that although some Caribbean countries have a problem with hypertension, others-Jamaica, St. Kitts, and the Bahamas-don't. It also turns out that people in Liberia and Nigeria-two countries where many New World slaves came from-have similar and perhaps even lower blood-pressure rates than white North Americans, while studies of Zulus, Indians, and whites in Durban, South Africa, showed that urban white males had the highest hypertension rates and urban white females had the lowest. So it's likely that the disease has nothing at all to do with Africanness."
Idle Words: "Attendees really did want to hear new perspectives and look at the Big Picture, whatever that is, but at the same time everybody in the room had succeeded by being relentless, detail-oriented, highly focused and keeping a close eye on the bottom line. This made for a certain impedance mismatch between the lofty topics and the actual discussion - witness an earnest panel on the transformative power of grassroots politics conducted in front of an audience of major political donors, or a panel on new frontiers in search technology with an almost fetishistic focus on the design and operation of travel sites."

Friday, April 16, 2004


Hillary wants to be on the VP ticket so that she dispels the notion that the Clintons are sabotaging the campaign and so that she can also go out there and really be the star. She'd be the star because she'll be the one bringing excitement to it. And, by the way, she'll get all kinds of criticism and the Republicans will launch all they've got at her, and she'll endure that. They know that they're pretty confident Kerry is going to lose and if Kerry wins there's always Fort Marcy Park.

--radio transcript from

(Fort Marcy Park, for those of you who don't know, is where the body of Vincent Foster was found after he committed suicide -- or, rather, as most of Rush's listeners will tell you, was murdered.)"

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Ectoplasmic GoodnessEctoplasmic GoodnessI'm posting this using Ecto, a nifty blogging tool. Not sure if it works with multiple blogs inside one account.

Monday, April 12, 2004

Music Theory--condensed.Ask MetaFilter | Community Weblog:

"Here is the basic idea in a nutshell. Certain patterns and combinations of notes sound nice together, or make certain effects -- we call these scales and chords. Certain combinations of scales and certain combinations of chords sound better than others -- we call this harmony. For instance, combine certain chords together, and you get music that sounds sad -- we'll call this minor harmony. And if you combine certain other chords together, you get music that sounds kinda happy -- we'll call this major harmony."

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Google Search:: "I did use Enada (NADH) for about six months. As a go-with for your No-Doz,
it's perfect and could allow you to cut the caffeine dose in half.

Warning: Read all the stuff about NAD/NADH balance and don't use it
everyday. I found it excruciating to quit, much worse than quitting
Reason: Free Play: The politics of the video game: "Asheron?s Call 2, Microsoft?s online fantasy game, boasts a new kind of realism: 'an economy of, by, and for the players.' And it?s not alone: Many Internet-based games now facilitate market economies, political factions, and even elections. Player groups, often called clans or guilds, have emerged as popular tools for protection, cooperative adventuring, and simple bloodsport. And while game developers are now doing what they can to support those online clans, their efforts often have been a matter of catching up with what players already were arranging on their own.
Like movies, novels, and plays before them, computer games have discovered politics. Even the pure, plot-driven action that remains often comes attached to heavily politicized back-stories. Take a stroll down the game aisle:"

Friday, April 09, 2004

Yahoo! News - USDA Won't Allow Independent Testing for Mad Cow: "The USDA rejected a request by Creekstone Farms Premium Beef to allow 100 percent testing for the brain-wasting disease, a step the privately owned company deemed necessary to resume trade with Japan.

'The use of the test as proposed by Creekstone would have implied a consumer safety aspect that is not scientifically warranted,' said USDA Undersecretary Bill Hawks in a statement."

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Google Search: russell cook idaho: "Russell E Cook, (208) 883-4718, 4325 Lenville Rd, Moscow, ID 83843"
The final copies are still warm from the printer: "I just got my second reader to sign off on my dissertation and then I printed the final copies on the very special paper. I made an appointment with the Keeper of Papers to turn it all in at 3pm. I am almost done with It forever.

I'm not sure yet how I feel about being phinished. I can tell you I've been laughing and smiling a lot more over the last week and a half. But the dissertation has been the organizing principle of my life for so long, I'm not sure what I'll do without it. Even when I was fiercely avoiding working on my dissertation it was still the focus of my life.

Someone asked me the other day what I like to do when I'm not working. I didn't know the answer. I lost myself to the dissertation somewhere along the way and I had to pass through a a long tunnel of darkness. Now that I'm back in the light, I wonder if I'm still all here.

But, yes, I feel complete. I feel whole. I feel wonderful, actually. And I'm excited to start to relearn what I like to do and who I want to be."
Social Networking Tools Applied to Scientific Topics: " 'Today, almost all of us access knowledge in ways vastly different from those used for hundreds of years,' Shiffrin said. 'The traditional method involved books, reference works and physical materials on library shelves, most of which had been verified for accuracy by one or another authority. Now, we sit at computers and cast our net into a sea of information, much of which is inaccurate or misleading.'

This explains why most of the authors turned to software to map scientific knowledge. Here is an example.

In , Mark Newman showed that clusters in social networks can also be used to map scientific communities. A scientist may or may not be six degrees from Kevin Bacon, but Newman showed that scientists were about six coauthors away from any other scientist."

Wednesday, April 07, 2004

ClearPlay - What is ClearPlay?: "Will I notice the impact of ClearPlay on the viewing?
Yes, due to the story nature of some movies, and because ClearPlay only uses legal methods to control the DVD decoding, you will notice some of the ClearPlay skips and mutes. However, most subscribers quickly become accustomed to them and find them much less interruptive than the language, nudity or graphic violence that has been removed. "
Hard Coded MoralityDVD player to edit movies / Technology allows viewer to bypass offensive content:

"Wal-Mart and Kmart, two of the nation's biggest retailers, are planning to sell a new DVD player that includes a technology that has riled Hollywood -- a controversial program that can automatically skip sexual content, graphically violent scenes and language deemed offensive."
Tog Takes on Mac OS X 10.3
AskTog: Make Your Mac a Monster Machine: "Make Your Mac a Monster Machine"

For you macheads. This article emphasizes usability and interface design, as applied to an operating system rather than a document.

Friday, April 02, 2004

long_lannon_techcomm_9|Hot Topics|Ethics in Technical Communication|Copyleft and the Open Source Movement: "Ethics in Technical Communication
Copyleft and the Open Source Movement"
Kairosnews | A Weblog for Discussing Rhetoric, Technology and Pedagogy:

"Twentieth Century Ferret Pictures announced today that it will begin suing children 2-6 years old for creating unauthorized derivative works of its popular 'Bernard the Talking Dinosaur' television show. Children, the studio claims, often blink, babble or sing while watching the show.

'This is a clear violation of our exclusive rights over the show's performance,' said Wade Aminute, spokesman for Ferret. 'Closing your eyes during the broadcast, even for a moment, materially modifies the sequence of images that will be seared into one's brain for eternity. Not to mention that it interferes with our subliminal product placements. We cannot allow such intrusions upon the sanctity of our creative works.'

Ferret says it expects most children will settle the suits for between three lollipops and their rock collection."
ISO 690-2, Bibliographic references to electronic documents: "ISO 690-2
Information and documentation -- Bibliographic references --
Part 2: Electronic documents or parts thereof"
Documenting Electronic Sources: "Resources for Documenting Electronic Sources"
Drew Curtis'

"More bomb-grande Uranium found in Iran. In other news, President Bush blames invasion of Iraq on typographical error"
Wired News: Electronic Snoops Tackle Copiers: "New markets are finally opening up for plagiarism-detection software, a mainstay of academia that has struggled to expand its reach beyond term papers.

The scandal-plagued newspaper industry is considering whether to adopt the technology to crack down on copycats, while the New York Police Department is testing it as an investigative tool.

But experts say the biggest potential market might be the publishing industry, which one day may find itself coping with the same kind of piracy that bedevils movie makers and music producers.

Some law firms are already using one type of technology 'to essentially troll the Internet for the next Stephen Ambrose,' said plagiarism-detection software developer John Barrie, referring to the late historian accused of peppering his bestsellers with snippets stolen from other people's work."