Monthly Archives: March 2010

Starring You!

Sometime this summer, I anticipate putting together some comics-based study guides for my students — things such as “What should I write an essay about?”, “How do I get my bibliography right?”, “I dunno where to find research sources”, “What makes some research sources good and some sources un-good?”, “How should I put my essay together?”, and so on.
Since I can’t draw a lick (or a human face, for that matter), I’m relying on artificial means for populating these comics. I’ve made a pixellated “Diesel Sweeties”-style image of myself, for a start. But it’s not all about me; I need more toons to include in the effort. (Of course, in a perfect world, a real comics artist would want to collaborate on this, but we know that this world falls far short of perfection).
So this is my offer: make a toon version of yourself (or someone else, for all I care), or even draw-and-scan a picture of yourself, and send it to me (at my address, akm.adam@ ). I’ll drop it into my “Useful for comics” folder with your name on it. When I do get around to making the comic, I’ll select some of my friends to appear in the instructional comics. Make sure nothing therein is covered by copyright, please! I’ll acknowledge and thank everyone who appears in a particular comic, unless you prefer to remain anonymous.
Important Caveat: This may entail your toon’s asking questions, or raising objections, or venturing opinions that the real you wouldn’t. While I will try to maintain character as well as I know your character, these will nonetheless be works of fiction, so I’m not at fault if your toon turns out to be dumber than you, more impious or holier than you, or in some other way an inaccurate representation of you. Don’t participate if you don’t trust me.
Here are some online sites that offer character-creation possibilities. If you want to recommend some other, just put it in the comments.
Simpsons Avatar Creator (via the Simpsons movie site)
Mad Men character creator
South Park avatar creator
• New York Zoos and Aquarium Build Your Wild Self (with furry options)
• The Famous Historic Mini-mizer Lego character creator
Manga avatar creator
Suitable-for-Mii avatar editor
“Portrait Illustration Maker”
BeFunky online photo modification
BitStrips character creator
This could be your big break!

Tech Imitates Art

Just a couple of weeks after House featured an episode about a blogger who sought the wisdom of the crowd to help diagnose her extraordinary affliction, a nonfictional internet leader — the brilliant Jonathan Zittraincame down with mysterious symptoms that his doctors were unable to diagnose. Carefully, guardedly, with the cooperation of his doctors, Zittrain let out on the Net a description of his circumstances and symptoms, and in a matter of hours, his online consultants had tracked down an obscure article that seemed to identify his own health problems.
Now, Zittrain takes pains to underscore his doctors’ excellence, and the fact that they were zeroing in on the same diagnosis on the basis of extensive testing (unlike the testing on House, which the doctors themselves perform and which yields results in minutes). But still — that internet is some amazing stuff.

I Didn’t Think…

I didn’t think I wanted, or would ever want, to get a version of Rock Band, but this note from Jonathan Coulton makes the whole enterprise sound a lot more entertaining than just “learn how to mime fourteen songs according to certain (arbitrary) rules.” Not only do I like the sound of getting a much wider range of music into the system, but I also suspect that this indicates the kind of network that makes possible a great many more innovative, exciting possibilities.

My Twenty-Four Hours

I suppose I have to admit it. Last night was Rose’s birthday party — her first thirtieth birthday — and I wanted to be a good colleague, socialize, see the gang, and all. But as the time to leave for the party arrived, I realized that I had to check the email Rose sent me again to find the address. Alas, Rose had sent her mail to me at my U of G email address, and the mail server was down; I couldn’t retrieve the message from the server. After hitting “Reload” repeatedly, just in case, and looking in several files where I knew it wouldn’t be, I determined that it was time to take action. I knew the street she lived on, so I could just go and wait till someone I knew headed in.
By now I was about a half-hour late, so I look around and, at the last minute, thought I’d check my calendar to see if I had copied the address to it. Ah! I had, and I could have saved fifteen or twenty minutes by just checking there immediately. I grabbed the bottle I was taking and sprinted out the door. In fact, I jogged or sprinted much of the way over to Rose’s (and David’s; he does live there, too). I drew up at their street, and began looking up and down for their number. I sprinted out so fast that I forgot to take my phone with me. Oh, well.
As it turns out, their street has both odd and even numbers on the same side for the first block (the other side of the street has no street-address entrances). I headed down to the next block, and since one side of the street is occupied by a block-filling school building, I figured that the numbers would all go down the same side on this block too. But (as John Belushi said), No-o-o-o-o-o-o.There were no odd numbers in that block at all, despite the fact that I thought Rose’s house was an odd number that belonged smack in the middle of the sequence for this block. And I doubted that Rose lived in the high school.
I was staring intently at the doors and numbers, thinking that perhaps Rose occupies an entryway like Platform 9 3/4 Kings Cross Station. Was there a tiny crack between these two houses, where her number should be? Maybe I scrambled the numbers, and it would be in the higher-number block I just passed?
As I was trying to guess the magic words to reveal Rose’s doorway, I was passed by a familiar-looking couple who were also holding wine bottles. I kept an eye on them as they walked past me (to the higher numbers, where I had just been), but it looked to me as though they were lost, too. I approached them — “Sorry, but are you looking for Rose and David’s flat, too?” And it was Laura and Tom whom we had met at a party at Ben and Richard’s flat in January, and yes, they were looking too. To my great relief, Laura remembered the number as the same as what I had thought.
After a while, we drifted down the hill, to the block that would have lower numbers than Roses’s, and sure enough, their flat was in the block beyond where the other side’s numbers had already passed it (if you see what I mean).
Once having gotten there, I had a delightful evening, sipped a wee bit of wine, fended off whisky, and headed home at a quite reasonable hour so that I’d be well-rested for church this morning. As I passed through the revelers in Ashton Lane and strode steadily up to the entry of my building, I reached in my pocket and pulled out — my office keys. I had locked myself out of my own apartment. I spent about twenty minutes standing around the front door, hoping that someone would come in and I could at least look reproachfully at my door to see whether guilt would make it admit me. This tactic was foiled, however, by the fact that no one was coming in or going out (the residents of my building keep very sensible hours). I didn’t want to buzz anyone and wake them up, especially since I didn’t have the key to my flat’s door, so I just stood outside and looked glum.
After not too much glum-looking, I reasoned that a warm, indoor office chair with internet access beat a chilly concrete offline front step any time, so I walked back to my office and stumbled up the steps to my pedagogical aerie. There I checked in with Margaret, and looked around for the appurtenances that would make the night more restful than trying to sleep on a bed of nails. In the end, I rotated among sleeping sitting up with my feet on a chair, sleeping sitting down with my head in my arms on my table, and sleeping sitting down with my head on a pillow borrowed from the kitchen-lounge. Woke up about 5:30, fit to. . . go back asleep. Unfortunately, that was not to be.
I took some time to wake up and have a cup of tea , then struck out for church; I went to the early service so that (a) my slept-in clothes wouldn’t be noticed by as many people, and (b) I could get back to the flat to wait for any locksmith I might call after church, and greet him cheerily.
Kelvin, bless him, showed me a neighbourhood locksmith near the cathedral, but his shop was closed for Sunday. Kelvin spotted another locksmith in the Yellow Pages, but it turned out that he, too, observed the Lord’s Day (or was sleeping off a hangover, or preparing for watching Six Nations rugby all day, or something). Eventually I tracked down a locksmith in my neighbourhood, but his son — who was supposed to be manning the mobile — wasn’t picking up when I called. I tried for a couple of hours, then two and a half, and finally got through to him at about 12:30 — met him at the flat at about 1:15, and have been snug inside since then, but too awake to nap, too groggy to be productive or useful.
Tomorrow I set off for Durham to talk with their biblical students about postmodernity, the underdetermination of meaning, and the problems with trying to use the term “literal.” I will sleep a lot before I leave.

Catch-Up Stromateis

Scott McCloud pointed to the very ingenious music video by Hold Your Horses for their single “70 Million.” He likewise pointed to a Spanish post that identifies all the references. Relative to both of these, I thought that he appositely observed that the video can have its effect even if you don’t recognise each visual reference, that the power of a certain tacit recognition works its effect apart from conscious awareness — but wither he changed the post, or I misremembered it. Either way, it’s what I think about (visual, verbal, auditory, gustatory) allusion, whether McCloud does or not.
Grace Baptist College has proudly declared that it will no longer teach its Bible students to read the Bible i the original languages. Not only is there no need, since God has provided the King James Version, but “[w]e believe Greek study has been and will continue to be the downfall of Protestant Fundamentalism.” I entirely support their conclusion, and if they want to take steps to prevent that — including not encouraging their students to read the Bible in any language other than Jacobean English — then bless their hearts, they should go right ahead.
• I do still expect someday to comment on polyamory, but this may be all the argument you need to the effect that polyamory is wrong.
• I know I have more backed-up tabs awaiting being blogged, but they must be on my browser at work. I am sure they are quite urgent, and I feel very strongly about them — whatever they are.

Preso Readified

I compiled the slide presentation for tomorrow; I’m much happier with it as a slide presentation than I was with it as a lecture-plus-handout. (I think that the slide presentation may have boosted the seminar’s receptivity to my talk at the Theology, Literature, and the Arts gathering a couple of weeks ago, too.) Anyway, now I have to get my sleep, make my way to Ediburgh/Waverly, Leuchars, and then St Andrews, give the presentation, and stumble back here in time to wake up Friday and give my lecture on 1 Peter. Will blog about the day once I return.

Two Points Of Academic Pertinence

I’m going over to St Andrew’s on Thursday to try to undermine the foundations of Western Civilisation (as usual) with my presentation on “René Magritte, Krazy Kat, and Biblical Hermeneutics.” I’m coming off a couple of warmly-received presentations (one was exceptionally encouraging, thank you all very much), but my stuff is sufficiently counter-intuitive for most people in my field that I don’t take anything for granted. I’m going over “Krazy Kat” to try to disarm the most prominent possible stumbling-blocks, and to make explicit some of the more helpful-positive dimensions of the project. I think I’ll be able to give it (for the first time ever) as a slide presentation, which will enhance it considerably; the colour images from Magritte, the photographs of George Herriman, the capacity to enlarge and focus on single frames from the Krazy Kat comics all stand to strengthen my case. This (first point) is an argument that really does derive much of its force from non-verbal argumentation. That shouldn’t be surprising, it doesn’t surprise me, but I don’t assume that peers in my field will receive non-verbal rhetoric as positively.
Second point: I have found my exposition of how we communicate in the absence of subsistent meaning to make particularly specific use of the phenomenon of expressive/inferential miscarriage; sometimes our ventures in expression miscarry, and sometimes our interpretations do. But (and many of you will already be jumping on this, honest, I’m aware, it’s what I’m about to ask about) the verb and noun in question carry such monumental resonance for people who have experienced the loss of a pregnancy — especially, of course, women who have themselves been through that heartbreak — that this distinctively useful word-pair brings with it very powerful negative coloration.
When I lectured this morning on the aftermath of the Pauline tradition — a chapter that Bart Ehrman (boldly) entitles “Does the Tradition Miscarry?” — I avoided the use of the verb by substituting the wordier (and less precise) phrase, “go off the rails.” That provides an adequate alternative in this particular context, but I don’t think it works as well for a mismatch in expression and apprehension of meaning. So if you will grant me, for just these few moments, the premise that the word(s) that I really want are precisely the words that I ought not use, can you, dear readers, provide an alternative that gets as close as possible to “miscarry” without invoking that very tender, painful experience?
The semi-official answers include “fail,” “misfire,” “fall through,” “go astray,” “go wrong,” “founder” — but none of these sounds right to me. Some lack a functional noun form (“the going-wrong of an interpretation”?), and others don’t convey the sense of a venture begun with promise and particular intentions, which arrives at a different, unplanned, undesired conclusion. Now, even if no other word would function as well in that dimension of my rhetoric, I still don’t want to deploy an unwelcome (if precisely apposite) word; I just don’t see what would be my best alternative. So I’m probing that wound as I put together the slide show and mark the transition cues.

Public Theology

Not only did I (reluctantly) wave goodbye to Margaret at 4 AM this morning, but I’ve also spent much of the day at sessions of a conference on Public Theology that my admirable colleague Julie Clague has organised. The papers have been very provocative — enough to keep even this drowsy listener awake (though Julie made it easier for me by assigning me to preside at the first morning session). I’d like to point you to an agenda and papers, but it’s not online. It’s worth asking around about, though.

Makes A Difference

Leigh Reyes, whom I encountered online through fountain pen circles, made a video demonstrating the differences between ballpoint-writing and fountain-pen writing.

And much as I cherish the capacities of the computers on which I rely, the same point — “with fountain pens, it’s very different” — applies as well. The muscles you use, and how you use them; the practical aesthetics of writing; the sense of engagement with the writing that results; all of these matter differently when you’re writing with a fountain pen.
Ballpoints may be better for some (it’s hard for me to imagine, but I concede the point right away because I don’t care to argue about it), but a number of us think that the bother of dealing with fountain pens rewards us amply. Think of it as “heirloom writing,” compabrable to heirloom gardening; or as scribecraft, as woodworking or metallurgy. It is wrighting, and we find that fountain pens are the tool for this job.