Monthly Archives: June 2010

And Another Thing

Paul Raven over at Futurismic notes the complicating factor that live-streaming video entails when the camera/viewer looks at copyrighted material. As digital video encounters a greater and greater proportion of the experienced world — including books, telecasts, sports events, concerts, stageplays — then copyright and transmission restrictions will face greater and greater pressure to give way. Will we really ask that theatres install video-disabling jammers, that all digital video appliances include compliant kill-switch receivers, and that customers and the legal system bear the burden of perpetuating an anachronistic technological regime for the benefit of copyright holders? And what happens when you want to take perfectly legitimate video footage of your family just outside Ibrox (where anti-video transmissions would be on to prevent Rangers fans from watching football through their chums’ video specs)?
 
May we please be governed by policies that look forward, rather than lumbered by policies designed to deny the reality of the present and command the tide of the future to retreat?
 

Waste Time? Me?

(Grrrr — a WordPress problem made me lose the post I’m about to rewrite here. Grrrrr.)
 
As if there weren’t enough means for online self-hypnosis, Suw pointed to a site which has mashed up Google Maps with the Transport for London data APIs. It produces, as a result, a map that shows real-time representation of where each train is on each line of the London Underground. You could sit there and watch King’s Cross or Oxford Circus for ages.
 
Entertaining as this is, it affords only a glimmer of the blazing light that will rise over the horizon when more APIs make usefully available more sorts of data. The mapmaker notes that a version for (above-ground) trains would be welcome, but we can all think of zillions of comparable services we’d like to be able to check on from home or from our mobile devices.
 
On a related note (trust me for the “related” part if it’s not obvious), the Guardina posts an interview with Graham Linehan, the writer/director responsible for Father Ted and The IT Crowd, as part of the run-up to the eagerly-awaited fourth season of The IT Crowd. Linehan notes that he understands people who download his shows, and although he wants them to cooperate with the means by which he earns network support to make the show, the networks positively obstruct people from enjoying his work (rather than making it easy to obtain legit copies for a reasonable price). “[T]he current system is broken and everybody is pretending that it’s not. Can’t we talk about this and try and come up with something that is good for everyone?”
 
We ought to be able to — but the publishing/distribution industry has opted not to embrace the near-zero-cost dimension of online reproduction and transmission, and instead to try to preserve the pre-digital economy of restricted reproduction and transmission. In so doing, they move from circumstances in which the impediments to copying are, generally, implied by the material conditions that limited copying (which limitations were thus, in effect, cost-free) to circumstances in which the impediments to copying derive entirely from extrinsic agencies. So when you bought a hardback copy of Moby Dick, you were paying hardly anything for the publishers’ copy-protection; they didn’t need much copy-protection, since the cost and labour of copying it out longhand, or re-typing it, or even photocopying it, amounted to more than the cost of buying a legit version. When you buy a DVD of The Hurt Locker, though, you’re paying for for all the copy-protection infrastructure that the publisher/distributors have decided to deploy in order to impede your doing something that is, in the current technological environment, utterly brain-dead simple. You’re paying for the DVD maker to license and install copy-protection software on the disk; you’re paying for the law firms who research, prosecute, and negotiate settlements; you’re paying for the generous lobbying and political contributions that the industry makes to shore up its increasingly unpopular tactics; you’re paying for ISPs to sniff and regulate (or shut off) your broadband traffic (thank heaven they never make mistakes, nor ever let private information fall into the wrong hands!); you’re paying for their PR campaigns that feature the sort of annoying and unpersuasive “public service announcements” that clog up DVDs and delay the main feature at theatres; and you’re paying for still more devices and services all of which serve only to make your honestly-purchased DVD (or CD) less useful. “Say, wouldja tack on an extra ten percent so that I can’t make copies of this, please?”
 
Homework assignment: Estimate how effective all these measures are at preventing informed would-be copier/sharers from copying and sharing. Estimate the savings to customers (or the direct benefits to performers) if one were to eliminate the cost of ineffective impediments, or were to direct those sums to performers in proportion to the sales of their recordings. Essay question: Is this a better, more economically sound way of ordering public and mercantile life?
 
Linehan, to his credit, recognises that this is not a sustainable business model. It cannot last; it can’t. You can’t keep charging (and criminalising) customers indefinitely to sustain artificial scarcity and limitations. Someone put Linehan in charge of some media corp, soon, please.
 

Life of the World To Come — The Movie

I’ve promoted live performance video of The Mountain Goats before (and see also this), but if you’d rather hear only material from the most recent album, and you don’t want to hear the full band (terrific as Peter and Jon (and occasionally Perry) are) — or you just couldn’t get hold of the marvellously-produced DVD package — you may want to check out Pitchfork’s limited-time free online presentation of The Life of the World to Come (the movie). John Darnielle, mostly solo, with Rachel Ware, performs the songs from the album plus the non-album bonus track “Enoch 18:14” (named after the Bible, built around a quotation from the video game Odin Sphere).
 
Watch out for a voyeuristic peek into John’s sadness when he performs “Matthew 25:21” (about his mother-in-law’s death) and begins to weep. Or look aside, politely allowing him his grief.
 

Hoopoe

… I Can’t Breathe

Well, Monday and Tuesday were whirlwindish. I had a rehearsal for our West End Festival read-through of the AV/KJV St John’s Gospel — all the way through, seven voices, a lot of standing up and not fidgeting (those of you who have heard me lecture can imagine how hard it is for me to not use my hands and not move around. I think Kevin assigned me to the pulpit specifically to limit my freedom of movement). Then the “Re-Writing the Bible” conference took up the rest of Monday and most of Tuesday (except another rehearsal of St John). Wonderful friend Dr Kate Blanchard was visiting from Alma College and giving a presentation at the conference, so I spent a certain amount of time explaining and showing her how marvellous Glasgow is. When I heard that Kate has a book coming out called The Protestant Ethic or the Spirit of Capitalism, so she was pleased to see our great former student and long-time professor Adam Smith (who evidently thought much more highly of Scottish universities than of what he found at Oxford).
 

Adam Smith Blesses Kate

 
I had a paper Tuesday morning, an abbreviated version of my article on The Mountain Goats and biblical interpretation, and I think it went well. I’d have liked to play more music for the session, but there was only so much time. (The title of this post comes from one of the songs on which I was commenting. I’m not suffocating, honest.)
 
Yesterday I saw Kate to the connection point with her sister, then headed back to campus. I had a huge backlog of email — I still do, just not quite as huge — and I polished up the final version of my Mountain Goats article. Then it was time to attend the Bloomsday concert from which yesterday’s photo came.
 
Today was “intrigue the potential undergraduate Theology/Religious Studies students” day, so a few colleagues and I sat at a booth enticing passers-by to ask whether they can study joint Honours with Theology and Haggis-Making or did we make them sign a copy of the Westminster Confession before they matriculate.
 
The awkward news is that Margaret’s and Pippa’s visas are in a complicated limbo state; if worst comes to worst, Margaret won’t be able to apply for her visa till September (hence, no late-July reunion of the distant spouses). We’re thinking worst may not come to worst, though, and in the good news category, Margaret has been granted the status of Honorary Lecturer in — well, I guess it’ll be in the School of Critical Studies, and although she’s not covered by National Health yet, we’ve been able to make connections with people who will be her doctors.
 
And here’s a bit of pedagogical news: a number of my online colleagues have been passing around a story from the Washington Post; apparently a survey studied which teachers students liked (based on student evaluations) as compared to which ones actually taught them a lot (based on subsequent performance). I tend to mistrust this kind of data on principle, but I will say that it at least vindicates one of my arguments about student evaluations: namely, that “near end of term” is far too early to get meaningful data from students about a teacher. Maybe the students who thought Dr. Adam was a dreamboat, but then sagged in subsequent classes, would change their assessment after a few lower marks, and likewise the ones who slagged mean old Dr Adam as a taskmaster might think he wasn’t quite so bad after they saw how much he had helped them with subsequent courses. (On the other hand, a couple of former students have said very kind things about me this week, so “five to twenty years later” sounds to me like exactly the right time for evaluations.) People like me, who fancy themselves demanding teachers, are apt to latch onto a single survey that supports their position and brandish it; and we likewise tend to look askance at surveys that show that high student ratings tend to correlate with student achievement. But I’ll tell you what: if a survey is going to come out with one set of conclusions or the other, I’m very much more pleased they came out this way. And if you disagree, you’ll change your mind next semester.
 
The weather in Glasgow has been splendid the past few days. Ha!
 
I’m nearing the end of the Taggart DVDs I’ve been able to track down. I’ve learned a lot about Glasgow from them. For instance, no murderer in Glasgow ever kills just one person; sometimes they kill two, but three or four is much more likely. The population of Glasgow has been declining during the years Taggart has been on the air, and now I understand why. Plus, I’ve learned that the University has a serious serial killer problem. I think a third of the episodes I’ve seen have involved killers associated with the University in one way or another; I’m feeling lucky to have survived the year! It’s a salubrious reminder, though, that I should steer clear of adultery, extortion, borrowing money from hard men, and claiming my students’ achievements for my own. Which will really put a crimp in my summer plans — but at least I won’t be looking up at DS Jackie Reid (on whom I have a wicked crush) from a pool of blood. By the way, isn’t she due a promotion? And I hear that DC Fraser won’t be back in next year’s series, which will be a shame — I much prefer his character to laddish DI Robbie Ross.
 

Bloomsday At The Anatomy Museum

Bloomsday at the Anatomy Museum

 
An appropriate venue for commemorating Mr Leopold Bloom, who ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
 

Wanted: A Few Good Postgrads

Spread the word: I’m settling in here at Glasgow, and have gotten to a point where it would be sensible for me to begin working with PhD students.
 
If you’d like to go on and begin doctoral study of the New Testament, why not give Glasgow a serious thought? (Why not, also, if you want to study OT or theology or whatever? — but my colleagues can start their own blogs.) Glasgow is a terrific city; the University is a darn good one; we’re having an administrative spasm just now, but that shouldn’t affect postgrads much. The School of Critical Studies within which I work includes many fascinating colleagues from the English Language, English Literature, and Scottish Literature fields — including Kei Miller, whom I just met at the Re-Writing the Bible Conference), and of course a very strong lineup of biblical and theological staff. And Gifford Lectures!
 
I am especially well-suited to supervise work on the Gospel of Matthew or the Epistle of James, or about questions specifically involving my work on hermeneutics and theology. I could easily enough stretch to cover other synoptics or the Pauline epistles, if your Pauline topic doesn’t suit better my colleague Ward Blanton.
 
If you are admitted to Glasgow’s postgraduate research program, you will modulate fairly directly into research and writing for your PhD thesis. I would expect to work closely with you, to ensure the high quality of your work and to ward off any unwelcome surprises when you present your thesis for defence. You would work among a care of very agreeable postgrad neighbours; right now, I believe that most of our students are working with the Centre for Theology, Literature, and the Arts (led by David Jasper). By the way, US students, this means no qualifying exams and although you will have no required classes in the department (there may be some workshoppy classes to help prepare you for life as a teacher and writer), I will endeavour to make sure that you and your colleagues read well and widely in the course of your preparation. I am not inclined to send you out without confidence that you’re solidly grounded in your field of study.
 
If your readiness for research study is not immediately clear, you may be admitted to a taught masters program, in which you would take classes toward a masters degree, and during which you would demonstrate your academic mettle to the faculty who might then admit you to postgraduate study.
 
Lovely city, agreeable institutional setting, wonderful colleagues, straight to work on research — what’s the catch? Well, if you’re from outside the UK (or, in a different way, the EU), you’ll probably have to arrange the financing of your program on your own. We have some aid for overseas students, but not much; don’t be hurt if we don’t have any for you. And of course, I think this is the worst academic job market in human history, for all qualified scholars at all levels from all institutions.
 
But if you have scholarship aid already, or don’t need to worry about that; if you’d like to study the New Testament (or the Old Testament, or theology, or Theology, Literature and the Arts) in a nifty locale, give a thought to applying here at Glasgow. And if you’d like to ask me about more details, email me at akm dot adam at gmail dot com.

Twenty-Eight

There’s a lot going on in Margaret’s and my lives; we won’t see each other again for another seven weeks. But wherever we are, however much we have to do, today marks our twenty-eighth wedding anniversary. The circumstances this year don’t favour an exciting holiday, or even a night out — maybe a video chat at most, alas.
 
Every year that goes by makes clearer what an exceptional blessing our life together has been. We’ve been there to hold one another up when life shook us down; we’ve been able to pick up what might have fallen apart; we’ve had the chance to shine a little light around us. We’ve been given so much by the dear friends and family who surround and uphold us, and we’ve tried to share again with them.
 
I’ll admit that just now I feel a shade more melancholic than joyous. It’s challenging even for this glass-half-full kinda guy to celebrate our togetherness when separated by an ocean; we’ve spent altogether too many of our years separated by too great distances (at first, when we were in Maine and Pittsburgh; later, when we were in Illinois and North Carolina; then in Baltimore and North Carolina; and now this year in Scotland and Baltimore).
 
Stuck for new ways of telling my sweetheart how deeply I love her, how unhesitatingly I would say “I do” all over again, I’ll point to what I’ve said before (2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, (What happened in 2008?), 2009).
 
Beloved Margaret, let’s not do this again. Like the man says, “Let’s Stay Together.” Loving you forever is what I need.
 

Memorandum

I frequently catch myself combing through Google search results to find this lecture by Timothy Radcliffe, O.P. The former Master General of the Dominican Order has a fine, encouraging take on what it means to be a university — but the paragraph I’m usually looking for reads,

When I was a young Dominican student we still sometimes practiced a version of the medieval disputatio. This was a form of debating central to the life of the thirteenth century university, and it embodies a vision of what a university should be about. It does not seem to have been practiced often by the Inquisition, but it represents an ideal which has something to offer us. In the disputatio the aim was not so much to demonstrate that your opponent was utterly and in every way wrong, and to be derided and dismissed as a fool. Instead you had to show the limited sense in which he was right. If someone were to assert that “Yale Department of Religious Studies is better than the Theology Faculty of Oxford,” I might reply in making a distinction: “That Yale is better as far as sociological analysis I accept; that it is better in every way I deny.” The aim was, through disagreement and mutual criticism, to arrive at a common truth, that was able to accommodate what was true in each position.

 
So now I’ll be able simply to search my own blog to find it more rapidly.

Next: Shared Libraries

Inside Higher Education notes that students who needed more library time and facilities than Cal State/LA provided simply started their own makeshift alternative.
 
OK — now think with me. What if a number of friends/professional colleagues realised that they didn’t all need their own copies of expensive monographs, so that Dr. Sally says “I’m buying AKMA’s latest book,” and Dr. Renaldo says, “OK, I’ll skip AKMA and buy Ward Blanton’s latest,” and so on? They would need a place to keep their shared books, and robust social constraints against abusing the system; but unless someone was egregiously cheating (taking books away, never buying any) everyone benefits to some extent, even if they buy more than their neighbour (they still have access to a greater pool of books than they would have before).
 
Now, let’s get really radical. What if they’re digital books?