Getting the Drop on DigID

Eric picks up the right stick, and perhaps even the right end of it, when he begins puzzling through DigID by way of credit cards. They don’t compare perfectly, but I do think that credit cards, perhaps in conjunction with cell phones, represent the point d’appui, the site where leverage toward DigID can most readily bear fruit without arm-twisting or hand-wringing. (Thus I’m not surprised to see Nokia, American Express, Vodaphone, VISA, and MasterCard among the Liberty Alliance members.)

I’m not a Passport expert, and I’m suspicious of Microsoft (not an MSFT-hater; that’s wasted energy) — so I’m not the one to predict whether Passport will be the lever. Liberty Alliance, though I suspect the trustworthiness of some if its partners, seems like a better bet; a collaborative approach runs less risk of misbehavior by a monopolistic proprietor, and their support of PingID and the open Jabber protocol make an impressive show of good faith.

Hey, Eric — why not seed this enterprise with something really attractive, such as an intriguing online game? Offer anyone who wants an ID to play Norlin-Land, and then say, “You know, if you’d like to buy a book from Amazon, just enter your credit card number in your preferences dialogue box.” The game doesn’t have to be as intricate as Unreal Tournament or Ultima or Sims Online; in a certain sense, the simpler the better. (Although just imagine what would happen if the game were itself fascinating; think of the possibilities if Liberty Alliance were to make a partnership with Ludicorp for the Game NeverEnding. The mind reels . . . .)

Aw, Shucks

Those of you who collect travel brochures will want to stake an early claim on this year’s Kennebec Valley tourism guide. Of course, this is always a hot item, but this year’s edition includes an advertisement for Old Fort Western, a stockade in Augusta, Maine.

And in that advertisement, on page 14, you might see an angelic blonde-haired rascal in eighteenth-century garb, brandishing an authentic quill pen over an authentic ledger book. And you would realize that you were holding a photograph of Josiah Adam, aged 8, at the Fort Western summer camp; a radiant young sprout, delighted at this opportunity to immerse himself in antique customs, and to be photographed so admirably by his grandfather. . . .

(It’s not in any of the online documents — not that I could see. More’s the pity.)

RSS, and Cheers for the Home Team

I didn’t notice that Pem (to whom a hearty Welcome back! from her week at a spiritual direction workshop) has an RSS feed — that’ll help me keep up with her, so that I don’t miss posts such as “Alternatives to PowerPoint” I have different reservations to PP, but Pem makes a great point (which resonates with one of Jeff’s points about all-in-one curriculum management megalith systems): we teachers would have fits if we were obliged to use classroom time in as regimented and formulaic a way as Courseware systems typically expect us to use online instruction. Yes, many teachers don’t want to learn to use online resources (and that’s okay, a point I tried to emphasize in Nashville before somebody’s gleeful trolling provoked the “experts” controversy), and others want to work with online resources in ways that an all-encompassing system will only hamper. There’ so much yet to be discovered about how we can learn online. . . .

More Thanks

On Friday, I omitted to mention one of the great gifts for which I give thanks this year: the birth (and continued thriving, despite some edgy surprises) of Cameron, Ruairi, and Sawyer. They and their parents have been through a lot with us, and we marvel again at the ways that a child can transform the lives not only of beginners, but even of grizzled veteran parents. Bless you, all!

Thumb Report

Since you asked — you know who you are — this is my report: After a week of not using my right thumb for trackpad-clicking (except in rare cases of reflexive gesture), not using it much for typing (using my left thumb or right index finger for the space bar), using a trackball set away from the TiBook, taking regular doses of Naproxen, and applying heat as much as convenient, my thumb feels a little different. That actually amounts to more than it suggests, since the times my thumb tended to hurt were specifically when I was using it, so if it feels better even when I’m not using it, something good may be presumed to be at work. (I think that makes sense.) The swelling in the tissue over the base of my thumb has gone down somewhat.

Taking Naproxen is tricky, since I’m not feeling a distinct ache that might remind me to take the pills. I’ve forgotten about them altogether once or twice, and several more times have taken them later than would be my plan.

The injury doesn’t feel like the descriptions of De Quervain’s tendonitis suggest; the Finkelstein test doesn’t feel bad at all. But if this makes my hand feel fine again, so be it. We’ll revisit the matter in another week.

Nashville Reprise

Okay, I left two topics hanging from my Nashville trip, and thinking about David and John reminded me to make good my IOU.

First, about expertise. I don’t think that the Web lays a finger on expertise in any sense that ought to worry people. People who really know a lot about (for example) astrophysics will still know a lot about astrophysics, and if I have a lot riding on an astrophysical question, I’ll ask my uncle or some other Official Astrophysicist.

It does complicate the social role of “ the expert.” People have traditionally looked to institutional structures for authenticating expertise: “She has a Ph.D. from Stanford,” or “He’s the D. Searls Professor of Astronomy at the University of Blogaria.” That reliance on institutions has always produced flawed results. We know that not everyone who gets a degree (even from a famous institution) has attained reliable mastery of her or his topic area at the time of graduation, and many neglect to keep up adequately after they graduate. Moreover, we know that not all brilliant, insightful people get academic degrees at all (plenty of sharp intellects never go to college, much less graduate schools). So the social-institutional definition of “experts” has been flawed all along.

Now that the web allows us to connect with so very many people, who converse so freely about so many topics, we’re loosely joined to innumerable people who may qualify as experts on social-institutional terms, and innumerable others who may not qualify on social terms, and they’re all answerable for the stuff they say in public. If the degree holder is a barely-made-it pontificator from Stanford, the web can call that expert to account; and if the autodidact knows her stuff and explains it lucidly, we’re better off listening to her than to Dr. Stanford.

It’ not as simple as that, of course — but it’s more simple to outflank unwarranted socially-instituted expertise now, online, than it was a few years ago, offline. And if that makes the possessors off socially-instituted expertise edgy, well, maybe it ought to.

The other topic I wanted to get back to was the question of blogging, education, and writing in public. I’ll keep this short ’cause I want to get on to preaching and the gospel of Matthew.

Some Vanderbilt faculty raised the question of whether student blogs should be accessible outside the campus, and David pressed me on this in the course of our drive to Seabury from O’Hare. I’m still thinking this over, but my present position amounts to this: there’s nothing intrinsically wrong with setting course expectations to include the capacity to speak in public on the course’s topic. John pointed out that this is one of the hallmarks of a liberal education, and Trevor has argued that part of the vocation for which we’re preparing Seabury students includes public proclamation of one’s assessment of the truth. All this seems quite compelling to me, and I’m fretful about the privatization of thought. One part (not the only part, not necessarily the decisive part, but one part) of education comprises learning how to formulate well-considered positions for public discourse. That tends often to get the least attention in a cultural setting that concentrates ferociously on the individual and privacy, and that soft-pedals public critical discourse at a depth greater than “Neener, neener, Republican,” and “Neener, neener, Democrat.” (This actually gets back to the “expertise” question, as the formal character of expertise has grown overvalued in the last few years to the extent that a [one-way] broadcast cultural world diminishes the pushback on public discourse. Lacking models of public intellectuals engaged in substantive debate, students [and some faculty] adopt a vigilant reluctance to think and speak in public.)

OK — it’s more complicated than that, as my students will especially be quick to say. But that’s the side I’m on for now. I owe people an account of the congruence between my firm support for public accountability for our lives with my firm resistance to government information-gathering, for example. But saying this, I can remove the “blog-in-prog” sign from two weeks ago’s post.

DRMA: “Bodies” by the Sex Pistols; “Heartbreaker” by the Rolling Stones; “What You Wanna Do” by the Reivers; “Sombre Reptiles” by Brian Eno; “Sweetheart Like You” by Bob Dylan —Happy birthday, Bob! (“Steal a little and they throw you in jail/Steal a lot and they make you a king”); “Nugget” by Cake; “The Ballad Of Frankie Lee And Judas Priest” by Bob Dylan; “It’s So Hard” by John Lennon; “Standing in for Joe” by XTC; “Pride (In The Name of Love)” by U2; “Collideascope” by the Dukes Of Stratosphear [XTC]; “Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)” by Stevie Wonder; “The Great Escape” by Moby.


I’m feeling really productive this afternoon, which means that at any moment something will happen to knock me off track. But till then. . . .

This Space Reserved

All right, so our Bichon Frisé Beatrice isn’t as photogenic as everyone’s favorites Oliver and Hugo, but she’s a dumber-than-a-bag-of-hammers sweetheart. Today she got her first haircut of the warm-weather season. I’m reserving a space below for before and after pictures.

Bea, our Bichon Frise, before haircut Bea, after haircut

Quite a contrast. . . .