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. . . .

Trott Report

Ben and Mena Trott are here, visiting Seabury as part of our technology lecture series. They gave a spectacular workshop talk this afternoon for a gathering of students, stimulating their imaginations about the potential of personal publishing beyond anything they’d dreamed before.
They joined Trevor and Margaret (and Pippa) and me for dinner at Cozy Noodle, and now are beginning their evening presentation at Seabury. Three Seabury students are surrounded by a sea of Chicago-area bloggers who came out to show their appreciation for Ben and Mena.
Chicago Bloggers Heart Movable Type
I’m live-blogging from the back of the room.
They’re beginning with a quick overview of Movable Type’s new version, and pointing us to sites that use MT without it necessarily being obvious that MT is behind the scenes. First, the Urban School of San Francisco; they use MT not so much as a blog, but uses MT for content management by calling on categories. The Urban School uses the standard MT calendar to power an event calendar (!), filtered by type of event.
Second, they point us to the 826 Valencia, a writing center and pirate store in San Francisco. 826 Valencia actually gets their students writing; they sent a student to NYU, I believe, who continues to blog on the site (demonstrating to current students that there can be a benefit to the work of learning writing skills).
Third, they point to a site that aggregates TrackBack feeds from a number of disparate individual blogs, AustinBloggers. This site collects TrackBack pings from separate individuals’ blogs, and compiles them into the Austin Bloggers page (they do mention Topic Exchange, Liz). Ben and Mena suggest that Seabury could use this schema to compile entries from individual blogs, into a shared meta-blog (as it were). They mocked-up a Seabury version of one of these, based on Trevor’s ethics class blog.
Now they’re discussing helper applications, such as NetNewsWire Pro and Kung-Log (on OS X), or w.bloggar or NewsGator (on Windows). It’s hard to overstate their enthusiasm for NetNewsWire and Kung-Log. . . .
Now they’re talking about the upcoming release of Moveable Type Pro. Among the upcoming features are a photo album tool, differentiation of editors from authors, custom entry fields, registration for Comments and Posting, and hierarchized categories.
Questions? A Chicago blogger asked whether there were any alternatives to the word “blog”? Ben and Mena don’t like the word, but they don’t see an effective alternative. Better support for Windows installations? Ben says “some.” One user had a firewall problem. Will the moblog feature be available on future releases? Mena notes that some features are very hard to implement at each specific server location. They’ve had blog-by-email ready for ten months, but the haven’t released it because it requires too much customization.
Alex asks about the effect of weblogging software on social groups who meet face-to-face regularly. Mena notes first of all the the Chicago Bloggers are out in force tonight — weblogs brought a couple dozen people to Seabury tonight who would never have been here otherwise, who knew one another in the face-to-face world. Blogging in academic settings brings together self-expression by writing with interpersonal interaction. Ben mentions the different perspectives one gains from reading various accounts of, for instance, a conference. Mena notes that when Ben blogs during their vacations, she reads his blog to find out what he really thinks.
I missed some questions about marketing, hype, blogs, Raging Cow, and the future. I was busy putting the brownies and molasses cookies out.
I’ll ask Liz’s question (from the comments): “Can you convince Ben & Mena to create “Movable Course” software? 🙂 Or to let us turn it into that?” Ben says it’s an interesting direction, and allows that they will in fact be looking at other applications for their software. They had built an education portal at their previous workplace. They know there’s a big market; maybe, but Mena doesn’t think it’s in the immediate future.
Will Moveable Type Pro eclipse any free versions, or will there be a free version alongside MT Pro? Mena says that they will always keep a free version along with the Pro version, but will also allow the incentive of a more powerful version for those who are willing to contribute. They note that they’ve done very well from donations, that their donors have been very generous.
What are their favorite blogs? Boing Boing — they don’t specify any others. Have they met them all? They’ve met the authors of about half of their favorite blogs. Most of the bloggers they read go to tech conferences, where they meet.
What’s the timing on their release cycles? Mena’s telling funny stories about the release of the first version.
Later. . . . Well, I lost the note-tracking trail there, and after a few minutes I got up to make an official end to the presentation portion of the festivities. That didn’t bring the evening itself to an end, though. The Chicago Bloggers assembled for a team picture (bigger and better at with Ben and Mena (Mena: “So, we’re big in Tokyo and Chicago”);
Chicago Bloggers
Cinnamon had made a lovely hand-sewn handbag for Mena; Alex announced the Digital Genres Conference (Sidebar comment by Alex: “Being an anonymous blogger is like being a serial killer; you really want people to know”); the audience consumed home-baked brownies and molasses cookies from Margaret; and the CBs decamped with Ben and Mena for a local pub. I stayed, stacked chairs, and tried to calculate whether I really am old enough to be their father. A splendid evening!

At Least…

So, I slept moderately well, and woke up early enough to think I might go to the office for the morning and come home after midday mass for a restful afternoon. Got up, took a shower, dressed, went downstairs, and stepped in a puddle in the front hall.

Was Bea, fierce warrior puppy, responsible? No, this puddle was bigger than that. And, now that I stopped to listen, I heard water dripping in the basement.

(I pause to stipulate that I really do feel noticeably better today; my flu Crud Factor is down to 1 or 2, and the single biggest residual affliction of the Adam Influenza Massacre of 2003 is general weariness.)

I had anticipated tackling today head-on, relishing the full use of my limited capacities. Instead, I hollered for Josiah, hunky hero-youth of the family, and we began mopping and bailing. I’d hoped that we could square things away without disturbing Margaret, but she responded to my summons for Si. As it turned out, the toilet in the front hall had overflowed, which surprised us all because no one had used it since late last night. We mopped up and dried the floors, set pails to catch the drips in the basement, and started back to our respective days—but the toilet then overflowed again. Okay, got that, mopped, dried, now we’re stabilized. I ran out to Morning Prayer, and as soon as I got home I found Margaret mopping the front hall again, at which point we summoned Wolf Waldert, Seabury’s mystically-powerful Maintenance Supervisor, and the full complement of Seabury’s maintenance crew (Wolf and Ricardo) and a guest expert plumber spent their mornings prying the drywall off our basement wall, opening up our pipes, and extracting some inert organic matter from deep therein. From the vent outside our house, you could hear their drilling and sucking and pumping (all in a strictly hydro-circulatory sense) making extremely odd noises.

I was not feeling nearly as good by midday as I had been at the beginning of the day. I therefore welcomed the extraordinary gift offered to Seabury at midday mass: a visiting choir, “Thula Sizwe,” (named for a Zulu freedom song, “Be silent, nation”) from outside Pretoria (yes, that’s the Pretoria in Golby’s geographic neighborhood) sang an anthem for us at communion, and then a remix (as it were) of “Amazing Grace” after the service. They burned golden grace in a weary gray chapel.

AKMA! I’m so sorry you’re having such a miserable week. First flu then about the worst type of at home problem you could have.

I hope you’re better soon. Hugs to you and Margaret and the other sickies. Get well!

Posted by: Burningbird at February 17, 2003 07:40 PM

Starring Margaret

Regular readers may recall that everything clever and pertinent that appears here derives from the inspiration, suggestion, or flat-out dictation of Margaret. She influences whatever I write, but up to now has been caught online only obliquely (for instance, David Weinberger awarded her an arbitrary winner certificate in some long-forgotten JOHO contest, and though the contest itself ebbed from memory, Margaret has cherished the knowledge that somehow, somewhere, someone recognized her as a winner).

All that has changed, now that the hi monkey website has immortalized Margaret’s affection for its eponymous terrycloth primate. Now, millions (if not billions) of web viewers will see Margaret (and Si, in one photo) promenading the monkey around Nantucket Island in pictures from last summer. (Margaret disclaims responsibility for typographical errors.) Can movie offers be far behind?

Sudsy Stud in Training

Here, Jonathon, is Si’s audition for the forthcoming calendar. On the left (or in the upper picture, depending on your column width), he brandishes the anonymous bottle-cleansing device (that I will hereinafter call the “Bottlematique,” for no good reason) with a friendly smile; in the second, he demonstrates his Bottlematique technique with a sample (pre-cleansed) bottle.

Josiah brandishing the Bottlematique

Josiah Adam holding Bottlematique aloft

Si manipuulating the Bottlematique

Josiah Adam demonstrating the proper wrist angle for scrubbing out a bottle

Note the unique “sleep is for the weak” t-shirt, by Small World Coffee in Princeton; bet you all wish you had them.