Graduate Seminar Design

As I have noted previously, recent events, some good and some bad, have convinced me to revise my research and professional agendas, returning to my first love, which was understanding how the structure of language and the structure of the imagination interact and reveal each other. In an effort to move my own thinking along as well as to gauge interest for narrative studies in my home department, I decided to offer a seminar on the topic this semester. And I think I made a mistake in how I designed it.

The course’s design, to some degree, was predicated upon the nature of the English department in which I work, which houses concentrations not only in my home field of folklore studies but also in literary studies, rhetoric and composition, creative writing, and linguistics. Given such a diversity of interests, I decided to keep the reading load relatively light, the assumption being that students would pursue relevant citations, topics, etc. in their own fields of interest and bring those readings and explorations back to the seminar table. The mistake I made, I think, was not in formalizing this assumption into some sort of structure of assignments or moments during seminar discussions that made it possible for disciplined students to share and made, er, less-disciplined students aware of the work involved in being a successful scholar.

This was a foolish mistake on my part, and one as a mid-career academic and pedagogue I should not have made. It was, in other words, a rookie mistake. My defense of such a rook move is that I was so excited by the work I am doing and the things that I am reading that I assumed others would be, too. And there were, to be clear, a number of students who embraced the open design of the seminar, but it did not serve all students equally well.

Now, some will maintain, quite rightly, that those students it did not serve well are probably not going to make it very far in graduate school, nor in the profession, and you will probably be quite right. And I generally don’t have a problem with such things taking their natural course. But it does feel like a waste of time both on my part and on their part. Look! You want to cry. Look at all the cool stuff all around you! Just look down, pick something up, and play with it! It fascinates me that people can want to be in graduate school and not be intellectually curious, not want to understand the nature of scholarship (of science), and not want at least to try to do the kind of work that scholars do, if only for the sake of trying it out.

Go Big Red (2)

You gotta love a university with a can-do spirit: [Indiana University has a home-built supercomputer][iu] that will do 1 petaflop. One petaflop was the computing sound barrier broken by IBM back in 2008, but there are still relatively few supercomputers capable of processing this much this fast. Why is its “home-built” nature so important? Because it isn’t beholding to any particular funding agency, which means it “will be used by IU, for IU to support IU’s activities in the arts, humanities, and sciences, and to support the economic development of Indiana — without any constraints from an outside funding agency.”

You know, I never realized how great it was to work at a place with a fundamental sense of its mission and that that mission bubbled out of an ethic of always trying to do the right thing until I was no longer at a place that worked that way. Oh, how I miss the Midwest…

[iu]: http://arstechnica.com/information-technology/2013/04/ius-petaflop-supercompter-is-the-first-to-be-a-dedicated-university-resource/

Network Representations

Network Representations

Three ways of describing a network. Captured from a [Rice University web page](www.clear.rice.edu/comp182/lab/lab01cont.html). I captured it as a way to remind myself to follow up on the notation used in the righthand column. (Is that NetworkX, what’s that called.) I need to decide on a network notation for my work, and then learn how to manipulate it for various applications that want different formats.

Eh, what’s that MacPorts?

Note to self, run `port upgrade outdated` more often. If you run it every few months, that’s a lot of stuff that needs updating. Also, I got this note:

XeTeX is built without support for Apple Type Services for Unicode Imaging
(ATSUI) or Apple Advanced Typography (AAT). To enable it, build texlive-bin with
the +atsui variant. Note that this will force texlive and all of its
dependencies to be built 32-bit.

Twinned Movies

Someone has done a fantastic job of [pairing the posters of movies](http://imgur.com/a/J5j6L) that came out at the same time, often in the same year, that would appear to be on much the same topic. The pairings are:

* 1986: _Top Gun_ and _Iron Eagle_
* 1989: _Abyss_ and _Leviathan_
* 1989: _Turner and Hooch_ and _K-9_
* 1993/1994: _Tombstone_ and _Wyatt Earp_
* 1993/1994: _Rookie of the Year_ and _Little Big League_
* 1995: _Babe_ and _Gordy_
* 1995/1996: _Powder_ and _Phenomenon_
* 1995/1996: _Showgirls_ and _Striptease_
* 1997: _Volcano_ and _Dante’s Peak_
* 1998: _Antz_ and _A Bug’s Life_
* 1998: _Armageddon_ and _Deep Impact_
* 1998/1999: _The Truman Show_ and _Ed TV_
* 1999/2001: _Centennial Man_ and _A.I._
* 2000: _Red Planet_ and _Mission to Mars_
* 2002: _Stealing Harvard_ and _Orange County_
* 2003/2004: _Finding Nemow_ and _Shark Tale_
* 2004: _Chasing Liberty_ and _First Daughter_
* 2005: _The Cave_ and _The Descent_
* 2005/2006: _Wild_ and _Madagascar_
* 2006: _Capote_ and _Infamous_
* 2006: _The Prestige_ and _The Illusionist_
* 2006: _Open Season_ and _Over the Hedge_
* 2006/2007: _Happy Feet_ and _Surf’s Up_
* 2008/2012: _Taken_ and _Stolen_
* 2009: _Observe and Report_ and _Mall Cop_
* 2010: _Megamind_ and _Despicable Me_
* 2011: _Friends with Benefits_ and _No Strings Attached_
* 2012: _Mirror Mirror_ and _Snow White and the Huntsman_
* 2013: _After Earth_ and _Oblivion_
* 2013: _Olympus Has Fallen_ and _White House Down_

Given such a history, the question then is how much of this is zeitgeist and how much is the fact that scripts probably circulate somewhat widely and people see something in a script on which they pass that then gets them thinking about a version of the story on their own. We don’t need to assume outright copying at all. Or, alternatively, if we assume copying, it’s still the case that there is something larger, be “the times being what they are” or the marketplace, has increased the viability of certain projects / topics over others.

And, yes, I can even see being this objective in my own recent experience of discovering a parallel project to my own, but I’ll have more to say on that a little later — I’m working on a post tentatively entitled *On Credit*.

Eighth Grader’s Version of a Standardized Test

Even eighth graders get that standardized tests aren’t about their education but really about the bureaucracy’s need to rationalize its existence in the face of increasing interference by politicians. The Washington Post has the story: [“Eighth grader designs standardized test that slams standardized tests.”](http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/wp/2013/04/17/eighth-grader-designs-standardized-test-that-slams-standardized-tests/)

Academic Work

I was in the middle of re-reading Joel Spolsky’s 2002 essay [“Strategy Letter V”][] and thinking about how the microeconomic notion of “commoditizing your complements” applies to the current academic situation, when I wondered what he had written about in the last few months. One of his essays is about the nature of inventory management for producers of software. (The essay is titled [“Software Inventory.”][])

Software inventory? you ask. What, there’s bits lying around the floors of cubicles?

Okay, bits don’t lie around floors, and they don’t cost anything to store on your hard drive, but storing them on your hard drive and not actually sending them off to your customers does cost you something, and that’s Spolsky’s point. The same is true for other content creators: that idea for an essay or article you have lying around doesn’t do you any good if it’s not under consideration at a journal and/or getting published somewhere.

Scholars have a more difficult time with making this particular metaphor work fully: unlike scientists and software producers, our products are far less iterable — in the sense that software can undergo multiple releases and/or updates and scientists often produce multiple reports out of the same research project. Scholars in the humanities often have to let one essay or book be their single output for a given project — the market isn’t necessarily keen on having multiple outputs on the same topic. One person who divided up his outputs successfully, both for himself and for the market, is Henry Glassie. His work in Ireland resulted in four distinct publications, each of which stands on its own and does not duplicate the other works in a way that the market rejects: _All Silver and No Brass_ (1975), _Irish Folk History_ (1982), _Passing the Time in Ballymenone_ (1982), and _Irish Folktales_ (1985) — and this list does not include his later revisitation of all this work in _The Stars of Ballymenone_ (2006).

Another way of saying this is that Glassie, it seems like I am always concluding this, got it early in his career and has consistently stayed ahead of the changing academic scene.

Getting back to Spolsky, he compares software production to the factory floor in the following way:

> Think of product ideas as the raw material. Depending on your process, product ideas may go through several assembly line points before they are delivered as finished features to the customer:
>
> 1. a decision-making process (should we implement this feature?)
> 2. a design process (specs, whiteboards, mockups, etc)
> 3. an implementation process (writing code)
> 4. a testing process (finding bugs)
> 5. a debugging process (fixing bugs)
> 6. a deployment process (sending code to customers, putting it on web server, etc)

Fortunately, scholars tend not to work in teams, and so we don’t face the kind of delays, aka choke points, that others do when trying to steer an idea through the process that leads from conception to publication. Unfortunately, we do not work in teams, which means we do not have others to poke us when we are ourselves the delay and/or choke point in the process. You win some; you lose some, even when you work alone. Or, maybe especially when you work alone.

We could transform the list above into one for academics, and that might be worth doing at some point, but I think Spolsky’s larger point is really the one worth dwelling upon here: “In between each of these stages, inventory can pile up.” Every scholar knows this, I bet. Almost everyone I know has folders, paper or electronic, full of stuff that might make for a future course offering or publication. Some, like me, are intellectual handymen / packrats, who find a myriad of topics interesting and sense a larger synthesis is possible … if only they had the time.

Well, let’s face it, that time rarely comes — if you work at an institution that has a reasonable (any kind of) framework for sabbaticals and/or course releases, then this probably doesn’t apply to you, or it applies to a lesser degree. And so you need to find some way to just get stuff out and move on. Spolsky’s response was to develop [Trello][], which is a card-based task management system for individuals and groups that allows you to see the clutter which you attract by making you confront the number of cards you deal yourself and others.

His original idea for Trello was, he notes, something he wanted to call *Five Things*: “It was going to be a project manager where everybody was allowed to have five things assigned to them: two things they were actively doing, one thing that was “up next”, and a couple more that they were planning.” That’s a nice division of things. How would I apply it to my own research? Like this:

* ACTIVE 1: drafting paper for ISCLR conference
* ACTIVE 2: writing new sections for boat book
* UP NEXT: revising older sections of boat book
* PLANNING 1: book on “everything is not a story”
* PLANNING 2: second essay on AFS intellectual history with Jonathan Goodwin

Two things are about the boat book, and I’m okay with that, given how much the deadline looms in my life, and, just as importantly, it reveals my own recent willingness to hack off intellectual projects for which I had no time.

There’s a host of projects that I would like to address, but I think it’s time to let them go. Lean and mean, indeed. I don’t think I will ever be the disciplined thinker and writer that others are, but I think it’s time to get more discipline. I sense some real possibilities here. (I have to agree with my wife that even two books probably won’t be enough to get us out of our current situation, given the overall job market, but we can’t know that until we both get there. There’s always hope!)

[“Strategy Letter V”]: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/articles/StrategyLetterV.html
[“Software Inventory.”]: http://www.joelonsoftware.com/items/2012/07/09.html
[Trello]: http://trello.com

Speaking of Legend Corpora

Working with these texts for my paper at this year’s meeting of [ISCLR](http://contemporarylegend.org) (International Society for Contemporary Legend Research), I remembered that I have an entire inbox dedicated to emails sent to me by friends and family that struck me as “net lore” (which is the name of the mailbox, by the way). I just checked and the archive reaches back to 2003. (And I think I have an older archive somewhere on disk.) My goal in the months to come is to find a way to slice the 56MB text file into individual text files that are appropriately named, perhaps by subject line and date. My guess, and it’s only a guess right now, is that making these files available in plain text, with something like the following filename as a primitive form of `metadata` is going to be the most efficient form of sharing:

2013-04-18-A-Bridge-To-Hawaii.txt

I think I can figure out how to write a Python script to do that. While I know that a better set of metadata might include who the texts were from and the trace route for them, I am unwilling to imperil the privacy of my correspondents. Plus, I think most folklorists are going to be chiefly interested in the texts. (We’re still playing catch-up to the notion of social graphs. *Sigh*.)

Once I’ve got the collection put together, my best guess is that I will make it available through something like GitHub or BitBucket. Neither is really designed to support this kind of thing, but they are oriented towards public repositories and they do make forking projects very simple, and it would be interesting if researchers interested in this material, folklorists among them, could find some way to have projects remain connected in some fashion. Both GitHub and BitBucket make it possible to follow the chain of forked projects and also for users to “follow” those projects and make comments or even, fold those advances back into their own projects. (How cool would that be?)

In case you are wondering about the actual texts involved: they are an admixture of jokes and legendry. Some of the materials are quite topical (and racist):

> It seems that once again,
>
> all us white folks have missed
>
> a great opportunity.
>
>
> While all the black people attended
>
> Obama’s inauguration and parades,
>
> we should have broken into their homes
>
> and gotten all our shit back.

And some of the materials, like the joke referenced in the file name above, have been around for quite some time on the internet and probably in oral circulation before that:

> A man was riding his Harley along a California beach when suddenly the sky clouded above his head. In a booming voice, the Lord said, “Because you have tried to be faithful to me in all ways, I will grant you one wish.” The biker pulled over and said, “Build a bridge to Hawaii so I can ride over anytime I want.” The Lord said, “Your request is materialistic. Think of the enormous challenges for that kind of undertaking; the supports required to reach the bottom of the Pacific and the concrete and steel it would take! I can do it, but it is hard for me to justify your desire for worldly things. Take a little more time and think of something that could possibly help mankind The biker thought about it for a long time.
>
> Finally, he said, “Lord, I wish that I, and all men, could understand our wives. I want to know how she feels inside, what she’s thinking, why she cries, what she means when she says nothing’s wrong, and how I can make a woman truly happy.”
>
> The Lord replied, “You want 2 lanes or 4 on that bridge

(Please note that the period and the closing quotation mark are missing in the original.)

Any feedback on how to proceed is quite welcome.

Rebuild Launch Services!

The actual title of this post should probably be something like *If the **Open with…** contextual menu has duplicate entries in it, then do this.” But that seemed overly long. The problem with mentioning *Launch Services* is that most people don’t know it’s there and that it’s responsible for such things. Here’s a better way to do this, if you get a contextual menu in the Finder which looks like this:

Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 08.33.06

And you want to do something about it,
and you want to attend to the fix yourself,
and you aren’t afraid of the terminal…

*Then*, you can do this: open up a terminal window (look in the Utilities folder inside the Applications folder [CMD + SHIFT + U]), and paste the following code in the command line:

/System/Library/Frameworks/CoreServices.framework/Versions/A/Frameworks/LaunchServices.framework/Versions/A/Support/lsregister -kill -r -domain local -domain system -domain user

It’s long, but it needs to be just that way. Press return. Wait a second or two for the command to complete. You will know it’s done when the prompt comes back, indicating that it’s ready for another command.

*Then* simply re-launch the Finder. (Under the **Apple** menu, go to **Force Quit…** and you will see *Finder* listed as one of the apps that can be quit, or in the Finder’s case, re-launched.) You do not, as other instructions around the web indicate, need to log out and back in, nor do you need to re-start your machine. Running the command above and re-launching the Finder is all you need to do.