What’s the Point of Vitae?

I get what the Chronicle is trying to do with Vitae — i.e., trying to make up for the fact that it’s the community that matters — but I’m less sure about the blogging dimension they’ve added to it. Case in point: [What’s the point of academic publishing?][v] Is it the angsty, or angry, essay that draws readers, that generates a conversation?

More importantly, why is _Vitae_ separate from the rest of the Chronicle? If they recognize the importance of community, why not fold everything into the larger whole? (Or maybe it’s too hard to divorce themselves from Disqus?) I think serious commentators would re-apply, if they didn’t already have a Vitae account, and it might reduce the amount of trolling that seems to take up way too much room in the comments of late.

Listen, it’s been 15 years since Locke et al. published [The Cluetrain Manifesto][ct], and if you are going to publish articles deriding the old system of publishing, then you better take a look at that rock you got in your hands and check behind you to see what your house is made of…

[v]: https://chroniclevitae.com/news/291-what-s-the-point-of-academic-publishing
[ct]: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Cluetrain_Manifesto

In the Name of Love, Indeed

**Follow your bliss = first world privilege**: “‘Do what you love’ disguises the fact that being able to choose a career primarily for personal reward is an unmerited privilege…. If we believe that working as a Silicon Valley entrepreneur [or tech blogger] or a museum publicist or a think-tank acolyte is essential to being true to ourselves – in fact, to loving ourselves – what do we believe about the inner lives and hopes of those who clean hotel rooms and stock shelves at big-box stores? The answer is: nothing.” @[Jacobin][].

Later in the essay, the author takes on higher education: “The reward for answering this higher calling is an academic employment marketplace in which around 41 percent of American faculty are adjunct professors — contract instructors who usually receive low pay, no benefits, no office, no job security, and no long-term stake in the schools where they work. … There are many factors that keep PhDs providing such high-skilled labor for such extremely low wages, including path dependency and the sunk costs of earning a PhD, but one of the strongest is how pervasively the DWYL doctrine is embedded in academia.”

[Jacobin]: http://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/01/in-the-name-of-love/

The Evolution of Cinematic Spaceships

Over the spontaneous winter break that occurred this past week, during which I had to exile myself to another room to sleep because the rest of my family was sick, I found myself watching, of all things, submarine movies. I don’t quite remember now where I started, but by the time I was done I had watched _The Enemy Below_ (1957) and, at long last, _Das Boot_ (1981).

There’s a lot to be said for submarine fiction, as a sub-genre of maritime fiction, where you often have an interdependent group that is, at the same time, varied enough in personality, experience, and power that it produces dramatic moments where either those differences are either highlighted, think _Crimson Tide_ (1995, and another submarine movie) or overcome, usually in a transcendent fashion. _Das Boot_ is, of course, long enough to provide both.

To some degree present in most submarine movies is the claustrophobic envelope within which all the action takes place, and, as such, I couldn’t help but be drawn to think about how much the passages and chambers of U-96, with sausages swinging from valves in the control room, would look more like the interior of space ships than most of the interiors we have glimpsed in science fictions films. There are, of course, exceptions to this, but I was particularly drawn to think about fictions contemporary with the first raft, if you’ll forgive the pun, of submarine movies in the fifties. Think only of _Forbidden Planet_, released in 1956, the year before _The Enemy Below_, with its spacious interior. I know there must be more examples…

… and that got me thinking about the nature and shape of space ships, especially in film. If my memory serves, the earliest craft were more rocket like in nature — e.g., Flash Gordon’s rocket ship — but at some point the flying saucer became more prevalent. And then we got the saucer + rocket ship combo of _Star Trek_ in the sixties. And then _Star Wars_ in the late seventies, which had both small ships and large (as well as dirty or worn ships versus hermetically clean — evil, in the case getting the big and clean ships).

Two years later, Ridley Scott, if memory serves, quite purposefully offered up a claustrophobic ship in _Alien_, but the overall shape of the ship was definitely more of a piece with _Star Wars_ than _Star Trek_ or any of the flying saucers or rockets from the previous eras.

Which got me thinking, because I was also reading an essay on “Phylogenetics and Material Culture Evolution” [PDF][], about the evolution of the space ship in film. To be clear, I would also be interested in the literary side, both in books and in the various periodicals, but I imagine that it would be hard to infer shape from many of the texts. (Which is as it should be, no?)

This is something it might be fun to do *à la Goodwin*, who hauls off and does this kind of thing for fun over a weekend. I have no idea what a cladistic exploration of space ships shapes will turn up, but it’s what happens when you combine submarines, science fiction — I just finished reading James Corey’s _Leviathan Wakes_, and phylogenetics. When do the changes occur? What are the nature of the changes? What causes the change?

_Den of Geek_ has a list of [75 spaceships in movies and television][]. It isn’t in chronological order, but it might be a good place to start.

As soon as the boat book is done and these talks for Indiana University (March) and the Library of Congress (maybe in April) are done, of course…

[PDF]: nileseldredge.com/pdf_files/Temkin_Eldredge2007.pdf‎
[75 spaceships in movies and television]: http://www.denofgeek.us/movies/14621/top-75-spaceships-in-movies-and-tv

Concrete

We have wanted to replace the counters in our kitchen since we moved into this house three and a half years ago. We just can’t afford the solid surfaces towards which we gravitate: quartz, granite, marble, soapstone. I’ve thought about concrete, that we pour ourselves, for a little while now, and it looks like I may have convinced my wife of the possibility. Google images was a great help, and so was [The House That Some Idiot Built](http://thehousethatsomeidiotbuilt.com/2012/11/concrete-countertops/).

The Universe Is Biophilic?

> According to physicist Jeremy England, the origin and evolution of life are processes driven by the fundamental laws of nature — namely the Second Law of Thermodynamics. He’s come up with a formula showing how a group of atoms, when driven by an external source of energy (like the sun) and when surrounded by a heat bath (like the ocean or atmosphere), can sometimes restructure itself as a way to dissipate increasing rates of energy. ([io9][])

I wonder how far of a leap it is from this kind of notion of evolution of order to the kind of order we call culture?

[io9]: http://io9.com/physicist-proposes-a-thermodynamic-explanation-for-the-1507452119

The Humanities Are All Right

[Natalie Cicere][] has a terrific response to some of the current critiques of the humanities, especially those that bemoan the loss of a “center”:

> The humanities are often represented as an irrelevant, moribund, and merely preservationist field, passing on old knowledge of old things without producing anything new. That’s why it keeps having to be “defended” by people saying, “no! old shit matters too!” (It does — witness one chapter from Washington Irving’s 1819-20 _Sketch-Book of Geoffrey Crayon, Gent._ getting rebooted yet again, this time as a goofy paranormal procedural—but this already accepts a basic misrepresentation of humanities scholarship.)
>
> Yet it’s precisely the production of new knowledge in the humanities that powerfully influences the everyday lives of Americans, and which leads to pearl-clutching by those who insist on the humanities’ irrelevance. David Brooks, for example, is very sad that the humanities have failed to be stagnant. He claims that humanities enrollments have substantially declined (factually untrue) since the rise of critical theory and its concurrent attention to race, class, gender, sexuality, and disability in the 1980s. But the humanities didn’t just turn to these categories for kicks (still less because it was “fashionable,” as culture-wars critics like Alan Sokal have claimed); turning to them was the result of research. Through research, scholars found out that these categories were complicated, powerful, and important for understanding culture. Brooks seems to suppose that doing research that has a broad impact makes your field irrelevant.

Note to others about the television thing: I once sat in a meeting here at my very own university with the Vice President of Research told the English department’s graduate faculty that if they wanted more money, then they needed to write for television. (I couldn’t have made that up if I tried.)

[Natalie Cicere]: http://nataliacecire.blogspot.com/2014/01/humanities-scholarship-is-incredibly.html

Model View Culture

The Feminist Technology Collective is now publishing [_Model View Culture_][]mvc], which has to be the greatest title ever, and one I wish I had thought of. It joins the interview with David Golumbia over at [Dichtung Digital][dd] in being a thoughtful critique from a theoretically-informed perspective on aspects of technology that have gone under-examined. (My thanks to [Jonathan Goodwin][jg] for the heads up on the Golumbia interview.)

[mvc]: http://modelviewculture.com/
[dd]: http://www.dichtung-digital.de/journal/nachste-nummer/?postID=2150
[jg]: http://www.jgoodwin.net/

Selector Gadget

I’m not entirely sure I need a CSS inspector when the Web Inspector in Safari works so well — it’s under the Developer menu (search to find out how to make that appear in your Safari browser if you don’t see it), but if I did need one, there is [Selector Gadget][].

[Selector Gadget]: http://selectorgadget.com