The Neuro-Science of Narrative

Silbert, LJ, CJ Honey, E Simony, D Poeppel, and U Hasson. 2014. Coupled neural systems underlie the production and comprehension of naturalistic narrative speech. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 111 (43): E4687-96. PDF.

Zacks, Jeffrey M., Nicole Speer, Khena Swallow, and Corey Maley. 2010. The Brain’s Cutting-Room Floor: Segmentation of Narrative Cinema. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience 4: 168. PDF.

Markdown to PDF in 1 Line

With the rise of markdown as the default formatting for so many note-taking apps, and really good apps like Bear, Ulysses, and Notion, working within a markdown-only setup has never been easier. For the most part, I use those apps like inboxes, moving anything that needs keeping or gets larger than a single page into my folder system, which has served me well for, well, decades, now. Once there, I now use Typora for writing — for a long time it was FoldingText, but Typora has finally surpassed it in terms of ease of use and functionality. (I still keep FoldingPaper around, because.) For coding, I use Atom, which handles interacting with GitHub readily, which is where most of those projects live.

The remaining gap in functionality has been going from markdown to the printed page. MD to HTML and then into Word or Pages is okay, but I would prefer to stay in markdown up until the final moment of output, and now it looks like there is a simple path: pandoc + wkhtmltopdf:

pandoc --pdf-engine=wkhtmltopdf -o filename.pdf -c some.css filename.md

Make sure your version of Pandoc is up-to-date. I had an older version which did not take kindly to the --pdf-engine option, but once I updated, everything “just worked.” (FTR, I use MacPorts, which made installing, and upgrading, pandoc as well as installing wkhtmltopdf super easy. I then made sure wkhtmltopdf was in my PATH.)

Borges on Psychological Realism

In a wonderfully concise passage in his 1940 preface to Adolfo Bioy Casares’ The Invention of Morel, Jorge Luis Borge — taking issue with Ortega y Gasset’s elevation of “psychological” fiction over the “fantastic” — offers a devastating critique of the pretensions of a great deal of modern “psychological realism”:

The Russians and their disciples have demonstrated, tediously, that no one is impossible. A person may kill himself because he is so happy, for example, or commit murder as an act of benevolence. Lovers may separate forever as a consequence of their love. And one man can inform on another out of fervor or humility. In the end such complete freedom is tantamount to chaos. But the psychological novel would also be a “realistic” novel, and have us forget that it is a verbal artifice, for its uses each vain precision (or each languid obscurity) as a new proof of realism.

The Workload Document

Ah, January. The start of a new year. A time to resolve to do old things better and to do new things. A time to reflect. And, if you’re one of those lucky enough to have an employer who embraces such things, a time to document your work because, apparently, getting things done is not enough.

If you’re an academic like me, then you’ve already taught your classes, published your research, decided things in committee. But this is not enough in the modern era of the so-called knowledge economy, which is increasingly managed by people who have no knowledge of the actual work, everything must be quantified, counted. In education, this means counting the obvious, like publications and presentations, and the dumb, like the number of butts who filled the seats in a particular classroom.

I am sitting this morning in front of my own organization’s latest incarnation of its Workload Document, which some of us, since we are an English department, call by a version of its acronym (WLD), wold, giving it that Anglo-Saxony feel of a wood, like the one in which wolves lurk. The WLD began life a decade or so ago as a two-and-a-half-page, landscape-oriented table into which you crammed stuff. I see that this year’s version has grown to nine pages and includes space for “self-evaluation,” which the forms describe thus:

Self Evaluation can assist you to: improve the educational experiences you provide for your students, identify the professional education you need to further develop your capacity to teach and research well and, prepare for your performance review with your department head. Self-evaluation can range from personal reflection to formal assessment. Based on a constructive self-evaluation of your abilities to teach, conduct research and scholarly activities, and participate in service activities.

Gosh, isn’t our administration the best-est? They are just always looking out for us? (And, yes, my first thought was who in their right mind is going to offer that bunch ammunition? The bullets are flying fast and furious here in Louisiana. There is talk of killing universities, and they have already eliminated faculty lines and departments.)

Here’s an outline of this monstrosity:

  • Planning and Self Evaluation
  • Teaching – with 23 rows for classes taught (Is that even legal to teach that many courses at a single university? Never mind legalities, is that even physically possible? Is the administration revealing its hopes here? Are they hiring cyborgs? Converting us to cyborgs? Because I’m pretty sure that teaching 23 courses in a year means you don’t sleep and that means I’m going to have to be a cyborg.)
  • Research – page here, but big boxes
  • Service – half a page here, small boxes.
  • Administration – up to a page now. It used to be a line or two. Indication of the direction of the wind in these parts?