Denizens of a Rock

I am working on expanding an essay on repair shops for the Journal of American Folklore, and I’ve written hundreds of words and deleted hundreds of words. I think I finally have a working opening paragraph. I shared it with my partner, and her response was “I like denizens of a rock very much.”

It has been a quarter of a century since Henry Glassie observed in the pages of this journal that “tradition is the creation of the future out of the past” (1995: 395). In the consideration that follows, Glassie establishes the importance of continuity both for the human beings who make history, both in terms of actions but also representations. There can be no doubt that engaging in traditional forms of behavior is one way to defeat the one certainty available to denizens of a rock which never occupies the same space in the universe from moment to moment, change. Folklore in this model is that which we do in order to transcend such physical exigencies: meaning is produced through the interplay of change and the things we do that remain the same. Folklore studies is the study of this tension as realized in everyday interactions. The resulting definition of the vernacular is that it is found in those moments when people feel most empowered to create realities as they themselves understand them based on previous experience which is itself framed by an understanding that is permeated by the realities and experiences of others. It is the engine of culture harnessed to maximize meaning as an output.

Open Source Alternatives

I don’t know if it is possible at this point in time to avoid working in Microsoft applications. Given how many organizations now have some version of Office 365, it seems like all outputs are eventually a Word document, a PowerPoint slide deck, or an Excel spreadsheet. But those are outputs, not throughputs, and I don’t think any of those applications is terribly good to think with. Communicate to/with others who are used to things being packaged in a particular way? Okay, fine, here’s a Word document.

The process involved in getting to an outcome should be more flexible, more tuned to how individuals and teams work. For the record, Teams works well enough, but OneNote is a disaster. Personally, I use Devonthink and Scrivener for the iterative process of bigger projects, but neither of them is team-friendly. And neither is really all that iPhone-friendly, really. They have iPhone apps, which are really quite functional, but the true power of both apps is really best experienced on the Mac. (I only use two devices: a Mac and an iPhone, so the iPad version of both may very well be an incredible experience, but I decided a while ago that my version of techno-minimalism meant I only ever worked on, and worried about, a computer and a phone.)

The problem, for me, is that collaboration needs to occur across platforms, so it looks like I am stuck with web apps. That noted, there appear to be a range of open source alternatives that look pretty good. BTW has collected over 200 open source alternatives to a range of software tools that businesses use: from note-code databases to note-taking to kanban.

The Internecine Project

Any number of films have left lasting impressions on me. Certainly some have gone onto shape my imagination in various ways. A lot of them are films that I watched with my father, like The Man with No Name trilogy that featured Clint Eastwood, or any number of WW2 films — Kelly’s Heroes or The Dirty Dozen or The Longest Day to name just a few — that shaped the fiction I read and the movies I watched as I grew older.

Then there are the films I found myself and watched, some of which were either “made for television” or found their only real home there or on the nascent cable television channels. The Blonde with One Black Shoe certainly falls under the latter category, as does a host of British, or near-British, spy thrillers. Like the Harry Palmer trilogy, the original Italian Job, or The Internecine Project, a film that stayed in my head for as long as it has because I loved its hammered dulcimer soundtrack so much that I recorded it as it played on air onto a cassette tape which contained a host of other favorite soundtracks, most of which I can no longer remember.

It turns out that The Internecine Project is not only watchable again on Youtube, but its soundtrack is available on Apple Music.

Terry Talks Movies

I don’t know how the Youtube channel Terry Talks Movies made it into my stream, but it did and it’s turned up a number of older movies to watch. In a review of “1960s Science Fiction Movies You Should See,” Terry observes the following about the protagonists of Privilege, a film he describes as a didactic docudrama (worth watching):

They are innocents in a world where predatory men are turning the passions of young people into social cages in which to enslave them.

Hello world (again)!

New possibilities and new horizons do not necessarily demand new infrastructure, but in this case my first shared hosting provider, A Small Orange, was long ago sold to a mega-provider and the prices have gone up while the services have somewhat declined. When I asked about alternatives, one hosting provider, CynderHost, stepped forward and invited me to try them out. So far, I have liked what I have seen, and it was time that I moved, if only to re-learn some of the basics of hosting and also to have a sense of what it is to move and what all needs to be moved. There are bound to be some hiccoughs along the way, but, in the end, you might as well embrace the change. It’s coming anyway.

Klingon Declination

According to Yung-Hsing, she woke last night to to hear me say: “In Klingon, there is no declination.” “What about Romulan,” she asked. “I can’t tell you,” I replied.

Weathering the Pandemic

Helene Meyers on How small liberal arts colleges can best weather the pandemic (opinion):

Small liberal arts colleges focus on low faculty/student ratios and small classes that allow meaningful mentoring relationships with faculty members as well as peer education. What if a British-style tutorial were part of every first-year student’s experience? Among smaller groups, meetings powered by Zoom can foster intellectual community, while online discussion forums can require students to respond to one another’s writing. Many faculty members at liberal arts colleges have the pedagogical chops to do this work well. Colleges that can clearly communicate that such high-quality experiences can be expected in person or at a distance are more likely to be able to recruit an incoming class.

Intensive research seminars where faculty-guided independent work is supplemented with a cohort of peers who can help vet one another’s projects and learn to ask (and answer) critical questions about both the research process and its products should be provided for upper-class students. This seminar could be a prelude to capstones in the major or to other high-impact experiences such as internships. Such offerings would be in keeping with and an extension of research opportunities already on offer at many liberal arts colleges.

Some students might elect to study pandemic-related topics in an effort to process the experiences of this moment. Others might need to lose themselves in a passion that seems distant from the horrors of the present. Enabling students to make their education their own is a hallmark of the liberal arts experience, and additional intensive research and writing experiences can aid emotional and intellectual development during these unprecedented times.

Liberal arts colleges should also use this moment to integrate career coaching throughout the curriculum. First-year tutorials and research seminars are the perfect places to do some of that work. The next few graduating classes will be entering a brutal job market, and we owe our students careful instruction in the development and transferability of marketable skills.

Useful Pandas Posts

Please note that this post is, yes, “under construction” as I compile various notes from across my file system and decide what’s worth keeping here and what’s going into the virtual trash bin.

If, like me, you are not very familiar with R and thus you do not readily grasp how pandas brings much of R’s coolness to Python data analysis workflows, then having the occasional overview and/or cheat sheet on hand is useful.

For overviews, I found the following really helpful in understanding how pandas organizes data and the methods available for working with it:

For quick tips that border on almost being cheat sheets, there is Chris Albon’s “Technical Notes on Using Data Science & Artificial Intelligence to Fight for Something That Matters”, at the bottom of which is a compendium of great tutorials and tips on using pandas. (And as you scroll, you glimpse a lot of other really useful stuff as well.)