3/30/2005

The Original Podcast

Filed under: — Joe @ 7:39 am

Captain KirkJ. Curtis, in an email to Jason Kottke, points out that the first, the very earliest audioblogger/podcaster was none other than…
Captain James T. Kirk.

“Captain’s Log, Stardate….”
:smile:

3/29/2005

Under Attack!

Filed under: — Joe @ 6:11 am

I feel so bad for those folks in Dover, Pennsylvania. I mean those poor, beset (I should say “benighted”) religious folks who are having their kids abused in school science classes. Abused, mistreated, misled and misunderestimated because in science classes they’re actually having to learn…science.

…Pastor and parent Ray Mummert, 54, explained their point.

“If we continue to indoctrinate our young people with non-religious principles, we’re headed for an internal destruction of this society,” he said.

“Evolution is just a theory and there are other theories,” Mummert explained, smiling through his beard.

“There is such a complexity in life, and science wants to hang its hat on a belief that life somehow started — they say there is no creator, no order … I believe there is a creator,” he said.

Both sides acknowledge the political context of the debate over Darwinism, and the relation to the re-election of staunchly Christian President George W. Bush.

“Christians are a lot more bold under Bush’s leadership, he speaks what a lot of us believe,” said Mummert.

“We’ve been attacked by the intelligent, educated segment of the culture,” he said.

You know, if that’s who’s “attacking” you, mightn’t it be a good idea to just maybe consider why you’re being “attacked”?

Thanks to DovBear for the link.

3/28/2005

Great New Blog on the Blogroll

Filed under: — Joe @ 1:40 am

Thanks to Nick Matzke at The Panda’s Thumb, I’ve added the SciAm Perspectives blog to the blogroll. It looks like a much funner version of old favorite Scientific American magazine (already quite fun–witness their hilarious “OK, we give up” editorial in the April issue”) magazine.

And if I didn’t have the blog, how else would I know that there’s actually someone out there campaigning to remove the magazine from public libraries on the grounds that the cover story on homo floriensis was “pornography”?

3/27/2005

Test post

Filed under: — Joe @ 12:24 pm

This is a test from vagablog–a small program to allow blogging directly from the palm (in this case the new Treo 650).

3/23/2005

Normally constituted. That’s me.

Filed under: — Joe @ 12:44 pm

As I said in an earlier post, I’m a lot like Nathaniel Martin in Patrick O’Brian’s The Far Side of the World.

like most normally constituted writers Martin had no use for any candid opinion that was not wholly favourable.

And now that I’ve received the response from a reviewer and the editor of New Directions in Folklore to the article (“‘Quacks, Yokels, and Light-Fingered Folk:’ Oral Performance Art at the Fair”) that I submitted over a year ago, I’m feeling even more normally constituted than ever!

The response was favorable, and they want to publish the article, but it wasn’t wholly favorable, and they want some improvements first. I can see their point and (partially) agree, but I also think there’s some ways in which they’re quite simply misunderstanding my point, and my approach. I’m not a folklorist, that’s part of the problem, and that’s why I was happy to submit to New Directions in Folklore. But they’re pushing me a bit towards a traditional folklore approach (preservationist, exoticizing, romanticizing, and outside-in) and that’s just plain not the approach I want to take.

So, how much of my resistance is “normally constituted” affection for my own words, and how much is legitimate and appropriate insistence that my approach is unique and valuable? Or is there a difference? I want them to publish the piece, so I’ll do my best to follow the suggestions. But at the same time I’m not going to abandon what (to me) makes the article work so well.

I’ll take the time to work on a second draft. I’ll try to make my approach and the reasons why I think it’s worthwhile more clear. But the editor’s already made clear that I’m going to be working uphill on that, to some extent. I’ll do what I can do. And I’ll get what I get.

3/19/2005

Historical/Ahistorical Judgments

Filed under: — Joe @ 8:36 am

Jon Rowe has a blog that I like a lot, and read regularly (it’s right there in my blogroll). But in a recent post he made a point to which I had to take exception. It wasn’t his primary point in his post, but he was making an argument that tends to really annoy me–it was the “they didn’t know better in those days” argument. This goes (generally) “the Founders (or Columbus, or any literary or historical figure you’d like to excuse) lived in a time when nobody really questioned slavery (or genocide, forced conversion, racism, sexism, etc.). So we can’t blame them for just accepting what everyone else accepted and nobody at all ever saw anything wrong with.”

That argument just doesn’t hold up. In the guise of a call for historical accuracy, it’s a whitewashing of history. At the time of the US Constitution, there was a lively, active, and loud abolition movement, with a long and distinguished history. Las Casas was very clear about the immorality of Columbus’ treatment of the Indians, right there at Columbus’ moment in history. Conrad’s racism, or Hemingway’s anti-Semitism may have been more broadly acceptable in their times, but that certainly doesn’t mean that nobody saw the immorality and hate, or that nobody was willing to call it what it was.

This doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t read Conrad or Hemingway, of course, and it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t honor the accomplishments of the Founders. But to let them completely off the hook for their lapses is just as ahistorical (maybe more) than to condemn them completely for those lapses.

To Jon Rowe’s credit, when I pointed this out to him in an email, he promptly and fairly put my email up on his blog–asking for more reader discussion. I hope he gets it. I’ll be interested to read it. (Although I do wish he would just have comments on the blog, rather than waiting for emails).

3/18/2005

Andre Norton (1912-2005)

Filed under: — Joe @ 7:43 am

Andre NortonThe Science Fiction Writers of America site reports that Andre Norton, “Grand Dame of Science Fiction and Fantasy,” died yesterday morning at the age of 92. She was never my absolute favorite writer, or one that I returned to very often, but I do remember some wonderful experiences with her writing when I was a kid. And that’s what she really did well…SF (more fantasy) for “young adults.” It’s a difficult audience, and she did a great job of reaching out to them. And I think that her books brought a lot of young women (as readers and writers) into a field which (especially in those days) was almost exclusively “boys’ books.” And she was a cat person, too, which is overwhelmingly common in SF circles, for no clear reason I can think of. In any case, RIP, Ms. Norton.

3/17/2005

Herzl’s Diaries

Filed under: — Joe @ 10:12 am

A big argument with an anti-Semite in a thread at DSL Reports motivated me to re-read, for the first time in many years, Theodore Herzl’s diaries. A fascinating read, especially for the window into the life and emotions of an important player in an important historical moment. Especially fun because he was such a cranky, nasty, angry guy. Pretty much walking around disgusted with everyone.

Sometimes big changes happen because of noble, heroic figures, and sometimes because of irritated, obnoxious curmudgeons, who would be a real pain in the ass if you had to deal with them.

It’s also interesting that a quote posted by the above-mentioned anti-Semite, and one which is repeated on many anti-Zionist websites, purporting to be from Herzl’s diary, is completely fabricated. It would be a good example of how with selective misquoting and liberal use of ellipses, it’s easy to make someone appear to have said something completely the opposite of what he really said.

3/15/2005

Community Colleges in the Bush Era

Filed under: — Joe @ 11:37 am

Last week I went to the League for Innovation in the Community College‘s Innovations Conference. Overall, I have to say that this conference was far less interesting to me than the League’s CIT, where I presented in Florida in the fall. This is not specifically an ed-tech conference, which was part of the reason, and it was here in NYC, which may have been another part, and I was only attending, not presenting, which was another part. (Although that confence did have the major disadvantage of Jeb Bush’s keynote).

But I kept being reminded, forcefully, of how different we are at BMCC from other community colleges–especially in today’s world. President Bush has said, repeatedly, that he thinks of community colleges, and will fund community colleges, specifically and (relatively) exclusively as job-training (or retraining) institutions–vocational programs. Now, that’s certainly a part of all education, but, as I’ve commented before, it’s not what I see as the primary or optimal objective. Particularly at BMCC (more than most community colleges, perhaps because we’re part of a larger university), we’re committed to the idea of a liberal education, not just job skills. Our faculty are required to have PhD’s, and to research and publish, exactly like faculty in the senior colleges. I don’t think this is the case at most community colleges.

Two specific anecdotes to illustrate…

First, Maricopa Community College‘s Vice Chancellor Ron Bleed talked about “Overcoming the Biggest Barrier to Student Success.” He gave us some observations which made a lot of sense, and some which made less sense (a disquisition, for example, on the superiority of Barnes and Noble stores in Arizona, to the one on 5th Avenue in New York). But his main point, his “biggest barrier to student success” was (I’m oversimplifying) spending time in class. Now, I certainly understand that student convenience is important, and that students (especially in community colleges) do have limited time, and multiple responsibilities. I teach online, after all, and I certainly know that distance learning has advantages which are practical, not just pedagogical. But there’s such a thing as being too practical by half. And when I raised this point, when I wondered whether there were actually some advantages to having students spend an extended time on a subject, working together, and learning as a community, I got dismissed quite abruptly. “Well,” Vice Chancellor Bleed answered, “I don’t think we’re in any danger of losing that model. There will always be some old-fashioned faculty who will never let go of that.”

But he really wasn’t so bad…at least not relatively. The low point was reached in the conference’s closing session, with Gay Gilbert, the Administrator of the Office of Workforce Development, Education and Training Administration in the Bush Department of Labor. “For too long,” she told us, “community colleges have been social service institutions first, and market/economic institutions second. This administration, this president, will reverse that. We see community colleges as market institutions with economic benefits, with any social benefits only incidental.” She went on too describe, with glee and relish, how very much money the Bush administration would be throwing at community colleges which would fall into line with that vision, and how easy it would be to get that money.

I couldn’t really get a sense of how she was being received by the audience (closing session of the conference–most people had their coats on and their rolling suitcases by their feet), but she was being received by me with shock and horror. I don’t work for a “market institution” (I’m not so sure it’s “social service,” either, but that’s closer). I work for an institution of higher education. Increasing productivity, economic growth, sure, those are benefits of higher education. But they’re incidental. We’re here as part of a much grander tradition–the tradition of culture, and knowledge, and civilization.

I would hate (and I will fight against) the idea that what we do is primarily a market function…that we serve “customers.” There will certainly be a place for that function, and maybe some community colleges are that place. But if so, I wish they wouldn’t call them “colleges.” Because we’re a college, a campus of a university, and we don’t have that mission. We’re doing something very different, very much more important, and very much more admirable.

3/14/2005

Fallen Dragon

Filed under: — Joe @ 7:32 am

Last week I finished Peter Hamilton’s Fallen Dragon. It’s a fun read, although it’s not as ambitious (or as successful) as his Night’s Dawn trilogy, and it’s not a start of a new trilogy (I don’t think) like Pandora’s Star (not as promising as P’s Star, either).

Fallen DragonIt’s especially fun because of the way the future military/corporate/imperialist forces work in the book as an echo of what’s going on now. The book was written, it seems, just as (or before) our occupation of Iraq was getting started, so the echo may not be directly intended, but that occupation is far from unique, and it’s obvious that Hamilton had exactly the kind of contemporary imperialism we’re practicing in mind when he wrote the book. In Fallen Dragon, hugely powerful multi-national corporations own colonies, most of which they obtain by assuming the debts incurred by other corporations. And when they own a colony, they expect a return…so the way they get it is to send in a military force to invade, occupy, and loot. Then they go away and come back a decade or so later to loot some more. They’re essentially pirates, and they act like pirates, and they excuse their piracy with very blatant commercial/economic reasoning.

Of course, because it’s Hamilton, there’s also quite a bit of pseudo-spiritual deus ex machina wonder-working. But that’s OK, since (also because it’s Hamilton) the engineering and scientific explanations work quite plausibly, and the violence is fast and furious, and the gadgetry (especially the “skin”–the best powered armor for military uses since Starship Troopers) works to full effect.

And the characters are (mostly) believable and worth following. This is primarily important in the case of the protagonist. He’s an occupier, an invader, a pirate–but with morals. We get to see (many flashbacks) why he is who he is, and how (like, I’m sure, Americans in Iraq) he’s not a pirate, not a villain, in his own mind (although many of his superiors are). Hamilton’s clearly got a lot to say. The religious/philosophical/spiritual side of that was clear in Night’s Dawn, and here we see the political, too.

3/13/2005

Some gems from student evaluations

Filed under: — Joe @ 9:14 am
  • “She favors smart students over the regular students which is bias.”
  • “She expects us to be too mature”
  • “She expects us to actually be interested in the course material on our own”
  • “By requiring us to post on WebCT before class, she forced us to do the reading ahead of time, which is very difficult and unfair for students with other obligations”

And many more.

One of my own favorites (from last fall)
“I believe I would have enjoyed the readings more if they were written in Turkish.”

3/12/2005

Innovate Live!

Filed under: — Joe @ 8:11 am

InnovateMy Innovate Live webcast has been archived, so it’s up and online and ready to be reviewed by anyone who might care to do so. It’s also a good example, or demonstration of how Macromedia’s Breeze product works in a real-life (or sort of real) setting. I got some good questions, and I’ve been getting scattered emails about the article, too. That’s a fun advantage of this publication…it really does get some attention, and it really makes it easy for people to send me questions and feedback. I like that!

3/11/2005

No more cross in La Jolla

Filed under: — Joe @ 9:24 am

Americans United for Separation of Church and State reports some encouraging news from the San Diego Union Tribune. The giant cross on Mt. Soledad in my hometown of La Jolla is finally, really, going to have to come down (it looks like). That cross was always there as I was growing up, serving as a constant reminder that I and people like me were outsiders in our own community. It was on public land, the highest point in the immediate area, serving as constant proof that the Constitution didn’t really apply when the majority wanted to demonstrate their superiority.

Well, in 1991 (long after I no longer lived there) a Federal judge made the right decision, upheld the Constitution, and ordered the cross removed. The city tried almost endless wrangling, wriggling, and slithering, transparently trying to keep it there by whatever stratagem or excuse they could find.

Finally, last November, the voters overwhelmingly rejected the ploys, and finally finally (I hope) the city attorney and the city council have confirmed that the struggle is over and the cross will go. It probably won’t go far, but it will go to private land (a church’s land), which is where it belongs. A big victory for the Constitution and the American way.

3/6/2005

My latest device

Filed under: — Joe @ 10:35 am

Altoids Charger Altoids ChargerThanks to a tip from Hack A Day, I spent a very enjoyable couple of hours making myself a little Altoids tin charger…USB version. It provides USB power for any device that will take such power (Palm, cell phone, etc.), using a regular 9-volt battery that anyone can pick up anywhere. Handy for an emergency charge when you don’t have a handy USB port around. It uses an IC voltage regulator (an LM 7805 from Radio Shack, to bring the nine volts down to USB’s required 5 (more like 4.95). That extra few volts gets turned into heat, but the Altoids tin makes a very nice, usable heat sink–so no big problem there. Then, to make it extra-special-geekified, I added a little green on/off toggle switch, and (but of course!) a blue LED.

Altoids Charger Altoids ChargerUnfortunately, something I didn’t realize before I started, the Ipod gets charged through firewire, which is 12 volts–and won’t charge through a standard USB’s 5 volts. It’s weird, because (sometimes) when plugged into a USB port on a computer, the Ipod’s little indicator will say it’s charging…but it’s really not. So now I think I have to make another one, with two 9-volt batteries, and an LM 7812 instead of the 7805, and a firewire port instead of USB. That will require some different architecture…or a bigger tin! (Maybe band-aids). In any case, one thing I think I won’t do is take this with me on any airplane trips. No matter how cool I think it is, I’m not convinced that the average everyday TSA screener will agree with me. There are some adventures I think I’d rather avoid.

3/5/2005

Intellectual Diversity at Stanford (Aaron Swartz: The Weblog)

Filed under: — Joe @ 9:39 pm

I’ve been seeing this blogged many places, but it’s just too good not to post it here, too. Aaron Swartz, in response to David Horowitz and others of his idiotic ilk, has discovered a true measure of the need for intellectual diversity at Stanford (and by extension, the rest of academia).

only 1% of Stanford professors believe in telepathy (defined as “communication between minds without using the traditional five senses”), compared with 36% of the general population. And less than half a percent believe “people on this earth are sometimes possessed by the devil”, compared with 49% of those outside the ivory tower. And while 25% of Americans believe in astrology (“the position of the stars and planets can affect people’s lives”), I could only find one Stanford professor who would agree.

Our students are clearly being denied exposure to the full range of perspectives. This disparity must be addressed! :shock:

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