Friday, January 26

non-human athletes

two weeks from today, a series of sporting events like no other will be aired via youtube for audiences around the world to enjoy: the 2018 Winter Marbleympics.

husband Jeremiah and I discovered these via an amusing (if shouty and quite uncensored) internet-famous Australian fellow who did commentary on a marble race last month. how fateful that discovery turned out to be. who knew there was a whole world of marble racing out there?

from there we discovered Jelle's Marble Runs and over the break between semesters, we feasted on pretty much everything the channel had to offer. including the 2016 Marblelympics and the the 2017 Marblelympics.

it's quite an experience, these videos. they transfix in a way you don't expect them to, really. I still keep trying to figure out exactly why they are so entertaining.

it's the humor and curiousness of juxtaposing inanimate marbles with all the physics and dynamism of athletic competition, I think. it's the adorableness and pure fun of anthropomorphizing those marbles to a nearly absurd degree, and all the dedicated creativity and attention-to-detail in the team names and fan behavior and backstories and everything. the fellow-humans who make these videos happen are to be admired.

if I had the brainpower on this Friday evening to make some additional academicalish comments on how these beautifully-commentated marble races and our fascination with them could link up interestingly with some of the tenets of object-oriented ontology, I would. but I don't know all that much about object-oriented ontology myself, and should probably not let it distract me much more than the Marblelympics already have from writing up nicely finished dissertation chapters about digital ethnography and distributed commons-based peer-production and what that all may mean for technical communication and human culture and such.

you can watch the 2018 Winter Marblelympics (including all qualifying events) here.

Saturday, December 23

stories and truths of many sizes

I was just barely thinking about Jean ­Francois Lyotard, and then about Clay Shirky, and then about blogging, and when I opened up all my draft blogposts I found this one. what an odd little coincidence, it seemed.

this post began as notes copied from a reading response I must have written and turned in for my Postmodernism course several semesters ago. I'm going to revisit it and see what happens.

that semester, I wrote rather candidly that I'd thought I would tiredly skim Lyotard's The Postmodern Condition. it is a short treatise, but nonetheless skimming is fairly expected in graduate school. however, apparently I almost couldn’t put Lyotard down that week. something about his little exploration of The Postmodern Condition sparked against my jumbly thoughts and I just had to finish it. and I wanted more.

my reading response post for the class eventually congealed around two main topics: technology and money. I'm going to reverse the order for this post, and put money first. mostly this is because I'm smiling at the memory of the Megan I met on a train, and I want that very small story to exist here on my blog.

the other reason is that the technology thoughts seem to loop back nicely into the current and future trajectories of my scholarship, and ending with them will perhaps as more light and insight to that trajectory as it continues unfolding for me and my brain.

in his section 11, "Research and Its Legitimation through Performativity," Lyotard leads us, his readers, around to a (by now fairly obvious) perspective on power and truth:
“A new problem appears: devices that optimize the performance of the human body for the purpose of producing proof require additional expenditures. No money, no proof—and that means no verification of statements and no truth. The games of scientific language become the games of the rich, in which whoever is wealthiest has the best chance of being right. An equation between wealth, efficiency, and truth is thus established.” (44-45)
I found this obvious then because I'd read various other bits and pieces about the construction of proofs and the materialities of epistemology. I would go on to read more, too. Barad's Meeting the Universe Halfway gets at many of the same conundrums. what it means to know something, to make known something, to verify and prove to others that you have verified it-- these are huge questions. Lyotard says that money makes it easier. money is very persuasive stuff. material. rhetorical. powerful.

and Lyotard puts this thought to us in such a clear, direct way. resigned, almost, but thoughtfully so. I was reminded by this section of a conversation I had with a medical student named Megan on a train from Dundee to Oxford this summer. she sat across the table from me and offered to share her gummy sweets, and eventually we both looked up from our studying and fell into a gloriously fluid conversation about who knows how many interesting thoughts.

one of our many topics was medical research, and Megan explained how unfortunate she found it that most useful, successful medical research is driven by capitalist, consumerist ideals. developing nations don’t have the resources to carry out their own research, nor the resources to pay for research on any of the diseases or treatments that make the most difference to them. the citizens of developing nations won't have the resources to pay for such treatments, so why should medical researchers invest their time there? no money, no science. no truth. and on the other hand, in developed countries, we have plenty of time and money with which to worry about cancers and heart diseases and such, and those are the things that get studied.

I’d never really thought about that manifestation of privilege. and it is just one example of what Lyotard points out about how power and proof and rationality and funding and research are all tied very tightly together. I have been lucky to have funding and support from handfuls of institutions, and having that has allowed all the thinking and making that I've been doing as an adult. so far I think I can count on that support remaining, in some form or another, as long as I can make myself useful in some way to the institutions providing it.

anyway-- I think the “no money, no truth” slogan, paraphrased from Lyotard, should go on an ironic t-shirt or something. somebody make one.

in an earlier section of the book, Lyotard makes a bewilderingly simple (to me) claim about technology-- that it only has two principal purposes. the line appears in section 1 in the context of the sciences/technologies of language and communication, where he says this: “Its two principal functions— research and the transmission of acquired learning—are already feeling the effect, or will in the future” (4). I had to stop there, puzzled and frozen and what? The vague pronoun and the bold claim both held me up for several minutes.

in the margin, I added this note: what?

I wondered and puzzled over this claim. technology is principally for gaining knowledge and sharing knowledge? who says? since when? in what arena?

I wasn't sure, that semester, why I was so skeptical here. (husband dearest would say it's because such a stance is my habit, and I can't help myself. maybe he is right.) mainly it seemed to be because I hadn't thought about the idea before. it was new. while I reveled in the puzzlingness of it, I questioned myself too. if Lyotard means communicative technologies, not all of them, does his claim make more sense then? but then again, which technologies aren’t at least a tiny bit communicative? really? as a rhetorician I take a position that everything sends some kind of message. are those messages always based in "acquired learning" somehow? perhaps they are. everything around us is teaching us, even if we aren't paying attention. perhaps especially then.

as a rhetorician, it is my habit and my training to notice what the everything is teaching us, and then to try analyzing how it does so. right now with my dissertation work I'm pondering what the crowdsourcing work of LibriVoxers may have to teach us, and trying to connect that to professional/technical writing scholarship and practice generally. the ideals and methods of LibriVox are inspiring, I think. every voice is welcome. every tiny contribution valued alongside the tiny (and not so tiny) contributions of thousands of others.

one of Lyotard's more memorable contributions (at least as far as my brain is concerned) is the idea of the petit récit or 'small story' in contrast to the grand narratives of epic myths and stereotypes that sometimes dominate our ways of thinking about ourselves as humans. that idea--many small stories bubbling around, opening up many new perspectives, adding difference and color to places that looked old and flat before--seems important. right now, in this early 21st-century digitally networked time, we have space for millions of small stories. millions of different voices. it can seem an overwhelming abundance sometimes. what do we do with it? how do we handle the abundance? is this a chorus of voices or a chaos of noise? these questions seem worth asking. one person's chaos may be another's chorus, I imagine.

I may need to go reread Lyotard, and this time I might skim.

{ photos taken by Dr. Michael Salvo, over a year ago, in room 306 of Heavilon Hall, where I defended my dissertation prospectus using my voice and some words and chalk } 

Wednesday, November 22

times of year, times in general

I love this time of year so much. I love waking up to the cold, late dawn and breathing in the brisk, frosty air. I love the short afternoons that seem so extra golden.

it feels a bit like my love of this time of year is oozing into everything else:
I love the prospect of revising the messy drafted prose of my dissertation.
I love figuring out what to make for dinner.
... taking my car to the carwash for possibly only the third time since it became my car.
... sifting through the cluttery piles on my desk, trying to make room for work to happen.
... chasing Wesley around the dining room when he's in a crazy playful mood.
... cleaning out the refrigerator and washing all the dishes before we leave town this evening.
... putting on podcasts and making pie crust.

this will probably be my last Thanksgiving as a resident of Indiana.

Indiana has a nice flag, too, though it's very different in tone from that of my last residence.

what will happen next? will the next place I end up living have a nicely-designed state flag, or not?

I haven't kept track of exactly how many of the 63 jobs I've applied for (so far) I've heard back from (so far). a handful. let it be said that preparing for video-call job interviews is seventeen thousand times more stressful than preparing printed job application materials ever will be, for me.

aside from job interviews and possibilities, there are plenty of other things to worry about. then again, what some people call worrying is what I just like to call thinking-lots-about. I'm not sure where the line between those might be, or if it matters.

I have been wanting to blog for some weeks now about a noticed resonance among podcast episodes and other news, on resentment, on republicans, on ethics, on who is encouraged to think which thoughts about which topics. this episode of Theory of Everything left a few very vivid thoughts in my head. concrete sculptures. politics. prejudices. the episode cites a book called The Politics of Resentment by Katherine Cramer. it's not a book I'm likely to go read any time soon, but it sounds at least mildly fascinating--an exploration of why rural parts of America feel they way they do and take up the politics they do. 

resentment came up in this episode of On the Media, too. that wasn't the part of the episode that grabbed, me though. this, from a discussion on internet/tech companies, was: 
PAUL FORD: They have to pretend that they're not media. They can. But the thing is, is you don't have the definition around tech ethics in the same way you do around media.
PAUL FORD: Aside from a few thinkers, there isn’t like some giant academic discipline that they can just go to and say, hey, what should we do? Media ethics, I can go read two books and then I kind of know how I need to behave as a journalist. There's nothing like this.
I gaped at this wild-seeming assertion. no academic discipline that engages with the ethics of technology, hm? none at all? even if, as Mr. Ford implies, there aren't two central, more or less comprehensive, conveniently at hand textbooks on the subject of technology and ethics, it's quite crazy to claim nobody in academia is thinking about it. that's what the humanities are about. half of all the tech comm courses I've ever taken touch on ethics and human-centered design.

perhaps the problem is that the 'wrong' people are thinking about ethics? I noted this twitter thread shortly after listening to Ford and Gladstone wring their hands about the absence of any definitive ethical rules for technology companies. and maybe it's a stereotype, but maybe it's not untrue either, that those in technology fields tend to want definitive answers, definitive processes, black and white, yes or no. but that isn't always the best way to think about things.

everyone on twitter also got up in arms about this opinion piece. oh, academia has been ignoring all these technological developments has it? nobody is taking the time to critique big tech companies? there are disciplines and subdisciplines all over the place that do just that. yes. really.

if the mathematics scholar who wrote that opinion piece has little enough idea of all those disciplines and subdisciplines that she can claim "no distinct field of academic study" "takes seriously the responsibility of understanding and critiquing the role of technology..." then whose fault is that? is it the humanities people's problem, for not making their work visible enough? is it the STEM people's problem, for not paying attention? is it a problem of definition, where what counts as "serious" for one side doesn't for the other, and vice versa?

my optimistic hope is that more interdisciplinary scholars will help figure it out. I'm sure that will come with its own challenges, of course. but what else can we do? we need to talk to each other. communication makes everything better, eventually. right?

Tuesday, October 24

autumn timewarp collage

this week has brought the first cold rains of the season. half of October stayed quite warm and muggy, but autumn is properly settling in now. the time of hats and sweaters has arrived.

yesterday it seemed to rain and rain all day long. I spent the morning grading, the afternoon putting together job applications and writing bits of dissertation chapters. the pug spent most of his day snoozing, as usual, but we also went for a glorious long walk in the pre-evening. having a dog is such a great excuse for going on walks every day. I never thought I was a dog person, but walking a little pug around the neighborhood has become an unfading pleasure for me. I like being outside. it's amusing to watch him sniff at everything.

it's also amusing to watch him in general, whether he is curled up in a puddle of wrinkly fur or whether he is stretching up to look out the windows and grumble at bicyclists. 

my time this semester has an interesting grounded uncertainty about it. I'm teaching an online course, so my teaching efforts fit into whatever slots and nooks they need to. and so does everything else. morning walks, housework, reading and writing and research, cooking, spending time with dear husband, writing and reading and research, notebooks, evening walks, and making lists of more job applications that need filling out. 

the mountain photo there is from two weeks ago when my youngest brother was about to get married. the Chagall above is from a trip to the Art Institute of Chicago several years ago now--I'm not exactly sure when. maybe it was during an October.

last October had art in it, too. Washington DC art. and also Hamilton.

there are ten Octobers chronicled in this blog. ten sets of intermittent records of my thoughts during the tenth month of ten different years. much has changed since the October of my senior year of undergraduate work, when I was neck-deep in building websites and waxing exuberant about the first USB drive I ever owned. so much has changed.

and many things have not changed. autumns are still the best. academia is still a great cozy, challenging cocoon of crazy curiosity. I am still writing.  

Thursday, September 21

must be seen as

I have been wanting to write something about this newsworthy mess that unfolded in Virginia ever since it happened over a month ago. but what to write? and why? and why now?

my thoughts have needed time to percolate. I still don't know if they are done percolating. is there an ideal thought-percolation time? is there a point at which you have thought enough about something? I kind of don't think so. but probably it depends on what your thinking-goals actually happen to be. are we thinking to do something, or solve something, or...? usually I am thinking for the sake of it, and in that case there is never enough. but I usually have to stop at some point, because only so many things can fit into the whole percolation.

more and more thinking about Charlottesville would also need more and more data about Charlottesville. and while I've been able to get some, there is no way to get it all. I wasn't there. what I have to think with are observations and thoughts that other people have written down on twitter and facebook and other internet spots. such places become the avenues by which I find my news and my sense of newsworthiness. there is so much room in the world for so much news these days. so many stories and voice. this twitter-essay is less directly related to the Charlottesville mess, but it's a story and a message I keep thinking about.

to supply my brain with more informed view, I could, I suppose, listen to more newsy podcasts. or watch some more newsy videos. the podcasts I tend to put on while I wash the dishes are more ponderous, less newsiness. although, in the way of timeliness, 99% Invisible did recently re-run this Memory Palace episode about a statue of Nathan Bedford Forrest.

I don't know if there are any confederate monuments in Indiana anywhere. there is this place, though, just up the road a bit. though it fits the theme of memorials to dead white guys who participated in the general ruination of many, many non-white guys, I don't think anyone is likely to get all enraged about it. I'm not sure though.

it's difficult to think about the complexities of causality and blame. I wonder quite often, what good does blame do? what use is it to spend so much time investigating the precise sources of evils and ills and wrongs and badness, even if we are able to figure it out? does investigating it all make us think we will have any control over the wrong?

maybe just knowing is control enough, in some way. however complex and impossible, we have to try to make things less bad, if we can, right?

sometimes it's hard to see how. sometimes it's easier. sometimes listening is enough. and sometimes listening isn't even that easy.

I've been listening to a few new podcasts lately. Malcolm Gladwell's pet research-and-thinking-aloud project Revisionist History has been a mix of interesting and meh. this very first of the episodes struck me--it's about art and snobbery, patriarchy and sexism, and the concept of "moral licensing." go listen. learning about moral licensing was worth it despite Gladwell's rambling self-important tone.

moral licensing. a justification for keeping all our old and toxic ways of thinking because we spent a little time poking a hole or two in their edges.

so much to think about. I've also been reading a little from a book called Intersectionality. the chapter on how educational institutions play various roles in perpetuating injustice has been thought-provoking for me, now, as I consider my future as a small piece within larger systems of educational institutions. my favourite part of Intersectionality was a quote from Audre Lorde.
"Difference must be not merely tolerated, but seen as a fund of necessary polarities between which our creativity can spark like a dialectic. Only then does the necessity for interdependence become unthreatening." (qtd in Collins & Bilge, p. 169)
necessary polarities. necessary and productive difference. no consensus, no flattened-out unity. difference. to see difference differently changes it. is that what Lorde means? that what might be threatening to us if we resist will transform into a beautiful, wonderful thing is we'd just learn to see it that way?

or is it actually that the threat was all in our heads to begin with?

I'm not sure who the we is. hypothetical we. everyone we.

or me and you. maybe. partly.

and then there is the whole paradox of tolerance to grapple with. what belongs in this world we are creating, and what doesn't? what things are okay, and what things are so bad we shouldn't even look at them? think about them?

Thursday, August 24

a baker's dozen years ago

while searching for some old article by Susan Leigh Star, which I think I found and now need to re-read, I also came across the old archives of my very first online journalspace.

I decided to open the files for August 2004 and August 2005. August 2005 mostly contained mopey nonsense. August 2004 was more amusing, even if not less nonsensical.

here is the entry from exactly 13 years ago today, spun from the silly head of a twenty-year-old amelia.

2004-08-24 23:57:45 yipee and etcetera

SOCKS i folded all my socks into pairs on saturday. this will probably never happen again.

BOOKS i finished robert rankin's the Hollow Chocolate Bunnies of the Apocolypse last night. brilliant. as brilliant as. as hilarious as. go read it, you'll see. i'm also halfway through Exodus. yes, the one in the old testament. yes, i'm probably going to fail to read the entire old testament. i'm trying anyway.

WORK two jobs. two jobs, and school starts next week.... i pray that i don't go insane. it's twelve forty a.m. already... why am i still awake?

WRITING untitled semi autobiographical novel coming along fairly well. the plaid identity getting somewhat intense, if i do say so myself. hopefully now that i've got internet in my very own bedroom, there'll be lots more opportunity to develop that epic. mathematecal allegory progressing slowly. for all this is only technically a rewrite, it's been a long and arduous one so far. starcustard. we're working on it. lazily. poems? hang the poems. I don't care about poems. scrapbook? technically not writing, but a project nonetheless. it's on a shelf. to do lists. i have too many of these.

OTHER STUFF there is a sign pasted onto the door of the apartment opposite mine, and it says, in very clear block letters, "I eat kittens" with a heart in red pen underneath. i looked at it and thought... hm... men in hats. anyway. i think i'll get some sleep now that it's nearly one in the morning.

thoughts and reflections:

it's a rare evening when I'm awake in the middle of the night like that, these days. hard to remember when that was normal.

since that day, I actually have folded all the socks I own, multiple times. but not always. what would past self think of such, I wonder?

I don't remember if I finished the whole old testament or not. I imagine that if I did, it took me quite a long time, and that I didn't read the thing in any particular order.

none of that writing I used to be doing is writing that I am still doing, though The Plaid Identity still has a dormant email thread to its name, somewhere. hmm. I have different writing now. but I still do some of it on the internet, which perhaps means something...

the Men in Hats comic seems to still exist. interesting.

while we're talking about looking backwards in time, have I mentioned that I made a little podcast? it's a LibriVox podcast, for the community, in celebration of LibriVox's 12th anniversary. you can listen to it if you like.

Monday, August 21

fall semester, 2017

if all goes as it supposedly should, this will technically be my very last fall semester as a student. I am not sure how I feel about that yet.

I think I feel less optimistic than I was feeling last fall. this year is so different, so pressure-filled. so seemingly monumental in all its changes and changing. a final year. slipping away already. counting itself down from 11 months and a half to only 11 months and a quarter, just like every year but also in an extra-bewildering way now. the idea I can't help but swirl around in my head over and over again is: there will never be enough time.

and maybe that idea is right. but also... maybe... I'll deal with my finite amount of time just fine.

I will have to. we'll all have to, and so it goes.

today's writing music: Solar Fields
today's re-reading: Kathleen Fitzpatrick
and today's prooflistening: poetry

Monday, July 31


as of two weeks and three days ago, this is our new place.

it is a very nice place, freshly painted with all the windows and light my plants and I could ask for. and it is where we are finding places to keep our things. old things and new things. some things that once were mine and some that were once his (and a few that were once other people's, too), most of the things don't really need those separate pronouns anymore.

the dog is ours. the furniture is ours. the dishes in the sink are ours. I have hung clocks on at least one wall in every room, and there are piles of books and notebooks on at least three different tables.

we still don't know where (or if?) to keep our bikes, there are shelves that don't have anything on them yet. but most of our things have settled in with us now. and we get to share this balcony and a bench swing here, for one more year of phd-ing.

Friday, July 7

word quartets

in downtown Lafayette, there is this new sculpture-statue-thing. it's tall and shiny. two metal figures on tip-toes are holding an interesting metal version of the city flag.

you can't see it very well in this photo, but their stylized metal thighs have word-shaped cut-outs on them. I will list them for you here and ask you to pay attention to how the list makes you feel.


if I could format them all vertically, I would. you'll just have to imagine how they look going up and down these metal thighs in all capital letters.

we could put them in this order instead:


do you have any preference? did you or didn't you cringe a little bit at the lack of parallelism? does it feel different to treat "believe" as the misfit verb in a list of nouns, or "kindness" as the misfit noun in a list of verbs?

now that I've done a smidge of googling research, I have learned that the artist behind this piece is named Robert L. Barnum. the words were chosen by children involved with the Hanna Community Center and they are also the ones who named it "We Rise Above," which is how it is listed here on this list of other local public art.

as much as the inconsistency niggles and pokes at my hyper-educated writerly brain, I of course can't fault children for choosing this particular quartet of words without thinking about which parts of speech they all function within. most people do not automatically think about such things. even if part of my hyper-educated writerly brain things they probably should.

but the more I think about this sculpture and is misfit verb and its misfit noun, the more strangely grateful I get about how mismatched the words are. had they all four been straight-up non-ambiguous verbs or nouns, with no funky Venn-diagram of just noun, noun-or-verb, just verb going on, then I wouldn't have stopped to pay that much attention. if you just gave me a list of sappy-sounding nouns like


then that's all it would be and my allergies to sappiness would have kicked in and dismissed the whole thing.

instead, the funky Venn-diagram that these words presented got me pondering. how interesting it is that love and trust, simple little words, are both noun words and verb words. commandments and descriptors, both. but the other two, they aren't. they have to be one or the other. and it's simple enough to flip the verb believe into a similar one-word noun. not so simple with the noun kindness, though. why is that? probably there are linguistical, etymological word history reasons for which overlapping functions and orthographic representations match up or don't. I haven't looked into that yet.

I walk past this tall, shiny sculpture fairly often. someday it may lose its thought-provokingness for me. but until then the hodgepodge of words stir up lots of lovely questions. is this art speaking imperatively, or narratively? is it reflecting something the artist and his consultants see in the world, or is it praying for something they would like to see? are these virtues the sculpture asks us to admire in the world? to nurture in ourselves? are they efforts and actions we are supposed to take up, or are they knick-knacks and baubles we should collect where we can? or both?

of course it's both, probably. if they'd all been cut out in noun form, that wouldn't mean love and trust would lose their imperative vibes altogether. if they'd all been in verb form, with kindness split into its English infinitive, be kind, that wouldn't stop us from noticing the moments where those verbs swirl and collect around us into warm fuzzies to hold on to. and maybe our parts of speech are only one limited and insufficient way of chopping up language for storage. these four cut-out words have no context, after all. there is no frame for the list that they seem to make up. there is no sentence for them to live in. nothing outside this sculpture of words dictates how one is supposed to read the thing. that makes the hybrid noun-verbiness of half of them even more exciting, almost. you can interpret these words in multiple ways! and the unwritten noun and verb forms of the other half can perhaps haunt this tall, shiny art, hovering in the gaps for anyone who wants to notice them.

Thursday, June 15

re-reading and un-liking stuff on twitter and elsewhere

yesterday I did some re-reading. first, I re-read six months or so of things I've liked on twitter. a confession: sometimes as I skim through things I once liked on twitter, I end up un-liking things I once liked in the past. liking never has to be permanent, does it? nothing is permanent. some twitter things are not things I feel like my likes need to stay on-record for. is that okay?

second, I re-read three months or so of my file of semi-daily meta-scholarly writing. it was good to remember some of the fun, inspired conference notes and see little inches of progress on projects. that file is 370 pages long now. messy, and not truly daily, but still an accomplishment.

I'm sure most of the stuff in that file is sixteen thousand times more boring to the world than most of the stuff I've liked and not yet un-liked on twitter. if we could quantify boringness, anyway.

the twitterings that I like on twitter seem to fall into pretty clear categories:

1. there are links to things that exist and that just seem wonderful--

2. there are lovely impressive and/or brave pieces of micro-blogged inspiration--

or do some of these count as lessons? instructions, perhaps?

3. there are cool, amusing blips of nothing all that important--

4. there are attitudes and ideas that I find myself agreeing with, resonating with--
that is a valid life goal, right there. don't leave blank pages at the end of your documents, people. it's all part of that "paying attention to the world" thing.

and 5. there are links to longform stuff that I imagine I'll go back to read later--

sometimes I do go back and read them. sometimes I change my mind when later arrives. sometimes I forget entirely. I can't read everything. and twitter is not really meant to be a bookmarking service. but I'll use twitter however I want, okay?