Friday, December 15, 2006

8-bit Post It Fun

As often as I use Post-It Notes, it never occurred to me to do this:

[*cough*cough* Need to clear the dust and cobwebs here. The diss is complete, so more posts soon!]

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Ruled paper for writing Arabic

Ruled paper for writing Arabic
Originally uploaded by kaleissin.
Learning to write on lined paper when we are very young tends to make those lines feel so Authoritative -- rigid, constant, unvarying.

Different writing systems require different kinds of lines. The lines come after the writing. But when they are given to us before we can write in order to help constrain our wobbly letters, they feel like they came before.

On a related note, I've experimented with writing of a variety of kinds of paper -- ruled, college ruled, graph, engineering graph, blank... None of them have any effect on my writing. I write all over the damn page, draw diagrams wherever I please, send arrows careening 'round the page to connect thoughts. And there hasn't been a line invented yet that can constrain my wobbly letters. My penmanship suggests mercury poisoning.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

The Beauty of Ugly

Ze Frank gets it right about the value of putting the means of production into the hands of the masses! His "I knows me some ugly Myspace showdown" contest prompted exchange below that was so damn good and spot-on, I just had to transcribe and post it. Rock on Ze!
S-s-s-something from the comments. Marion writes, "Having an ugly Myspace contest is like having a contest to see who can eat the most cheeseburgers in 24 hours. You're mocking people who, for the most part, have no taste or artistic training." Marion, thanks for telling me what I was doing. I didn't even know I was mocking people.

For a very long time "taste" and "artistic training" have been things that only a small number of people have been able to develop. Only a few people could afford to participate in the production of many types of media. Raw materials like pigments were expensive, same with tools like printing presses. Even as late as 1963, it cost Charles Peignot over $600,000 to create and cut a single font family.

The small number of people who had access to these tools and resources created rules about what was "good taste" or "bad taste". These designers started giving each other awards and the rules they followed became even more specific -- all sorts of stuff about grids and sizes and color combinations -- lots of stuff that the consumers of this media never consciously noticed.

Over the last 20 years, however, the cost of tools related to the authorship of media has plummeted. For very little money, anyone can create and distribute things like newsletters, or videos, or bad-ass tunes about Ugly. Suddenly, consumers are learning the language of these authorship tools. The fact that tons of people know names of fonts, like Helvetica, is weird!

And when people start learning something new, they perceive the world around them differently. If you start learning how to play the guitar, suddenly the guitar stands out in all the music you listen to. For example, throughout most of the history of movies, the audience didn't really understand what a craft editing was. Now, as more and more people have access to things like iMovie, they begin to understand the manipulative power of editing. Watching reality TV almost becomes like a game as you try to second guess how the editor is trying to manipulate you.

As people start learning and experimenting with these languages of authorship, they don't necessarily follow the rules of "good taste". This scares the shit out of designers. In Myspace, millions of people have opted-out of pre-made templates that "work" in exchange for Ugly. Ugly when compared to pre-existing notions of taste is a bummer, but Ugly as a representation of mass experimentation and learning is pretty damn cool.

Regardless of what you might think, the actions you take to make your Myspace page Ugly are pretty sophisticated. Over time, as consumer-created media engulfs the other kind, it's possible that completely new norms develop around the notions of "talent" and "artistic" ability.

Happy Ugly. This is Ze Frank thinking so you don't have to.

[Naturally, after transcribing, I found the wiki.]

Monday, September 11, 2006

Technology and the Scale of Interaction

The announcement of The Chronicle of Higher Education's "Strategies for Campus Leadership" Technology Forum caught my eye today. Not that wee wonks like me have much voice at such things, but a sentence from the description of closing keynote speaker Peter Nicholson's (president and chief executive officer, Council of Canadian Academies) session disturbed me. It states,
Academics are accustomed to being regarded as the experts on any given topic. But with the arrival of blogs and Wikipedia, the Internet may be tearing down traditional structures of authority. Now everyone is an "expert." A prominent Canadian academic will discuss what this means for higher education.
Sentence one is fine, and I can even understand how sentence two may be valid, but sentence three strikes me as flat-out wrong. Information technology does not create new experts, rather, it merely changes the scale of interaction among existing participants. It increases access. So really, it just forces us to notice and acknowledge other experts who previously didn't have access to us, our classrooms, or our published conversations. And I think acknowledging that "other" experts existed prior to digital technology has important implications for "what this means for higher education".

My "scale of interaction" idea comes from McLuhen and my "different kinds of expertise" idea come from Robert Johnson (no, not that one). Which you, dear reader, now have easier access to because of the miracle hyperlinking.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Academic peer-review moves online

"Get Wiki With It; Peer review – the unsung hero and convenient villain of science – gets an online makeover."

This interesting article in the current issue of Wired discusses a few recent examples of online peer-review for academic articles (article gets posted online and opened to comments from anyone) that differ from the traditional peer-review model (article gets sent out to review by a handful of peers).

The article points to a few examples of online peer review:
  1. Nature is currently experimenting with online review.
  2. arXiv (x = chi, thus archive) hosted by Cornell University Library, allows "Open access to 383,063 e-prints in Physics, Mathematics, Computer Science and Quantitative Biology" and includes a nice statement of rationale.
  3. Biology Direct, which according to Wired, "publishes any article for which the author can find three members of its editorial board to write reviews." [Biology Direct's self-description.]
  4. PLoS ONE which describes itself as an "inclusive, peer-reviewed, open-access resource from the Public Library of Science"
As an example, the article states that in the Nature experiment, "While the work goes through the usual peer review drill, a preprint version gets posted on the Web. Anyone – even you – can comment, as long as you attach your name, affiliation, and email address."

The Wired article does a decent job glossing a few of the pros and cons of each model, including some interesting related issues ("Nature is an elite journal that accepts few submissions, a kind of exclusivity that lets universities use publication as a proxy for worth in hiring and promotion decisions"). But Nature's examination of the issues is more thorough.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Technology of the Mundane

I think that after we use a technology for quite some time, we begin to take it for granted. (Though a broken washing machine, dishwasher, etc. is quick to change that situation.) But with mundane, everyday, "little" technologies, it's easy to forget what life was like before that technology existed and possibly even what situation or problem it was invented to overcome.

Thus my fascination with this post on the Modernmechanix blog about the "new" spiral bound notebook from the September 1934 Popular Science. A flexible memorandum book was an innovation, presumably because rigid notebooks were disadvantageous in some way. (Uncomfortable in the pocket? Can anyone think of other possible disadvantages to rigidity?)

So the next time you pick up a spiral-bound notebook, pause a moment to ponder what innovative soul wouldn't stand for the rigid ones. No, they introduced the innovation of spiral binding for flexibility. This goes for other mundane technologies: paper clips, office "binder" clips, ball point pens, etc., etc. Thank you noble innovators everywhere.

[via BoingBoing, image from]

Friday, September 01, 2006

Slightly interesting video display

I bookmarked this video a while ago because it caught my eye but needed further consideration. The Helio Display "mid-air projector" (video below) from io2Technologies projects images from a variety of possible sources onto a condensed plane of air created by a blower. One can interact with the image (click, rotate) as you would any computer with a pointing device. (I was curious how this works, but the product literature and FAQ don't say much.)

Once I moved past the "gee whiz" factor and seductive analogy to the Princess Leia projection scene in Star Wars, I'm less impressed. In terms of real-world utility, the system offers no real advantage over screens. The fact that the display must be projected means it's a two (three if you count the video source) part system that actually requires quite a bit of space. Rather, I most expect to find this display as foot-traffic bait at trade shows and Sharper Image. (This has trade show written all over it.)

Or maybe it's the utter awfulness of the local-news "technology segment" coverage of the invention that really soured me, beginning with "Check this out!" and going downhill from there ("how cool is this?" and "man!"). From me, the Helio Display gets a well-earned, "Huh!"

Oh and Google has additional video.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Beta Blogger Spell Check (and singing the Beta Blues -- wah, wah, wah)

While I'm excited about Beta Blogger's new spell-check interface (ostensibly what I'm posting about here), I've got the beta blues. Apparently, Google has decided to revamp Blogger and re-release it in beta form [tour]. < .rant > I became aware of this in the typical force-it-on-the-end-user fashion. I went to log in to post one day with my Blogger login (that's fun to say! and sounds Swedish!) when some arcane constellation of cookies and "remember me" functionality, or some other "under the hood" hoodoo that I don't fully understand, notified me that I could now log in with my Google account. Not aware of the new release, I said, "Um, sure, whatever" and am apparently beta-testing the new version [I switched without realizing it]. What's got me a little miffed is this new version no longer plays nicely with Flickr, so I can't auto-post from there and don't know when I'll be able to again. Flickr Support answered my query with,
If you meant the beta for the new Blogger, we are waiting
for more things to be in place from Blogger before it will
Um, ok. It's the same feeling I get when my bank gets eaten by a bigger bank and I get issued a new, uglier ATM card or my phone service gets swallowed by a bigger phone service and I loose track of just who the hell my phone company is. Yes, there's probably myriad documentation that would let me know what's going on, but this end-user just wants to post. < /rant >

One feature of the beta version is a new "holistic" spell check. Rather than walking the user sequentially from the first to last suspect word, all suspect words are highlighted and become clickable for a drop-down menu of replacement options. I was pleased. I found the new spell-check easier to manage and easier for quickly assessing "real" and false-positive misspellings. While MS Word's on-the-fly red underlining is similar, I find this "highlight it when I say so" less intrusive during writing and the highlighting is easier to scan visually (better contrast), so I find it easier to scan. I'd be happy if this became a new standard.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Just Start Playing with It

Daily video-blogger Ze Frank, in a not-so-recent post (warning: Ze is a little NSFW), hits the nail on the head with how to learn software and the limits of the traditional academic approach to learning, two things I try to be mindful of. He's got a pithy little discussion of how the best way to learn something (software, guitar) is to just start playing with it and cautions against the academic tendency to over-theorize. That we don't necessarily have to grok the thing-to-be-learned in its entirety before proceeding. Now, as a good little academic, I believe there's nothing so useful as a good theory. But, I do strive to balance theory and praxis in my classes. Ze's comments remind me of Johndan's anecdote of his daughter "learning" how to play a game. From Datacloud...
I watched as my daughter, Carolyn, then 7, played a computer game... The interface sported almost no explanatory text or conventionally meaningful icons; the brief instructions were written in German... She was not intimidated, confused, or annoyed; she seemed to consider the lack of instructions part of the game. She merely started the game and began clicking on objects...
He includes a snippet of their conversation about the game:
J: How do you know which blocks to hit?
C: I just... hit them.
J: So how do you figure out what the rules are?
C: Just play.
J: Just play? And then what happens?
C: You just... play.
(p. 3)
Ze Frank is one of my favorite Internet Personalities. He's funny, very clever/innovative, and often provides something interesting to consider -- thinking so I don't have to.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

A lot going on

I glanced down at my task bar today and marveled at the variety of crap I had open. I don't claim this to be more than anyone else has open at any given time. Rather, I think this is the way many of us work all the time and this is why I study mediated writing processes.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Friday, August 11, 2006

Cory Doctorow - Writing a Novel

4 min 33 sec - Apr 24, 2006

G'Video: Novelist Cory Doctorow describes his writing process, lists the tools he uses, and provides advice to writers.

Me: He has a very pragmatic approach to being a productive writer and how tools and processes affect productivity. Thanks, MIT Comparative Media Studies New Media Literacies Project!

Wednesday, August 09, 2006


Watched most of Steamboy [W'pedia] last night, a fun film about the dangers of technological development motivated by greed rather than desire to help humanity. Naturally, this morality is a bit simplistic, but here's my favorite (translated subtitle) line in the movie so far:
An invention with no philosophy behind it is a curse. ~Dr. Lloyd Steam
I wonder if this applies to happy little accidental inventions?

Friday, August 04, 2006

William Gibson on Chat

Just finished Gibson’s Pattern Recognition. Great read. The book is filled with numerous insightful metaphors. He has this to say about chat rooms:
And right now there are three people in Chat, but there's no way of knowing exactly who until you are in there, and the chat room she finds not so comforting. It's strange even with friends, like sitting in a pitch-dark cellar conversing with people at a distance of about fifteen feet.

The distance/dark metaphor (simile, technically) nails the problem of turn-taking in chat. With no non-verbal signals, turn-taking is problematic. (The same thing can happen in phone calls with significant time-delay.) One innovation that I’ve noticed helps turn taking is the relatively new “X is now typing” cues, though these exist primarily in instant messaging programs, not sure about chat rooms. Aim states it:

Google Talk gives an icon:

Both help reduce the “15 feet” effect.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Writing for later

Here's a teaching life-hack I've implemented to help me make ongoing improvements to my class. For each class I teach, I keep a Notepad document called "0_change.txt" in the folder (the "0_" prefix keeps it at the top of the file structure). Each time something doesn't work quite right in class, I make a note in that file. I often don't have time to implement the change at the moment I think of it, so this note includes reminders of where information is or specifically what needs to change. When I prepare to run the class again, I use the file as a punch list of improvements to make.

The Information Machine

The Information Machine: Man and the Data Processor
cartoon by Charles and Ray Eames
1957 (public domain)
Available at

"traces the history of storing and analyzing information from the days of the cavemen to today's age of electronic brains"

Monday, July 31, 2006

More Writing The Life Aquatic

Finished the The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou DVD commentary by writers Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. In tonight’s segment we come to a section where Zissou shows his “son” Ned a letter he carries written by Ned long ago (we've seen earlier that Ned carries Zissou's reply). The scenes are intercut with closeups of the letters in the time and place they were written. Anderson mentions Pauline Kael (“she’s certainly what made me interested in [filmmaker Jean-Luc] Godard”) and seems to credit Godard with the significant role letters play in his work and with his use of text on the screen…

WA [discussing Kael on Godard]: And she talks about how Godard’s movies are filled with – they’re literary, they’re filled with words. There’s titles on the screen and there’s letters and there’s writing everywhere. And there’s people quoting – people just reciting from books, and I do that. And this movie, now we’re looking at another letter [from Ned to Zissou] – it’s filled with writing.

NB: And I like- again, something he might do, his- we see Ned reading a crumpled up letter that’s obviously been around a long time, but then when we go to the insert, we go to the original letter [when it was first written] in a very formal way, with the pencil above it.

WA: Yes. In fact, I think one of the letters is situated in this environment where Zissou would have written it and Ned’s is situated in this place where Ned would have written it – his desk, when he was 11, and a half.

NB: And it brings- we talked about how you use words and letter-writing – in a ???[filmmaker’s name], when people write letters they actually speak to the camera and they’re superimposed over images…

This exchange struck a cord with me as well. I’m doing a bit of spring cleaning, going through old papers and what I seem to be hanging on to is meaningful correspondence, just as we see in The Life Aquatic. I’m fascinated by the attention to detail Anderson brings (his trademark) to the close-up on the writing space. The kind, condition, and placement of the paper. Each character’s handwriting. Pencils and a ruler just so. These details reveal so much about the characters themselves, perhaps more than the words they speak.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Writing The Life Aquatic

I’m always interested in people’s awareness of their own writing processes, particularly their attention to the tools they use and collaborative writing processes. This exchange on the subject comes from The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou DVD commentary by writers Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. Anderson and Baumbach are recording the commentary in a restaurant where they’d meet and write together for several hours a day over the course of a few months. They reach a scene in which underwater explorer Zissou (Bill Murray) is reading from journalist Jane’s (Cate Blanchett) notebooks…

NB: And Bill’s reading one of your actual notebooks, it looks like.

WA: Yes, Jane’s notebooks are modeled on the notebooks these movies are written in. So The Life Aquatic is originally – while we would sit here talking, I would write everything down in longhand in notebooks like this and I’d take it home and type it up and then I’d bring in the pages the next day and we’d write more in the notebook and more on the pages – anyways, that’s what the notebook…

NB: Yeah, and it’s worth probably noting that the way we write these things are not – we don’t both do separate scenes and then bring them in together and try and edit them or anything. We actually come up with everything together in the room. I mean, stuff is done later, in rewriting or when you’re directing and stuff, but it is a…

WA: Yeah, we’d make the story sitting here together.

NB: Yeah in those- in Jane’s notebooks.

WA: Yeah, in Jane’s notebooks.

I love Anderson’s films and adore that the actual notebooks made their way into the film itself.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

MS Office 2007 Interface Video -- Nice Intro to UI

In addition to marketing the product and preparing users for what to expect, Microsoft's Office 2007 User Interface Intro Video does a nice job explaining the rationale behind their design decisions -- most of which seem sound. The video provides some insight into the mismatch between user goals and the old menu-driven interface and includes a good critique of the non-WYSIWYG aspect of dialog boxes (conceptual overview at 1:15 and example provided at 4:42 and other times throughout). Gizmodo bashes the interface as a ripoff of Mac's Aqua, but I don't know enough about Aqua to comment. What I like best about the video is that it provides a nice example of what "user experience" people do and how they think. It might be useful in my tech writing classes. [previous post]

Monday, June 19, 2006

Fact following fiction

Had I the time, I'd create a blog to identify new technologies that seem to come straight off the pages or screens of my favorite sci-fi. Case in point -- the new "Science on a Sphere" 3-D projection system from the Earth System Research Lab of the U.S. DOC & NOAA [from Information Aesthetics].

[image from Information Aesthetics]

It looks suspiciously like the holographic plans of a certain space-based weapon retrieved by the Rebellion, no?

[image from]


Thursday, June 15, 2006

The Cheat

Also from Boing Boing today, an older post from Alex Halavais, "How to cheat good." Halavais shares some amusing insights into how instructors suspect/detect plagiarism. My personal fave? #8, Edit > Paste Special > Unformatted Text. Though he doesn't remark on my favorite small-detail tell, the sudden appearance of straight quotes (as opposed to smart-quotes) which makes me suspect the text originated online rather than in Word.

DIY micro-printing press

I'm always in favor of putting the means of production into the hands of the masses. It's one of the great boons of digital technology, IMHO. But I always forget what resourceful, tool-building monkeys we are, and that innovation can be as easily found on your porch as on your laptop. To wit...

Michael Rosenblatt's folding chair stamp jig for stamp-printing business cards. Clever duck! And I recognize that weathered chair. I've got the same model myself. [via Boing Boing]

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Writing systems vs. writing technologies

This clever Worth1000 entry to the Vintage Products 4 contest by Gene got me thinking about the relationship between writing systems and whether/how they fit with various writing technologies. One phenomenon I need to learn more about is how various languages map to keyboards. I'm shooting blind here, but I suspect the design of our modern keyboards pretty heavily favors languages using the Latin alphabet (and let's sidestep the QWERTY/Dvorak/etc. debate for now). But how does the Cyrillic alphabet map to keyboards? And the Chinese language family or Arabic? And how about for phone-texting interfaces? (Which, let's face it, are pretty much crap for whatever language you speak/write -- well except for the language of texting which evolved in response to the interface.) Yes, I could look up the answers to these many questions, but mostly I wanted to post this funny picture.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

When to update

Notices of software product updates should not appear when I first launch the program, because I'm trying to enter a task at that moment and not too likely to interrupt it with some update that might require me to restart the program or worse, my system. Rather they should, as I go to close the program and thus signaling the end of my task, prompt me that updates are available and can be downloaded prior to closing, which I'm far more likely to do. I'm talkin' ta *you* Adobe Acrobat.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

As we may work...

Finally, here's a futuristic vision for document management GUI I can get behind. I'd have to interact with it to see if it really overcomes some of the multiple-document viewing problems of our current computer monitors, but this video demo of a multi-touch screen seems much more promising than those in Minority Report. It reminds me of a 2-D version of the library scene in Snowcrash.

Via: VideoSift

And I'll have to fly out of O'Hare soon to check out their "'Minority Report' Style Billboards."

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Presenting at 4Cs

A large percentage of the few readers of this humble little blog are fellow writing teachers, who might be at 4Cs in Chicago next week. I'll be presenting on this panel:

Bringing Techne Front and Center: Examining the Materials of the Art of Writing
J.13, Friday, 3:30–4:45 p.m., Salon 2, Third Floor

Chair: Janice Lauer, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN
  • Pender Kelly, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, “Writing inLate Postmodernity: Contradictions of the Art”
  • Shaun Slattery, DePaul University, Chicago, IL, “The Tool Side of Techne: ‘Habits of Mind’ vs. ‘Habits of Mediation’”
  • Karl Stolley, Purdue University, West Lafayette, IN, “A Techne for Artful Choices in Digital Writing”
Here's a sneak preview...
In a further investigation of the role of materials in an art of writing, I argue that most modern treatments of techne (usually translated as art or craft) focus solely on the writer’s “habits of mind.” Recent research into mediation, however, suggests a new approach to theorizing techne. Complex activity, such as writing, can also be influenced by immediate environmental conditions, such as the texts writers surround themselves with as they write. This researcher’s recent study of writers’ use of texts and technologies while composing suggest techne is as much a way of doing as a way of thinking. This view is consistent with classical articulations of techne, which included examples of such material production as shipbuilding. This view is also consistent with Activity Theory which undergirds recent studies of mediation and argues that internal ways of thinking and external tool-use are mutually constitutive. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, this view suggests that teachers of writing should be attentive to mediated composing processes including the use of information technologies.
In particular, I'll focus on how techne offers some attempt at control over contingency in complex information environments.

Stickie Situations

In discussing the announcement of cold fusion achieved at RPI, my friend Kevin Neal made an interesting movie reference/observation:

I thought of this conversation yesterday in that I watched some of The Saint again, and here is Elisabeth Shue’s character stuffing the 6 post-it note-sized slips of paper holding the “secret formula” for cold fusion into her bra for safekeeping... that seemed just a bit skimpy for cold fusion.

What an interesting point. Given that the RPI press release seems to describe a technological procedure, rather than “a formula,” I’m betting Kevin’s right. It could be a bit hard to describe that on a few yellow stickies. Seems my friends are much more critical movie watchers than I am.

Friday, March 03, 2006

Wiki Woes

In a recent post to the ATTW listserv, Stephen Bernhardt nicely summarized some of the problems of using wikis for collaborative writing:
I coauthored an article on the rhetoric of clinical trial reports with two coauthors this past fall. We used a wiki that one of us ran off a home server to provide writing and commenting space and to control versions. It worked reasonably well, except for having to get used to missing Word tools--track changes, comments--and Word features, such as the stylesheet. It all had to be exported from the wiki and formatted according to editorial guidelines. I think the lack of format controls and markup language in the wiki was the primary limitation.
His comments show a nice awareness of the tradeoffs of various technologies. It sounds like his writing group encountered no major problems, but I've heard of writers new to wikis can be uncomfortable with having others edit their words. While this is often true of new collaborative writers in general, I believe wikis -- because the authority to edit is built into the software -- automate the subtle permission-getting that happens in face-to-face or pass-the-draft-around collaboration. To be comfortable with wikis, I suspect writers need to be comfortable with collaborative writing more generally and be aware of wiki protocol.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Speaking of many texts...

Debbie Hawhee recently posted about finishing a chapter manuscript (congrats!). What I enjoyed about her post was the picture of her desk (re"printed" below). It's a great, familiar image of academic writing and it reveals a lot of details about familiar composing processes. Some of what I notice in such pictures are things like:
  • Post-It note bookmarks to help find key places in the text
  • Folders for grouping like/related info
  • Is it a Swingline? Also for keeping related texts together
  • The invevitable photocopied journal articles
  • Spiral notebook for creating new texts
  • Calendar, for coodinating the production of text over time
  • A buncha Burke
  • A folder organizer to help stage texts for later use (ditto the row of books)
  • Crumpled paper -- an unsuccessful text?
  • The Computer -- where it all comes together

About the creation of new texts... I think we often create "ancillary" texts when writing -- they're not the thing we're writing but something we have to create *toward* the thing we're writing.

What we can't see (here) is what all happened on-screen (like the "100+ footnotes" etc.). My desk is often relatively clean, because many of my texts are electronic. That's why I used screen-capture software when studying writing [example, 19M].

T.C. in the wild...

My friend Carrie Gilbert, a user-experience designer for White Horse spotted a textual coordination problem in the wild! She shared it with me…

cowboyboo: oh hey, I witnessed *textual coordination* the other day… and then proposed improvements to an online app to decrease the number of texts the user was dependent upon. I was *very excited*
Shaun: no way!
cowboyboo: it was funny, too, she saw no problem with it…
: "well, the app only does x, so then I go into SQL and run a query, and size that window beside this spreadsheet, and ...
: lol. so, really, did you stop and go, "This is a problem of textual coordination and I bet there’s a way to co-locate the text" or something like that?
: well, not quite like that, because although I'm a nerd, I'm not as big of one as *you* ;) ...
: few are
: I think I said, "wow, you're juggling a lot there, it would be great if we could display more of that data you need right there in the app so that you don't have to rely on so much stuff" or something
What made me particularly excited was some verification that spotting such problems creates an opportunity for intervention. By seeing textual coordination as a “thing” people do, we can intervene strategically to improve composing processes. Although, the statement "she saw no problem with it" seems to indicate a high threshold for coordination. Is it something we just learn to cope with? Does coordinating many texts impact the task? (I suspect so, but...)

Anyway, it made my day.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Online Presentation

I'm giving a virtual presentation for the 2006 Computers & Writing Conference. My project page has all the info, but here's a quick link to a quicktime movie (5.7M) I made of my powerpoint slides with a little help from Camtasia. Love that software.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Simple Instructions

I teach technical writing (among other things). Creating a set of instructions is a pretty typical assignment and I've become fascinated with them. Here's two of my recent favorites...

The instructions for Pong, the first video game: "Avoid missing ball for high score."

And the two rules for sumo wrestling, according to Jason at Signal vs. Noise. [Update: How 'bout these from Nataliedee?]


One of my favorite things about technology is people's ability to use it in unexpected ways. I admire the hacker ethos. It's what leads Johndan to use Google as a spelling checker and me to turn on all the cell borders in Excel to quickly print graph paper. Here's a nifty nifty solution to not having a ruler when you need one:

printable paper rulers

[link: swissmiss; image:]

Oh, and there's online graph paper... much better than my Excel hack. Thanks cooltools.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Coordinating Reading Redux

Behold The Thumb Thing... nifty gizmo for keeping books open. As a notorious perambulatory reader (a tendency that often requires one-handed reading), I for one could use one of these things. And a headlamp to facilitate reading during my walk home from the El after dark.

[image and link via Swissmiss]

Hot on the press

Boing Boing informed me that famed tech-book publisher O'Reilly has launched Rough Cuts, a service granting access to books-in-production. Even more interesting (in my estimation) is the ability to shape the written product. From the Roughcuts page:
[Rough Cuts gives] access to an evolving PDF manuscript that you can read, download or print. Once you've purchased a Rough Cuts title, you will have a chance to shape the final product-you can send suggestions, bug fixes, and comments directly to the author and editors.
I don't know much about the publishing industry, but this seems a very smart response to encroachments on publishing from the web. It's a way to profit on time-sensitive content (not a bailiwick of print-publishing) and leverage a target-market that is used to being able to contribute its two cents. There's even a nice caveat emptor:
Rough Cuts titles live up to their name-they haven't been fully edited, subjected to final technical review, or formatted for print. In other words, they'll be very current, but they won't be pretty.

Monday, January 16, 2006

Coordinating Reading

Dr. B recently blogged about nifty print-your own bookmarks. What I like best about them is the inclusion of a Note feature. I frequently just use small pieces of blank paper so I can jot down notes while I read (provided I don't own the book in which case I write all over the thing). For fiction, I sometimes need reminders of character names (especially when I've only got time to pick up the book twice a week and have forgotten everyone). For non fiction, well, I jot down things to blog or look up or just think about. I don't know if I'll use these things (the note space is a little cramped), but they sure are better looking than my usual scrap-paper bookmarks.

[Image from]

Friday, January 13, 2006

On writing together

Earlier this month the New York Times reviewed Aquamind's NoteShare. Fallows does a good job pinpointing the crux of the difficulty of computer supported cooperative work (CSCW) -- simple interface usually means limited functionality while robustness usually means the need for an entire IT department. NoteShare sounds like a comfy balance. Looking forward to the PC version later this year. I'm getting tired of emailing documents and creating Yahoo groups for every conference panel proposal I'm on.

While asynchronous collaboration certainly works for most academic work, there are often times early in the process (identifying the unifying theme of several projects) and late in the process (close-editing of collaboratively-written documents) when synchronous collaboration would be nice.

I seldom sit down at a computer with another person, but in co-authoring an article with Jason Swarts when I was in Raleigh last year, we'd meet in a coffee shop with a laptop and pass it back and forth. Extreme writing, as it were. I found the process extremely rewarding. One of my main concerns about teaching composition is that by having students writing in isolation all the time, they can develop bad habits or at least never see other ways of writing that they themselves might benefit from. They develop a mere knack when learning a craft is the goal.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Happy Birthday Louis Braille

Google honors Louis Braille, the inventor of a system of writing for the blind and visually impaired based on raised dots. The braille system represents a wonderful early example of accessibility well ahead of its time. Here's a great image of someone reading braille. In looking at images of braille, I've noticed that there are different modes of presenting it. This image shows raised-dot-only text. This, however, shows ink on the dots which might help different readers. And this image shows traditional writing printed with the braille text. Finally, there are numerous devices which output digital text into braille. (You can see one in action in one of my favorite movies, Sneakers.)

[image from Google]

Monday, January 02, 2006

Einstein sez...

Thanks to Hetemeel's dynamic image generator.