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Wednesday, 26 April 2006

Have you seen my day?

I should call the police because I think someone has stolen my day. I did not misplace it nor did I leave it unlocked. At about a quarter to one when I went to sleep this morning, I had my day bolted down. Sure, a faculty meeting at five, but even with two hours for exercising I'd have all day to get my research done.

I woke up, made breakfast and finished eating it by 9:30, then . . . poof! I think the perp was driving a green Ford Galaxy. Tomorrow one of my colleagues (the same colleague whom I irritated a little over a month ago) is presenting an article for a colloquium, and I'm worried because I've not read her article and doing so will take away precious and limited research time away from me. I'm starting to worry that only desperation is going to speed me up. Days like this I know I'm a loser.

As example, here I am now writing not-so-humorously about my failure to make productive use of my most limited resource when I could at least be saying something interesting about Gus Van Sant's 1997 Good Will Hunting, which I finally watched because I felt I needed a break from everything.

Maybe I ate too much meat (chicken, beef, and shrimp) for dinner last night.

The faculty meeting I attended today was supposed to provide English department faculty a chance to give our new (permanent) Dean Ben Ogles feedback regarding the College of Arts and Sciences Strategic Plan (as part of Vision Ohio) and possible changes to the Early Retirement Program. Some very important issues regarding security, compensation, and governance were raised by the most vulnerable of our teachers, who recently have been notified that in a year's time they will likely have to choose between one of two options regarding a cut in pay.

How dare those faculty raise issues so central to the functioning of the English department as job security for our longest-employed and most-vulnerable workers? By doing so they derailed all the small and large points I had regarding the language of the College of Arts and Sciences Strategic Plan for Vision Ohio. This, anyway, was the objection I raised late in the meeting. Why was I so intent on making sure my homework remain relevant?

But, of course.

I also remember, now, where my research effort went to this morning. I have this itch involving the implementation of a threaded and moderated discussion board for classes I teach and I occasionally think to scratch it with Slash. I read a few sets of instructions before deciding that implementation would be unthinkably time-consuming.

Just reading those instructions stole my day. end of article

Monday, 24 April 2006

Ain't This The Life?

On 12 April, CNN's Money Magazine published a hoot of an article ranking “The Best Jobs in America” in terms of “stress level, flexibility in work environment and hours, creativity, and ease of entry and advancement in the field.” In order, those jobs are

1. Software engineer
2. College professor
3. Financial adviser
4. HR manager
5. Physician assistant
6. Market research analyst
7. Computer IT analyst
8. Real Estate appraiser
9. Pharmacist
10. Psychologist

I concur that wherever I go, being a university professor makes me feel like the second-happiest person among the people I meet. What is best about this job, for me, is that I have complete intellectual freedom. I can pursue those lines of research which most interest me. For example, I am currently working on an article about Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man and how he is American literature's first cyborg subject. I'm also working on an article about zombie movies and the race-mixing fantasies which attend them beginning with George Romero's 1968 Night of the Living Dead and ending (for now) with Danny Boyle's 2002 28 Days Later. 1

Self-satisfied navel-gazing aside, what made me LOL was CNN Money's description of the college professor, which details

What's cool Professors have near-total flexibility in their schedules. Creative thinking is the coin of the realm. No dress code!

What's not The tick-tick-tick of the tenure clock; grading papers; salaries at the low end are indeed low.

Top-paying job University presidents' pay can hit $550,000 or more, but most make about half that. [My italics.]

CNN Money must have some seriously arithmetic-impaired copy editors. If it is true that “most [professors] make about half” of $550,000, then $225,000 a year is below average salary for a college professor. 2 I cannot begin to tell you how much I wish this were true, my job’s #2 ranking nothwithstanding. My guess is that CNN Money means that most university presidents make about half of $550,000. 3 On the same page, CNN Money summarizes that the “average salary” of a college professor is $81,500, which might be closer to the mark if one includes the salaries of professors who teach in schools of business, economics, law, and medicine. However in schools of Arts and Sciences, and in humanities departments especially, professors make well below this figure. $200,000 is how much the most highly paid (and most famous) professors of English make (hint: none of them teach in the Ohio University English Department). At Ohio University, starting pay for an assistant professor of English is between $44,000 and $50,000 and yearly raises are smaller than 2% which is not enough to keep up with inflation.

There are many things that rock about being an English professor, but I will tell you now that pay is not one of them. Oh, and since I can hear it tick every time I press a letter on my keyboard, the tenure clock thing sucks pretty hard, too.

UPDATE: embedded in a graphic titled “Working Really Hard For the Money CNN Money provides a truth-in-ranking caveat that there are “a few careers where the time and money invested to qualify for a position can be disproportionately high to the pay.” There, CNN Money details that an “Assistant professor, liberal arts” can expect annual earnings of $44,300. Architects get the worst of it at $34,000, with medical research scientists not much better off at $35,520 per annum.

The part that really caught my attention was the admission that there are a class of jobs that

may require a great deal of time and money in graduate education, offer working conditions that only passion can excuse, and there may be such a long run for the roses that you forfeit prime working and child-bearing years just to achieve a salary that college peers were earning a decade earlier.

end of article


1 A side-effect of this freedom is that sometimes I have to engage in distasteful research. For example, Dawn of the Dead (Romero 1978) was great when I was 15 years old, but now I'm more sensitive to violence graphic and otherwise. A few nights ago just before bedtime, I lay down with Max Brooks's 2003 The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead and after reading “the main reason zombies tend to stay in cities instead of fanning out into the countryside is because an urban zone holds the highest concentration of prey” (16) I had to put the book down. I lay in my bed at 3:30 am, comforting myself by asking, “If the dead started reanimating, why would they come to my house of all houses?” Of course, this line of thinking doesn't work for the psychoanalytically-inclined because the answer to that question is the question “If the dead started reanimating, why wouldn't they come to my house?”

2 Elsewere, CNN Money does have more accurate data on professors’ salaries.

3 NB: It is possible to be a university president without have ever having been a university professor.

Work Cited

Brooks, Max. The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection From the Living Dead. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2003.

Saturday, 22 April 2006

de-woot, Redone

I went to bed shortly after the previous post, looking forward to waking up in the morning. I sometimes envision sleep as a one-way tunnel that requires unconsciousness to enter. Waking puts one on sleep's other side, rejuvenated and altered. Last night's journey to now popped me into 5:45 am with thoughts about my dissatisfaction with what once captivated me on the web.

This is a trough in the oscillations of my cybernetic enthusiasm. I lethargically | reluctantly | mindlessly summon a pseudo-article on whether OS X 10.5 will virtualize Windows, replicate its application programming interface, or simply refer to a bootable partition. I scan replies to an article about the price of a low-end Dell being substantially lower than the cost of assembling from parts a comparably specced computer. I find myself growing numb, disinterested. I'm not learning anymore. The oscillation wave reverses direction, the slope of its curve shifting from negative to zero to positive, as I learn something I hadn't before: that bonjour advertises and discovers ssh and http connections; Parallels is an impressive implementation of a compatibility layer for Windows in OS X. But the upticks come infrequently, the wave having nearly been completely dampened over several cycles, flatlined. There's nothing more for me to learn that I want to learn.

The only direction to go is to learn a programming language like Objective-C, or C++, but my familiarity with higher-level (with respect to the hardware and the abstraction layers operating systems use to interface with that hardware) programming languages leads me reject this idea. I would not enjoy being mired in the intricate details of programming for very long. The art is still primitive, if complex and, at times, elegant.

So my perspective turns unavoidably to the art that started me, the more or less ductile strands of language which constitute poetic and expository writing, the space I'm in now.

Certainly, part of my drive to learn more about this digital medium—the cybernetic domain where automation becomes not only a tool but a means of generating material (as opposed to mere data)—is part of a larger desire to address issues of culture, art, politics, and spirituality in media other than print. The salient points of an analysis of a film, for example, can be more immediate to an audience if the printed material they read is accompanied by video excerpts from that film or, even better, if that analysis is conducted in the medium of film.

However, the drive to digitalization to which I have granted virtually unrestricted easement through my own critical and artistic domains ends up becoming noisome traffic.

For me now, writing productivity is impeded by the technology which enables it. No small trick of writing by longhand will help me overcome this “writer's block.” It's not actually writer's block I'm dealing with because, as this is evidence, writing happens. The problem is a question of medium and of audience and where these two coincide.

Scholarly and philosophically oriented material in many ways self-present as of narrow interest. The potential audience for such material seems in many ways not the same audience among whom one might find technological sophisticates or media pioneers. Who blogs and reads deeply? Are there many people who have interest in the ramifications of encrypted communications and poetic genre? What does visual rhyming have to do with redundancy in information streams? These questions suggest in a very clumsy (and misleading) way the shape of the issues that trouble my critical writing. They are the source for much of my present technological dissatisfaction, my cybernetic anomie. end of article

Thursday, 20 April 2006

Toni Morrison, Child Pornographer?

American Man Given 20 Years for Cartoons

[Dwight Whorley] who used a public computer at state offices to receive child pornography depicted in highly stylized cartoons will spend 20 years in prison.

I'm not into kiddie porn, but I thought the 1st Amendment protected all forms of speech. According to the linked article, there is a “federal law that the production or distribution of drawings or cartoons showing the sexual abuse of children.” I'm guessing | hoping Whorley will appeal his case all the way to SCOTUS, but something seems very wrong and very terrible in the United States today.

Yesterday, the Read-Johnson Scholar's Council met to talk about whether representative democracy is such a good system of government that it should be fostered in countries that have non-democratic forms of government. While the conversation did wheel about the beautiful Spring evening, I attempted to make a point that American representative democracy formerly (prior to 1955) depended upon a morally cohesive and well-informed (if not well-educated) populace. However, the erosion of moral values and critical thought by mass media has undermined the foundations of our democratic republic to such an extent that many Americans no longer understand what freedom really means outside of being free to go shopping.

American civil liberties are in serious jeopardy, and the case above proves it. It is very likely that no one is harmed in the production of cartoon drawings of sexual abuse. While repugnant, such representations amount to speech, to expression, vile as that expression might be. It is only a short step (if a further step need be taken at all) to saying representations of terrorist acts are a federal offense. How about representations of hate crimes? Does this make Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye contraband pornography?

In the following scene, Cholly Breedlove comes home drunk and encounters his pre-teen daughter, Pecola, washing the dishes. In a state of alcoholic stupor and paternal dysfunction, he sees Pecola's “foot scratching the back of her calf with her toe” and is reminded of “[t]he creamy toe of [his wife's] bare foot scratching a velvet leg,” something Pauline Breedlove did during her and Cholly's courtship (162). In the present moment, Cholly makes not for his wife's but his daughter's foot. As he does so, Cholly knocks Pecola off balance and the narrator explains that he then

raised his other hand to her hips to save her from falling. He put his head down and nibbled at the back of her leg. His mouth trembled at the firm sweetness of the flesh. [. . . .] The confused mixture of his memories of Pauline [Cholly's wife] and the doing of a wild and forbidden thing excited him, and a bolt of desire ran down his genitals, giving it length, and softening the lips of his anus. Surrounding all of this lust was a border of politeness. He wanted to fuck her—tenderly. [. . . .]

Removing himself from her was so painful to him he cut it short and snatched his genitals out of the dry harbor of her vagina. She appeared to have fainted. (162-163)

While there are substantial differences between the meaning of Pecola's victimization by her father in Morrison's novel and the sexual interest Whorley likely had in the illicit cartoons he downloaded, I do not believe the differences are so distinct that Whorley is guilty of a crime that demands he be deprived of his liberty. It defies my imagination that one can be jailed in the United States for adrawing. 1 end of article


1 Such legislation very likely targets the use of computers to produce photorealistic images and animations of sexual abuse. However, given that using computers to produce images does not necessarily harm people, it is not clear that such production should be illegal.

Work Cited

Morrison, Toni. The Bluest Eye. New York: Plume, 1970.

Wednesday, 19 April 2006

The Virtues of a Second Blog

Ivan Berger has an article on the New York Times where he considers “The Virtues of a Second Screen,” to which I want to respond where has this guy been and why is he writing a virtual blog article about his “discovery” of a second monitor? It's not clear that Berger has any sense that his technologized ecstasy is the very kind of navel-gazing that belongs in a blog or, even better, in a medium not publicly accessible. Unfortunately for his readers, Berger explains that, now, with a second monitor

When I edit photos, the second screen lets me compare the copy I am working on with the original, or shows tool palettes and thumbnails of other images, and I can blow up panoramic shots for closer viewing (though with a bar down the middle, like the central pillar of an old car's windshield). When I am shopping on the Web, my two screens let me compare products. When I work on tables or spreadsheets, I can see all the columns at once. When I expect important messages, I keep my e-mail program open on the side monitor while I work on something else.

Given Berger feels compelled to write an entire article regarding his adventures with a second monitor, I'm guessing he acquired the new video card capable of driving two displays (which every Apple portable since 1998 has been capable of doing, except for the early iBooks which could only mirror their main displays) some time within two weeks of writing the article which is dated today. If this is the case, Berger hasn't had enough time to experience the ways in which multiple monitors provide no boost to productivity at all. Focused bits of writing rarely require a source outside one's own nervous system, let alone a second monitor.

Berger's glee is vertiginous, which from my perspective is nauseating. I get dizzy. He explains that now when he is “shopping on the Web, my two screens let me compare products.” Berger doesn't need two monitors (as if one compares only two items while shopping). What Berger needs is a tabbed browser. Let me guess: still using Internet Explorer, right?

I wouldn't be so cynical if Berger's raves weren't so self-absorbed. He even understands people have made use of multiple monitors for quite some time. However, when he writes “Recent Windows and Mac computers (and some Linux systems) can operate with multiple monitors,” I want to ask what kind of research he conducted while writing his “article.” Macs have been able to do this at least since 1993. PCs could as well, though it took quite a bit more coaxing for Windows machines to be able to do so. Berger has gotten away with publishing a diary entry on the New York Times and I'm feeling really snarky about it.

Next thing he'll be blogging writing about is how useful Internet-accessible file servers are. end of article

(DISCLAIMER: Except for the iBook I am using now, all of my computers have at least two monitors. One even has three.)

Sunday, 16 April 2006

The Accidental Ranter

I've gotten some very little feedback, in the form of a phone conversation, that my redesign of mistersquid, at least as far as the blog goes, is much better. My correspondent (OK, my girlfriend) liked that this page “looks like a blog” which, of course, is the reason I've resisted using blog software on the main page. I mean, how many hundreds of thousands of blogs are there out there all with the same general interface? It makes me slightly ill to think mistersquid went from quirky if schizophrenically garish to muted and visually predictable. I rest somewhat easier since I've at least modified Dave Shea's Folio theme so that it is fluid and the sections aren't constrained by single-pixel borders (or floating over them once I fluidified the style sheet).

Speaking of which, I never quite understood fixed-width layout, even though mistersquid used to be fixed-width himself. My excuse is that once I put mistersquid together, redesigning the site using CSS was like tidying Frankenstein's monster by dressing him in a new suit. Fixed-width layout is worse than narcissism for sites that have longer text sections. It also prevents people from efficiently utilizing the screen space on their monitors. Dave Shea's main website, mezzoblue, seems to me a perfect example of textual anorexia, or textorexia, unnecessarily thin columns bordered by a continents of nothing


Shea's design is pretty, but nearly a quarter of his usable space is used on a bright blue field that contrasts badly with the red-orange tones of the navigation bar


The text at this level occupies only a quarter of the usable space. That's just bad typographical design, I'm sorry. The graphic character has appeal, and the site is readable, but the layout is atrocious. This is what happens on my measly 1024 x 768 iBook screen, imagine what happens when one pulls up the site on a browser window sized to a 23“ LCD screen. Well, luckily for you, you don't have to imagine. I can show you:


It's almost too painful for words. As a side note, if I find that mezzoblue happens to employ too small a font and, say, I increase the font sizing by pressing COMMAND-= twice, I'm suddenly looking at an ”I-Can-Read“ primer.

I respect Shea's visual design skills, but his use of fixed-width layouts in both his main site and the themes he designed for Movable Type betray a desire to control user experience rather than provide user experience. If one wants to read narrow columns, one can narrow the width on the browser. To be fair, Shea is not alone in the web-designer's desire to strait-jacket web surfers. Unfortunately, some of those users drown.

But this is not a rant I intended to write. First, because I'm extremely grateful to Shea for providing such a slick look for Movable Type which I've shamelessly cribbed | crippled | defaced. Second, because I really wanted to write about Internet cycles and the fact that in the last six-months, people from my past have Googled and found me. end of article

Wednesday, 12 April 2006


Maybe two years ago I had a section on mistersquid that was a blog. I labeled it “transient,” and never knew how much traffic it received. I didn't allow robots to index it.

Placing that blog in a subdirectory partially distinguished it from the more topical (as opposed) to personal entries, which felt necessary and appropriate given mistersquid was linked off my academic home pages. Of course, entries occasionally got too personal and I wasn't comfortable letting casual visitors so closely associate mistersquid with Johnnie Wilcox. They are distinct.

Furthermore, the original layout of mistersquid, at least the navigation bar, was beta. I rendered the navigation bar using Raydream Studio 5.5, a Mac OS 9 application that could easily be called the most underpowered and poorly-provisioned 3D-rendering application ever published for a consumer market. Beta became stable but not in the Google sense of “beta.” I just let the suckage sit.

I don't have time or energy to rethink the visual of this site, and I also very much want to become more publicly personal. Thank goodness for academic licenses and Movable Type. Unfortunately, the web interface for Movable Type just wasn't graceful enough to encourage regular posting, and I was busy setting up full-fledged, remotely-adminstratable Internet servers. And I didn't learn about ecto until two weeks ago.

So, visual distinction for casual users. But this is not the place for my more private musings. You'll need to fork from here for that. end of article

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