tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:/posts betajames 2017-10-31T18:00:46Z james schirmer tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1192669 2017-10-31T18:00:46Z 2017-10-31T18:00:46Z books recently read - sep/oct 2017

Sweetbitter by Stephanie Danler

Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys

The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu

Death's End by Cixin Liu

I'm Just A Person by Tig Notaro

The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski

Chemistry by Weike Wang

The Book Of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1177724 2017-09-01T00:34:26Z 2017-09-01T00:34:27Z books recently read - jul/aug 2017

The Idiot by Elif Batuman

Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann 

The Wanderers by Meg Howrey

The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

The Lonely City by Olivia Laing

Borne by Jeff VanderMeer

Mislaid by Nell Zink

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1155026 2017-07-02T13:53:59Z 2017-07-02T13:53:59Z books recently read - may/jun 2017

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie

The Awkward Thoughts of W. Kamua Bell by W. Kamau Bell

Inside Madeleine by Paula Bomer

The Death and Life of the Great Lakes by Dan Egan

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston

Killshot by Elmore Leonard

Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman

Exoplanets by Michael Summers and James Trefil 

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1139650 2017-04-29T22:02:40Z 2017-04-29T22:02:40Z books recently read - mar/apr 2017

Fifteen Dogs by Andre Alexis

White Trash by Nancy Isenberg

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Another Man's Moccasins by Craig Johnson

The Dark Horse by Craig Johnson

Tampa by Alissa Nutting

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1134197 2017-02-25T20:20:54Z 2017-02-26T04:00:45Z books recently read - jan/feb 2017

Watership Down by Richard Adams

The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

Frantumaglia by Elena Ferrante

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

The Unseen World by Liz Moore

The Nonviolence Handbook by Michael Nagler

Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

How To Be Black by Baratunde Thurston


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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1114089 2016-12-09T10:40:27Z 2016-12-09T10:40:27Z books recently read - fall 2016

The Girls by Emma Cline

Zero K by Don DeLillo

The Turner House by Angela Flournoy

Brown Dog by Jim Harrison

Death Without Company by Craig Johnson

The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu

Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Drinking Water by James Salzman

Guantanamo Diary by Mohamedou Ould Slahi



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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1074615 2016-07-21T01:38:04Z 2016-07-21T01:38:04Z body cameras

“One of the greatest lies perpetrated on our culture today is the notion that dash cameras on police cruisers and body cameras on police officers are tools of justice. Video evidence, no matter the source, can document injustice, but rarely does this incontrovertible evidence keep black people safe or prevent future injustices.” - Roxane Gay 

“the body camera becomes an extension of a television show like Cops, providing audiences with footage of black abnormality and justifications of death. The police officer can pick a moment in a video to say they feel 'threatened' in ways dead Black victims cannot. The anecdote that body cameras protect police assumes the actual threat is not police violence but Black suspects. The celebration of the body camera assumes a necessity of increased surveillance on Black people.” - Armond R. Towns 

"While we are fully in favor of citizen video as a tool for raising awareness, generating action, and galvanizing communities to push for accountability, we don’t believe that police-worn body cams will achieve anywhere near the same outcomes." - danah boyd and Alex Rosenblat

"Cameras fail to provide meaningful transparency, extend domestic spying, make mass incarceration even worse and represent a budgetary bonus to police departments and corporate camera contractors, while distracting the debate from the more important issue of officer - and department - accountability for abusive patterns and practices." - Shahid Buttar

"body cameras appear as simply the latest untested devices to be sold by a corporation that has long co-opted activist calls for police reform." - Ava Kofman 



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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/1056371 2016-05-27T02:40:17Z 2016-05-27T02:40:17Z A Distinct Lack of Change: Body Cameras as Institutionware [rough transcript] #rsa16

In previous work, I have suggested understanding certain kinds of proprietary software as “institutionware,” i.e., software that supports and maintains traditional ideas under the guise of providing a service. Characteristics of this concept include the compliance and containment of users and features. Among the clearest examples of institutionware are Blackboard and Turnitin, whose continued successes are tied to the institution of higher education. Institutionware is thus marked by a distinct lack of change. And I see an opportunity here with #RSA16 to extend this concept to hardware. Namely, I want to suggest body cameras as institutionware. 

That body cameras emerged from the rhetoric surrounding Ferguson and less so demilitarization, increased training, or any other police reform as a solution is telling. If institutionware describes hardware/software that maintains tradition under the guise of providing a service, body cameras are surely that. Body cameras allow the police to operate with little to no change in official policy. If body cameras can be turned off and footage accessed only by police, for example, such technology is representative neither of a public service nor a solution to the problem. Documents and recordings already exist, yet the problem, however defined, persists. Visibility may increase, but justice has not. 

And rather than general observations about body cameras as institutionware, I want to focus on body cameras in Atlanta. Not only was it the first city in which Michael Brown’s parents stopped to call for body cameras on cops but Atlanta was also among the first cities post-Ferguson to research and ultimately require body cameras on police officers. I therefore seek at #RSA16 in Atlanta what body cameras alter, even if I already fear the answer is “not much.”

But before getting into all of that, I think it’s important to explain this institutionware concept a little more, to lay out in clearer and maybe more relatable terms just what I’m talking about. First, I must give credit and inspiration to Georgia Tech professor and game designer Ian Bogost. In a 2013 Gamasutra column, Bogost recasts gamification, the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage users in solving problems, as “exploitationware.” This is a rhetorical move for Bogost as he aims to connect gamification to “better known practices of software fraud,” to “situate gamification within a larger set of pernicious practices in the high-tech marketplace.” I see this move as following through on the need emphasized by Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia Selfe in “The Rhetoric of Technology” to “recognize the high costs of hardware and software, recognize that computers can, and often do, support instruction that is as repressive and lockstep as any that we have seen” (61). So, I provide the name institutionware as a rhetorical move to draw further attention to such costs. I also consider the following to be another moment of identifying, according to Nancy Bray, “when the discomforts of technology should not be ignored.” Institutionware is an uncomfortable word for an uncomfortable thing, for our uncomfortable reality. 

So, here’s a definition: institutionware is software that supports and maintains traditional ideas under the guise of providing a service. The clearest examples of institutionware may be Blackboard and Turnitin, those products and services whose successes are most tied to the practices, customs, and traditions of higher education. Neither Blackboard nor Turnitin is out to question education but to scaffold it in particular ways. Their very names alone are evidence of traditional methods and values of classroom instruction. Institutionware is about keeping the institution as it is and has been, enhancing and supporting rather than challenging or threatening.

Enhancement of and support for the institution comes in the form of two overlapping characteristic goals: compliance and containment. In naming compliance as a characteristic goal of institutionware, I invoke here Douglas Rushkoff’s comments about Blackboard: “From the student or teacher's perspective, Blackboard is terrible. It's just awful. You run up consistently against these terrible obstacles and extremely difficult things, ways you've got to wrap your whole self and brain and course and life around what this program needs needs from you in order to comply with it. And most of us look and say, "Ugh, this is just an awful thing. This software is awful." If you look at it from what I'm calling the programmer's perspective, you see, "Oh no, Blackboard is brilliant." Because Blackboard wasn't written for me. Blackboard wasn't written for me as an educator or for that person as a student. Blackboard was written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a very particular way. Blackboard was created…not to promote the user's agency, but to decrease the user's agency and increase the institution's dependence on this piece of software.” The actions Blackboard asks users to execute represent a sort of endless acquiescence, an indicator of eternal compliance, a user’s inability to do anything but accept. Users come to institutionware subservient in spite of their own abilities and power. Institutionware holds it own, external demands over the internal, individual desires of its users. 

Institutionware is also about containment. Features of institutionware aren’t so much offered as they are contained, kept within an overall system so users have less reason to go elsewhere. For example, Blackboard contains blogs, discussion boards, journals, and wikis, all things freely available and customizable on the open web. Feature containment ensures that we can’t possibly take advantage of everything institutionware offers and also that we don’t use something else, much less have the time to experiment with other options. In this way, feature containment leads to and reinforces user containment. 

And just as Paul LeBlanc observes that “software programs are not neutral,” there is very little that is neutral about institutionware. Leveraging it for good or bad is inconsequential. When we use institutionware, we decrease our agency and encourage collective dependency on it. Institutionware signals stagnation, if not regression or reversion. Institutionware also suggests no possibility of escape and that is by design; any advocacy regarding flexibility remains within the confines of the program itself. The near ubiquity of institutionware indicates a sort of stasis, that our paying attention, however vigilant, signals little beyond a shrug and an acknowledgement that Blackboard is terrible.

In arguing for an understanding of proprietary software as institutionware, I have so far attempted to explain pernicious aims (i.e., compliance and containment) and to better our understanding of what we might be doing when we use Blackboard or iTunes or Microsoft Word or even Twitter. But, as I mentioned earlier, that’s not all I want to do today. I want to also extend the concept of institutionware from software to hardware, specifically body cameras. And we’re in a rather unique situation here in Atlanta regarding body cameras, too, so let’s get to that. 

The technology quickly emerged as a potential new method of accountability in fatal encounters between law enforcement and civilians, following the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson in August 2014. In September 2014, Atlanta City Council approved a feasibility study to determine whether to move forward with buying the devices. In September 2015, Atlanta City Council voted to buy 110 body cameras for police offers under a six-month $112,000 contract. In January 2016, a judge put Atlanta’s body cameras on hold due to a lawsuit brought against the city by a Decatur-based manufacturer accusing the police department of steering its body-camera contract toward two other companies in an “erroneous, arbitrary, [and] capricious manner.” As of this writing, police officers in Atlanta are without body cameras, but there are plenty in the surrounding area who are or will be equipped with the devices. Furthermore, body camera footage of what media outlets are calling an “officer-involved shooting” in Athens and a “fatal encounter with police” in Coweta County has been released in the last month. 

Mirroring much of the national debate on body cameras, local police and politicians often talked up the devices as agents of change that will increase accountability, safety, and transparency for citizens and police. While some initial research supports such claims, more recent research does not. In fact, the authors of a just-published study observe that “there is a worldwide uncontrolled social experiment taking place—underpinned by feverish public debate and billions of dollars of government expenditure. Robust evidence is only just keeping pace with the adoption of new technology” (Ariel, et al 2016). Atlanta is among a growing number of U.S. cities standing as an example of a technology first, policy second approach to body-camera implementation. 

Furthermore, implementing body cameras as the solution to the killing of unarmed black men also lends the devices a presumptive function, that the problem isn’t police brutality, only that officers aren’t “transparent” when committing murder. And whether or not officers are committing murder is but one part of the complex, contentious problem of policing in this country. And if we understand policing as a problem, as this kind of problem, body cameras can never be seen as any kind of solution. Again, this has to do with the two premiere characteristic aims of institutionware: compliance and containment. 

Just as Blackboard holds its own external demands over the individual, internal desires of its users, body cameras make both the police and the public secondary. Individual officers may or may not have control over the devices, what is recorded and when, and the same goes for everyday citizens. There are also substantial and valid concerns over the storage, analysis, and dissemination of body-cam footage as well as associated monetary costs. Such concerns are left unaddressed even in light of knowledge that Taser International, a company whose successes have direct ties to the police as an institution, is one of the technology companies often responsible for access and storage.  

Storage, of course, is a form of containment, but there are others to consider here, too. Body cameras contain both the police and the public, often only benefiting the former. Yes, officers wearing the devices appear as arms and hands holding guns accompanied by disembodied voices, revealing a dehumanizing element, but things are arguably worse for anyone more completely in the lens. Many civil rights groups note that body cameras are not pointed at the police, but the public. We may only see, again, from yet another angle and perspective, African Americans as a threat, as a target, as something to fear and to shoot. And as the number of black and brown bodies contained by body cameras grows, issues of justice and privacy, of profiling and surveillance, will only persist. 

The more we depend on technology as a fix, the less we are able to question it. This combined dependence and inability via compliance and containment serves the market, too. It’s worth noting again that it was only another technology company that has so far prevented the Atlanta police department from deploying body cameras. The Atlanta Citizen Review Board, an independent, city-wide forum responsible for assessing complaints and promoting public confidence in law enforcement, issued in September 2014 a comprehensive study and discussion of concerns and recommendations on body cameras. This report emphasized body cameras as but one small part of a much larger initiative to address privacy, access, retention, operation, redaction, and training. “It cannot be stressed enough,” wrote the ACRB, that “[body-worn cameras] alone will not yield the anticipated results unless there is strong policy, effective management and enforcement, and a general change in policing culture.” But Atlanta City Council and police department went ahead without any real address of these concerns and recommendations. With body cameras, we have yet further evidence of a persistent lack of change, and we remain without necessary consideration of what such technology will do for and to us. 

In a pointed, impassioned column for the New York Times, Roxane Gay writes that “one of the greatest lies perpetrated on our culture today is the notion that dash cameras on police cruisers and body cameras on police officers are tools of justice. Video evidence, no matter the source, can document injustice, but rarely does this incontrovertible evidence keep black people safe or prevent future injustices.” If I have not been successful in explaining and extending this institutionware concept to you, then I ask that you listen to Roxane Gay, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and others whose words and lived experiences speak in ways I cannot. 

Thank you for your time and attention today.

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/985712 2016-02-04T12:32:55Z 2016-02-04T12:32:56Z #flintwatersyllabus blame game

Michigan's failure to protect Flint http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/15/opinion/michigans-failure-to-protect-flint.html?_r=0

Michigan DEQ’s responsibility to ensure public safety collapsed in Flint http://www.circleofblue.org/waternews/2016/policy-politics/michigan-deqs-responsibility-to-ensure-public-safety-collapsed-in-flint/

Why the EPA is also at fault for Flint's toxic water http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2016/01/tnr-epa’s-silent-guilty-role-flint-water-crisis

Series of mistakes tainted Flint water http://www.wsj.com/articles/flint-was-hit-by-a-perfect-storm-of-mistakes-1453499906

Flint's toxic water crisis was 50 years in the making http://www.latimes.com/opinion/op-ed/la-oe-0131-highsmith-flint-water-crisis-20160131-story.html

Supplemental: congressional hearing http://www.c-span.org/video/?404078-1/hearing-contaminated-drinking-water-flint-michigan 

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/949744 2015-12-14T14:56:49Z 2015-12-14T14:56:49Z conspiracy theorists online

"Within each fangroup, leaders and followers emerge, sometimes with internal factions. The leaders always have anonymous and fiercely protected insider sources who confirm all their theories. Those 'in the know' are superior to the sheep who buy mainstream PR, and firmly believe their brave attempts at outing the truth are being closely monitored by the star's panicked management. 

You are either a friend or an enemy, with us or against us, no one is neutral, and each new photo, sighting, interview or role is quickly embroidered into the conspiracy tapestry." - http://www.xojane.com/issues/cumberbitches-tried-to-get-me-fired


"Frustrated by their inability to rattle government officials, Hoaxers began attacking the families of victims, accusing them of being 'treasonous' government operatives. To press their case, they designated themselves authorities on the physiology of grieving. The parents didn’t appear sad enough in interviews, they argued; therefore, they could not possibly have lost children...Hoaxers also latched onto time-stamping errors on certain victims’ memorial pages, which, due to a common Google bug, made it seem like they were set up the before the massacre. The hoaxers found a photo of a little girl taken after the shooting. Mistaking its subject for her dead sister, they held it up as proof that the victim was still alive." - http://www.thetrace.org/2015/12/sandy-hook-mass-shooting-hoaxers/

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/931271 2015-11-10T13:14:09Z 2015-11-10T13:14:09Z research rabbit hole: Thomas & Friends, a conservative, imperialist, liberal, sexist, socialist model for Silicon Valley

"Criticism of sexism in the Thomas stories dates to the 1980s, when the Birmingham City Council banned the books from its libraries. Britt Allcroft, who formerly produced the TV series now seen in 130 countries, dismissed the allegations back then, saying, 'Thomas and friends are neither male nor female. They're magic.'" -- http://www.thestar.com/life/parent/2009/12/10/why_thomas_is_a_really_useless_engine_for_girls.html

"Thomas and those friends are trains that toil away endlessly on the Isle of Sodor – which seems to be forever caught in British colonial times – and, on its surface, the show seems to impart good moral lessons about hard work and friendship. But if you look through the steam rising up from the coal-powered train stacks, you realize that the pretty puffs of smoke are concealing some pretty twisted, anachronistic messages." -- http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jul/22/thomas-the-tank-engine-children-parents

"There are no subversive messages in Thomas the Tank Engine. It’s just a story about trains that a man wrote for his son while he was sick." -- http://humanevents.com/2014/08/18/is-thomas-the-tank-engine-subversive/

"the Thomas stories 'represent a conservative political ideology that punishes individual initiative, opposes critique and change, and relegates females to supportive roles. Any change is seen as disrupting the natural order of things.'" -- http://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/health-family/thomas-the-not-so-innocuous-engine-1.789298

"when your role on earth is to 'research and write about the intersection of social justice and pop culture'…Thomas the Tank Engine, a lovely little story put together by a village clergyman with a wide-eyed imagination and a son in need of comfort, becomes a brutal allegory for all that is wrong with the world." -- http://www.nationalreview.com/article/383541/defense-thomas-tank-engine-charles-c-w-cooke

"Thomas resembles one of those preposterous idealised figures of Stalinist propaganda. Face radiant with a dream of heightened productivity...In fact, Stalin would probably have approved of Thomas, who always does what the Fat Controller tells him and strongly disapproves of other engines who step out of line." -- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/11597925/Why-do-so-many-liberal-parents-hate-Thomas-the-Tank-Engine.html

"In the Thomas the Tank Engine books there are almost no female engines. The only female characters are an annoyance, a nuisance and in some cases a danger to the functioning of the railway." -- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/10532989/Thomas-the-Tank-Engine-needs-more-female-trains-Labour-MP-says.html

"Thomas the Tank Engine is not a capitalist stooge. To the contrary, socialism is alive and well--at least on the Island of Sodor. Sodor's railroads are all nationalized. That is why Sir Topham Hatt...is called 'The Fat Controller.' Thomas the Tank Engine is a thus a loyal and subservient employee of the State who wants only to be Really Useful." -- http://blog.pff.org/archives/2009/12/cheer_up_canada_thomas_the_tank_engine_is_not_a_co.html

"On Sodor, the messiness of midcentury British class conflicts, civil-rights movements, and post-colonial political struggles never happened, erased by a minister nostalgic for the power and the glory of the British empire." -- http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/culturebox/2011/07/thomas_the_imperialist_tank_engine.single.html

"When those stories were first written [in the 1940s] it wasn’t a forelock-tugging age, but there were limits and you have got to have somebody in charge. I think he saw the characters as a family, in which the Fat Controller was the boss, the father figure, and all the engines were the children." -- http://www.telegraph.co.uk/culture/tvandradio/11602184/Christopher-Awdry-why-sour-Lefties-are-wrong-about-Thomas-the-Tank-Engine.html

"The great trick of Sir Topham is to employ engines who essentially evoke the image of the New Soviet man in the service of a proto-capitalist, semi-feudal enterprise." -- The economics and politics of Thomas the Tank Engine - Bull Market - Medium

"[Sir Topham] Hatt, however endearing he may be, is the misbegotten result of a society in which aristocracy and capital are too closely linked…the show champions neither socialism nor oligarchy, but serves by (bad) example to champion a sound, open, properly functioning market." -- http://prawfsblawg.blogs.com/prawfsblawg/2008/07/the-law-and-eco.html

"AI research on the Island of Sodor is massively ahead of the rest of the world. The trains on Sodor have been designed to understand natural language, solve problems for themselves, recognize new situations, and even have emotions and personalities…Sodor shouldn’t be a quaint island whose dominant industry is rails. It should be the new Silicon Valley, using its advanced artificial intelligence research as its primary economic export." -- http://www.forbes.com/sites/alexknapp/2013/01/27/the-baffling-economics-of-the-island-of-sodor/


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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/915633 2015-10-12T00:06:17Z 2015-10-12T00:07:40Z "condolence payments"

"The U.S. government has regularly issued payments to Afghans for property damage, injuries and deaths throughout its military presence in the embattled country." -- http://www.latimes.com/world/afghanistan-pakistan/la-fg-pentagon-to-make-condolence-payments-to-families-of-victims-in-kunduz-attack-20151010-story.html


"The Gray settlement exceeds the combined total of more than 120 other lawsuits brought against Baltimore police for alleged brutality and misconduct since 2011. State law generally caps such payments, but local officials can authorize larger awards." -- http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/freddie-gray/bs-md-ci-boe-20150908-story.html

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/915127 2015-10-10T17:24:27Z 2015-10-10T17:24:27Z transcript of #wideemu talk cc @techairos

In the winter of 1959, Truman Capote appeared on David Susskind’s program Open End to talk about writers and writing. When Susskind mentioned the Beat Generation, Capote was quick to quip: “None of these people have anything interesting to say and none of them can write, not even Mr. Kerouac. What they do isn’t writing at all — it’s typing.” Now, we can, as others have, speculate on reasons for Capote’s comment. We could say it had something to do with when On The Road was published relative to when Breakfast at Tiffany’s was published. We could say it had something to do with Capote’s need for attention or, arguably, his tendency to punch down rather than up. We could say it had something to do with consternation of Kerouac’s new form of writing, “spontaneous prose,” relative to Capote’s own development of the “nonfiction novel.” However, I want to use Capote’s critique of the Beat Generation as a starting point for identifying the material and physical aspects of writing that might be ignored, lost, or otherwise negated in such discussions. I want to do this because we can have very different images of not only what writing is but what it even looks like. 

For instance, we can compare film representations of Capote and Kerouac in the act of writing. [Impromptu commentary about materiality, physicality] Also, because I lack first-hand knowledge and/or personal experience with some of what I’ll be touching on today, I’m going to make media references instead. But these are historical examples, so let’s get an update. 

[Impromptu commentary on context, include announcer/commentator quote: “Every girl in the picture is locked into her phone. Every single one is dialed in…They’re all just completely transfixed by technology.”] Nevermind that those same announcers paid particular and comparable attention to their own screens, ones detailing whether or not the last pitch was a strike, the runner was safe, or the hard-hit ball was foul. We’re all just completely transfixed by technology, materially and physically, and I think these material and physical considerations are part of every criticism of that transfixion. Aiding both the considerations and the criticisms is how writing has been bundled, folded, or otherwise collapsed into our devices. I think at least a few of us will be able to identify the following example as “writing.” 

[Impromptu comment about process, procrastination, reflection] With formatting, editing, correcting, and even publishing in a single program, in a single screen, some of those material and physical conditions of writing disappear. Maybe also disappearing is care and empathy for the labor involved, for the writer performing the work, because it is work and it is performance. 

And so maybe we could say “it isn’t writing at all — it’s typing” is a critique of gesture and posture, an erasure of one’s labor. Similarly, as Rebecca Moore Howard observed, “our adherence to the received definition of plagiarism blinds us to the positive value of a composing strategy which I call ‘patchwriting’; copying from a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one-for-one synonym substitutes.” To call patchwriting plagiarism, in a way, gives no credit to the actual work involved with this kind of writing. Patchwriting is still writing, is still work, and although Kenneth Goldsmith does not credit Howard for this term he does use it, saying that patchwriting is “a way of weaving together various shards of other people’s words into a tonally cohesive whole.” Patchwriting, from a material or physical perspective, likely looks like a lot of other kinds of writing today, though wholly different from, say, William S. Burroughs’ cut-up technique. 

But I’m starting to digress, or maybe I’m not because Burroughs placed a curse on Capote after the publication of In Cold Blood. Anyway, let’s get back to typing. 

That’s not typing — it’s tapping. 

That’s not tapping — it’s swiping. 

That’s not swiping — it’s autocorrect. 

And damn you autocorrect! Of course, we could also say that autocorrect and autocomplete are erasures of labor, empathy, and care. Related here, too, is the possibility of reflection, of taking a moment, and I’d like to close with another historical example of that. 

In the February 2014 issue of College Composition and Communication, Thomas Deans writes of the rhetoric of Jesus writing in the story of the woman accused of adultery. Deans draws attention to silent writing as public performance, the capacity of writing to provoke reflection and the rhetorical power of silence. There remains scholarly debate on what Jesus writes, that he writes, the consequences of his writing, whether he is doodling, scribbling, tracing patterns, or even citing his sources. But Deans identifies all these readings as emphasizing writing as an embodied public performance, that the bending to write and the silence “prime an authentic opening for understanding and change.” Deans even suggests following Christ’s example the next time you field barbed questions at a conference or teach a hostile class. My question is this: can we imagine Jesus taking a selfie instead? 

I’m glad for the unconference topic. I’m glad for the opportunity to share some of these ideas, even those that aren’t my own (and maybe none of them are). Thank you for your time and attention this morning. I appreciate it.

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/909851 2015-09-26T15:45:56Z 2015-09-26T15:45:57Z that's not typing, it's tapping #wideemu

Truman Capote: None of these people have anything interesting to say, and none of them can write, not even Mr. Kerouac. What they do isn’t writing at all — it’s typing.


Ben Marcus: This, alas, would exclude many writers who believe themselves to be realistic, most notably those who seem to equate writing with operating a massive karaoke machine.


Rebecca Moore Howard: our adherence to the received definition of plagiarism blinds us to the positive value of a composing strategy which I call “patchwriting”: copying from a source text and then deleting some words, altering grammatical structures, or plugging in one-for-one synonym substitutes.


Sarah Charlesworth: “unwriting” was an active undertaking, even as all the blocks of running text were literally blanked out. She called the process, “an engagement with text.” In spite of—or rather, because of—the lack of text in the work, its presence is strongly felt through the physical rendering of its absence.


Gertrude Stein: She experimented with everything in trying to describe. She tried a bit inventing words but she soon gave that up. The english language was her medium and with the english language the task was to be achieved, the problem solved. The use of fabricated words offended her, it was an escape into imitative emotionalism.


Kenneth Goldsmith: Perhaps the best authors of the future will be ones who can write the best programs with which to manipulate, parse, and distribute language-based practices. 

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/899800 2015-09-01T00:25:56Z 2015-09-01T00:27:43Z institutionware

An Introduction

On September 9, 2014, Apple unveiled the iPhone 6. Among its many new features as well as software changes to all previous versions of the device was some free music: Songs of Innocence, the latest studio album from the band U2. Apple reportedly paid $100 million for the rights to distribute the album, pushing it onto the playlists of an estimated 500 million iPhone users. However, according to David Carr of the New York Times, many saw this as an “unwanted intrusion into their most personal territory—their music collection.” 

Facing a backlash fueled by social media, Apple created a webpage specific to removing the offending album and Bono, U2’s leader and vocalist, offered something like an apology:

I had this beautiful idea. Might have gotten carried away with ourselves…A drop of megalomania, a touch of generosity, a dash of self-promotion, and deep fear that these songs that we poured our life into over the last few years might not be heard.

While tempted to question Bono’s recipe measurements as well as express annoyance over celebrity-musicians’ undying need to be acknowledged for lackluster artistic efforts, I am more interested in what this whole fiasco means. Given our near-constant state of adapting to design changes and software updates, what might the varied actions and reactions here reveal?

An illuminating post by designer Christina Wodtke may point us in a rightward direction. Taking apart the “users hate change” adage that tends to pop up any time users have negative reactions to something new, Wodtke explains that “users hate change that doesn’t make things better, [that] makes everything have to be relearned.” When a big change happens, whether an Apple iOS update, a Google email interface redesign, or a Facebook feed edit, the end user, writes Wodtke, “focuses on what they have lost: productivity, comfort, familiarity.” And such focus occurs because companies fail to explain the value of change in the language of the user, language that is “not the designer’s, not the company’s.”

To place Apple/U2’s collective intrusion on users’ personal music libraries within Wodtke’s frame, neither the company nor the band communicated the value in a way that a majority of users appreciated or understood. We can see Apple/U2’s actions as lacking consideration of the potential that maybe not all 500 million iPhone users are U2 fans. Then again, perhaps the release of “Songs of Innocence” in this particular way wasn’t for users at all. Perhaps being a U2 fan here is as pointless as anywhere else.

This apparent lack of communicating value suggests the release of Songs of Innocence was about something else. This notion of a change not being for users, of software itself not being for users, is suggested by Douglas Rushkoff in a November 2010 Authors@Google talk. While promoting his book Program Or Be Programmed: Ten Commands for a Digital Age, Rushkoff comments on the “awful, but brilliant” nature of the education technology behemoth Blackboard and its software of the same name:

From the student or teacher's perspective, Blackboard is terrible. It's just awful. You run up consistently against these terrible obstacles and extremely difficult things, ways you've got to wrap your whole self and brain and course and life around what this program needs needs from you in order to comply with it. And most of us look and say, "Ugh, this is just an awful thing. This software is awful." If you look at it from what I'm calling the programmer's perspective, you see, "Oh no, Blackboard is brilliant." Because Blackboard wasn't written for me. Blackboard wasn't written for me as an educator or for that person as a student. Blackboard was written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a very particular way. Blackboard was created…not to promote the user's agency, but to decrease the user's agency and increase the institution's dependence on this piece of software.

That is, Blackboard constitutes a software approach not made for the user, but for the used. 

We might view the release of Songs of Innocence and its subsequent justification in a similar way. That is, the release of Songs of Innocence did not happen for me as an iPhone user or for that person as a music fan. The release of Songs of Innocence happened for Apple and for U2 to dominate the technology and music industries in a very particular way. The release of Songs of Innocence happened to promote Apple and U2, to lay bare user dependency upon the iPhone itself. The release of Songs of Innocence was a show of force, a demonstration of the power and reach Apple possesses and how helpless iPhone users are against it. The outcry following the release of Songs of Innocence involved users upset at their own lack of control over something they thought they owned.

There was decidedly less social-media furor over the latest design changes to Apple’s iTunes, which curiously enough has borne Bono’s likeness in the “Artist” avatar since its initial release in 2001. Consistent complaints about changes to iTunes are no less valid than those expressed about the release of Songs of Innocence. User frustrations regarding iTunes are perhaps best expressed by comedian Hannibal Burress: “Why does iTunes keep trying to get me to download a new version? I got a new version a couple days ago. I’m fine with this version. It plays music.” iTunes updates can be as disorienting as they are frequent, either because or despite its dominant use as the organization and playing of one’s personal music collection.

While we can see Blackboard and the release of Songs of Innocence as emblematic of a failure to adhere to the tenets of audience awareness and clear communication identified by Wodtke, we can also view Apple/U2’s actions as the purposeful dismissal or ignorance of users’ interests, operating in much the same way as Blackboard. Ultimately, though, I want to suggest the release of Songs of Innocence as characteristic of and Blackboard itself as a premiere example of what I call institutionware.


Placement

Before offering a definition of this term, I must give credit and inspiration to Georgia Tech professor and game designer Ian Bogost. In a 2013 Gamasutra column, Bogost recasts gamification, the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage users in solving problems, as exploitationware. This is a rhetorical move for Bogost, aiming to connect gamification to “better known practices of software fraud” and to “situate gamification within a larger set of pernicious practices in the high-tech marketplace.” Part of Bogost’s intention, too, might be to simply call a spade a spade, and that is a goal I share in defining and identifying institutionware.

Naming does not necessarily signal something new, though. I consider my framing of software below as valuable, but I also hope to place it within computers and writing scholarship. The published field includes important, foundational work that is part of a 20-year history of looking at how computer applications, programs, and tools assert and exert themselves over users. As Gail E. Hawisher and Cynthia Selfe in “The Rhetoric of Technology” emphasize the need to “recognize the high costs of hardware and software, recognize that computers can, and often do, support instruction that is as repressive and lockstep as any that we have seen” (61), I provide the name institutionware as a rhetorical move to draw even greater attention to such costs. I also consider the following to be another moment of identifying “when the discomforts of technology should not be ignored” (Bray). Institutionware is an uncomfortable word for an uncomfortable thing, an uncomfortable reality, reminding us of the limits of our abilities and power regarding software. 


Definition

So, first, a definition: institutionware is software that supports and maintains traditional ideas under the guise of providing a service. I see “instititution” here as more of an established practice or custom than a society or organization, more the institution of marriage than a professional establishment. And I see “ware” here as denoting a kind of software, though I am also amenable to “ware” as manufactured commodities or even as a substitute for “ware,” as in “beware the institution when in use.”

The clearest examples of institutionware may be Blackboard and Turnitin, those products and services whose successes are most tied to the institution of higher education. Not any one institution, remember, but more to the practice, custom, or tradition of higher education. As mentioned above, we can also view iTunes as institutionware, but I want to also suggest Microsoft Word and Twitter as complementary forms. It might even be helpful to place these products and services on a continuum because some may be more linked to particular institutions than others. 

Blackboard and Turnitin have explicit ties to higher education via contracts with colleges and universities, but Twitter may be foremost in supporting the institution of television, given the near ubiquity of hashtags in commercials and during live events as well as Twitter’s advertising partnerships with CBS, ESPN, FOX, and Globosat in Brazil. Prior critical scholarship on Microsoft Word reveals the program as wholly indicative of institutionware, too. McGee and Ericsson observe how its use as a teaching tool, requires overlooking “the most obvious critique that Word makes—red and green highlighted commentary on correctness” (464). Such a feature is so insistently a part of Microsoft Word that it is no stretch to view the program as tied to the institution of correctness and, to a broader extent, standard English.


Aims, Characteristics, and Ubiquity

Despite varied institutional connections, all forms of institutionware share similar characteristics and, of these, limited use may be the hallmark binding them together. Examples of limited use include Blackboard for grades, iTunes for MP3s, Google for email, Microsoft Word for essays (five-paragraph or otherwise). In each instance, we use institutionware for one specific act, ignoring everything else offered, and this might be what allows institutionware to be so pervasive, for so many to depend on the various forms it takes. However, the relationship between institutionware and limited use is a curious one. Institutionware works against limited use in certain ways, but it is also because of limited use that institutionware is able to sustain itself. The aims of institutionware are very much influenced by the reality of limited use, working against it in the service of the following goals: compliance, preservation and containment. 

In naming compliance as one of the goals of institutionware, I recall here Rushkoff’s earlier comments about how Blackboard decreases user agency and increases user dependency as well as Apple’s persistent updates to iTunes. The actions Blackboard and Apple both ask users to execute, whether posting to a discussion board or agreeing to the new terms of service, stands as a sort of endless acquiescence, an indicator of eternal compliance, of a user’s inability to do anything but accept. Users come to institutionware subservient in spite of their own abilities and power. Institutionware holds it own, external demands over the internal, individual desires of its users. 

This is also how institutionware preserves market dominance. Compliance is evident here, too, but it is through a blanket of equivalence in systems and users. This equivalence is limited use. In other words, it is our limited use of institutionware that allows it to continue to dominate a given market. Using Blackboard just for grades enables further use; using Microsoft Word just for essays does much the same. Limited use itself is a kind of compliance, too. As Bray writes, “the inaccessibility of technology is often compounded by market dominance…It is hard to imagine that as individual users we could influence the design of this tool. Indeed, many of us spend more time adjusting our desk chairs than we do customizing features of our word processors to suit our needs” (205). That such features change at the whim of the company providing the service can only further discourage customization. Persistent updates to those same features tend to benefit service providers more than users, too. 

Institutionware’s updates also have to do with another of its aims. Institutionware is about containment. Features of institutionware aren’t so much offered as they are contained, kept within an overall system so users have less reason to go elsewhere. For example, Blackboard contains blogs, discussion boards, journals, and wikis, all things freely available and customizable on the open web. iTunes contains a media player, media library, online radio broadcasts, and the iPhone management application. Feature containment also helps further preserve market dominance. Feature containment ensures that we can’t possibly take advantage of everything institutionware offers and also that we don’t use something else, much less have the time to experiment with other options. Feature containment ensures limited use, as Susser explains: “Given this wealth of choices and the dazzling array of icons, tool bars, menus, rulers…that crowd the screen…it is no wonder students are overwhelmed and consequently adopt a minimalist procedures for using word-processing packages” (362). 

Minimalist procedures and limited use lead to normalization and then invisibility, both of which are in institutionware’s interest. “The more seamless and invisible the technology becomes,” writes Arola, “the less we tend to know about how it works” (5). Even though users tend to know less about how technologies work, this may not keep them from recognizing something is off. As Chun observes, “you are not…aware of software’s constant constriction and interpellation…unless you find yourself frustrated with its defaults” (43). In fact, it may yet be that even the known, default-state awfulness of Blackboard, iTunes, or Microsoft Word is as ubiquitous as the software itself. 

And just as “software programs are not neutral” (LeBlanc 8), the instrumentalist argument regarding technology dies again with institutionware. There is very little that is neutral about institutionware. Leveraging it for good or bad is inconsequential.  Institutionware signals stagnation, if not regression or reversion. Institutionware is about how corporations want us to use what they provide. When we use institutionware, we decrease our agency and encourage collective dependency on it. The use of institutionware, however limited, is pervasive and enabling. Similarly, Taylor argues that computer programs “manage the user’s actions by establishing possible and recommended actions” (45). There is no possibility of escape with institutionware and that is by design; any advocacy regarding flexibility remains within the confines of the program itself. “Computer software,” writes Kemp, “no matter what flexibility it may claim or what ability to accept ‘user definition’ or modifying parameters, can never escape the instructional attitudes and even the ideology of its programmers and designers” (9-10). Because of what Blackboard as well as its advertised alternatives aim to provide, it may not even be possible for education technology to exist as anything but institutionware. Put another way, the arc of educational technology use is long, but it bends toward institutionware.

Even when we have a choice, or at least the illusion of it, we tend toward institutionware. In “The price of free software: Labor, ethics, and context in distance education,” Reilly and Williams observe a range of factors influencing instructor choice when it comes to courseware for distance learning. Time constraints, inadequate technical expertise, and institutional pressures all weigh heavy on instructors’ minds. As Reilly and Williams explain further, “ease of use and institutional support often win out over loftier goals when instructors are selecting tools for use in distance learning” (78). They also note in their own case studies and in the scholarship surrounding distance education a distinct pattern in which “teachers are forced to trade control for ease of use, discipline specificity for centrality, and flexibility for standardization” (86).  Furthermore, in “Cui bono?: Revisiting the promises and perils of online learning, “Kristine L. Blair and Elizabeth A. Monske provide a history and a bibliography of the rhetoric of empowerment related to online teaching and learning. They advocate that we “pay attention to who benefits in our continuing attempts to establish student-centered technological spaces…[that] as teachers we may be the ones who benefit least within these new virtual communities” (449). From my perspective, the answer to the question Blair and Monske pose is clear: Apple benefits. Blackboard benefits. Microsoft benefits. The companies and institutions each product and service enhance and support also benefit. Whatever positive outcome arises from their use in the classroom pales in comparison. I include the brief discussion here of distance and online learning because the issues identified are not unique to these kinds of courses. Rare now is even the brick-and-mortar, face-to-face college course that has no online component. 

Institutionware is about preserving the institution as it is and has been, enhancing and supporting rather than challenging or threatening. Neither Blackboard nor Turnitin is out to question education but to scaffold it in particular ways. Their very names alone are evidence of traditional methods and values of classroom instruction. Much the same has already been observed about Microsoft Word as its design principles and interface choices are about preserving traditional ways of understanding and valuing writing. And this is what I worry about regarding the teaching of writing: that we are in some way reinforcing reliance on old ways and means for new ends. As Sorapure observes, “different programs offer different possibilities within which writers work…these possibilities, in turn, contribute to our understanding of what writing is and does” (412). So, I worry we are not so much teaching writing as helping students learn the endless acquiescence of Blackboard, the tacit acceptance of every change in design or terms of service. 


Conclusion

The near ubiquity of institutionware indicates a sort of stasis, that our paying attention, however vigilant, may be seen as little beyond acknowledging that Blackboard and Microsoft Word are terrible before offering a collective shrug of inaction. All hope is not lost, though. Social media may no more save us from institutionware than the next edtech startup, but, perhaps if we focus on learning a language like HTML or Markdown, the need for and use of institutionware may diminish. The persistence of email and, to an unfortunately lesser degree, RSS might be viewed as hopeful, too. 

In “Augmenting Literacy: The Role of Expertise in Digital Writing,” Derek Van Ittersum offers a bootstrapping method of reflective use of writing technologies. A clear advocate for approaches and methods over software and tools, Van Ittersum acknowledges the influence of computer designer Douglas Engelbart and rightly observes that “avoiding technology will not teach writers to use advanced text manipulation software, or how to create and mine databases for information and profitable connections, or how to use these techniques to increase their rhetorical effectiveness” (65). In effect, Van Ittersum echoes Karl Stolley’s “The Lo-Fi Manifesto,” which remains an important clarion call for digital literacy. In declaring that “innovation in the digital medium is not to be found on the paved cow paths of point-and-click, template-driven, fill-in-the-blank WYSIWYG software,” Stolley might as well be invoking the name of institutionware. I share aims and goals with Stolley, Van Ittersum, and others already mentioned who argue for awareness and reflective use of technology in greater acknowledgement of what works. While avoiding institutionware altogether may be impossible or even ill-advised in some cases, ways through like bootstrapping or going “lo-fi” should see us all better in the long run. 

In arguing for an understanding of proprietary software as institutionware, I attempted to explain here pernicious aims as well as effects, but to also reinforce awareness of what we’re doing when we use Blackboard, iTunes, Microsoft Office, and other applications, management systems, and programs. I encourage others in the field to take this concept and run with it. For example, in future work on this concept, I want to extend this awareness to hardware. Namely, I aim to suggest body cameras as institutionware. That body cameras emerged from the rhetoric surrounding Ferguson and less so the demilitarization, increased training, or any other reform of the police as an institution is telling. If institutionware describes hardware/software that maintains tradition under the guise of providing a service, body cameras are surely that. Again, institutionware preserves the institution as it is and as it has been. Body cameras may allow the police to operate with little to no change in official policy. If body cameras can be turned off and footage accessed only by police, such technology is representative neither of a public service nor a purported solution to the problem of police brutality. 

Issues of access and power as related to the technologies we embody and employ rightly continue to be of substantial focus in writing studies and related fields. In naming what might be considered technologies of a particular sort as institutionware, I draw further attention to what those technologies persist in exerting over users. In some cases, such persistence and exertion may only be worsening. However, by calling such technologies by such a name, perhaps perspectives will change and users will divest themselves of their own compliance and containment. I hope so, but only time will tell.


Works Cited

Animal Furnace. Dir. Michael Dimich. Perf. Hannibal Buress. 2012. DVD. 

Arola, Kristin L. “The Design of Web 2.0: The Rise of the Template, The Fall of Design.” Computers and Composition 27 (2010): 4-14.

Blair, Kristine L., and Elizabeth A. Monske. “Cui bono?: Revisiting the Promises and Perils of Online Learning.” Computers and Composition 20 (2003): 441-453. 

Bogost, Ian. “Exploitationware.” Gamasutra. 3 May 2011. Web. 15 July 2015.

Bray, Nancy. “Writing with Scrivener: A Hopeful Tale of Disappearing Tools, Flatulence, and Word Processing Redemption.” Computers and Composition 30 (2013): 197–210.

Carr, David. “Chasing Relevancy at Any Cost, Even Free.” New York Times. 9 Nov. 2014. Web. 15 July 2015.

Chun, Wendy Hui Kyong. “On Software, or the Persistence of Visual Knowledge.” Grey Room 18 (Winter 2005): 26-51.

Hawisher, Gail E., and Cynthia L. Selfe. “The Rhetoric of Technology and the Electronic Writing Class.” College Composition and Communication 42.1 (February 1991): 55-65.

Kemp, Fred. “Who Programmed This? Examining the Instructional Attitudes of Writing-Support Software.” Computers and Composition 10 (1992): 9-24.

LeBlanc, Paul. Competing ideologies in software design for computer-aided instruction. Computers and Composition 7.2 (1990): 7–19.

McGee, Tim, and Patricia Ericsson. “The Politics of the Program: MS WORD as the Invisible Grammarian.” Computers and Composition 19 (2002): 453–470. 

Reilly, Colleen A., and Joseph John Williams. “The Price of Free Software: Labor, Ethics, and Context in Distance Education.” Computers and Composition 23 (2006): 68-90. 

Sorapure, Madeleine. “Text, Image, Code, Comment: Writing in Flash.” Computers and Composition 23 (2006): 412-429. 

Stolley, Karl. “The Lo-Fi Manifesto.” Kairos 12.3 (Summer 2008): n. pag. Web. 15 July 2015.

Susser. “The Mysterious Disappearance of Word Processing.” Computers and Composition 15 (1998): 347-371.

Talks at Google. “Authors @ Google: Douglas Rushkoff.” Online video. YouTube. YouTube, 8 Mar 2011. Web. 15 July 2015.

Taylor, Paul. (1992). “Evaluating Software: What Thoreau Said to the Designer.” Computers and Composition 9.1 (1992): 45–52.

Van Ittersum, Derek. “Augmenting Literacy: The Role of Expertise in Digital Writing.” Composition Studies 39.2 (2011): 61–77. 

Wodtke, Christina. “Users Don’t Hate Change. They Hate You.” Medium. 26 Sept. 2013. Web. 15 July 2015.

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/899599 2015-08-31T16:30:31Z 2015-08-31T16:30:32Z food discouraged or dismissed as culture then embraced as trend

“The US is undisputedly in the midst of a barbecue boom - there are currently more than 14,000 barbecue restaurants in the country - but African American restaurateurs and pitmasters may be getting left in the dust. Thanks to television and professional barbecue competitions, barbecue chefs have become celebrities with cult followings, but those celebrity faces are largely white.” http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-33994947


“This cultural appropriation stings because the same dishes hyped as “authentic” on trendy menus were scorned when cooked in the homes of the immigrants who brought them here. Fashionable food from foreign cultures may satisfy a temporary hunger, but if you’re trying it for shallow reasons, you’ll be culturally unfulfilled in the long run.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/08/31/childhood-friends-called-my-food-chinese-grossness-how-did-it-become-americas-hottest-food-trend/

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/898297 2015-08-27T13:37:40Z 2015-08-27T13:37:40Z like a video game

"'the normal morals and process of thinking goes out the window when it's like you're playing a videogame,'" he said. "'It's dehumanized, it's depersonalized.'"

http://arstechnica.com/tech-policy/2015/08/new-law-permits-north-dakota-cop-drones-to-fire-bean-bag-rounds-from-the-sky/


"'When I watched it, it looked like a first-person-shooter video game to me,'" he said. "'The viewer had the same visual perspective as the killer.'"

http://www.npr.org/sections/alltechconsidered/2015/08/27/435076699/why-shooters-record-themselves-in-the-act


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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/898288 2015-08-27T12:53:31Z 2015-08-27T12:53:31Z social media savvy

"Say what you will about their role in U.S. foreign policy — what with the drone program and the torture and the coups — but the CIA has proven itself to be very, very good at Twitter."

http://www.buzzfeed.com/hayesbrown/the-head-of-the-cia-chose-the-agencys-first-tweet-ever-new-i#.aiVV8aBpB


"the killer had anticipated the moves — that he had been counting on the mechanics of these services and on our inability to resist passing on what he had posted. For many, that realization came too late. On these services, the killer knew, you often hit retweet, like or share before you realize just quite what you have done."

http://mobile.nytimes.com/2015/08/27/technology/personaltech/violence-gone-viral-in-a-well-planned-rollout-on-social-media.html

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/698510 2014-06-04T13:23:24Z 2014-06-07T18:45:03Z transcript and video of contribution to "everyday methods" roundtable #g9 #cwcon

I want to begin by acknowledging Karl Stolley’s call to action that we “hold our colleagues and students accountable for their technological choices just as they would be held accountable for any other rhetorical choice.” I want to begin with this acknowledgement because I think this is one of the things our roundtable is about. My particular choices related to digital methods have been largely informed by two things: bad luck and paranoia.

My bad luck is rather particular here. I mourned the loss of Google’s Buzz, Reader, and Wave, all of which I used for academic purposes. I had a blog on Posterous before Twitter acquired those responsible for the platform and caused a service shutdown. AppDotNet, an alternative to Twitter, recently became, as Mashable’s Christina Warren observes, “a bit like Schrödinger's cat — both alive and dead at the same time.” 

I mention these services and tools because my past experiences inform my present methods, most of which now involve paid services. I use NewsBlur for my RSS feeds, Pinboard for my bookmarking needs, and Posthaven for online writing. NewsBlur and Pinboard are both run by single individuals and a two-person team is responsible for Posthaven. I have only good things to say about them. I value these services and what I do with them enough to pay for them.

I don’t have a high opinion of free, and I’m not alone. The Atlantic’s Alan Jacobs suggests some companies offer their online services for free so they don’t have to provide real support for users. The Globe and Mail’s Amber MacArthur observes how “free is proving to be a serious threat to our privacy.” The Guardian’s Steven Poole notes that “we obediently conduct our own self-surveillance and voluntarily upload the data to companies who profit from it.” So, while Jacobs notes a lack of company responsibility when it comes to free services and tools, MacArthur and Poole connect ideas of free to privacy and surveillance. 

For as appealing as free might be, there are often consequences for choosing such services and tools. There is a now common refrain regarding the use of free services: “If you’re not paying for it, you’re the product.” But there’s at least an additional wrinkle here that deserves attention. Given recent news about the relationships between the National Security Agency and major tech companies, perhaps it would be more accurate for us to say, “if you’re not paying for it, you’re the product, and the object of surveillance.”

I’m concerned about the influence of surveillance on our digital methods. I even worry about using services and tools that contribute to the normalization of surveillance and the surveillance of normalcy. Such worry informs why I still prefer handwritten drafts and print books and journals over digital and online versions. In keeping at least some of my everyday methods offline, no one else can lay any claim to them. Marginal notes are my own, not kept in the cloud. Article drafts are my own, not data-mined for targeted advertising. 

I realize these choices in digital methods could paint me as a privileged academic flush with cash, or a paranoid delusional with a tinfoil hat. I don’t think I’m necessarily either of these. I’d just like us to value what we do enough to pay for it, to not leave ourselves and our work vulnerable to the whims of tech companies who depend on the allure of free. 

A step toward such valuing might involve department and program funding and support for website hosting and premium accounts at independent online services, or maybe just a specific stipend devoted to the development and maintenance of digital methods. Perhaps some departments and programs already have such funding in place. If so, I’m heartened to know there are others who value and hold accountable our technological choices, just as I know my roundtable colleagues do.

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/657024 2014-02-22T03:45:01Z 2014-02-22T03:46:35Z On #craftwriting

Since I had my first Two Hearted Ale, my introduction to craft beer has been slow and steady. I pick up the latest and greatest from Bell's, Brewery Vivant, Dark Horse, Founders, Greenbush, Short's, and others about once a month, often along with something from an out-of-state brewery or two that just started distributing in Michigan. And I keep track of what I drink in a notebook and sometimes take a picture for posterity. 

However, my introduction to writing about beer has been slower and not quite as steady. Beyond Make Mine Potato and a couple of beer-store and brewery blogs, I don't know much about beer writing. So, when I learned of Craft Writing: Beer, The Digital, and Craft Culture, I just jumped at the opportunity to go. 

The drive south on I-75 tested my patience between Dayton and Cincinnati, but I got into Lexington, checked in at my hotel, and walked over to Country Boy Brewing for the night-before get-together. I really couldn't imagine a better start to the conference. I got to meet UK people I'd only known via Twitter, sample some good food, and have some really good beer. 

The next morning, coffee and a breakfast pastry from Sunrise Bakery (recommended by a UK person) soothed what little hangover I had and energized me for the walk to the UK campus and the Craft Writing conference. And I was able to sit in the back row and joke with Twitter friends before things got started.

Conference organizer Jeff Rice began by talking about why we were all there. "You're here because you believe in the story of craft beer," he said. Of course, Rice also talked about writing, how it is integral to craft beer, sparking and sustaining our interest in craft beer, shaping our relationships with and teaching us a lot about craft beer. Variations of Rice's comments came up in each following session.

The first session had Stan Hieronymous, Julie Johnson, and Teri Fahrendorf discussing (among other things) the influence of writing related to craft beer and the rise of both, but what stood out to me was a near-seamless interweaving of personal, professional, and industrial histories. There were echoes of such interweaving in subsequent talks by Roger Baylor and Jeremy Cowan and in Garrett Oliver's keynote, during which he mentioned the brewers' commonality of the "diversion of an intended path." Oliver also implored those in attendance to ask who they thought they were going to be, what they sacrificed, and who helped them along in becoming brewers. 

The speakers prior to Oliver addressed these questions, but perhaps none more than Fahrendorf and Cowan. Both spoke with energy and humor about their craft-beer lives, Cowan detailing in frank terms about what happens when "you let an English major start a brewery" and Fahrendorf marking her development from computer programmer to brewer to founder of the Pink Boots Society and beyond. Again, these were interwoven histories, seamlessly personal and professional stories.

Now, I'm glossing here because there are already some conference recaps out online and they're better than what I could attempt to provide. The most comprehensive and arguably best I've read is by Jessica Miller of heybrewtiful.com: "Beer Nerds Unite Over Kentucky Craft Writing Symposium." Kevin Patterson of Lexington's The Beer Trappe offers a similar, pointed perspective with "The Elephant in the Craft Beer Room." Conference speaker Roger Baylor's "Not so simple a symposium"  and Hoperatives' "Writing About Beer" are alike in their more experiential notes on the conference. And Shea Anderson spins a few conclusions from an additional viewpoint: "5 Valuable Marketing Insights from Craft Beer Writing Conference." 

I direct attention to Miller and others because these writers and their pieces gave me more of what the conference did: an education. There were plenty of names mentioned and faces seen I didn't recognize but that were respected if not revered by many in attendance. Learning about what people like Michael Jackson, Stan Hieronymous, Julie Johnson, Teri Fahrendorf, Garrett Oliver, and others have done and, in many cases, continue to do for craft beer and for writing was invaluable. 

Craft beer culture is still an entity I'm coming to know. And I'm coming to know it as much through writing as through beer. Countless books and beers were mentioned throughout the conference and now I have so much more to read and to drink. I plan to start with the Baylor-recommended Tastes of Paradise, by Wolfgang Schivelbusch, and something out of my six-pack sampler from The Beer Trappe. 

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/642290 2014-01-15T21:03:57Z 2014-01-15T21:03:57Z The courier Tolstoy in Goodsprings

The courier Tolstoy later heard that getting shot changes a person. He didn't know if that was true, but he remembered how odd he felt recovering at Doc Mitchell's. Like he shouldn't have been there. Like he should have instead remained in the shallow grave atop the hill overlooking Goodsprings, where Benny had left him to die.

Benny. That was what else Tolstoy remembered, how Benny had raised the gun to Tolstoy's face. That gun was the last memory of whatever life he had before. What an awful thing to have. The memory of the gun unsettled him. Tolstoy didn't wish it on anyone else. 

So, as he stepped out into the Mojave, Tolstoy resolved to never let violence be anyone's last memory of him. And that included Benny, if Tolstoy ever managed to find him. 

Confronting Joe Cobb and his Powder Gangers proved an early challenge, though. Even when left with no options for peace, Tolstoy refused to leave Goodsprings in endless anticipation of terror. The choice to empower and enable the residents of Goodsprings to fight for their town was a difficult one. He watched, not impartial, as Sunny Smiles, Trudy, and others cut down Cobb and his men. Tolstoy helped clean up after as best he could, gathering armor, weapons, and other items for trade at the general store. The persistence of Joe Cobb's corpse upon Tolstoy's every return to the town would continue to disturb him in the days to come. 

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/607474 2013-10-09T19:45:53Z 2013-10-10T10:17:34Z prepared comments on "institutionware" at Siena Heights University

Before I begin in earnest, I want to thank my friend and fellow BGSU alum Matthew Barbee for the invitation to speak with you this afternoon. I also want to offer a preemptive thank-you to everyone present, including those listening in, for your attention and patience. The ideas I’m talking about today are still pretty green, so I’m thankful for your understanding. Also, my presentation style may be a bit unconventional and jarring, so please let me know if I’m moving too fast or if some aspect is just too distracting.


I presented the first version of this talk at Network Detroit: Digital Humanities Theory and Practice<http://detroitdh.org/schedule/> at Lawrence Tech in Southfield two weeks ago. My thinking has already changed some since then and my talk this afternoon reflects that, so let’s begin.

This is an argument for understanding certain kinds of proprietary software as “INSTITUTIONWARE.” Influence and inspiration for this argument comes from Georgia Tech professor and game designer Ian Bogost and media theorist and author Douglas Rushkoff.

In a Gamasutra column<http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/134735/persuasive_games_exploitationware.php?print=1>, BOGOST recasts gamification, the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage users in solving problems, as exploitationware. He does this to connect gamification to “better known practices of software fraud” and to “situate gamification within a larger set of pernicious practices in the high-tech marketplace.” Similarly, in an Authors@Google talk, Douglas Rushkoff comments on the “awful, but brilliant” nature of Blackboard.

[clip of "Authors@Google: Douglas Rushkoff<>," 7:38-9:10 - "From the student or teacher's perspective, Blackboard is terrible. It's just awful. You run up consistently against these terrible obstacles and extremely difficult things, ways you've got to wrap your whole self and brain and course and life around what this program needs needs from you in order to comply with it. And most of us look and say, "Ugh, this is just an awful thing. This software is awful." If you look at it from what I'm calling the programmer's perspective, you see, "Oh no, Blackboard is brilliant." Because Blackboard wasn't written for me. Blackboard wasn't written for me as an educator or for that person as a student. Blackboard was written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a very particular way. Blackboard was created to help create an equivalence between distance learning and real-life learning so that in your classroom you're actually using this technology as much as you would long distance...It's created not to promote the user's agency, but to decrease the user's agency and increase the institution's dependence on this piece of software."]

Bogost and Rushkoff are both talking about software approaches not made for users but for the used. Building on their observations, I want to provide a definition and provide characteristics of institutionware. I’m also curious about what this might mean for the digital humanities. That is, if we use institutionware to make projects and produce scholarship, what else are we saying?

So, first, a DEFINITION: institutionware is software that supports and maintains traditional ideas under the guise of providing a service. The clearest examples of institutionware are Blackboard and Turnitin, the successes of which are tied to the institution of higher education. To a lesser extent, Microsoft Word, iTunes, and even Facebook, Google, and Twitter are forms of institutionware. In particular, Google’s movement into higher education via Google Apps, which the UM system uses or requires to varying degrees, and Twitter’s recent partnerships with television entities reveal both companies as institutionware-like.

It might be helpful to place these examples on a continuum or a MöBIUS strip because some are more tied to particular institutions than others. Blackboard and Turnitin have explicit ties to higher education while Google has some. Twitter may be foremost in supporting the institution of television, which we can see in the near ubiquity of hashtags in commercials and in its advertising partnerships with CBS, ESPN, FOX, and Globosat in Brazil.

All forms of institutionware share similar characteristics, though, and here’s where my thinking is under further development: LIMITED USE may be the hallmark of institutionware and what binds its other characteristics together. Examples of limited use include Blackboard for grades, iTunes for MP3s, Google for email, and Microsoft Word for essays, five-paragraph or otherwise. In each example, we use instititutionware for one specific act, ignoring everything else offered, but this might be what allows institutionware to be so pervasive, for so many to depend on its various forms.

Now, the relationship between institutionware and limited use is a curious one, because institutionware works against limited use in certain ways, but it’s also because of limited use that institutionware is able to sustain itself. The AIMS of institutionware are very much influenced by the reality of limited use. Institutionware works against limited use in service of the following goals: decrease user agency, increase user dependency, preserve market dominance, and contain features.

Institutionware decreases user agency and increase user dependency by demanding and reinforcing user COMPLIANCE. I’m recalling here Rushkoff’s earlier comments, but I’m also thinking of Blackboard’s design choices. For example, the number of times Blackboard asks us to click OK represents a sort of endless acquiescence, an indicator of our eternal compliance. In this way, institutionware does not ask us “where do you want to go today?” but instead forces us to ask “what is thy bidding, my master?”

I quote from The Empire Strikes Back because the line is from an important scene. Until this point, we see DARTH VADER only in positions of power. When we see Vader go down on one knee, before a hologram no less, it is poignant. We come to institutionware like Vader to the Emperor, subservient in spite of our own abilities and power. Institutionware holds it own external demands over the internal, individual desires of its users. The “join us or die” line may be instructive for institutionware, too, if maybe a bit overdramatic.

But this is also part of how institutionware preserves MARKET DOMINANCE. Compliance is evident here, too, but it is through a blanket of equivalence in systems and users. This equivalence is limited use. In other words, it is our limited use of institutionware that allows it to continue to dominate a given market. Using Blackboard just for grades enables further use; using Microsoft Word just for five-paragraph essays does much the same. Limited use itself is a kind of compliance, too.

Because of limited use of institutionware, though, we may become as frustrated as comedian HANNIBAL BURESS:

[clip of "Hannibal Buress on Odd Future and Young Jeezy<>," 1:05-1:13 - “Why does iTunes keep trying to get me to download a new version? I got a new version a couple of days ago. I’m fine with this version. It plays music.”]

Buress’s frustration reveals another of institutionware’s characteristic aims. Persistent UPDATES, which often occur with annoying regularity, are similar to Blackboard’s insistent OKs, reminding us of our compliance, of our inability to do anything but accept. In fact, I encountered this myself while putting together this talk because I still use PowerPoint.

Institutionware’s updates also have to do with another of its aims. Institutionware is about CONTAINMENT. And features of institutionware aren’t so much offered as they are contained, kept within an overall system so users have less reason to go elsewhere. For example, Blackboard now contains blogs, discussion boards, journals, and wikis, all things available and free on the open web. Feature containment also works against limited use and helps further preserve market dominance. Furthermore, persistent, “feature-rich” updates tend to benefit the service providers more than the users.

The assumptions within such features and updates are almost too many to list here, but again such characteristics of institutionware can provoke strong reactions like the following summarized by Mike Muir of SUICIDAL TENDENCIES:

[clip of "Suicidal Tendencies - 'Institutionalized' Frontier Records<>," 3:05-3:35 - "…how do you know what my best interest is? How can you say what my best interest is? How can you say what my best interest is? What are you trying to say, I’m crazy? When I went to your schools, I went to your churches, I went to your institutional learning facilities? So how can you say I’m crazy? They say they’re gonna fix my brain, alleviate my suffering and my pain, but by the time they fix my head, mentally, I’ll be dead. I’m not crazy, institution. You’re the one who’s crazy, institution."

I often had a similar reaction any time I saw Microsoft Word’s CLIPPY, who is less of an enabler and more of an enforcer of existing genres and norms. Clippy is indicative of how institutionware is about preserving the institution as it is and has been, enhancing and supporting rather than challenging or threatening. To harp on Blackboard and Turnitin as examples once again, neither is out to question education but to scaffold it in particular ways. Their very names alone are evidence of current-traditional methods and values of classroom instruction. Much the same can be observed about Microsoft Word as its design principles are about preserving traditional ways of understanding and valuing writing.

Institutionware signals stagnation, if not regression or reversion. By dictating use through changes in appearance, institutionware becomes about how Blackboard, Turnitin, Microsoft, Google, and Twitter want us to use what they provide. And there are many more reasons for institutionware to persist than to fade away, namely because of limited use.

In giving greater measures of control to proprietary software, though, we inhibit our freedom and ability. When we use proprietary software, we decrease our agency and encourage collective dependency on such institutionware. And this is what I worry about regarding the digital humanities: that we are in some way reinforcing reliance on old ways and means for new ends, whatever we might be attempting to do or show.

In arguing for an understanding of proprietary software as institutionware, I attempted to explain here pernicious aims as well as effects, but I don’t want to end on such a down note. So, here are a few quick suggestions on a way out: free, open, and single-serving software (distraction-free writing tools as example), Git, HTML, and Markdown. In other words, learn a language instead of an institution. There are also some positive examples of institutionware in Eli Review and Zotero, both of which I’d be happy to discuss.]]>
james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/605781 2013-10-02T14:43:38Z 2013-10-08T17:30:53Z rough transcript of #detroitdh talk about "institutionware"

Last Friday, 27 September 2013, I was among the presenters at Network Detroit: Digital Humanities Theory and Practice. Below is a rough transcript.

Good morning. My contribution to this panel is an argument for understanding certain kinds of proprietary software as “institutionware.” I’ll get to what I mean by that in a second, but first a little background.

I am influenced and inspired by Georgia Tech professor and game designer Ian Bogost and media theorist and author Douglas Rushkoff. In a Gamasutra column, Bogost recasts gamification, the use of game thinking and game mechanics to engage users in solving problems, as exploitationware. He does this to connect gamification to “better known practices of software fraud” and to “situate gamification within a larger set of pernicious practices in the high-tech marketplace.” Similarly, in an Authors@Google talk, Douglas Rushkoff comments on the “awful, but brilliant” nature of Blackboard. 

[clip of "Authors@Google: Douglas Rushkoff," 7:38-9:10 - "From the student or teacher's perspective, Blackboard is terrible. It's just awful. You run up consistently against these terrible obstacles and extremely difficult things, ways you've got to wrap your whole self and brain and course and life around what this program needs needs from you in order to comply with it. And most of us look and say, "Ugh, this is just an awful thing. This software is awful." If you look at it from what I'm calling the programmer's perspective, you see, "Oh no, Blackboard is brilliant." Because Blackboard wasn't written for me. Blackboard wasn't written for me as an educator or for that person as a student. Blackboard was written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a very particular way. Blackboard was created to help create an equivalence between distance learning and real-life learning so that in your classroom you're actually using this technology as much as you would long distance...It's created not to promote the user's agency, but to decrease the user's agency and increase the institution's dependence on this piece of software."]   

Bogost and Rushkoff are both talking about software approaches not made for users but for the used. Building on their observations, I want to provide a definition and provide characteristics of institutionware. 

So, first, a definition: institutionware is software that supports and maintains traditional ideas under the guise of providing a service. The clearest examples of institutionware are Blackboard and Turnitin, the successes of which are tied to the institution of higher education. To a lesser extent, Microsoft Word, iTunes, and even Facebook, Google, and Twitter are forms of institutionware. It might be helpful to place these examples on a continuum, or even a Möbius strip because some appear more tied to particular institutions than others. All share similar characteristics, though, and Google’s movement into higher education makes it all the more deserving of a place on the strip. Much the same can be observed of Twitter, given its recent moves in support of the institution of television. 

Regardless of placement, institutionware aims to decrease user agency, increase user dependency, preserve market dominance, and contain features. These aims are achieved in a multitude of simultaneous ways, so I’ll try to keep them straight.

Institutionware decreases user agency and increase user dependency by demanding and reinforcing user compliance. I’m recalling here Rushkoff’s earlier comments, but I’m also thinking of Blackboard’s design choices. For example, the number of times Blackboard asks us to click OK represents a sort of endless acquiescence, an indicator of our eternal compliance. In this way, institutionware does not ask us “where do you want to go today?” but instead forces us to ask “what is thy bidding, my master?”

I quote from The Empire Strikes Back because the line is from an important scene. Until this point, we see Darth Vader only in positions of power. When we see Vader go down on one knee, before a hologram no less, it is poignant. We come to institutionware like Vader to the Emperor, subservient in spite of our own abilities and power. Institutionware holds it own external demands over the internal, individual desires of its users.

This is also part of how institutionware preserves market dominance. Compliance is evident here, too, but it is through a blanket of equivalence in systems and users. This equivalence is in acknowledgement of limited use. Examples of limited use include Blackboard for grades, iTunes for MP3s, Microsoft Word for essays, and Google for email. Because of limited use of institutionware, we may become as frustrated as comedian Hannibal Burress.

[clip of "Hannibal Buress on Odd Future and Young Jeezy," 1:05-1:13 - “Why does iTunes keep trying to get me to download a new version? I got a new version a couple of days ago. I’m fine with this version. It plays music.”] 

Institutionware works against limited use by introducing new features and updates, often with annoying regularity. Regular updates are similar to Blackboard’s persistent OKs, reminding us of our compliance, our inability to do anything but accept. 

These updates also have to do with how institutionware contains features. Institutionware is about containment. Features aren’t so much offered as contained, kept within an overall system so users have little reason to go elsewhere. Feature containment also works against limited use and helps further preserve market dominance. Furthermore, persistent, “feature-rich” updates tend to benefit the service providers more than the users. 

[clip of "Suicidal Tendencies - 'Institutionalized' Frontier Records," 3:05-3:35 - "…how do you know what my best interest is? How can you say what my best interest is? How can you say what my best interest is? What are you trying to say, I’m crazy? When I went to your schools, I went to your churches, I went to your institutional learning facilities? So how can you say I’m crazy? They say they’re gonna fix my brain, alleviate my suffering and my pain, but by the time they fix my head, mentally, I’ll be dead. I’m not crazy, institution. You’re the one who’s crazy, institution."

We can even see this with Microsoft Word’s Clippy, who is less of an enabler and more of an enforcer, indicative of how institutionware is about preserving the institution as it is and has been, enhancing and supporting rather than challenging and threatening. Blackboard and Turnitin, for example, are not out to question traditional methods of education but to scaffold them. Names alone are evidence. 


Here the transcript ends. The notes I worked from devolved into improvisation and speculation, fueling a discussion focused almost entirely on Blackboard. This was somewhat unfortunate, but Blackboard looms large in the minds of many educators. 

I feel comfortable admitting this development because I’m still very much thinking and working through the very idea of institutionware. It is by no means fully formed. Since this #detroitdh talk, I’ve come to see limited use as playing a larger part in institutionware overall. Limited use itself may be more of a defining characteristic of institutionware than user agency or dependency, market dominance or feature containment. Limited use may be what binds the other characteristics together. What this in turn says about the relationship between service providers and users is something yet to be determined. I look forward to finding out. 


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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/605094 2013-09-29T13:50:45Z 2013-10-08T17:30:45Z #wideemu teaser for "Free to P(l)ay or Maybe Not"

photo credit


"While it’s in Google, Facebook, and LinkedIn’s interests to attract as many users as possible – and clearly free is the way – there are obvious consequences: Users get to play without paying, but every few months we get kicked in the face when our digital profiles get abused." - Amber MacArthur, Free sucks. I want my privacy back. 


photo credit


"When you're a free service, you get to say these magic words: 'X is offered as is.' You are off the hook for problems. If people don't like it they can go elsewhere." - Alan Jacobs, Take My Money, Please! The Strange Case of Free Web Services


photo credit


"Research has shown that humans like getting rewards, but they hate losing what they already have much more than they value the same item as a reward. To be effective with this technique, you have to tell the player they have earned something, and then later tell them that they did not. The longer you allow the player to have the reward before you take it away, the more powerful is the effect." - Ramin Shokrizade, The Top F2P Monetization Tricks


photo credit


"One of the secrets of success of a F2P game is the implementation of a powerful system of statistical analysis. Game data provides clues as to the users' behavior and preferences." - Pascal Luban, The Design of Free-to-Play Games: Part 1

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/176200 2013-03-16T10:31:30Z 2013-10-08T15:58:43Z Rise Above The LMS #4C13 [video & transcript]

VIDEO: https://www.dropbox.com/s/jh2bqmv9r28dwr0/RATLMS.mov

TRANSCRIPT: Good morning and welcome to session L.24, Reaching New Publics with Homegrown Learning Management Systems. My name is James Schirmer and I’m presenting in absentia for a very good reason: the birth of my first child. But I want to thank Brian and Quinn for allowing me to present in this manner. Please know that all are welcome to tweet about or at me. My Twitter handle is at the top right corner of most slides; our session and conference hashtags are at the top left. Also, a full transcript of this talk is available at betajames.net (and at betajames.posthaven.com).

Now, in talking about learning management systems, we talk about many things, including access and control. We talk about who has access to what information at which level as well as who controls that access and that information. We also talk about persistent and potential obstacles to access and control. In such discussions, it can be very easy to conflate a course and a learning management system. So, I hereby invite my colleagues on the panel and in the audience to challenge me if I appear to make such a conflation.

In talking about alternatives to learning management systems, I think we talk about access and control, too, but with an acknowledgement of honesty and openness. More of what we do as writing teachers may be exposed in LMS alternatives; things can get messy in having all or some of the construction laid bare. And I think there’s a public-ness to LMS alternatives that standard, traditional platforms like Blackboard lack. I see this as a net positive for alternatives, varied as they are.

New media and Web 2.0 technologies are more accessible and open by nature, sharing a similar degree of public-ness. As writing teachers, we can — and sometimes do — voice our LMS frustrations via social media, but these online spaces are also opportunities for us to connect pedagogical aims and goals in new ways. This is not necessarily a new thing anymore, but I think it’s an idea worth repeating because it is also shared in the do-it-yourself ethos. Open the course, expose the scaffolding, encourage more and varied interaction, get beyond the Blackboard box.

Using a computer keyboard, we can blog about yesterday’s class and tweet course updates, but it is through social media that the work we do may be public in unanticipated ways. Searching Twitter for hashtags like #englishsucks and phrases like “I hate writing” can be very revealing. I mention this, too, because I want to steer clear of triumphalism here. Moving from a standard, traditional LMS like Blackboard to an alternative doesn’t eliminate certain problems; it may only change them.

But we’re talking about such movement this morning for reasons in addition to access, control, messiness, and openness. I think it’s safe to say that we, as writing teachers, value these concepts to varying degrees. I want to extend things a bit, though. If we acknowledge that writing often constitutes public work, if we are interested in enhancing the status of first-year composition, we should rethink housing our courses in learning management systems. Do not mistake this statement for blind adherence to an ideal, though. Often enough, I still find myself singing the following song.

[clip of “I’m Against It” from the Marx Brothers film, Horse Feathers, ]
[LYRICS:
I don't know what they have to say,
It makes no difference anyway,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
No matter what it is or who commenced it,
I'm against it.

Your proposition may be good,
But let's have one thing understood,
Whatever it is, I'm against it.
And even when you've changed it or condensed it,
I'm against it.] 

I admit my own resistance to Blackboard and to learning management systems in general. However, I must also admit my reservations about this resistance. Do I dislike Blackboard for what it is or do my frustrations deal with broader concerns about higher education? Are my operating methods and preferences just too different? Do I just need to be more patient, more willing to discover and learn how a particular LMS organizes and values the efforts of students and teachers alike? In an “Authors @ Google” lecture, Douglas Rushkoff explains the Blackboard situation a bit better than I can: 

[clip of "Authors@Google: Douglas Rushkoff," 7:38-9:10]
[From the student or teacher's perspective, Blackboard is terrible. It's just awful. You run up consistently against these terrible obstacles and extremely difficult things, ways you've got to wrap your whole self and brain and course and life around what this program needs needs from you in order to comply with it. And most of us look and say, "Ugh, this is just an awful thing. This software is awful." If you look at it from what I'm calling the programmer's perspective, you see, "Oh no, Blackboard is brilliant." Because Blackboard wasn't written for me. Blackboard wasn't written for me as an educator or for that person as a student. Blackboard was written for the Blackboard company to dominate education in a very particular way. Blackboard was created to help create an equivalence between distance learning and real-life learning so that in your classroom you're actually using this technology as much as you would long distance...It's created not to promote the user's agency, but to decrease the user's agency and increase the institution's dependence on this piece of software.]   

While I agree with Rushkoff, I no longer think of standard, traditional LMS platforms like Blackboard as software. Instead, I think of them as “institutionware.” For as much as Blackboard may be about preserving itself as the top LMS option, it is also about preserving the traditional aspects of higher education. Even more recent social media ‘features’ are about containment; blogs and wikis are stuck in the Blackboard box and mark the introduction of new environments and tools for learning but only serve lectures and exams. It’s all enough to make one rage against the machine.

[clip of "07 - Rage Against the Machine - Freedom (Live)," 4:15-4:45]
[LYRIC: anger is a gift

I agree with Zach de la Rocha that “anger is a gift.” When directing it in a productive way toward an issue or problem, clarity can often follow. I also agree with Matthew Gold’s perspective that the problem with learning management systems ‘lies in the conjunction of three words that should not appear together. Learning is not something that can be “managed” via a “system.”’ Given how we may use Blackboard or another platform, our course banners might as well read “Under Old Management.” Many of the faults of traditional LMS platforms are also the faults of higher education.

Still, the title of this talk isn’t “Rage Against The LMS.” Well, it was, but it isn’t anymore. In fact, my co-panelist Brian McNely has, in his words, “backed away from a militant anti-LMS perspective in everyday practice, in large part because it’s simply not conducive to getting things done with what we have…I don’t have the energy or influence to overturn my university’s LMS policy; I can offer my students interesting workarounds to the limitations of the LMS.” Like him, I’m more interested in how we might rise above the LMS, either through alternatives or by other means. 

[clip of "Henry Rollins/Black Flag 'Rise Above' Live, 0:25-0:55]
[LYRICS
Jealous cowards try to control
Rise above
We're gonna rise above
They distort what we say
Rise above
We're gonna rise above
Try and stop what we do
Rise above
When they can't do it themselves

We are tired of your abuse
Try to stop us it's no use

Society's arms of control
Rise above
We're gonna rise above]

Part of rising above the LMS may involve remembering that, as Sean Michael Morris writes in a piece for Hybrid Pedagogy, “the LMS is meant to help us think about teaching, not to do the teaching, or to tell us what teaching needs to occur. The LMS is not the course; it’s the launching pad for the course." In other words, we need to see the LMS as an opportunity to reconsider how and what it is we do as teachers.

This diagram is part of a blog entry by Lisa M. Lane in which she looks at how and where courses begin. According to Lane, starting in an LMS implies a teacher-centric model, closer connection with the college and its structures, greater concern for security and privacy, and emphasis on presentation and content over interactivity and community. Starting on the open web or a social media site implies a learner-centric model, greater connection with the outside world, and emphasis on community over content. 

Lane sees both starting options as doors, with the LMS linking out to social media and social media linking in or to the LMS. Whichever we choose “sets up different kinds of hierarchies, implies differences in pedagogy, and creates different kinds of opportunities for learning” (Lane). Similarly, William Beasley notes “there are good pedagogical reasons both for providing links that take students outside the LMS, and for bringing portions of the outside world into the LMS." 

This diagram is part of a blog entry by D’Arcy Norman in which he sees a role for the LMS in higher education “if for no other reason than the simple reality that most instructors, and many students, aren’t ready, willing, or able to forge their own solutions." Norman also acknowledges that “even a grassroots No-LMS environment eventually grows to resemble an LMS-like space." Through these diagrams, we can come to see the LMS in general as less of a learning management system and more of a learning mediated system. 

Now, in my own courses, I seek to rise above the LMS by incorporating simple, effective tools with a low barrier of entry. Here is one such example: Posterous, a soon-to-be defunct online writing service that allowed students to blog via email. Students and I were able to subscribe to and comment on each other’s blogs as well as personalize our online spaces. Twitter’s “acqui-hire” of the Posterous staff one year ago prefaced the announcement of a full-service shutdown on April 30. 

However, Twitter is (I hope) a more reliable online writing service used in many of my courses. Hashtags and/or specific tweeting times help foster community and that greater connection with the outside world mentioned earlier by Lisa Lane. 

Now, before turning things over to Brian and Quinn for more substantive inquiry, allow me to share a couple other, perhaps more interesting examples before closing with some persistent problems related to rising above the LMS. 

“Part storytelling workshop, part technology training, part critical interrogation of the digital landscape,” DS106 stands among the most unique and successful endeavors to engage students of all kinds in the development of skills for using technology as a tool for networking, sharing, narrating, and creative self-expression. Searching on Twitter for the hashtags #ds106 and#ds106radio will send you down a rabbit’s hole into a wonderland of digital artifacts of all kinds.  

In sharing this screenshot of materials for a web application development course posted on GitHub, it is worth noting that Karl Stolley uses Git, version control software, for just about everything he writes. But, for Stolley, posting his syllabi on GitHub is worth doing so that his materials “are a tad more easy to get ahold of” but it also changes how he writes the source of his materials, whether Markdown or HTML.  

And, as usual, we are at an interesting time in higher education. The MOOC looms over much discussion of academia’s future, but it also stands as another potential LMS alternative. Many MOOCs serve as a combination of approaches and strategies; some are united as much by Twitter hashtags as more traditional methods of instruction. So, with these examples, we’re once again back to the opening concerns of access, control, honesty, messiness, and openness.

As also mentioned earlier, rising above a standard, traditional LMS like Blackboard may not eliminate certain problems, only change them. Our position in a college or university may determine our ability to rise. We may be limited to engaging in the strategy explained by Brian McNely rather than implementing one of the “door” approaches explained by Lisa Lane. Using free online services invite archival, privacy, and reliability issues. Hosting and growing our own spaces requires time and vigilance we may not have. 

While there are among the persistent problems related to rising above the LMS, I want to remain optimistic. When we rise above the LMS, we assert as ourselves as activists as well as writing teachers. We show others what alternatives are possible in particular capacities. And I look forward to what Brian and Quinn are about to show us. So, to close as so many of my students do, here is my references page.

Thank you.

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/60374 2012-08-23T12:40:13Z 2013-10-08T15:34:28Z Notes on GameLoop 2012 #gl12

A description of GameLoop as well as notes on last year's unconference are available from co-runner Darius Kazemi here

"Art Games from a Fine Arts Perspective," Alex Myers presiding

The purpose of this session was to think about art games from an artist's perspective rather than that of a designer or developer. In Myers' opinion, using contemporary game design as a medium for expression is all fine and good, but that the placement of games in galleries is problematic in approach. 

First, there is the myth of the gallery. There is also the movement and removal of games themselves from arcades to homes and now to galleries. Art continues to move in comparable directions and Myers and session attendees rattled off many examples. Some were also quick to stress the need to challenge and question what we consider to be art games, to be mindful of using subversiveness as a crutch because we engage in passive participation in oppression every day. 

Furthermore, there are questions of accessibility and legitimacy and the importance of exploring alternative as well as traditional spaces for art and for games, of pursuing "art games for art games' sake." It was around this point that the overall discussion separated art and games, acknowledging how context comes through interaction (sort of) with both. This separation was not an issue as it appeared easier for some to understand how art and games might learn from each other, what it means to make art the focus of a game and if that's even really possible. 

In the midst of this part of the session, someone mentioned "MOMA retcons," how certain art movements rebelled and responded to the establishment only to be included and/or canonized later so that the general public might "step back and respect" them. Myers also took issue with dressing art up in videogame culture, expressing uncertainty with what such action accomplishes. 

To continue the separation and similarity aspect, this session made note of the player-predictability in games and the viewer-unpredictability of art. "What consequences can there be in the digital?" is an additional question that arose, however briefly, in the Philosophy and Videogames (development) session described below. 

As the session came to a close, there was a look to the future toward locative art games and emergent objectives, of using the "raw means of abstraction" as the essence of interaction to produce less obvious metaphors that might still be reminiscent of life experiences. In a final address of how to pass the time, a session attendee stated, "We had five minutes left two minutes ago." 

Among the artists and events mentioned: Duchamp, Cactus Squid, Brody Condon, the Machine Project, Deep Sea

 

"Why All Videogame Conferences Suck," Courtney Stanton presiding

Short answer: exclusionary practices. This is a continuing problem at conferences, so there was a stated concern of how to address it. Courtney shared her experiences with and knowledge of unconferences and workshops like No Show. Alex and Darius framed their K-12 and college-level classes as forms of outreach.

Part of the intent is to have more conversations in more places, to have more welcoming spaces as well as perhaps more separatist spaces, all so that the big conferences aren't the only spaces anymore and more people interested in videogames can say, "There's someone/something here for me."

It was around this point that Johnny(?) brought up issues of accessibility, stressing the potential complications of distance and physical spaces for those with special needs. Conferences tend to ignore, overlook, or assume too much when it comes to policies that ensure safe, welcoming spaces, but much the same also happens with regards to special-needs considerations.

So, how to community-organize for everyone? Attend to privilege, acknowledge the popularity of past panels, get away from predatory logic and what conferences tend to sell attendees on, realize that what happens at conferences is often someone's first impression of the industry.  

 

"Philosophy and Videogames (Development)," Darius Kazemi presiding

In true unconference spirit, this was sort of an impromptu session jammed in during the lunch hour. Darius started off by noting how architecting a game engine addresses philosophical questions and what it's like being forced to write those ontological rules, thereby revealing the purpose of the session overall. Attendees then shared their own reasons for being present, including ethics, the nonhuman turn, "old thinkers," games as reflections of humanity (or not), game tendencies, natural human states, absurdism, existentialism, inherent systems of meaning, theology, life and death in games, less definite spaces, what philosophy can provide, systems construction.

Of course, it proved impossible to address all these interests. One of the first questions raised was that of combat being the dominant/lone interaction of a game and how player perception can be influenced as a result, how we can come to see the "real" space on which a game space is based as "where people are supposed to get shot." This can be most pronounced in FPS games set in New York, Los Angeles, etc. 

So, how to get away from this possibility? Decenter player privilege, embrace the core ambiguity and flexibility of game design. This somehow led into thinking of the computer/system as adjudicator, a computer's sense of justice, and what it means to follow laws and rules vs. understanding them. Kirk can probably speak more and better about this, but there was another question raised: "When is a rule going to make something stupid happen?" One answer was the A.I. Director from the Left 4 Dead series. 

No one mentioned Bioshock during the session, which was nice. 

 

"Games That Hate You," Cameron Kunzleman presiding

Things got started with a focus on games that provide active punishment for playing them as well as the appeal of playing these kinds of games. There's a nostalgic aspect to them, to their punishing difficulty, but Cameron also wanted the discussion to move beyond this. Rather than just an address of difficulty and punishment, the discussion moved into the realm of clear disrespect for players and what we perceive as unfair. 

Hateful or not (perhaps), there needs to be respect and trust on the part of both the designer and the player of the game. Wrapped up in all this, too, are understandings of content value and experience and how games reward certain player behaviors or don't. There was mention of a game in which the player can realize that "you're fucked 5 minutes into a match." This led some to ask how can we as players tell when a game respects our time. During a sub-discussion concerning sadomasochistic aspects of games, one attendee admitted, "Alt+F4 is my safe word." 

I'm not sure this session stayed on topic as much as it could have. This is more of an observation than a complaint, though, given bits and pieces about motivational environments and the absence of them, the idea of "hard simplicity," how and why players react when a game denies, exhausts, or robs their agency, and how some violations of player expectations can be fun. 

 

"Women in Games," Courtney Stanton presiding

Unfortunately, I missed a good chunk of this session. It was clear upon entering the room, though, that this wasn't a session about portrayals of women in videogames but an industry/workplace talk. 

One woman shared her experience of being mistaken for a marketer instead of a programmer because she "dressed nice." A few others observed how sexism in the videogames monoculture can be just as bad in indie as AAA, if not worse. This is because the legal liability that exists in AAA doesn't have an equivalent in indie. 

There was also discussion of what it takes to be heard, the sacrifices and personality changes some women made to fit in with the guys. A later shift to education focused on priming the next generation, looking at the importance of support for those experiencing sexism as well as the worth in correction and even embarrassment for those causing it. We need to not only let people know that they're wrong but also show them how and why.

Similar to the earlier session about why videogame conferences suck, I felt exhausted at the end. 

 

"Roguelike-likes," ??? presiding

I spent too much time in my own head during this session, which began with some discussion of roguelike characteristics. These included procedural generation, discovery, capacity for surprise, permanent risk, adversity with interesting/intersecting consequences, and systems awareness. Regarding the roguelike aspects of accumulation and loss, one attendee commented, "The better you do, the more it hurts." In other words, the greater a player's progression through a roguelike, the worse a player's potential 'death' becomes. At the same time, starting over may not be so terrible, given acceptance of failure beforehand. A roguelike, then, forces us to admit that we have nothing to lose. Well, except maybe time. 

Having somewhat defined characteristics of roguelikes, discussion moved into the application of roguelike aspects to other kinds of games. After naming titles like Dark Souls and Fallout, the latter of which diverged into a discussion of sub-optimal builds, there was some brainstorming about FPS roguelikes, social roguelikes, and even how a movie like Groundhog Day could be seen as roguelike-like. 

Among roguelikes named: Nethack, Facade, Brogue, Spelunky, Epic Dungeon, Realm of the Mad God. 

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/60625 2012-02-17T22:03:00Z 2013-10-08T15:34:31Z On Week 7 #112CWR #342VS #513DR

After having to ignore so much just to get last week's entry written and posted, I almost find this week to be lacking things for me to note and observe. Then again, just as much may have happened this week as in weeks past, but other significant demands on my time perhaps kept me from noticing. (Every time I have to write/revise for publication during the semester, I swear I'll never do it again. This has happened five times.) 

In #112CWR, there was what I've come to see as the usual amount of confusion and dread toward the introduction of Mashup Scholarship, almost in parallel to the enthusiasm I still have for this unorthodox assignment. Part of my enthusiasm has to do with bias, of course. I remain enamored with the arguments of Lethem's "The Ecstasy of Influence" and Shields' Reality Hunger as well as mashup efforts like The Grey Album and Wugazi. And I still hold out hope for some kind of grand academic mashup of a disciplinary argument. However, part of the reason I ask students to put together their own academic mashups has to do with the potential of discovering just how scholarly sentences are constructed. It is my hope that by melding five different sources together into one cohesive essay students will learn a bit more about what discipline-specific writing is, if not does. So, if students see Pop Up Scholarship as a vehicle to vent about academic writing, Mashup Scholarship asks them to rise above raging against the machine and get more constructive.

What appears to be less constructive, though, are the facilitations, which have become less student-led class sessions and more a series of variant themes related to academic writing. Facilitations aren't so much group projects as a collection of individual performances about the same thing. Put simpler, #112CWR facilitations this semester tend toward mini-lectures. With just one more such session remaining, I have to be okay with this as it wouldn't be fair for me to come down on the last group with demands to do everything that previous groups might have not done. Plus, I think students often perform from prior experience, from what they know, and maybe not what's most helpful, but almost always what they perceive as easiest. If the comfortable or default setting for a facilitation is the mini-lecture, what does this say about professorial pedagogy?

In #342VS, facilitations are a bit better, with less lecture and more whole-class discussion of whatever readings I assigned that week. In some cases, these facilitations have been more media-heavy than the sessions I've led. I suspect that this often happens because students observe how I lead discussion and see what I fail to incorporate. In a way, then, #342VS facilitations build on or otherwise relate to the prior session and go from there. As a result, I think #342VS stands as a more cohesive endeavor with greater relationship between sessions each week and week to week. That each #112CWR session stands somewhat alone by contract is both interesting and troubling.

Having just begun #513DR facilitations, I'm rather impressed by students' collective abilities to conduct class without me.  As primary responsibilities for guiding discussion were on two fellow students, questions fell to This is a graduate-level course, so one could conceivably make the argument that graduate students should be able to hold a session without the professor. When I did contribute to the discussions of videogames in education and amateur/professional critics online, I almost felt as though I had interrupted the proceedings. I have every intention of attending next week's session, though. With scheduled facilitations on videogames as new media/rhetoric and 4chan and the online disinhibition effect, how could I not attend?

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/60027 2012-02-10T22:08:00Z 2013-10-08T15:34:24Z On Week 4-5-6 #112CWR #342VS #513DR

I do a disservice by grouping general thoughts about students' work over the last three weeks into a single entry. However, a multitude of demands on my time don't allow for much else. I've been asking a lot of students as of late and they've fulfilled my requests, yet all time allows is a lone, meager blog post to acknowledge and reflect. Of course, each undergraduate student received a quick progress report with more tailored details about how I see their recent work. I won't divulge such specifics here for a variety of reasons, instead taking a broader view, a longer picture of what's happening. So, let's begin…

Students don't like writing. To be more specific, students don't like academic writing. They see it as jargon, unnecessary, verbose. "Why should/would anyone write like this?" they ask. Such a question ties into not only important considerations of audience and purpose but it also remains a persistent, existential query for me as a teacher of writing. I don't discourage a question like that, instead encouraging students to ask by way of assignments like Pop Up Scholarship. And, more often than not, what comes out of such an assignment are the above criticisms. Rare is the question one of content; almost always is the question one of performance, of presentation. 

Variations of these questions also appear in upper-level and graduate courses, often with the same focus. Rather than discussing the argument put forth or the ideas presented, upper-level and graduate students address an assigned article from points of analysis literary and/or rhetorical. Their approaches are more deconstruction than New Criticism, more feminist and Marxist than reader-response. "If we can summarize an academic work in 50 words or 140 characters, why can't the original author?" they ask. 

I don't know if such inquiries are standard in college-level writing courses, but they seem to be in mine. I structure my courses to be spaces not just for writing, but critiquing writing. I don't want students' blind or blithe acceptance of the tenets of academic writing. Yes, I hope for them to grasp the nuances of what it means to put together a scholarly piece of writing, but I also hope for them to remain critical in the process. Besides, I'm not exactly the biggest fan of academic writing myself. There's an insurgent aspect to my pedagogy, I suppose.

Again, this is part of the reason for assignments like Pop Up Scholarship that ask and encourage students to change, comment, pick apart, and even poke fun at academic work. It's also part of the way toward foundational awareness, whether it be academic writing, videogame studies, or digital rhetoric. The first eight weeks or so of each course are strikingly similar in this regard. After the break, after having gained awareness if not knowledge of what's involved, students have the freedom for more individual exploration. Given students' reactions to freedom and open-endedness of certain assignments already undertaken, I expect there will be some accounts of stress post-break. 

I know that not all students are comfortable with the class structure. I know some would be content with or even prefer that I just give them information, straight from the scholarly horse's mouth. I know there are many reasons for this desire, too, but my general response to the majority of direct questions asked of me is this: I don't have all the answers, but I'm here to help you seek them, to offer perspective on what you discover. 

Contrary to what students might think, some of the best class sessions are those facilitated by fellow students. Even somewhat disastrous facilitations, like the one in #112CWR this week, can be instructive in myriad ways. This has me thinking about implementing less formal, straightforward groupwork in my courses. Rather than group facilitations, perhaps future courses will have discussion leaders, those who post the first and second online entries related to a week's readings for others to read and respond to. Students tend to like groupwork about as much as they like academic writing anyway.

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/60039 2012-01-23T00:59:00Z 2013-10-08T15:34:24Z On Week 3 #112CWR #342VS #513DR

In #112CWR this week, we saw the first two class sessions devoted to students' pecha kucha presentations, all of which addressed Part 1 of the Major Media Representations assignment. This is the earliest in the semester such presentations have ever happened in any of the courses I have designed. As I'm still learning students' names as well as their speaking and writing styles, I find these presentations to be functioning as further introductions to me and the rest of the class. 

There's a certain bravery to students' presentations, too. For some, it's just a matter of going first, of "getting it over with," but this also means providing an example for the rest of the class to either avoid or follow to the letter. For others, it was an opportunity to get personal, to give the origin story behind their choice of major and/or intended profession. 

That students took cues from the model pecha kucha presentation I gave in Week 2 was no surprise. This was also a bit of a disappointment. For as important as I think it often is to provide students with examples and models of successful projects, I worry that doing so stifles their creativity. The model provided can be an easy way for students to think less about what they want to communicate and how they want to communicate it. I suppose, though, that I'm only giving them a possible approach and template. All students produced their own memory cues, note cards, and scripts to accompany the 20 images on their 20 slides.

And for as involved as we allegedly are now when it comes to new media, I remain somewhat surprised at the clear dominance and influence of movie and television references in students' work in the MMR assignment. There are countless Vimeo, Xtranormal, and YouTube videos portraying various and sundry professions in positive and negative ways. These remain as much untapped sources for this particular assignment as videogames. Perhaps the presentations next week will have greater variation. 

If interested in the next two class sessions devoted to students' pecha kucha presentations, all our related tweets can be found here

 

Due to illness and/or weather, overall presence in #342VS was uneven this week. I still talked too much on Tuesday and discussion often felt forced, even unfocused at times. This may have been due to the topic (which is somewhat difficult to understand we're talking about videogames) or a lack of preparation (which is more understandable). 

So, with in-class discussion already growing too stagnant for my tastes, I pitched a different approach for Thursday's class. Having assigned the introductory chapters to Half-Real and The Meaning of Video Games for that day, I asked students to identify and summarize Steven E. Jones's and Jesper Juul's approaches to and arguments for studying games. I then asked students to use their laptops and smartphones to find and play games with Jones and Juul in mind. In other words, students read/reread and discussed Jones and Juul in small groups before playing videogames for about an hour. 

When later sharing summaries of Jones and Juul as well as what videogames they played, a few students admitted to experiencing some difficulty in playing Amnesia and Angry Birds while keeping Juul's "real rules/fictional world" idea in mind. One student even went so far as to express worry that #342VS would be ruining videogames for him.

This is an interesting point of reservation and resistance that I've noticed in prior sessions, the idea that we play videogames for pleasure and that critical thinking and deeper learning about videogames lessen that pleasure. My first response is to go on and on about how we can gain a deeper appreciation for what videogames are and do through that critical thinking and deeper learning about them, just as my appreciation for and understanding of Citizen Kane broadened by way of an undergrad film studies class, just as my learning how to play the guitar provided me with greater awareness of song structure and the tenets of punk rock music. However, based on the abridged version I gave in class, such an explanation rings hollow for some reason. 

A second explanation could incorporate arguments and ideas from the likes of Tom Bissell, Ian Bogost, Heather Chaplin, and Jane McGonigal about what videogames can do, but I don't know how well this would work either. At least for some, playing videogames are all the justification they need. It's enough to play, their attitudes seem to say. 

 

My lone #513DR session this week was mostly show-and-tell based on the Approaches to Digital Rhetoric assignment. Students' own Pen.io pages are more revealing than anything I could provide here, so I'm happy to just provide links.

However, I don't know if we're any at all closer to defining digital rhetoric for ourselves. As better definitions might be better enacted than found, perhaps this is okay as student-led facilitations begin in two weeks. I'm quite interested in the deliberations scheduled as I know some students have very clear pedagogical interests they want to explore. I also know that other students are much more geared toward ideas of videogames as digital, rhetorical forms. In all, it will be interesting to see what comes out of the deliberations, who takes responsibility for what while maintaining little overlap with the facilitations of others in the class.

With a mere eight students enrolled, #513DR is the smallest class I've ever had. This size is almost comical in comparison to our assigned classroom which has a capacity of 48. The last two weeks have seen us push four tables together so we can all face each other. We've been making a discussion-oriented space out of a larger, lecture-oriented space. I hope we continue to do that. 

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james schirmer
tag:betajames.posthaven.com,2013:Post/60058 2012-01-14T18:33:28Z 2013-10-08T15:34:24Z Initial & revised parts of an academic essay #112CWR #342VS #513DR

This is a lengthy post and for that I apologize. However, my reasons for sharing these are more instructive for #112CWR, #342VS, and #513DR students than anyone necessarily interested in the subject matter. I want to say that this is what revision looks like. I think I'm right, but all are welcome to prove me wrong. Perhaps my editors will.

 

INITIAL DRAFT OF INTRODUCTION

Pedagogy that encourages more play in college-level writing courses often comes coupled with an acknowledgement of technology as an increasing influence in students’ lives (Sirc 2001; Moberly 2008; Robison 2008; Shultz Colby & Colby 2008). It is here that various questions concerning implementation arise. Without a more thorough understanding of technology and how it is manifest in society, any incorporation is doomed to failure. Historical inquiry of the root of technology, techne, can result in a more beneficial balance between pedagogy and technology. This chapter endeavors to present techne as a way of understanding videogames as applicable to composition pedagogy. Primary emphasis is upon historical roots over contemporary applications, but implications for the future of teaching writing will not be disregarded.   

Often defined as art, craft, skill and/or the active application of knowledge, techne's ambiguity remains intriguing and many redefitions are in the service of pedagogy. With discourse so shaped by computer technology, there comes a need to "return to Composition's rhetorical roots to find a language and a methodology" (Penrod 26). Because of technology's influence on us and our influence on technology, it is beneficial if not necessary to explore techne. Again, prior scholarship reveals an acknowledgement of techne's ambiguity, a characteristic embraced because it allows for particular ends. 

It is possible to view techne as a field of practice with its own knowledge and skills and inseparable from politeia, “the proper order of human relationships within a city-state” (Winner 97). This is because “what appear to be merely instrumental choices are better seen as choices about the form of the society we continually build, choices about the kinds of people we want to be” (105). Political and scientific aspects of technical and technological production “modify and stimulate each other so as to lead to the development of a comprehensive philosophical program of revolution” (Rosen 79), one impossible to designate as theoretical, practical or productive because it is all three. As such, techne is "the knowledge of those social practices that characterize the acts of insiders…[and] enables cultural critique and becomes the means by which new social possibilities are invented" (Atwill & Lauer 37-38). This enabling aspect further solidifies and strengthens the relationship between technology and civic action. 

For as serious as we might understand techne in relation to politics and society, there is also an element of play in its performance. Embracing techne's ambiguity, Ryan Moeller and Ken McAllister use Greek and Roman historical anecdotes to illustrate. In revealing techne as conversation about an art, as ingenuity, cunning, trickery, chance, and artisanship, Moeller and McAllister seek better ways to teach technical communication, “letting [students] learn and play with the rudiments of technical communication before requiring them to act like experts and professionals” (187). To see techne as "creative, ingenious, tricky, unpredictable, and utterly human" (Moeller & McAllister 204) echoes Heidegger's definition of technology  as both a means to an end and as a human activity because "to posit ends and procure and utilize the means to them is a human activity" (4). Techne is thus the name for the activities and skills of the craftsman as well as for the arts of the mind (13). However, we may also see techne as a mode of revealing (Ong 1982), as the suggestion of learning within a tradition (Hodgkin 1990), as possessing aesthetic and technical characteristics (Rutsky 1999), as a kind of control over chance (Gordon 2002), as a situational bridge over the gap between theory and practice (Dubinsky 2002), as techniques for situating bodies in contexts (Hawk 2004), as reflection on aesthetic criticism (Penrod 2005). As a result, the pervasiveness and scope of techne also remains a point of contention. Techne is a tool used, working in tandem with knowledge/wisdom to produce an effect or event; techne is also more than a tool, often exhibiting a kind of autonomy which some embrace and others fear.  Divorced from or saturated with emotion, separate or inseparable from knowledge and science, ‘mere craft’ or exalted art, various interpretations of techne illuminate freedom of opportunity.

Similar to techne is the concept of play, which "stands for a category of very diverse happenings" (Sutton-Smith 3). In part, it has to do with how discussions of play place it "in context within broader value systems" (Sutton-Smith 8), quite similar to how some view techne. It could be argued that this has to do with how culture arises out of play (Huizinga 1950). Influencing rhetorics of play are historical sources, particular functions, specialized advocates, and the contexts of specific academic discplines (Sutton-Smith 214). Neutral interpretations are as impossible for play as they might be for techne, given how ambiguity creeps into "the relationship between how they are perceived and how they are experienced" (Sutton-Smith 216). Roger Caillois' definition of play is illustrative here as he describes it as "an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill, and often of money" (5-6) while also emphasizing it as essential to social development. For a host of reasons, Sutton-Smith concludes with an explanation of how play is "characterized by quirkiness, redundancy, and flexibility" (229). Below signifies an attempt to paint techne in a similar light.

The nebulous nature of both techne and play invite tangible examples. Videogames are an evolving, popular medium that refashions earlier media and promotes a greater degree of interactivity (Bolter & Grusin 2000) while also being representative of learning (Gee 2003). As such, they constitute an important example of how techne, play, and techne as play might be understood. This may very well be because "videogames teach biased perspectives about how things work" (Bogost 260). What follows then is analysis of videogames as of techne as play with an eye toward implications for teaching composition. Techne provides a historical foundation and videogames provide a current literacy practice, both of which serve to improve approaches to teaching composition.  

If we understand techne as an aesthetic, affecting and autonomous art to be learned and practiced in context, videogames represent an arena in which we might explore epistemology and apply to composition pedagogy.  Furthermore, if we view techne as a kind of play, videogames work as a collective example, inviting a rethinking of composition, a reimagining of approaches and sequeneces designed to promote active, critical thinking. Technology is an integral part of teaching writing, and it is therefore important to go beyond acknowledgement and awareness by discussing and implementing approaches that encourage and complement new ways of making meaning. 

This chapter will explain how Platonic, Aristotelian, and Isocratic notions of techne function within videogames, remaining flexible and diverse while requiring different forms of principled, rule-based interaction and the acquisition of means to desirable and fulfilling ends. Videogames reveal techne as flexible and diverse, requiring different interactions in relation to particular principles and the acquisition of means to desirable and fulfilling ends, achieved through tapping into the potential presented within. Each in-game encounter shapes literacy practices, causing reflection and/or revision in light of new knowledge; learning becomes an ever-present possibility, revealing techne as a kind of play, a fluid, contextual form of action. It can also be through videogames that we are better able to understand ourselves and the identities we create and comprehend and enact the changes we want to see. There is also a certain richness to historical inquiry that makes for a worthy addition to discussions of composition pedagogy and videogames. This chapter endeavors to provide a degree of that richness.

Again, techne can be vague. Rare is the occasion for Plato, Aristotle or Isocrates, to call techne by name, but it is possible to discern how they understood it. From Plato is the idea of techne as flexible and diverse, with each artful craft requiring communication in concepts and construction. Such action is necessary prior to production.  Aristotle takes this further with the idea of potential within, of something to be acquired and applied, but this something is more than the means.  Rules govern and inform methods of making; absence of principles often means absence of production.  Both are necessary aspects of literacy, its acquisition and action, which Isocrates understands in bringing principles and production together in his rhetorical pedagogy. 

Divergent ideas about techne can cause confusion, but divergence also allows for greater understanding. In drawing together Plato’s idea of techne as flexible and diverse yet principled, Aristotle’s of a ‘capacity to make’ and Isocrates’ pedagogical amalgamation of parameters and potential production, we can come to understand techne as a kind of play. 

 

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REVISED DRAFT OF INTRODUCTION

Pedagogy that encourages more play in college-level writing courses often comes coupled with an acknowledgement of technology as an increasing influence in students’ lives (Sirc 2001; Moberly 2008; Robison 2008; Shultz Colby & Colby 2008). Related is the revisiting and/or revitalization of old Greek words like kairos and techne for similar purposes, i.e., the teaching of writing in acknowledgement of technical and technological influences (Moeller & McAllister 2002; Penrod 2005; Losh 2009). In light of research into play and old Greek words for the purposes of composition-rhetoric pedagogy, I desire to bring these two research areas together in arguing for understanding techne as play. 

However, the nebulous nature of both techne and play invite tangible examples. Videogames are an evolving, popular medium that refashions earlier media and promotes a greater degree of interactivity (Bolter & Grusin 2000) while also being representative of learning (Gee 2003). As such, they comprise important instances of how techne, play, and techne as play might be understood. What follows, then, is an exploratory analysis of three interstices of gaming that signal opportunities for play and provide potential models for writing instruction.

Before such analysis, though, it is important if not necessary to acknowledge that the pervasiveness and scope of both techne and play remain points of contention. This acknowledgement is not to imply a lack of similarities between the two; in fact, the opposite is closer to the truth. As signifiers, play “stands for a category of very diverse happenings” (Sutton-Smith 3) and techne acts as the name for the activities and skills of the craftsman as well as for the arts of the mind (Heidegger 1977). In other words, both are sort of catch-all descriptors for various and sundry things. Of course, divergent ideas about techne and play can cause confusion, but such divergence can also allow for greater understanding.

As such, many have been encouraged rather than dissuaded from alternate understandings of each term. For instance, Sutton-Smith (2001) observes how rhetorics of play are influenced by historical sources, particular functions, specialized advocates, and the contexts of specific academic disciplines. Much the same occurs with techne, given views of it as a mode of revealing (Ong 1982), as the suggestion of learning within a tradition (Hodgkin 1990), as possessing aesthetic and technical characteristics (Rutsky 1999), as a kind of control over chance (Gordon 2002), as a situational bridge over the gap between theory and practice (Dubinsky 2002), as techniques for situating bodies in contexts (Hawk 2004). Decidedly neutral interpretations are as impossible for play as they might be for techne, given how ambiguity creeps into "the relationship between how they are perceived and how they are experienced" (Sutton-Smith 216). Roger Caillois' definition of play is illustrative here as he describes it as "an occasion of pure waste: waste of time, energy, ingenuity, skill, and often of money" (5-6) while also emphasizing it as essential to social development. While absent are arguments about techne as wasteful, Winner (1983) and Rosen (1993) each assert its inseparability from society. So, if we might perceive of play as “characterized by quirkiness, redundancy and flexibility” (Sutton-Smith 229), attempts to paint techne in a similar light should be acceptable.

As this edited collection overall attests, videogames represent an area in which we might explore epistemology and possible applications to composition pedagogy. In a way, I think this reveals the imperative that we go beyond the acknowledgement and awareness advocated by Selfe (1999) and implement approaches that encourage and complement new ways of making meaning. In seeing techne as play, videogames work as a collective example, inviting a rethinking of composition pedagogy, a re-imagining of approaches and sequences designed to promote active, critical thinking. Again, what follows is an exploratory analysis of three gaming instances that reveal techne as play and, in turn, indicate a writing-instruction model that leads to learning rather than just skills dispensation. 

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james schirmer