Thesis Completis

I didn’t let you all know, but the Division of Graduate Studies accepted my thesis. Turns out you don’t need to submit a hard copy of the text. All you do is follow a set of outdated and underdetailed formatting instructions, make a PDF and e-mail it. It’s a little nerve wracking until you get that congratulatory response e-mail.

So what do I do now? Well, things are looking up at the moment. I have a few job possibilities, and then on to doctoral work some time in the next two years. Huzzah for graduate school.

And yes, the blog will continue.

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Ph.D. Problems

The following letter was printed in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle this past Wednesday. I think it’s funny as hell, given the errors in fact present in it, but it also lacks almost any semblance of logic. It is reprinted here without permission of the Chronicle, so if they have a problem, they need to contact me. The letter was written (as is) by Jack Clarkson of West Yellowstone, Mont.:

Although I was not a history major while in high school, I can reflect back upon our American history. Turns out, there were no Ph.D.s on the trio of ships that sailed to the Americas to establish our first colonies. I could not find any Ph.D.s that signed the Declaration of Independence. We have never in our history had a Ph.D. for president.

The West was settled and populated by ordinary men and women, no Ph.D.s there. None of our astronauts have been Ph.D.s, Wall Street is not populated by Ph.D.s either. We have been in two world wars, the Spanish American War, the police action in Korea, the Vietnam War, Desert Storm and now the War on Terror which is currently taking place in Afghanistan and Iraq. I read the papers, and watch the news, I do not hear of any Ph.D.s who are fighting for our country in those theaters. Outside of the medical field, I do not recall any really famous Ph.D.s or any Ph.D.s who have made significant contributions to our society.

To tout the doctorate as some kind of mantel that is bestowed upon the most learned and the most sagacious members of our society, and that their contribution is somehow more significant than those with less formal education is an error made by those who would teach us that education is an end unto itself.

The old adage is: Those who can “do,” those who can’t “teach.” It sure rings true if you look at the history of our country.

Now, I’m not usually one to nitpick others, and I’m not about to start with Mr. Clarkson. However, I think he needs to get his facts straight and learn the basics of a solid argument (versus an all-out anti-academic rant) before he deigns to share his opinion with the public again. Responses?

Global Warming Thanksgiving

I was watching An Inconvenient Truth this morning when our narrator Al Gore mentioned something that caught my attention (Well, all of it caught my attention, but this caught it in particular). Gore mentioned that global warming can have an effect on when particular species hatch for the summer. Sometimes, the hatching does not coincide with the hatching of other species that feed on them. Consequently, a large number of species are in danger.

I read an article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle a few days ago; it was an AP article, so it’s probably still out there somewhere. The article said that school lunch programs were having a hard time finding turkeys for their Thanksgiving dinners, not because of a shortage of turkeys but because a hotter than average summer produced smaller than average turkeys.

Global warming?

University Salaries

An article in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle today reports that Montana State University is facing an employee retention crisis. Many jobs at the university are vacant–a full third of the custodial positions are open and the university is having a hard time staffing its police force.

Rent in the Bozeman area is so high ($1,423) that, on average, it would eat up 98 percent of a low paid MSU employee’s paycheck. A video shown to regents of the Montana University System told the stories of professors who left MSU because they cold not afford to buy a small home, put a child through college, and save for retirement on an MSU paycheck.

I post this information here because it is a serious concern for me. On one hand, it might make it easier for me to get an adjunct position here next fall. On the other hand, I might not be able to afford a place to live and a decent life without having two or three roommates.

Digital Media Doctorate

While doing a little Web searching on Jay David Bolter this morning, I decided to click on a link to his personal home page at Georgia Tech. Of course, being me, I then took a few extra letters off that URL and went to his departmental home page. There I found out that Georgia Tech offers a Ph.D. in Digital Media. This fascinates me for two reasons.

First, I have a great interest in the humanities but I’m also sort of a coding nut (I loved learning HTML and CSS). From what I read, the program examines the ways in which the humanities intersect with digital media and culture. Very exciting! It doesn’t hurt that Bolter is on the faculty there either.

Second, my girlfriend hates the cold. Maybe if I can convince her to come to Georgia, she’ll stop shivering.

Anyone have any thoughts about that program? Personal experiences? Advice or recommendations?

Importance of Bloggers?

The Chronicle of Higher Education is reporting on a controversial presidential appointment at Gallaudet University. The institution revoked the appointment of Jane Fernandes, and that decision is being protested by student and independent bloggers. The bloggers, according to the Chronicle:

By focusing on the exploits of student protesters, the blogs captured the attention of an audience that felt estranged from the mainstream news media

The article is unclear about the debate at Gallaudet, but I get the impression that it has something to do with deafness. I’m not going to look it up right now, because it’s not too important to what I have to say.

Gallaudet officials failed to take the bloggers seriously because, as one person said, trying to determine which blogs were the most important was like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. At first, the university only dialogued with blogs to correct inaccuracies. Then the students became involved, tracking the controversy through the blogs; and suddenly the blogs became a force to be reckoned with.

You hear about this in the news all the time, especially during campaign season. The candidates and their staff members criticize the bloggers, who are referred to like a pack of hungry jackals just waiting for the next slip-up or misstep so they can pounce. Politicians have become wary of the bloggers, but the question I have is whether or not the bloggers are that influential. Do the bloggers wield power in journalism, or is this entire concern overblown?

I don’t know. Trying to find a reliable blog is, as the Gallaudet official said, like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall. The best place to start is with the blogs that already get a lot of traffic, but how is that different from going to NYTimes.com and reading their blogs? Where can the novice political blog (or other) reader get started? Technorati? Not likely. It bases most of its results on popularity and hits–along with some points for update frequency. Still, even if you find a blog on the search site that looks promising, it is worth reading if no one else is?

Jethro Tull and Remediation

This is yet another in a weekly series of response papers I am submitting to a graduate class I’m in right now. I note this so you understand my references to papers and class periods in general. Also, I note it so you might excuse the crudeness of the entries, as they are usually written in the hour before they are due!

As I sit here at my desk with Jethro Tull’s Thick as a Brick blaring its concept-album-ness, I find myself thinking about remediation. I do not mean the kind of remediation that our readings have dealt with in the field of composition, the kind that relates to the word remedial. I’m thinking more along the lines of re-mediation, the kind that Jay David Bolter talks about in his book Writing Space (and his book Remediation, which I have yet to read). But I’ll get back to Bolter in a few moments.

Jethro Tull was your normal British blues-rock band of the 1960s, right along with The Who and The Kinks. Yet as the years rolled on, artists began to experiment with more than the three-minute radio-friendly singles. The result was the concept album. With Thick As a Brick, Jethro Tull created a unique album—not songs—that mixed genres, creating something that sounds like it ought to be played at a Renaissance Fair—lutes and strings mixing with the electric guitars. More importantly, the entire album was one song, unbroken into tracks—split only so the listener could flip the LP and keep on rockin’.
What does this have to do with remediation?

Tull experimented with forms, breaking genre boundaries and creating a new harmony, but they still could not escape the rules of their chosen medium: the LP. Records have only so much space per side, and their album was designed with a lull in the middle, at about the 22 minute mark, so that the listener could be re-oriented on side B.

Yet I sit here listening to it on CD, a medium that allows for continuous playback—flipping the disc over would probably ruin my player! The sides of the LP are turned into tracks on the CD, and the same lull that helped listeners in the late 1970s transition from one side to the other now sounds odd and out of place. The music has been re-mediated, and the translation is not 1:1. The lull does not mean the same thing in 2006 that it did in 1976.

Now, what does this have to do with writing?

Bolter believes that writing is always mediated, filtered through the medium that carries it. The various media offer different possibilities, depending on their characteristics. For example, the papyrus roll is great for reading long speeches and epic poetry, but they aren’t research-friendly.

open quote digital technology has expanded the horizons of composition to include less permanence and more playfulness
end quote

You can’t go back to a specific part of the papyrus as easily as you can flip to page 500 of your critical edition, for example.
The book, for its part, is just another stop on the trail of “progress”—and I use that term very carefully, because I agree with Bolter in saying that no one medium is better than another since they are all so varied. The book has limitations. It is heavy. It is often expensive to make and therefore to buy. It is easily damaged. It can only contain the text the publisher puts there.

That last one is the really important one. A book cannot contain any more information than the author and publisher put there, until the next edition, anyhow. A new medium can contain nearly infinite information, though: the Internet. I won’t go into too much detail, partly because I want to save it for next week when I discuss Bolter in my presentation and partly because I want to discuss how this relates to writing more specifically.

It is safe to say that the Internet has affected the way people read. For my final project in this class, I want to look at how digital technology (networked classroom, the Web, Microsoft Word) have changed the way people write. I think that the word processor in particular has had a huge impact on the way composition is performed in and out of the classroom. No long is any choice of wording necessarily final, thanks to the all-powerful Backspace key. Word choice is sometimes, at least in my case, affected by how things appear on the screen, where the words will be located on the line. This injects an element of visual aesthetics into a field that was before primarily concerned with the text itself.

That’s one of the beauties of digital technology. It infuses writing and reading with other media. Andrea Lunsford came to that same realization not too long ago when she wrote that, almost without warning, writing became “infiltrated by visual and aural components to mirror the agility and shiftiness of language filtered through and transformed by digital technologies and to allow for, indeed demand, performance” (170). Writing, she says, is dynamic and “multimediated” (171), and I must agree.

Accordingly, my paper will examine how digital technology has expanded the horizons of composition to include less permanence and more playfulness. This could have an impact on how writing is taught in the classroom too, and that is something I will spend time looking at during the research.