Welcome to the New Digital Digressions!

November 7, 2010 Comments off

UVM has made the transition from MovableType to WordPress, and so Digital Digressions has a new home — here!

Check back soon for new posts.

Categories: Blog News

The Future of the Book and of Composition?

April 26, 2010 Comments off

Flash Fiction Contest

September 24, 2009 Comments off

New Scientist magazine is running a flash fiction contest — and they want YOU to enter.

The rules are simple: set your story 100 years in the future, and tell your story in no more than 350 words. Then send it to New Scientist and await your sure-to-arrive-soon fame and fortune.

And, if you need help generating ideas, David Malki has created an Electro-Plasmic Hydrocephalic Genre-Fiction Generator 2000, which is sure to provide you with winning ideas for years and years to come. (Malki is the creator of the Wondermark: An Illustrated Jocularity online comic. If you’re not reading it every week, you should be.)


(Click the image to go to Wondermark and view the E-PHG-FG2K in biggie form.)

(X-posted to Digital Composing and Writing Bodies)

Categories: Media, Narrative, Technology

Talk Like a Pirate Day — IT’S COMING!!!

September 14, 2009 Comments off

Hello, again!

It’s been a long (but not long enough!), busy, but productive summer, and now the hallways of UVM’s campus are thronged with iPods and cellphones, each being transported regally by its very own student/porter!

To get back into the bloggy swing of things, here’s a bunch of stuff you should know.

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Talk Like a Pirate Day be coming this Saturday, ye scurvy dogs! Ye know what to do… if ye know what’s good for ye! ARRR!!!!

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I’m teaching two courses this semester: Digital Composing and Writing Bodies: Rhetorics of the Flesh. Follow the links to check out the course blogs, syllabi, reading lists, projects, etc. (Hint: despite the fact that the Rhetoric class has the sexiest title, I suspect many of you reading this will be more interested in the Digital Composing class, which has some really exciting — and yes, sexy — projects coming up!

~ * ~ ~ ~ ~ * ~

Many of you will be pleased to hear that I’ve made really nice progress on the book. I’ll finish the full manuscript this semester, so be looking for more info on it soon!

As anyone who’s ever worked on a long, complex project knows, the prospect of actually getting it finished — embodied and corporeally manifest in external form, rather than ectoplasmically and eternally ethereal in the confines of your mind — is exciting and daunting at the same time. I was reminded a few months ago of the character of Monsieur Grand, the writer in Camus’ The Plague, whose grandiose vision of his own completed work keeps him from ever starting it.

“What I really want, Doctor, is this. On the day when the manuscript reaches the publisher, I want him to stand up — after he’s read it through, of course — and say to his staff: ‘Gentlemen, hats off!'”


Though he knew little of the literary world, Rieux has a suspicion that things didn’t happen in it quite so picturesquely — that, for instance, publishers do not keep their hats on in their offices. But, of course, one never can tell, and Rieux preferred to hold his peace.” (Albert Camus The Plague, trans. Stuart Gilbert, 102)

I’m pretty sure my publishers don’t wear hats in their offices, either. But I’m also not paralyzed like Grand. So, I’ve got that going for me.

~ * ~ ~ ~ ~ * ~


Yes, Felicia Day, she of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-along Blog and now the smash web comedy The Guild now has her own video. And yes, if I weren’t married, I’d probably wanna date her avatar. (I’d never believe she was actually a female — and that’s okay!)

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Yes, you read that right — The Spouse and I made it finally, really, official and got finally, really married on September 1st of this year. See what happens when a state legalizes gay marriage? Gay people who have been together for-freaking-ever… you know… get married. So, good on Vermont! First in the country with civil unions, and now first in the country for Legislature-enacted gay marriage!

Twitter Experimenting

July 8, 2009 Comments off

It’s been a cruel, cruel summer, leaving me here on my own. It’s been a cruel, cruel summer, now you’re gone.

Wait, that’s not right. That’s Bananarama.

What I meant was that it’s been a busy summer, and I’ve been leaving this blog all alone.

But no more.

Here’s a video about Monica Rankin’s Twitter Experiment. Rankin is a history professor at the University of Texas at Dallas (alma matter of my youngest, and most-recently-married brother). Watch the video, then we’ll talk.


A little while back I read a blog post by Olivia Mitchell titled, “How to Present While People are Twittering”. In it Mitchell lays out the pros for encouraging your audience to participate in the “back channel” while you’re talking to them. It’s a lot like the old practice of sharing notes while in class. But with Twitter, imagine that every note you write can and will be read by everyone else in the room (except perhaps the teacher — more on that in a bit). I was, to say the least, skeptical.

I remembered the largest class I’ve yet taught in a computer lab — the afternoon section of the CyberCulture Studies course, a 30+ student seminar. There were times I enforced the “screens down” rule (it was a laptop lab — screens down = computers off) just (I will admit it now) to try to get them to pay attention to what I (and their classmates) had to say. I know they were Twittering and IMing and e-mailing during class. I also knew what they were doing was directly related to the content of the class, but they weren’t necessarily aware of that. That was a problem. Plus, I do like being the center of attention when I know what I’m talking about. As I did in that class.

But then I went to this year’s Computers and Writing conference. I knew it would be Tweeted and I wanted in. So I joined Twitter (@digitalrhetorVT) and jumped in. I decided the best way to get me to really use Twitter was to use it as my notetaking service. I could then pull up all of my Tweets and have a handy compilation of my thoughts about the important aspects of the panels and talks I attended.

I became one of those students I had tried to shut down.

And I liked it.

Having seen the dynamic from both sides now, I agree that it can be a good thing. People really do Tweet about the things they’re impressed by in the talks. It was great reading about the neat ideas going on in the other panels. And it was really nice being able to see what other people in the panels I attended were turned on by. In one session I had a great mini-discussion with Cheryl Ball (@s2ceball) about the points one of the presenters was raising. And while I presented at C&W, I know there were people in the room Tweeting away.

The best use of this I saw was actually one of the most contentious parts of the conference. Barbara Ganley (formerly of Vermont’s own Middlebury College, now a freelance consultant to the digital stars) gave a talk that was firey and provocative (though perhaps not as well-calibrated to her audience as any of us would have liked). The crowd started to turn ugly — all on Twitter. Interestingly, at points in her talk, Ganley had a running feed from Twitter up on the giant screens behind her. So, when things would get dicey, we could all see what everyone was Tweeting — even those not on Twitter on their laptops or phones at the moment. This kept the crowd much more civil, I think, than they might have been. (Which is a shame. It was a good talk, and important. But several of the notes she hit really soured the audience to her and her message. She should have paid more attention to the kairos!)

So, back to Dr. Rankin and her Twitter Experiment. Would I do this in a large (25+ students) class? Absolutely. And I would, without fail, have something like TwitterFall up on the big screen showing the realtime Tweets from the class. That’s just to keep everyone honest.

Would it work for the smaller classes? Probably not. It’s hard to have a sustained discussion of complex material with fewer than 10 people in a room. Yes, it can be done and is done, but it’s hard. That doesn’t give the people in the room time or space to “hide” and mentally regroup or process while others pick up the slack. Diverting the already-strained attention and cognitive overhead of a small group from out-loud conversation and processing to Twitter conversation and processing just seems cruel and counterproductive to me.

Another point, one Rankin doesn’t really make in the video, is that when you’re having a conversation, you can pause and read the last few Tweets. It’s hard to do that when you’re lecturing or presenting. But I think it might really help the discussion. Shy students wouldn’t have to raise their hand, interrupting the flow, and try to express themselves in front of the group. And yet their ideas could be heard, read, and discussed.

So, do I think this should be SOP? Maybe in large classes, and especially in computer-equipped classrooms. But does the instructor have to make a space for the back channel and then tend to that space just like any other pedagogical space? You better believe it.

The more I think about it, the less worried I’m becoming about students “goofing off” on the computers, and thus needing to have “screen down” days or times in my classes. But I’m realizing I need to channel their computer use (i.e., ADD/ADHD/continuous partial attention) in productive ways.

And really, isn’t that why we’re all there?

Categories: Literacy, Teaching, Technology


Okay, first things first — GAY MARRIAGE IS NOW LEGAL IN THE STATE OF VERMONT!!!! Republican Governor Jim Douglas vetoed the bill as soon as it hit his desk (probably afraid of getting the gay cooties), and the Legislature overrode the veto. The Senate vote wasn’t close, but the House needed 100 votes to override, and by the gods they got 100 votes. Exactly.

I’m a little overwhelmed right now… okay, a lot overwhelmed…

I was curious, so I went to the Legislature’s web page to read the text of the bill. You can, here (it’s a PDF).

The bill does all of the heavy lifting, setting out the changes to Vermont law and statute needed to make gay marriage legal here. A few things jumped out at me. I was surprised at how strongly it affected me to read:


Marriage is the legally recognized union of one man and one woman two

people. When used in this chapter or in any other statute, the word “marriage”

shall mean a civil marriage. Terms relating to the marital relationship or

familial relationships shall be construed consistently with this section for all

purposes throughout the law, whether in the context of statute, administrative

or court rule, policy, common law, or any other source of civil law.

And then I was surprised at my own reaction to this little bit of administrative clarification:

(2) The department shall prescribe forms that allow each party to a

marriage to be designated “bride,” “groom,” or “spouse,” as he or she chooses

I usually try to say something pithy or interesting, but I’m just overwhelmed by the whole thing. I really didn’t believe that the House had the votes to override the veto (and I’m pissed as fuck at South Burlington Representative Sonny Audette, who voted against the bill when it came up, then abstained from the veto override vote — after telling the local paper that he would vote for the veto override), and I’m not sure what to feel or do right now. (Update: turns out Vermont required 2/3 of the members of the Chamber who bothered to show up to override a veto. So Audette’s absence actually lowered the number of needed votes to 98. Crazy, huh?)

R and I have been together for over 13 years. We’ve been registered domestic partners in Washington, D.C., the city of San Francisco, the state of California, and the city of Pittsburgh. We’ve had a civil union since shortly after we arrived in Vermont. And we had a huge-ass ceremony/party to celebrate the C.U. and our 10-year anniversary on a lovely ship out in the middle of Lake Champlain.

But none of that was a wedding. None of it was marriage. Sorta.

When Hawaii was poised to become the first state to allow gay marriage back in the late 90s, we were planning to fly all the way out there to get hitched. Then the “good” people of Hawaii decided to amend their constitution to prevent us from dropping by.

But now marriage is here, in my state. No air travel required. No need to return to a jurisdiction that doesn’t recognize what you just did. And… wow.

“This act shall take effect September 1, 2009.”

Categories: Blog News, Queer Theories

Multimodal & Multiliterate

March 30, 2009 1 comment

A few items of multimodal, multiliterate interest. First, my laptops are having problems. Ugh. The Mac PowerBook G4 has decided that Firefox is no longer interested in playing embedded YouTube videos. Other videos (mostly) work. But YouTube? Nope. There’s a URL-by-URL fix out there, but that doesn’t help with embedded videos. And yes, I’ve tried all of the suggested fixes. No good. So, on the Mac I surf with Firefox and keep Opera open to do nothing but watch videos. How tedious.

And then the sound capabilities of my PC laptop started to go. First the speakers got scratchy, then they crapped out altogether. Now the earphone jack does nothing, either. Double-ugh. Of course, the PC laptop does have its zombie sound moments — usually involving some irritating system sound or beep that comes out at ear-splitting decibels because I’ve forgotten to turn the previously uncooperative and utterly silent sound to off.

Second, this past weekend I was working on the PC laptop and I saw that a friend had shared this video on Facebook. When I tried to view it, of course, it played without sound.


Now, at first I thought this was intentional. Watch the video with your speakers off and see for yourself. But then I hijacked the Spouse’s nice new desktop computer and we watched and listened to the video.

But I can’t stop thinking about the experience of watching a music video signed at me with the sound off. I kinda like it. It really foregrounds and emphasizes the multimodality and multiliteracy of the translation from Brit-squeak into ASL. (And it doesn’t hurt when the signer is awfully cute!)

Third, here’s a video courtesy of Joe.My.God, of a cover of Katie Perry’s song, “I Kissed a Girl.” There have been lots of covers of this song, some better than others, and some pretty deeply problematic. But this cover is from out gay Israeli singer, Ivri Lider.


Interestingly, by keeping the lyrics exactly the same, Lider signals his queerness while singing about kissing a girl. I liked the way the dynamic plays here.

I also liked the musical styling Lider brings. He ditches the popiness and frivolity, preferring a more heartfelt, confused affect. The setting was also awesome. I especially liked watching that last couple of guys, and then understanding the sleaziness of the video’s ending. Bringing all of these elements together in the music video transforms the Perry song into something else entirely. It’s no longer… frivolous.

Finally, check out Alison Bechdel’s review of Jane Vandenburgh’s A Pocket History of Sex in the Twentieth Century: A Memoir in this weekend’s New York Times Book Review. Bechdel is an artist and cartoonist, and so composes the review in a milieu that makes sense to her. Highly recommended.


Categories: Literacy, Media

Beautiful Writing

March 20, 2009 Comments off

In our hustle-and-bustle world, it’s hard to stop and enjoy the not-so-simple pleasures. Heck, it’s hard enough to stop and enjoy the simple and mindless ones. So it’s not surprising to me that as a culture and as individuals we rarely pause to enjoy the craft and artistry of a well-turned phrase, sentence, or passage.

Well, no more, I say! Today you have permission to pause for just a few seconds to read, ponder, and drink deeply of the following well-wrought prose snippets.

My most persistent impression as a farm boy was of the earth. There was a closeness, almost an immersion, in the sand, loam, and red clay that seemed natural, and constant. The soil caressed my bare feet, and the dust was always boiling up from the dirt road that passed fifty feet from our front door, so that inside our clapboard house the red clay particles, ranging in size from face powder to grits, were ever present, particularly in the summertime, when the wooden doors were kept open and the screens just stopped the trash and some of the less adventurous flies.

That was from Jimmy Carter’s 2001 memoir, An Hour Before Daylight, and while some of the more grammatically traditional among us might disapprove of Carter’s reliance on the humble comma, I find that choice keeps the words moving at a slow, even, unending pace. I feel immersed in his images, and even though I loathe the South in summertime, I’m soothed by the music in the passage.

This next passage shows that powerful writing pops up in even the least likely of places, and in response to the seemingly least likely of events. Writing at the Boing Boing Gadgets blog Joel Johnson puts together a very brief post on leaked concept art detailing the NERF weapons to be created for an upcoming Nintendo Wii game:


The post, titled “These NERF cannons can not be” concludes:

They’ll never be real, but we can still dream about a NERF bazooka that shoots a single, giant round into the faces of small children.

One of the wonderful things about language is that, even in our media- and message-saturated world, there still exists the possibility of being surprised by words. Kudos, Joel!

Categories: Composition

Create Your Own Lol-Novel

March 18, 2009 Comments off

Sometimes when looking at LOLCats and LOLDogs, I get the feeling that there’s more to the story than the single image contains. So, as an experiment in interactive LOL-storytelling, here are three (I think) particularly evocative LOL-images. Rearrange them as you will, and tell a story with them. See what you can come up with.

And don’t forget to have fun!




Categories: Narrative

It’s Singing Saturday! (Super Late Edition)

February 22, 2009 2 comments

I like cool stuff. That should come as no surprise. And so when BoingBoing points me to a dual-Tesla-coil synthesizer playing the Dr. Who theme, I’m ready to be excited.

If: A — Tesla coils = Giant Lightning Generators = Very Cool

and B — Dr. Who theme = Very Cool

then A + B = Super awesome!

From the BoingBoing writeup:

ArcAttack employs a unique DJ set up of their own creation (an HVDJ set up) to generate an ‘electrifying’ audio visual performance. The HVDJ pumps music through a PA System while two specially designed DRSSTC’s (Dual-Resonant Solid State Tesla Coils) act as separate synchronized instruments.

These high tech machines produce an electrical arc similar to a continuous lightning bolt which put out a crisply distorted square wave sound reminiscent of the early days of synthesizers. The music consists of original highly dance-able electronic compositions that sometimes incorporates themes or dub of popular songs.

Watch for yourself:


Um… okay, but I still don’t see how the Tesla coils are actually making the music. To the untrained, non-Tesla-centric observer, it seems like a synthesizer (the piano keyboard kind) playing the Dr. Who theme with lightning bolts as background ambiance. But what the heck. It’s pretty cool at least to watch.

And next up on our Singing Sunday is another… well, watch for yourself:


Joe.My.God reminds us that “Sir Ivan” is “actually zillionaire Long Island banker-cum-philanthropist Ivan Wilzig, who is well-known around these parts for his 12,000 square foot medieval castle in Water Mill.” Not being a Gothamite, I’m not sure where that is. However, I found this interesting:

Wilzig has ditched Wall Street for a music career to promote his Peaceman anti-war charity. Some of you might remember him as a contestant on Sci-Fi Channel’s Who Wants To Be A Superhero?, where he competed, naturally, as Peaceman. This clip has already generated 800K+ views on YouTube.

Now, for those readers of or above a certain age, this song invariably reminds one of the classic Muppet Show segment (MS Season 2: 1977-1978) which is very very sad. The final line is still incredibly poignant.

I guess my big problem with “Sir Ivan” is that it’s all well and good to “be” PeaceMan, and to use your flashing palm lasers to do good. But this isn’t a real solution to the problems raised in the video. How should we really deal with missiles and government brutality and conformism and intolerance? Without those fabulous flashy hands or glowy drumsticks, what’s one to do? What are we all to do? Sir Ivan offers no help here. But the cover has a nice beat and you can dance to it. So I guess it’s all good here at Singing Saturdays.

I guess.

Categories: Singing Saturday
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