Connections along the road…

While it is a bit late in the day to start blogging, it’s not that I have been inattentive to the demands of the day or even disconnected from my computer. In fact, on this day, as on most days, I had a fairly umbilicular connection. However, the needs of students, colleagues, publishers, artists, committee members and my research have been fairly constant. They call this Reading Week in Canada, and Spring Break here in Texas. Alas, if I get 1 hour of reading for every 6 hours of work done, then I am having a good day. Spring it is to be sure, but as to a break? I wonder if we every really get those in academia at all. Instead we get fluctuations in the rhythm and welcome changes of pace: slippery undulations between the tsunami and the tempest in a teapot and back again.



coffee and computer

Morning chat

Rising at 7:00, I have a steaming cup of java in the streaming sunshine of my kitchen as I send off requests to artists and developers (Patti Maes and Pranav Mistry, Chris Harrison and Nancy Patterson) to grant permissions to reprint images of their work in an article I am publishing soon in the Latin American Journal of Communications (Revista Iberoamericana de Comunicación). The article, which explores haptic interfaces and tactile media, is called “Getting in Touch: Marshall McLuhan, Augmenting the Human and the Haptic Sense.” I still have a small amount of revision to do on it before it goes to press, I decided this morning. I will incorporate a brief but I hope contextualizing discussion of the Sundance hit science fiction film Sleep Dealer, by California director Alex Rivera. The film explores remote technologies in the near Mexican future after the American border has closed. It is a world where work is done without the presence (only telepresence) of workers who are literally plugged into the interface of the “New American Dream.”It is a film that I will also be teaching in my graduate seminar later this term and it wasn’t until I was steeping in coffee fumes that some parallels started to make themselves apparent.

Tulip Tree

Tulip Tree

My requests for images off, I hop in the shower before meeting students on campus on this gorgeous if still somewhat chilly spring day. It was a long and snowy winter in north Texas. The tulip trees (right) are one of the first harbingers of spring, but they and the daffodils arrived late and faded quickly. Texas redbuds and flowering fruit trees will all burst into full bloom in the next few days if the sunshine remains. Students have been coming and going from the eCreate Lab all week as they work on an assortment of projects.

My undergraduates are working on podcasts or stop motion films, my graduates on seminar presentations, and research projects wide and varied. Two female students are waiting for me as I arrive. They sign out an iBook, a portable camera and a tabletop tripod before they head next door to the computer classroom to start making their movie. I send off a few emails to graduate students. The first is in Lahore, where he is writing an MFA thesis on postcolonial gardens. I suggest that perhaps what he is really constructing is the garden as heterotopic space (as he mentions in a reference for future directions he might take), and not the palimpsest he has been arguing for until now. It makes good sense and I send him a few passages from Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things and Elspeth Probyn’s Outside Belongings in favor of a shift in focus. He  responds later that hour that my quotations were “more intimidating than illuminating” and that he will be back in touch when he returns from Baltistan next week. He is still shaken from two terrible suicide bombings that resulted in a staggering loss of life a few hundred feet from his home the week before, and is having trouble, I suspect, staying focused. I make a few notes to myself to check on definitions of the posthuman and to locate some references from Deleuze’s book on Leibniz  to follow up with a second graduate student, this one a UTAer, who lives in Houston. I had had a long Skype chat with her the day before and some loose ends remain that need to be tied. She is writing on Jorge Luis Borges, surveying his influence on and virtual presence in early digital theorists’ writings and in hypertext fictions. I make a few notes to myself along with my written comments to her. I then get a surprise email from a new UT Arlington graduate student–whether PhD or MA I have no idea–who wants to write a dissertation on online instruction and effective pedagogies in for-profit schools. Not really my area, although I know a bit about it. I suspect he’s wanting me to back up a supervising rhetorician for our department, but he has not said so, or perhaps is testing the waters. I suggest we meet next week. That business out of the way, I have 45 minutes to review some reports, memos and revisions by the MLA Committee on Information Technology before we meet at the Miami University (Ohio) island in Second Life.

Day of DH 2010.

Augmenting my reality







MLA Committee on Information Technology in session

MLA Committee on Information Technology in session

We have much material to cover in each meeting of the MLA Committee on Information Technology and never enough time. Second Life distractions–the usual problems with low quality audio and reverberating echoes eat up the first 15 minutes of precious time. The hour and a half flies by before we know it, and we only get two-thirds of the way through our agenda. We finalize some reports and cement our agenda for special sessions at the next MLA, January 2011.We will meet again next month to continue the conversation.One of the interesting things that comes out of our meeting are in response to a couple of reports on digital media and the digital humanities that Rosemary Feal has asked us to assess. They are mostly interesting because they open the door to discussing other reports, like the New Media Consortium’s 2010 Horizon Report. In it, I find much information that I have been hungry for about augmented reality and mobile computing. Earlier this week the Art and Technology program (ATEC) at the UT Dallas campus made a splash when they debuted their smartphone app, Placethings, at the SXSW Festival in Austin.

I am hoping to create a mobility initiative here on campus at UT Arlington that will allow students to ‘pen’ (as it

Privacy Warning outside the eCreate Lab

Privacy Warning outside the eCreate Lab

were) digital narratives in locative media around the real space of the Metroplex. I am still in the formative stages weighing the benefits of iPod versus iPhone versus iPad. Implementation Bergen is one inspirational locative fiction experiment that blends high and low tech in what I think of as ’stickerature’. I will confer with my Common Ground colleagues next week to see what they think and suggest. I’m wanting to create a markerless version (unlike, say, SixthSense) for my students that is GPS or even GIS enabled. The more mashable data–and the more mashable the data is–the better. I will be discussing this in my data visualization workshop next week, my talk next month at the University of Colorado at Denver, and it will form the basis for my Vectors application. A productive day. After an invigorating stroll at a late lunch hour, I returned to the Lab to meet with students, loan out more equipment and return to my work.




Website

Tinkering with Common Ground's Webpage design


The rest of the afternoon actually afforded  some quiet time to make some changes to the Common Ground website (as I had promised the external examiners I would last week when they were here assessing the Humanities MA program). I also continued some work on my scholarship. The visualization seminar is coming up fast, as is the trip to Denver.


Productive Day


I finished up the last request for permission to reprint some images in my article and tried to make some more headway in my to-do list. I’ve been gradually coming to the realization this term that I never make a dent in my to-dos. I invested in a productivity software to help assist me with this. One of the things I’ve been juggling is how much brain space remembering all the things I had to do was taking. But, more than that, every day was full already and so there just was no time for the hundred little things that still needed to be done or for long-range planning. It was when I missed two CFP deadlines that I knew I had to get digital assistance. OmniFocus is the software I have settled on. It will render information in a variety of different formats, including organization by project, by date, or by context. All accessible with the click of a mouse. I had tried Evernote before and it didn’t do anything that a basic hand-written to-do list did. This seems to be helping. It is giving me strategies for keeping the masses of spiraling information under control and for getting things done. One of my favourites is the two-minute rule. If it takes two minutes or less, do it now. I’ll probably still miss deadlines, but at least now I’ll have a visual tool for mapping when my apocalyptic deadlines are. And a better sense of when I must start the next big thing by.

The day draws to a close. It’s dark out with a bright sliver of a moon hanging upside down. The fire is crackling, the crickets are chirping,  and the possums are out snuffling for food. The cats are impatient for their bedtime snack. I try to keep them to a schedule as much as possible, but I also humor them and their disaffectations. One way I honored their needs and desires was with a viral email mat. It is a tale of imprisonment and it reads, “The Cat, Day 751″…

Viral email cat mat

Viral email cat mat