Thursday, March 26, 2009


The unreal blue of the Caribbean as seen from the beach at Tulum...

and the even more unreal blue of the freshwater Laguna Bacalar...

'nuff said.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009


This is Dzibanché, the ruins of a vast Mayan city in southern Quintana Roo dating from the Early Classic to the Classic periods (about AD 300-800). The site is still being excavated and has only been open since about 1990. This was my introduction to Mayan ruins, and I fear I've been spoiled. I don't think there are many sites quite so secluded and lush.

There were no other tourists at on this Wednesday morning, so instead we got to share the site with this coati and these howler monkeys along with many, many birds.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Lizard Blogging

Sometime ago, Sisyphus requested a picture of the tiny geckos that are so often underfoot here. I've learned more about them as I've lived with them, but one of the things I've learned is that they are very uncooperative about photographs. They are small, fast and shy. I've also learned they are incredibly useful. They seem to live on a diet almost exclusively of mosquitoes and cockroaches. This makes them my heroes. I watched a lizard on the back porch take down a cockroach almost as big as itself. I did finally get this picture of one of these brave and noble creatures:

The reason I was fast enough this time was because I was already busy with my camera and because the rock it was sunning itself on was here at the Mayan ruins at Kinichná:

I'm behind on my photo-blogging, so for the next few days I'll be posting more pictures from the Yucatan. Perhaps if I get this urge out of my system now, I'll be better able to refrain from inflicting my travel photos on unwary friends and colleagues back home. We shall see.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Fun At Work

Professor Zero has a very interesting Heretical Post up arguing the easily summarized heresy that:

Writing is fun and publishing is easy.
I like this post very much. I particularly like the concluding remarks about the gatekeeping functions of "so many warnings" and the emphasis placed "on fear and suffering." I do have one suggestion, though, to add about the origins of these academic bad habits.

I'm reminded of some previous blog exchanges about the love of teaching. As in those discussions, the fact that there are often pleasures in writing, just as there are often pleasures in teaching, sometimes runs the risk of over shadowing the mundane fact that what academics do is also still work. Lots of folks outside of the academy enjoy their work. Many also hate their jobs just as bitterly and deeply as the most disaffected academic. All other things being equal, it's certainly better to be one of the folks who enjoys their job, than one who hates it.

The question of why so many academics equate writing with suffering, then, can be answered simply: it's because so many academics hate their jobs. We tend to exhibit this job dissatisfaction in the sour advice we offer to graduate students and junior colleagues, and in the sour blogs we write too. The question of why so many academics hate their job needs more explanation, of course, but I think it remains true that the fear and loathing of writing, or teaching, are simply symptoms of a broader dissatisfaction. It's not really about either writing or teaching. It's about the job. Academics often hesitate at seeing themselves as workers, though, so we tend to look elsewhere for the source of the problem. I think that if morale was higher among faculty in general, you would hear more discussions about the joys of writing. In passing, I'll just note that both Professor Zero and myself are on sabbatical this semester, and I think we're probably both enjoying our work more right now because of it too. Writing is fun and publishing is easy.

My own less heretical one-liner, though, would be:
Teaching is work. Writing is work. It's always good to have fun at work.
It's just important to remember that the fun doesn't mean it stops being work.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Girl Talk

Via. I'm looking forward to watching this open-source documentary, RiP: A remix manifesto, from Brett Gaylor. Alas, my bandwidth is not up for the task while I'm on the road. I do plan on finding some way to use this in class next year though. Here's the blurb from the website:

In RiP: A remix manifesto, Web activist and filmmaker Brett Gaylor explores issues of copyright in the information age, mashing up the media landscape of the 20th century and shattering the wall between users and producers.

The film’s central protagonist is Girl Talk, a mash-up musician topping the charts with his sample-based songs. But is Girl Talk a paragon of people power or the Pied Piper of piracy? Creative Commons founder, Lawrence Lessig, Brazil’s Minister of Culture Gilberto Gil and pop culture critic Cory Doctorow are also along for the ride.

A participatory media experiment, from day one, Brett shares his raw footage at, for anyone to remix. This movie-as-mash-up method allows these remixes to become an integral part of the film. With RiP: A remix manifesto, Gaylor and Girl Talk sound an urgent alarm and draw the lines of battle.

Which side of the ideas war are you on?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Havana Club

Cuban run makes coke taste really, really good. I'm sure I'm not the first to discover this fact. It does strike me as politically very unlikely though: communist rum cozying up to capitalist cola. You would think the two would be ideologically immiscible and separate out, or explode when combined, or something. But no. They go together very nicely. There's probably not any deep metaphorical insight lurking behind this bar-fact, but I'm pretty sure I'm going to resent not being able to buy Cuban rum when I get home.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Amazing Stories

In compiling my stream-of-consciousness list of 25 writers who have influenced me, I found it a little odd that E. E. 'Doc' Smith found his way onto the list so easily. I do remember spending a happy summer when I was about 10, curled up on the couch with his Skylark and Lensmen series, but these aren't books I would have thought of as "influential." I also realized I knew almost nothing about Smith or his books beyond a few fond childhood memories, so I've done a little nostalgia-based online research and what I've learned has me even more intrigued by this unlikely influence.

The books are much older than I ever knew. The first Skylark stories were published as a series in Amazing Stories back in 1927, but he had begun writing them in 1915. These are available online, complete with artwork I've never seen before, from Project Gutenberg. Since I've consumed all the paperbacks I brought with me on sabbatical, I've started to reread some of these Amazing Stories. I'm amazed alright.

The prose is both wonderful and horrible. Here is the start of the first story:

Petrified with astonishment, Richard Seaton stared after the copper steam-bath upon which he had been electrolyzing his solution of "X," the unknown metal. For as soon as he had removed the beaker the heavy bath had jumped endwise from under his hand as though it were alive. It had flown with terrific speed over the table, smashing apparatus and bottles of chemicals on its way, and was even now disappearing through the open window. He seized his prism binoculars and focused them upon the flying vessel, a speck in the distance. Through the glass he saw that it did not fall to the ground, but continued on in a straight line, only its rapidly diminishing size showing the enormous velocity with which it was moving. It grew smaller and smaller, and in a few moments disappeared utterly.
And the dialogue is equally wonderfully-horrible:

"Great balls of fire!" he exclaimed. "What've you been celebrating? Had an explosion? How, what, and why?"

"I can tell you the 'what,' and part of the 'how'," Seaton replied thoughtfully, "but as to the 'why,' I am completely in the dark. Here's all I know about it," and in a few words he related the foregoing incident. Scott's face showed in turn interest, amazement, and pitying alarm. He took Seaton by the arm.

"Dick, old top, I never knew you to drink or dope, but this stuff sure came out of either a bottle or a needle. Did you see a pink serpent carrying it away? Take my advice, old son, if you want to stay in Uncle Sam's service, and lay off the stuff, whatever it is."
I still seem to be highly susceptible to the lures of space opera. Even though it makes me cringe a little, I'm going to read more. What worries me most, though, is that I'm going to still like it.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Digital Humanities Manifesto

Via. Here is an excerpt from A Digital Humanities Manifesto, a jointly-authored document by participants in the UCLA Mellon Seminar in Digital Humanities:

1 Digital humanities is not a unified field but an array of convergent practices that explore a universe in which print is no longer the exclusive or the normative medium in which knowledge is produced and/or disseminated.

2 Like all media revolutions, the first wave of the digital revolution looked backwards as it moved forward. It replicated a world where print was primary and visuality was secondary, while vastly accelerating search and retrieval. Now it must look forwards into an immediate future in which the medium specific features of the digital become its core.

3 The first wave was quantitative, mobilizing the vertiginous search and retrieval powers of the database. The second wave is qualitative, interpretive, experiential, even emotive. It immerses the digital toolkit within what represents the very core strength of the Humanities: complexity.

4 Interdisciplinarity/transdisciplinarity/multidisciplinarity are empty words unless they imply changes in language, practice, method, and output.

5 The digital is the realm of the open: open source, open resources, open doors. Anything that attempts to close this space should be recognized for what it is: the enemy.
As a practicing member of the academic bloggeratti, I was intrigued/entertained by thesis 11:
11 Among the highest aims of scholarship: entertainment; entertainment as scholarship: a scandal that is now no longer a scandal. To speak to an audience.
Read more.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

From Seuss To Zizek

I have been tagged by Professor Zero to join in the 25 writers meme "in which you name 25 writers who have influenced you. These are not necessarily your favorite writers or those you most admire, but writers who have influenced you. Then you tag 25 people." I will tag the first 25 volunteers.

I'm not sure what sort of influence was originally intended by this meme, but since I don't self-identify as a writer I will have to construe the influence more broadly. I also find that many on my list, while certainly influential, aren't primarily admired for the beauty of their prose. I was going to do a list in no particular order, but I find that my list does have an order after all. It is in chronological order, starting with those writers that influenced me first. Here goes:

  1. Dr. Seuss
  2. P. D. Eastman
  3. E. B. White
  4. Roald Dahl
  5. Maurice Sendak
  6. E. E. 'Doc' Smith
  7. Isaac Asimov
  8. Ray Bradbury
  9. J. R. R. Tolkien
  10. Lewis Carroll
  11. Ursula K. LeGuin
  12. Joseph Heller
  13. Friedrich Nietzsche
  14. Ludwig Wiggenstein
  15. Martin Heidegger
  16. Jacques Derrida
  17. Karl Marx
  18. Sigmund Freud
  19. Herbert Marcuse
  20. bell hooks
  21. Judith Butler
  22. Luce Irigaray
  23. Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak
  24. Trinh T. Minh-ha
  25. Slavoj Zizek

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Digital Things

N Pepperell and Jodi left some useful comments for me on the Useful Thing post below, including one simple suggestion to try the term "digital thing" in place of "digital commodity" when needed. I like simple.

I've been writing a little on exchange-value this week and came to Marx's list of commodities in his section on the "Total or Expanded Form of Value." It goes like this:

z commodity A = u commodity B or = v commodity C or = w commodity D or = x commodity E or = etc.

20 yards of linen = 1 coat or = 10 lb. tea or = 40 lb. coffee or = 1 quarter of corn or = 2 ounces of gold or = ½ ton of iron or = etc.
Now I want a list of some digital things that might be at home on an updated list of digital exchange-values. Here is what I have so far:
20 mp3s = 1 ebook or = 2 weeks of DSL service or = 10 weeks of WSJ online or = an 80 minute Skype call to Azerbaijan or = 1 knickknack from eBay or = one month of WoW or = etc.
What other kinds of digital things should be on the list? Tell me more.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Lumpen Words

This month's wordle pic of the manuscript so far: 9184 words and counting.