Thursday, July 26, 2007


Is Google making us stupid? That's the claim of Gideon Haigh's new article in the Austrailian Monthly magazine, who says

The speed with which Google has attained ubiquity, however, is as problematic as it is intoxicating. Perhaps no innovation has been assimilated so wholly, and with so little reflection on how it may change us – as, inevitably, it will. For technological change, the sociologist Neil Postman remarked, is neither additive nor subtractive, but ecological: “One significant change generates total change. If you remove the caterpillars from a given environment, you are not left with the same environment minus caterpillars: you have a new environment, and you have reconstituted the conditions of survival.” Google’s impact on the biodiversity of the information ecosystem is not something we will ‘find on Google’, but it needs consideration – fast.
The problem, says Haigh, is that Google is self-recursive, re-finding the popular articles and overlooking the less well known:
In its speed, precision and reliability, Google is a marvel. But it is also deceptively limited, being essentially self-reinforcing: the same sites get visited, like, because the same sites get visited, our exploratory clicks like a never-ending episode of ‘Information Idol’. By bestowing its highest commendation on sites that are most popular, moreover, Google tends to leave huge vistas of the web unexplored. The so-called ‘dark web’, seldom accessed because it seldom is, but accounting for perhaps 80% of web content, includes probably its most useful material: tens of thousands of content-rich databases maintained by universities, libraries, associations, businesses, and government agencies. Google won’t get you there.
In our reliance on Google, we should rethink this. Yet, what alternatives are there? I never use Yahoo or Alta Vista to search any more.

Eight "random" things

About a week ago, my friend Michael tagged me on the "Eight random things" meme (but because I haven't been reading blogs as much in the last few weeks, I only now saw it - sorry :-(). The hard part is choosing "only" 8 things to put down, and then, which 8, because as Michael says, it's not really random. And one wants to be amusing, doesn't one?

So -- here is my listing of the rules and my 8 things:

  • Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your blog post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
  • Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

1. This meme reminds me of former Oregon Poet Laureate William Stafford's poem "Things I Learned Last Week" which is a great poem to use in poetry writing classes as a model or stimulant. I have written several of these poems, though none is handy right now. (Sorry, I'm not finding a link to this poem - but you could look it up)
2. I just read the graphic novel 300 by Frank Miller (before the film) and really like the painterly style of it (not necessarily the plot) more than the comic book linear frames as in, say, Maus. I have not seen the movie 300, however, though I did see an interesting DVD of a Bill Moyers interview with Richard Rodriguez which I showed to both my classes.
3. For the 4th year, I just attended the Kinetic Sculpture Races at DaVinci Days here in Corvallis, OR. It's so much fun to see the creativity of the vehicles and their teams. I especially liked the Pie Rats of the Carob Beans theme, but the Hija del Tomate probably won, as usual, being a great design. As the announcer at the sand dune hill climb challenge said, you have to grow old but you don't have to grow up (I doubt this was original to him, but a good thought anyway).
4. For some reason, tiny white/tan spiders are prevalent in my yard this summer, biting me and leaving large painful welts. I wish that the family of scrub jays (the 4 teenage birds) would eat the spiders. Looks like we will have lots of Bartlett pears this year. The figs are barely started.
5. My subscription to Smithsonian Magazine expired and is now reinstated. I always enjoy all the articles on art, travel, and history. The August issue has an article on Prague, where one of our grad students is currently vacationing.
6. I haven't yet read the final Harry Potter book - don't even own a copy yet - but I did get a colleague to tell me the ending. I am not at all sure that this Wikipedia link on the book is correct - certainly the cover does not seem right. Fast work getting the article posted on Wikipedia. And although this article does provide an ending, again, I cannot vouch for the accuracy. Nevertheless, if you don't want it spoiled, don't go there.
7. The farmers in our neighborhood are processing their rye and fescue grass seed this week because Linn County Oregon is indeed the "Grass Seed Capital of the World." Luckily the pollen count has fallen now and so far not many fields of stubble have been burned creating towering columns and plumes of smoke. However, the farmers often cut, windrow, process the seed at night, then windrow and bale the straw loudly at night. Why at night, I wonder?
8. I'm reading up on the Great Books theory of education as part of the writing class considering transformation, education, power, and writing. It's interesting to see what's in the canon and why and who gets to decide.

OK -- those are eight fairly random things I thought of this afternoon. Here are eight people who have blogs whom I will tag to continue -- am I supposed to email them, or will they see it when they visit my blog?
1. Claire
2. Ruben
3. Natasha
4. Linda
5. April
6. Nathan
7. Jillian
8. Marieke


Catching UP

I apologize for being gone so long. Today I will add three new posts! I promise.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Medieval Madness

This interesting story "Knights of the Faculty Lounge" by John Gravois from today's Chronicle of Higher Education explores the connection between scholarly medieval studies and recreational medievalism, whether in the flesh - Society of Creative Anachronism - or online - MMORPG's. According to Gravois, most trace the burst in interest in medievalism to Tolkien's popularity in the 1960's Says Gravois:

And so in Tolkien, modern academic medievalism and fantasy culture share a common ancestor — as it happens, one who clearly favored the academic side of the family. Tolkien, who originally wrote his fantasy books for a tiny circle of colleagues and kin, called his fans "my deplorable cultists." So the uneasy coexistence started with gramps.

That's one way to answer the question of how fantasy got associated with the medieval. But Mr. Kline [Daniel T. Kline, a professor of medieval and Renaissance English at the University of Alaska at Anchorage,] answered the Canadian student's question differently. Mr. Kline, along with several other scholars of the middle ages, has begun thinking about fantasy literature and role-playing games as actual revivals of medieval literary forms.

Arthurian legends, he and others say, had a similar open-ended narrative structure built of quest after quest, a similar relationship to an ahistorical imagined past (Sir Thomas Malory wasn't writing about his present either), and a similar kind of open authorship (there were hundreds of medieval Arthurian yarn spinners). Unlike more modern forms, the medieval approach to storytelling is one that lends itself perfectly to fantasy worlds that can be endlessly constructed, reconstructed, and traversed. "The grail quest never ends," said Mr. Kline.

Which might explain the huge popularity of the other world.