Thursday, December 23, 2010

2010 Holiday Newsletter

Click the image to read our holiday newsletter, or simply download it here! 

I hope you and yours have a wonderful holiday season. See you in 2011...

Monday, December 20, 2010

Inception Tiny Town

Yes, I'm actually on blog-hiatus, but I couldn't resist sharing this Coca-Cola mashup of a Christmas tiny town and my favorite movie of 2010, Inception.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Academic Market Update

The Economist looks at today's glut of doctoral students as a sign of decay in higher education. Some especially pertinent quotations:

"Although a doctorate is designed as training for a job in academia, the number of PhD positions is unrelated to the number of job openings… The fiercest critics compare research doctorates to Ponzi or pyramid schemes."

"Since [1970] America’s annual output of PhDs has doubled, to 64,000."

"The production of PhDs has far outstripped demand for university lecturers. In a recent book [Higher Education?: How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids - and What We Can Do About It], Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus, an academic and a journalist, report that America produced more than 100,000 doctoral degrees between 2005 and 2009. In the same period there were just 16,000 new professorships."

"In America only 57% of doctoral students will have a PhD ten years after their first date of [enrollment]. In the humanities, where most students pay for their own PhDs, the figure is 49%."

"PhDs in maths and computing, social sciences and languages earn no more than those with master’s degrees. The premium for a PhD is actually smaller than for a master’s degree in engineering and technology, architecture and education. Only in medicine, other sciences, and business and financial studies is it high enough to be worthwhile. Over all subjects, a PhD commands only a 3% premium over a master’s degree."

"Workers with “surplus schooling”—more education than a job requires—are likely to be less satisfied, less productive and more likely to say they are going to leave their jobs."

"The organisations that pay for research have realised that many PhDs find it tough to transfer their skills into the job market. Writing lab reports, giving academic presentations and conducting six-month literature reviews can be surprisingly unhelpful in a world where technical knowledge has to be assimilated quickly and presented simply to a wide audience."

Learn More: The Economist: The disposable academic: Why doing a PhD is often a waste of time

Read More: Andrew Hacker and Claudia Dreifus have summarized some of their newest book's findings for The Chronicle of Higher Education in Are Colleges Worth the Price of Admission?

Read More: Robin Wilson offers sobering numbers of the shrinking tenure system in The Chronicle of Higher Education: Tenure, RIP: What the Vanishing Status Means for the Future of Education. Here's the key number: "Over just three decades, the proportion of college instructors who are tenured or on the tenure track plummeted: from 57 percent in 1975 to 31 percent in 2007. The [U.S. Education Department report, Employees in Postsecondary Institutions, Fall 2009], is expected to show that that proportion fell below 30 percent in 2009. [ed. note: the percentage held at 30 percent exactly] If you add graduate teaching assistants to the mix, those with some kind of tenure status represent a mere quarter of all instructors."

Read More: Last Call at All-You-Can-Eat Academy

Friday, December 17, 2010

Andy Looks Back on 2010

As I finished up a final day of grading and exams, I think this is a swell time to wrap up my blogging for 2010. Time permitting, I will try to upload our family holiday letter before Christmas, but otherwise I plan to spend the next couple weeks trying to recover from a busy, exciting, sometimes overwhelming year.

Some highlights:

• Responding to absurdity

• Writing about suicide

• Speaking on convergence

• Cruising along CA-395

• Celebrating our 22nd

• Dispatching from desolation

• Remembering Rota

• Gawking in Europe

• Sweltering in Asia

• Returning to teaching

• Plunging to earth

• Carving an alien

• Living in Cityville

I plan to return to Woodland Shoppers Paradise soon after New Year's Day. Until then, I hope you and yours enjoy all the delights of the season!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Fun with GDocs Presentations

These days I'm playing around a new presentation app (Prezi - thanks to Justin Lloyd for his recommendation) so I am especially delighted to see this creative use of a seemingly boring tool.

Difficulty seeing the video? Point your browser here:

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Doing Domains

Yesterday I took at stab at answering a colleague's seemingly innocuous question: what is a domain?

This topic arose as we were discussing potential ways to organize our graduate courses. As you might imagine, the topic is both banal and fraught. Initially one would imagine that, really, there's not much at stake in the name and write-up of a college course. But when faculty members get involved, every jot and tittle risk becoming a Big Deal.

Part of the problem, as I see it, lies in the political terminology of paradigms. Defining one approach (rhetoric, critical studies, whatever) as a paradigm creates a power relationship with other approaches that may be called (mere) methods or traditions. One is centralized; the other risks being marginalized. In response, I proposed that we seek a less loaded term. My vote: domains.

A domain is a top-level taxonomic order of related ideas, approaches, methods, paradigms, communities, schools of thought, and traditions; an organizing category that is widely recognizable to an educated (but not necessarily a specialized) audience.

To illustrate, Carl Woese proposed three domains of life: archaea, bacteria, and eukarya. One may need to be a biologist to understand (or simply pronounce) "archaea." Yet anyone knows that a staph infection is different than a starfish; these things interact with each other, but each belongs in a different domain.

Domains are regularly broken into sub-domains, but adding a new domain is rare.

Indeed, while any attempt to define a domain is inherently persuasive its terrain should be viewed as settled by even the most partisan observer. Put another way, one does not create a domain; one recognizes its existence. Put still another way, one might recognize a domain of a particular universe by asking whether it could serve as a section (composed of several chapters) to an introductory textbook.

Anyway, I started my response in this manner before exploring how we might organize the "universe" of Communication Studies into domains: the kinds of decisions we'd make as educators rather than as partisans. It's a reasonable enough idea, I think. Still, I expect that domains will fare no better than paradigms.

It's hard to name without pain.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Andy Gets Pummeled

I thought I'd share a video produced by an outfit called Pummelvision. Once you authorize them to peak at a photo collection (Facebook, Flickr, or Tumbler) these folks produce an experience that's akin to watching your life flash before your eyes (at least according to Adam Dachis, writing for Lifehacker).

Since I have relatively few images in Facebook, my video was short. Moreover, the audio lops off awkwardly at the end. Still, the overall effect is... pretty cool.

Difficulty seeing the video? Point your browser here:

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Ten happy things

Christmas lights are glowing - with no bad bulbs

Finals Week is coming - no more late nights

Students are thriving - some folks have discovered new talents

Winter rain is falling - slow traffic but cool splashy sounds

Five cats are playing playing - not too much fur flying

Fireplace is roaring - it's fake but it's lovely

Cityville is growing - need more neighbors though

Clothes are fitting - even with excess holiday eating

Movies are queuing - I love Roku and Hulu

Road is calling - no destination yet

Monday, December 6, 2010

Living in Cityville

OK, I admit it: I got suckered into playing Cityville, lured into the snare by a friend's Facebook invite. I suppose Jenny would label the past three days a "lost weekend." True, I helped string Christmas lights, organized our family's holiday newsletter, responded to student queries about a looming assignment, and left the house to see a movie. I lived my life. But most of my attention was drawn to Cityville.

Ostensibly I took the Cityville plunge to research how Zynga is leveraging social networking techniques to produce an experience that keeps users clicking. After all, this is the company behind Farmville, Mob Wars, and similar time-sucks. Zynga knows what it's doing. At the same time, miniature cities have always appealed to me (cue obligatory Logan's Run reference). While I couldn't care less about managing a cartoon farm, I'd love to run my own tiny town. I had to give Cityville a try.

If you've ever lost a night to SimCity you have a pretty good idea of how Cityville works. Borrowing liberally from Sid Meier's blockbuster urban simulation game, Zynga allows players to produce their own villages by laying out streets, erecting houses, starting businesses, and launching civic projects. There are no taxes in Cityville (no plumbing either, thankfully). Frustrated citizens won't riot in the streets if you fail to build a post office. And I've yet to see a building toppled by a natural disaster. But this game still produces a SimCity-like high, starting with the pleasure of the God's eye view.

Acting as an urban deity, you design your city, watch its tiny inhabitants wander about (sometimes they wave up at you), and survey the growth of your creation from tiny burg to bulging metropolis. Better yet, you can be a merciful god by helping others. Indeed, sociability is fundamental to the Cityville experience. Want to plunk down a few houses and start a business or two? All you need is a computer and a halfway decent internet connection. Wanna complete quests and expand your borders? You're going to need "neighbors."

Neighbors, you see, can help you secure vital resources like energy, supplies, and currency. Energy allows a player to perform an action (build a house, pick a crop, collect some rent, or reap profits from a business). Supplies, typically from harvested crops, allow businesses to keep serving customers and thereafter produce profits. Currency follows when businesses make money or when residents pay rent. [It's not incidental that Cityville has been called a mashup of SimCity and Monopoly.]

Energy is the prime mover of this game; it's necessary to do just about anything. The good news: it accumulates by itself, one unit every five minutes. That's the sweet spot, an increment that is endurable - at first. The bad news is that the pace of replenishment feels absolutely glacial after a while. That's where neighbors become essential. They can share their energy with you, generally at no cost to themselves. And that's just the beginning of their utility.

Neighbors can also share supplies, collect rent, and increase growth by allowing you to plant franchise businesses in their cities. That's right: Cityville is an omnitopian expanse in which every locale becomes a doorway to a shared perception of community. With neighbors, you can staff buildings without being forced to pay employees' salaries. Salaries? You betcha. Unless you've got neighbors willing to help, you must use in-game currency to pay wages. Once that money runs out, you're forced to buy bucks with real money. Neighbors equal growth.

Returning to my city, I smile. One neighbor (a pal in Texas) has revived a crop that I'd neglected to water. Another neighbor (in Florida) has visited my houses and collected rent. Adding to the sense of community, I observe a tiny picture of a neighbor hovering over my city. The icon hops from place to place, a dancing deity come to sprinkle gifts from heaven. Perhaps the Cityville universe is polytheistic. So while I planned to limit my stay for a couple minutes, I'm now happy to return the favor. I'll need my neighbors to staff a hospital later. Just five minutes more. Click, click, click.

Minutes turn into hours, especially when waiting for that ultimate kick, the gambling high: a rainbow-reward of clinking coins. Ahhhh, the sound of money popping from a slot machine. Then there is the burst of colorful icons forming "collections" that I can trade for still more energy, more supplies, more currency. Best of all, I get an extra boost when I scoop my prizes quickly. More coins, more clinking, more energy, more experience points, more life. Oh, and I can't forget the cheers of happy residents that greet every wise decision I make. I love that sound. My Cityville advisor tells me that I might even be elected mayor!

That's the fun of Cityville: its clever concoction of giddy anticipation, the hope that imminent reward waits beyond the next click. Learning from Las Vegas, Zynga creators have crafted a game that requires little strategy and virtually no effort. You can keep it running in the background, like the buzz of a receiver turned low. Dip in and out whenever you choose (plant strawberries and you don't even have to worry about withering crops). If you feel like swooping into your friends' towns, you get a quick charge of easy altruism. You did some good, and you can expect some good in return. Return, or not. It's your choice. Only, you want to return. That's the point.

Keep playing, the game teaches, and you will build that library, which will allow that population increase, which will allow that tall building, which will justify that territory expansion, which will yield that bigger crop, which will enable that big harvest, which will earn that next level, which will reap that burst of coins, which will… It never ends (at least not yet).

Just remember, the longer you play, the more neighbors you need. The more neighbors you have, the longer you must play - if only to keep watering your friends' crops. The cycle is virtuous when you're having fun with friends. Yet there's something vicious at work too. At its worst, Cityville becomes something less like a game and more like a virus, an addiction. I'm reminded of E.B. White's evaluation of the General Motors Futurama exhibit at the 1939-40 New York World's Fair: "There is a strong, sweet poison which infects the blood."

My daughter is immune to this poison but my wife graciously founded a city to help me complete a police station [There is no crime in Cityville - yet]. She announced that her urban planning career would be short lived, but she was back in town today, clicking for friends and family. Jenny kindly sent tourists by the busload to my thriving Level 19 town a few hours ago. I'm glad she did, because I'm just about to reach the next level! Just 118 experience points until I become a Level 20. So close.

Sure, I could wait for my own energy supplies to replenish themselves, but it's so much easier when neighbors chip in. Now I'm so close to opening the school for which my citizens have been clamoring. I'm so close to turning the sad icon (a sign of their impatience) into a happy face. I'm so close to leveling up! My citizens will be happy. I will be happy.

Then I can quit. Really.

(Screencaps are for purposes of academic comment and criticism. No ownership is implied.)

Friday, December 3, 2010

Friday Fun Post: Twittersburg Address

This graphic aired on Comedy Central's Daily Show on December 2, 2010.

Dark Hearts: Blade Runner video homage

Check this out: an homage to Blade Runner set in Hong Kong-ified London. And as an added bonus, its creator used some of my animated neon footage of Shanghai and Route 66 to produce this video. [Oh, and if you're a fan of NBC's Community - especially the Abed character - you have to see this!]

The video, while pretty cool in its own right, does a fine job of demonstrating the power of social media. This dude, Riz MC, came across some of my stuff on YouTube and asked if he could use it. I blew him off for a while - being overly busy - until I saw a sample of what he had in mind. I'm so glad I took the time to check him out. This guy's the real deal [wiki].

Looking back on our correspondence and the results, I find myself smiling at the idea of helping a stranger, a fellow I never met, through social media. We collaborated (me in a small, small way) on a music video, and yet I'd never recognize this guy if we met IRL! (Well, maybe I would now...)

Difficulty seeing "Dark Hearts"? Point your browser here:

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Social Media Addiction: Are You At Risk?

This YourTango video is 15 types of awesome: a satire of social media addiction done as a cheesy 70s-style after school special: "Did I just laugh out loud? Dan, I just laughed out loud!" Just watch out for the downer ending: "Ohhh, Daddy like Boing Boing!"

See how many app-refs you recognize!

Update: Here's another YourTango production: Online Dating in the 1950s

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Kodak Picture Spot

Jenny follows the rules
Thinking ahead to next summer's European adventure, a grand tour we've been planning for years, I anticipate the kinds of photos we'll take. Yes, there will be towers, both Eiffel and Leaning (helpfully held up by our own hands, thanks to the trickery of forced perspective). You bet there will be Roman ruins and English pubs. Oh, and castles in Scotland? We'll see one or two.

Part of the fun for any trip is taking pictures. Part of the obligation, too. Susan Sontag once compared the ritual of tourist photography to the Puritan Work Ethic, in which leisure becomes an extension of labor. We "shoot" to capture, to fix, to consume, of course. Sometimes we shoot to mock, to violate, to hurt, too. But mostly we take pictures to make sure that we've "gotten it right." It's our duty to get that shot of Chartres, that frame of the Parthenon, that composition of Stonehenge. Photography is proof of life. One needn't trip into psychoanalysis to understand that, for me, snapping the shutter is an obsession (nearly so, at least).

So I look forward to a journey arranged so that we can look back on the trip. I know it's silly and skewed to think that way. As much as possible I'll try to be present in this place I've yearned to visit since the late eighties, when we lived in Europe but hardly saw any of it. I'll try to look through my own eyes more than through the camera lens. There are conversations to be had and paths to be explored. There's a continent of experience that cannot be sussed out through even the most clever Photoshop simulacra. I want to see it all - for real.

And what if the camera were to break, or get lost or stolen? Wouldn't Europe still be worth visiting?