Monthly Archives: December 2008

academics + web 2.0 = academia.edu

One functionality our faculty continually requests is the ability to have some sort of space of self-promotion aside from our Web presence; short of time spent training them on developing Wikis (they routinely don’t enough time to spare) or attending meetings centering on  how were going to find the time to attend additional meetings for proposing the creation of an institutional intranet, they still lack a veritable and virtual posterboard for themselves and their research.

Academia.edu is a an online directory of institutions and researchers who want to promote their work in hopes of finding contacts and collaboration.  A typical Web 2.0 app, functionality seems to be fairly complete: add content to your profile, upload papers, talks, adding folks as contacts, as well as research interests. It even boasts the addition of such illuminaries as Paul Krugman, Richard Dawkins, and Stephen Hawking.  Too good to be true?

Academia.edu appears to be in its initial launch and is growing exponentially.  Browse or scroll a list of participating institutions and researchers;  departments are displayed hierarchically.  Aside from the browsing capability, the only minus of the site is that it’s not very intuitive or well-explained in terms of directions, from the signup process to the display.  Working out the kinks, I’m sure.

It’s a good service though, one that prompts the question why it wasn’t done earlier.  But I suppose that’s the nature of academia; ironically, we surprisingly (ironically?) just haven’t got the hang of that self-promotion thing.

new music – Elbow

elbLike Lambchop, Elbow is a band that can slip unawares before you knew they were even in the room.  Their latest release, The Seldom Seen Kid, is so skillfully subtle, it may be to their detriment.  It’s a clever release that’s as ethereal musically as it is lyrically.  Hence, I would declare it a near masterpiece, for whatever that’s worth.

Though a highly meticulous and methodical output, don’t think that words like ethereal or quietly confessional make the band’s sound out to be less than what rock and roll should encompass.  Indeed, dare I say the band employs a certain amount of cheek, specifically in songs like An Audience with the Pope or The Fix, that their quiet nature can take a turn for the devilishly devious.

Other songs like Some Riot, Mirrorball, Tower Crane Driver, Weather to Fly, and Starlings reach and ultimately place Elbow’s sound well within the atmosphere, with the characteristic British melancholy rightly exemplified in other bands like The Good, The Bad & The Queen.   Deceptively good stuff.

For those wanting to rock a little more, enjoy their single Gounds for Divorce:


review – invisible cities

itaThough exceedingly short (166 pages), Invisible Cities by the author Italo Calvino is so densely constructed that it takes just as long, if not longer to understand, much less even finish the book than it would normally with a three hundred page novel.  Indeed, after finishing Calvino’s work I’m convinced I’ll have to read it again just to even be convinced that I even read it in the first place.

But I think that sentiment speaks somewhat to the essence of the work itself.  Briefly stated, Calvino’s work is based around the visitations between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo, specifically their time spent in conversation about the cities Polo has traveled between in the great Khan’s empire.  The Khan, you understand, needs his amusement.

But as we progress through each of Polo’s travels, we are increasingly forced to consider whether Polo is giving us the whole story, whether he actually has been to the distant places he so ably illustrates, whether they even exist at all.  Fascinating is the interplay between Kublai Khan and Polo; was Calvino creating a dialogue among historical equals, or was Polo dangling a metaphorical carrot before the flummoxed Khan in an attempt to be clever or save his own skin?

Calvino, sadly no longer among us,  equally confounds with his imagery in questioning just what exactly constitutes a city.   His writing definitely fits the classification of fabulist lit,  similar to magical realism, in which surreality takes center stage. It is a grand labyrinth, a philosophical conundrum that Calvino so artfully evokes.

comic life

page_24Egads.  With little to no artistic talent, I never thought I’d be creating something like a comic strip, much less a coherent, respectable piece of kitsch.  I almost feel ashamed, as the digital age can create any armchair artiste through a set of clever pixellation.

Such is the dilemma I’ve encountered after finding Comic Life, an insanely inexpensive piece of software ($30 for the deluxe version) that allows a user to create comic strip content with the ease of editing a powerpoint slide.

The beauty of comic life is its sheer potential.  All you need is some uploadable content, photos most likely, and import them into one of the many comic templates available; or if you’re feeling super imaginative, create your own template and arrange your layout accordingly with a chic click-and-drag. Complementing the myriad of templates is a plethora of fonts to style your text, background colors and gradient options to intensify your graphic oeuvres.

The downside:  There is the functionality of using lettering (as opposed to text), a rather unimaginative set of inflated fonts in Chuck-E-Cheese- o-vision, looking like the happy-fun-time vomit one would would expect after eating a fresh meat pie served by Mrs. Lovett.

But it’s well-worth overlooking for the sheer functionality.  Convert your work into JPEGs, or even export it as a movie (.avi for windows, .mov for Mac I assume).

Why libraries? Use it for posters, instruction guides, floor plans, newsletters.  Hey, why not even create a plain old comic strip, just for old-time sake?

music – lambchop

lamDon’t let Lambchop fool you.  Though one can mistake the band’s sound for, as David Berman so aptly puts it, “country restroom on the radio”, Lambchop is another alt-country superband that’s redefining genres.  If you don’t pay close enough attention, it’ll pass you by like the falling of leaves with the onset of winter.

Nashville’s best-kept secret, Lambchop is so subtle you’ll never know it’s there until their sound filters into your subconscious and you find yourself humming their songs on any rainy day, on the way to the grocery store,  or drifting off to sleep after a particularly trying day.

Kurt Wagner is an exceptional wordsmith, and combined with the extreme fullness of his band’s complement, ranging to maybe a dozen musicians, his musical vision is parallel to the imaginagtion and cleverness of Howe Gelb.  Yet while Gelb is more over overt in his musicianship, Wagner keeps tightly inward, straining to restrain his musings into impressionistic rock and roll, if there is such a thing.  More so than Gelb, Wagner softly speaks into the microphone more often than he sings, letting his atmospheric guitar-driven melodies take over.

It takes a careful ear to discern exactly what Wagner is singing about, but it’s certain that a whole lotta effort has been invested into his themes.  Excelling tracks on OH (ohio):  Ohio, National Talk Like a Pirate Day, A Hold of You, Close up and Personal, I Believe in You. Think of Lambchop as a soulful, resigned, oft humorous but always genuine rock and roll band…for the quiet times.

Here’s a goodie from their previous album, Damaged – Crackers.  Still not sure what it’s about.

the revolution will not be printed

Unnecessary printing is one of my biggest annoyances.  Since students get into the habit of printing at the very last possible moment, they tend to click on ‘print’ multiple times, queuing up documents that they won’t cancel on their print server.  Furthermore, they either don’t know or simply refuse to consolidate their slides when working with PowerPoint, printing more pages than they should.  And double sided printing?  Is it compatible with your printer?

Greenprint is a new free download (paid upgrade available) that, if anything, forces people to be more conscientious about their printing by highlighting extraneous pages and content, offering a pdf writer for file conversion, and a cost tracker for calculating how much you save (or spend) when saving paper.  I’m slightly skeptical that it will make a huge difference, but any difference is worth the free download and pdf converter.

Watch a tutorial.

review

rub1From what little I understand about his works, Rubem Fonseca is a big deal in the literary world, especially representative of the best South American writers around today.  It shows, after reading his new collection of short stories, The Taker and Other Stories.  My initial impression is that his writing style is a close amalgam of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Cormac McCarthy, though with a uniqueness that combines among his characters a flippant whimsy with an emptiness of deviousness, desperateness, opportunism and cruelty.

Make no mistake, Fonseca creates his stories around unique individuals and their circumstances, wealthy and impoverished; however, what distinguishes his stories and characters is that he is really writing about his native Brasil, about the desperate circumstances faced by its citizens, the corruption, their reaction to modernization, their daily sacrifices.

As if one really needed to be told, Brasil is passion.  Life there is both carefree and cruel.  Fonseca heaps a mixture of both in this collection of stories.  He interweaves a world full of overworked and psychotic businessmen, the feasting upon rural roadkill, the camaraderie between mugger and victim, the nature of family among poor armed robbers, of murder amid good intentions, and the intense burn yet fleeting demise of love, often with fatal consequences.

Others have characterized Fonseca’s stories as unsettling, with which I agree completely.  Add to that the words deeply, disturbing, engrossing, stifling, existential, and human.  His stories force one to think not only about Brasilian life and culture, but the state of humanity as well.  They may be short stories, but they’re so full of pathos.