Cancer and Concussion Crawl, 24 April 2024

If you’re just joining the show in progress, I’ve been on a tyrosine kinase inhibitor since 2019. It’s kept the spots in my lungs from growing, with side effects that the medical documents call “tolerable.” The good news it mostly works. The bad news is that it mostly works: one of the spots has decided to ignore the “inhibition” my inhibitors have been providing to the other tumours and is growing. The good news is that I can go in for 5 days of external beam radiation (plus one practice) and they should be able to kill the rogue tumour and then I can get on with my life. The bad news is I have to go in for 5 days of external beam radiation in late May or June. I don’t have exact dates yet, but everyone seems to think that’s a reasonable timeline and it works for me. My radiation oncologist, who did the work on me in 2010, says that the treatment is “well tolerated” but that I might have a dry cough or feel some fatigue (hahahahahahhahaha).

It’s been a bit of a bonkers academic year. Professionally speaking it’s been a wild ride (more on that in a future post) but very punishing on my body: Covid in September, a stupid knee injury that had me walking with a cane for most of fall term (now healed) and then a few days after that post before this one about applying for stuff, a tree branch fell on my head. It didn’t kill me but it killed my winter term. No awesome machine listening conference in April* or grad seminar connected with the conference, no awesome disability seminar, and no writing on the Sound of AI book. Instead, I discovered a whole new sensory world. In other circumstances, I would have blogged it for you but since screens were part of the problem, I didn’t. Suffice it to say I learned a lot about sensory processing issues. I heard in ways I’d never before, and I experienced artificial lighting in a way I’d never experienced before. Also, I was blown away at how many people in my social world have had concussions. Why don’t people talk about this more?

I’m now getting close to normal again. Not 100% but my screens are in colour, and I can tolerate more artificial light than before. I got through almost an hour under fluorescent lights today at a doctor’s office before getting nauseous. My tinnitus is back to where it was before (ie, part of me, an old friend), and I am no longer sensitive to certain sounds. Fatigue levels are more or less where they were before as well.

McGill’s short term disability benefits are very good. I’ve been on full disability, and done bits of work where I can.

Some people have told me I should write an essay about my concussion, and I think it will. But it won’t be another impairment phenomenology. Plenty of people have written great things about the experience of having a concussion. Instead I’m going to write about what my concussion taught me about enterprise resource planning software and related matters. I promise it will be a scorcher.

They say that you should take up a non-screen related hobby while recovering from a concussion. I am now officially a shitty pianist. I am not being self-deprecating. The keys are so smooth. They feel good.

The next post will be about a bunch of good news.

Yes, I will eventually do a goddamn newsletter.

*Had the conference gone ahead, the early April snowstorm would have disrupted a bunch of people’s flights, so it wouldn’t have gone ahead. It will be happening in April 2025.

Sabbatical Fellowships, or My Semester of Applying for Stuff

This term has set a personal record for me: 11 applications for things. Eleven. Let me tell you about them.


(Are you a US citizen working a contingent academic job? Scroll down for an interesting opportunity that not a lot of people in my world seem to know about).

I’m up for sabbatic leave in 2024-5. Although historically McGill has usually approved faculty sabbaticals you still have to apply. Fine. It’s one of the best benefits of our job. Carrie is applying at the same time.

We are planning to travel for this sabbatical. Maybe you’d like to as well.

The easiest thing if you are fully funded is to call up a friend at another school in a place you’d like to be and see if they can work out a visiting position and office for you. These are unpaid but often you can finagle library privileges. I accept that this might smell of a slightly disgusting clubby dimension of academia but that’s how it works. You can write to strangers too–this occasionally happened back in my days of department chair, but usually the visitor needs a faculty host, which is why cold calls are less likely to work. Of course, you could also just move somewhere and set up shop without an institutional affiliation. We might do that in a future sabbatical.

Carrie says I like a “monastic” sabbatical. I don’t think the metaphor is quite right because it implies asceticism, which is not a behaviour I have ever manifested. But what I like is: a routine (none of the schedule noise of my regular job), a place to work, and a cohort of other people on leave with whom I can have conversations and be directed to new ideas and bibliographies. It’s basically like some kind of distorted summer camp scenario. Without the crafts, unless you count your writing as a craft.

These gigs often come with money, though not enough for full salary replacement. If you’re at a school that gives some funding for sabbatical but not enough for a full year, these can supplement your income.

This year Carrie and I mostly focused our search in the United States. That’s because for a leave starting in fall 2024, we started looking in May of 2023. By that time the deadline for a lot of European gigs had already passed. There are shorter 1-month residencies, like at Bellagio, but we wanted either semester or year-long gigs.

So, first takeaway: European Institutes of Advanced Study tend to operate on a two year timeline. Check out EURIAS for a comprehensive list. American Fellowships tend to operate on a one-year timeline with deadlines in the late summer and early fall. Which means you can’t start thinking about it in August.

In sum, I recommend you start thinking about sabbatical applications two years in advance of when you’d like to start. Year -2 will be applications to Europe if you want to go there. Year -1 will be applications to US institutions, and you’ll know the deadlines well ahead of time.

Here’s the list of places to which Carrie and I applied:

Institute for Advance Study in Marseilles, (that was Carrie; I would have applied for Paris but JUST missed the deadline–these need a university affiliation)

American Academy Berlin (only US citizens), 

Guggenheim (take it anywhere! but very hard to get)

Institute for Advanced Study Princeton School of Social Science (mix of topical and some open positions, I applied for open as I’m nowhere near the topic for 2024-5), 

National Humanities Center in the research triangle, 

Cornell Society for the Humanities (topical–this year was “Silence”; they do ask you to teach a seminar), 

Radcliffe Institute, 

Center for Advanced Study in Behavioural Sciences (Stanford), 

Stanford Humanities Center

Missed deadlines I might have considered for EURIAS places:

Berlin (duh), Sweden (Uppsala, I think, maybe there’s one in Stockholm too), Netherlands, Norway. Maybe for the next sabbatical.

The UK also has Leverhulme visiting professorships. You need a sponsor and might have to teach.

For Canadians: there are Fulbright Canadian studies professorships in the US (again, need to teach). Non-US citizens can also apply for Fulbright research fellowships to do research in the US.

Are you working a contingent faculty position and wishing you too could apply for a year’s support to pursue your research?

If you are a US citizens, the ACLS has switched their faculty fellowships from being for tenured people to being for people who are working contingent jobs (maybe also tenure track). They are hard to get but a great opportunity. You can’t win if you don’t play.

What happens if get all of them?

Hahahahaha. That’s not going to happen, but what could happen is that we are each offered something different. For now, our plan is to do what’s best for the couple. If we get nothing (also a possibility–these are all very competitive), we will just find a place to set up shop. We have lines on a couple options. (See point about friends above.)

A Few Thoughts on Logistics of Applying

Our results aren’t in so I can’t tell you for sure what works/makes a difference. This is my second application to the Guggenheim. Last time I didn’t have a book contract for the project I was pitching, so this time I went out and got a book contract for it. I generally just write the book manuscript and submit it, so this was a new thing for me. We’ll see if it makes a difference.

All of these places need a project description. The project description is the first thing your referees will read so be sure it’s your best writing. You can work up a basic template that you modify to pitch to the various institutions. That’s much better than a bespoke application for each place, though some ask for different enough word counts that you’ll have to reconceptualize.

Some universities will give you feedback on your draft project description. See if yours offers that service.

You will need letters of recommendation. Line them up ahead of time. It is my best guess that people who really know you are better than the most famous people you sort of know, but I could be wrong. I’ve done reviewing for some of these fellowships in the past and certainly I was more impressed by a good letter than good letterhead.

Everyone uses their own bespoke application system. This will be a pain in the ass, though some of them are actually very well designed. Some have specific requirements for your CV. Leave lots of time for this.

Research Support

In addition to sabbatical apps, I had to apply for other stuff. It was a lot of work, but hopefully will be worth it. I have a lot of grad students right now, and McGill’s system makes it more like the sciences for humanists like me–I have a responsibility to make sure my students are funded. That means applying for grants. My timing wasn’t good in the sense that a few things piled up in one term (like sabbatical apps on top of this), but I lived. I don’t really recommend doing all this though.

SSHRC Insight Grant: I’m used to these. I should write a thing about writing SSHRC Insight Grants someday. They are a ton of work. I think of it as about the labour of two journal articles every 5 years or so. But they’re also a ton of money compared to what humanists usually get. Due beginning of October, completed while I had Covid. Kind of sucked. But if I get it, I asked for close to $400,000 over 5 years, which would be great for everyone involved. (They could cut my budget but I didn’t inflate it, so I hope I’m successful.)

SSHRC Connection Grant: this is to help support a conference I’m co-organizing in April 2024 with James Parker, called Machine Listening: Critical Perspectives. It’s been a joy collaborating with James but the combined workload of the SSHRC form and university form were disproportionate to the amount of money. 70% of the work of the Insight Grant, for $25,000, about half of which will go to student funding. Due at the beginning of November.

Microsoft Research AI and Society Fellow: Again, this will mostly go to student funding. Related to generative music chapter in my Sound and AI book (for which I got the advance contract for the fellowships). This was the easiest one. You drag and drop two documents into their interface, and fill out a form with completely standard information in their system. I basically built out the outline for that chapter with things I’d thought about or learned since I sent in the proposal and sample chapters last spring. Due at the end of November.

Misophonia Foundation Letter of Intent. I wouldn’t have known about this except for an enterprising PhD student. She is enterprising, so I was persuaded to go for it. One page LOI for a potentially massive grant–$500,000US. They don’t normally fund people who aren’t scientists but there’s a tiny crack that we might be able to squeeze into, and you can’t win if you don’t play, right? Again, mostly for student support but it’s just one page to see if they’re even interested. Easy-peasy, right? No! The letter was the usual amount of work, but McGill’s own process of approving grant applications like this took way more time than the application itself. Special shout out to the dynamic XML Adobe Acrobat form that was missing fields I had to fill out and could not be saved as a draft. Due at the end of November.

29 July 2023

Should This Be a Newsletter?

After nearly a month of badly needed vacation, a boy’s mind turns to his blog and what to do about it.

Readers may scroll down and notice a couple abortive attempts at weekly posts this winter before life got in the way.

This blog has existed since 2004. I started it after moving to Montreal and with the encouragement of local friends and then was carried forward by other bloggers. The internet of 2004 was mostly text with some images, video, and audio (okay, not by volume; I’m sure it was already mostly pornography and financial transactions). At the time, people found out about new posts either through surfing to the site or through an rss reader. This blog linked to other blogs, and other blogs linked to it. That worked fine for me. I think I had a dedicated readership somewhere between the dozens and the hundreds, though I never bothered to check–I didn’t need to. That was plenty to keep me (and them) interested. I wrote, people responded, that was good enough.

The internet of 2023 is very different. It is not mostly text, and I suspect that the majority of its users (especially younger ones) don’t necessarily go online to read. But more importantly, most people who would read this blog don’t use rss regularly, and don’t surf the web to read blogs, and therefore would only find out about a new post via social media. This is complicated because social media feeds aren’t neutral. I can pick the Facebook or Twitter model and wonder who gets shown what and why. I can pick the Mastodon model and hope I post it at a time when people will see it. I can do it all but then I’m busy on a bunch of social media sites.

This confusion has actually slowed me down as a writer. Each time I start up again I also have to think about the managing parts of it. How do I announce its existence, and how do I engage with an audience? I honestly don’t want to think about those things.

Newsletters have taken off in recent years as the “next” thing after blogs for several reasons. There is still a reading public on the internet that wants to read stuff, and writers who want to write stuff. Of course fewer people are being paid less money to write words, so there’s also an individualistic, entrepreneurial dimension to newsletters as a sort of escape hatch for underemployed writers to make it as a personal “brand” (please end me now). There’s a reason Substack is set up to ask you for money every time you receive a newsletter, and that all of the newsletter services, even the open source ones, pitch their services in terms of self-branding, promotion, and paid audience numbers.

The newsletter model fits the platformized world better. Newsletter intermediaries let you use a channel–email–that you otherwise couldn’t use to communicate “directly” with an audience. Email is the (storm) sewer of the internet: everything flows down into it. Writers only need newsletter services only because most internet hosts treat emails with many copies as spam. RSS still works and is totally free; it’s a protocol, not a corporate platform. It’s just not promoted because there’s no venue capital angle. It’s not used because it feels “technical” compared to modern interfaces even though it’s really not. It’s just more “niche” as the kids say.

Over the past few days I’ve been having conversations with people online about how they use the internet. On Facebook and Mastodon I asked people whether they use rss, and what websites they go to (way more responses on Facebook than Mastodon). If I would generalize from the responses I received, as well as my experience looking around and talking with people: people my age and in my social milieu (caveats apply!) use the open web for large organizations, with the exception of static “portfolio” type websites for individual artists or writers, and a few RSS nerds. IMO, the open web is also biased toward reading, whereas lots of younger people don’t mostly use the internet to read (see: TikTok, Instagram). My main website exists well in this world. It’s an individual creative person’s portfolio. It needs a bit of a redesign but I’m basically happy with it.

This blog does not fit well into the modern world as a form. It was built to reach people directly; currently the reality is that most people who read it do so because I post about it on social media, but of course I have no control over what shows up in your feed.

It seems like an emailed newsletter that also exists as an rss feed/web archive would reach more people directly since otherwise it’s just writing something and announcing it on social media. Sure, people aren’t going to read everything that shows up in their mailbox, but that’s not the goal for me. They know it’s there and are reminded of its existence from time to time. It would also allow me to abandon WordPress entirely which is very interesting to me at this moment.

The old blog would be archived as static html pages with existing links so people who want to find things can still find things.  Sternworks would also move to static html with css sheets.

The downside of this is that I wouldn’t get to revise the newsletter after it’s published and there are ALWAYS typos I find later.  

I suppose another, free, option is to take advantage of my employer and create a Listserv that only I can post to, ask people to subscribe to that, and use that to announce blog posts. Also simple and straightforward, though then you can’t read it in your email if you want to.

4 June 2023: Cancer Crawl

I’ve just completed a period of intense conferencing. Three in-person conferences in five weeks. Plus a number of Zoom talks on top of it. For me, it was wonderfully social and intellectual. In addition to getting to meet and see work by a new generation of grad students and assistant profs, whom I’d not “discovered” due to the pandemic, I also got to catch up with old friends in Washington DC, Cambridge MA, and Toronto.

It’s been great to see so many people again after the pandemic.

However. I always get questions about my health, and I realize it’s been quite some time since I said anything publicly, and there’s always the possibility of messages getting transformed in a game of telephone, so here’s the latest.


I’m fine! Or “fine.” My cancer is best understood as a chronic illness now. It could get worse; but I could also live indefinitely on my current treatment regimen. My endocrinologist, whom I refer to as “the Terminator” due to his non-touchy-feely-ness which will be evident in the next clause of this sentence, says I will “die of something else.” My oncologist says I’m one of his patients doing the best on my current drug regimen, which is great, though there is always room to fall.

State of the cancer: ideally, not going anywhere

I have a rare form of aggressive papillary thyroid cancer, which has metastasized to my lungs. My thyroid is gone, so there’s that.

On a CT scan, the insides of my lungs still look like “night on Earth” photos. Lots of small spots light up, but I have plenty of lung volume, and the Lenvima has slowed their growth. There are a couple bigger ones, and in my twice-annual CT scans, the radiologist measures their growth in millimetres. My neck remains clear and there are no other mets besides my lungs. There is no surgery or chemo to get rid of this kind of cancer. If a few spots get too big, they can be subjected to external beam radiation. But external beam radiation bites, so I would rather avoid that if possible.

How I’m feeling: “fine”

The irony of this particular chronic illness is that I don’t feel the actual cancer. What I feel is the iatrogenic side effects of my drugs. Fatigue, digestive issues, hand-and-foot syndrome (where the medicine leaks out of my smallest capillaries and causes pain in my hands and feet), occasional dizziness, “interesting” muscle pains, proneness to bleeding and slowness to heal, and very occasionally other weird shit, for which I have a rule: if it doesn’t last a week, it’s not a side-effect. Oh, and I am immunocompromised to some degree, but we don’t know exactly to what degree.

For the most part I have strategies for dealing with all of this, more or less. I sometimes hit a wall in the winter and had to miss band practice after teaching. Even though I wear gloves to cook, play music, do laundry, etc., sometimes I have to work through pain to do something I want to do. I would sometimes have to teach with enough Imodium in me to feel like I’m on recreational drugs. I asked a few introverts how they “do” conferences, and then tried to follow their leads instead of my old practices that amounted to attending absolutely everything all the time.

Chronic illness means you have good days and bad days. It’s not constant like some disabilities can be. I probably “look fine.”

Me, my condition, and the pandemic
This has meant that I have been slower to come out of the pandemic than others; I still tend to mask in crowded public spaces; and as someone who was never good with understanding my own limits, I have a tendency to overdo it and then hit a wall in the fashion of Wile E. Coyote.

This fall was particularly complicated, as McGill forced all teaching staff back into classrooms, immunocompromised or not (this is not in line with Quebec employment law, despite what they say). In my case, I wanted to go back but wasn’t sure how wise it was, so I just took the plunge with masks on. I asked my students to mask and had good compliance, even in my 200-student lecture course (no, 200 people don’t show up every day, at least not after add-drop). This was because the university provided free masks for us to distribute. It was extra work, but it was something.

The struggle for me was actually breaking a number of habits that had built up during the pandemic when I was working from home. I don’t know about you, but work and meetings somehow colonized more time — most notably the time that used to be for commuting — and that meant at the beginning of the term I was unprepared to protect my time the way I needed to in order to actually do my job. With chronic fatigue this is particularly difficult to work out.

At my last meeting with my oncologist, I asked about masking and his sense of where we are at in the pandemic, as I always do. He gave me the go-ahead to start, well, effectively taking more chances and “live my life” as he would say. I am still masking up in crowded public places, public transit, etc., but I’ve also been out to eat a lot as a result of all the recent travel, so the seal has been broken there for sure. For now, I’ll still be careful when I can, but will be a little less careful than I have been. That said, I’m not under any illusions that any of this is an individual choice about “assessing your own risk” — it’s just as much about my risk to other people.

I’m skeptical of recent federal and provincial public health policies that have amounted to an official position of “fuck it, some people will die” given the history of eugenics in health disability policy. Masking and free tests are imperfect but easy and effective. But that is for another post.

3 June 2023: We apologize for the interruption

I’d been noticing that a subset of the substack crew would use their weekly social media posts as the basis for blogging. That sounded nice. I missed blogging!

Then I went on vacation, came back and the semester turned into a sprint, and I stopped posting much on social media. So I guess I’ll just have to try again. The next couple months will likely be on the quiet side though.

Nice things; Lessons in humility

I’ve had a fantastic year for awards. In fall 2022 I was elected to the Royal Society of Canada (had to wait on formal induction till fall 2023 due to existing travel plans); in the last week I was elected a Fellow of the International Communication Association; and Diminished Faculties won the Gertrude J. Robinson Book Award from the Canadian Communication Association.

These are all nice, as I’m still the kid who sits at the front of the class and raises his hand, so a little approval is honestly nice. But it’s important to maintain some humility and beginner’s mind as well.

Here’s a quote from Morton Subotnik, on trying to buy a copy of Silver Apples of the Moon, after he was signed to his first big recording contract:

I went in and said to the clerk, “I hear there’s this record, Silver Apples of the Moon.” He said, “Yeah, but it’s shit. We’ve sold it out. I don’t know why they’re buying it. I can show you some really good LPs.” He brings out the Columbia-Princeton [Electronic Music Center] LP. I said, “No, no! I really want Silver Apples of the Moon.” He said, “Maybe we have one more copy,” and I bought it. I walked in a giant; I walked out a midget. It really put me in my place. I walked down the stairs feeling so big, but I could barely make it back up the stairs, they were so big. I thanked him for that.”

“We Are Who We Invent” Tape Op

In related news, Volte spent a weekend in May recording with Ky Brooks, and I have to say I managed to hear every little mistake I made. More time with the metronome for me.

24 Feb 2023

Starter Pack

I now have a starter pack I send to welcome BIPOC people, especially femmes, who are questioning whether they might be autistic, filled with essays, memes, hashtags, and online assessment tools. Many people with all kinds of disabilities are doing the same thing, even when we also pursue an official diagnosis—the first hints we had POTS or EDS or fibro or Chiari formation or OCD often came from other disabled people with those body/mind conditions.

–Leah-Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha, The Future is Disabled (14)

I’ve been thinking a lot about this quote lately and the idea of a “starter pack” for disabled and chronically ill friends, colleagues, students. Since Diminished Faculties has come out I’ve had a steady stream of emails from readers. By virtue of teaching disability — as a course, as a topic in courses, and just being out in the classroom — I also regularly hear from students who are thinking about their experience in new ways. I’m slowly assembling a modular starter pack. Right now it’s more on the academic side of “disability studies 101” — my latest undergrad syllabus if they’re not already students in the course, recommendations for some basic readings (Kafer, Price “time harms,” Samuels if they have an invisible disability or chronic illness, Piepzna-Samarasinha, Mia Mingus, etc), and then it depends on the person. New “cancer friends” who are also profs often want career advice or need to navigate the institution; some people want to know where the “community” is (I don’t feel like there’s a single community here); others need to sort out dealing with the local medical system.

If you’ve got something like a “starter pack” I would love to hear what’s in yours.

Killing Prosthetic Metaphors Dead

This came up in my grad seminar this week. Media studies is still full of prosthetic metaphors: where technologies “extend” senses or agency in one way or another. Writers also occasion use the opposite–amputation. The problem with all disability metaphors (see “blind” “deaf” etc) is that they metaphorize stigmas attached to the positions, not the actual experiences of people who use prosthetics, are blind, or are d/Deaf. So what does one do? The answer is of course find other metaphors. Labour metaphors are great because often we are talking about semi-automated processes that have a labour component in them. Writers like Madeleine Akrich and Bruno Latour will talk about “delegation” which is also interesting (though in Latour’s case separated from real labour politics that perhaps should be considered). There are plenty of other metaphors out there in the sea–go troll for some.

Hybrid Education, or, why I miss the media cart

I receive a pitch from business students who are starting a company to offer students the opportunity to attend class remotely while wearing VR headsets. I am very strongly in favour of hybrid education and have been doing it since before the pandemic. But there’s a right and a wrong way to do it. We need better infrastructure in classrooms–especially around sound–as well as better technical support. People with real access needs should be the priority as well, which has not been the case thus far, at least not at my university.

This term I’m teaching two seminars, and I’ve been using a Meeting Owl that the dept was able to buy with some funds from an associate dean. It sits in the middle of the seminar table, plugs into my laptop as the camera, mic, and speakers, and the remote students are visible to me but I don’t project them on the screen. One could, but the projector in my classroom has a loud fan that I don’t want to listen to for 3 hours, and it also shines a blue light in my eyes. (It would also require connecting what I have come to call “the media hose,” which barely reaches my computer). It’s not perfect, and like many such devices, the Owl’s video is better thought through than its audio, but it has been very helpful. I haven’t magically become not immunocompromised since returning to campus and this allows me to tell students to stay home if they’re sick. Also, sick students can attend class.

Fall’s lecture course used a classroom recording system that’s ok. The only problem with all this tech is I have to set it up and take it down. I am the wrong generation for the “media cart” with a giant CRT TV and VCR on it, but I had teachers roll those things into classes, and I kind of wish it was that simple to set up.

Anyway, here’s my reply to the VR query.

I’m very curious about the university administration’s response to this.  A number of immunocompromised students sought continued remote learning accommodations due to the ongoing pandemic and were refused.  Will the admin even allow this kind of remote learning, when existing and adequate Zoom options are currently policed and disallowed?  It seems like if there are tech issues with this setup, you’re also putting extra troubleshooting on the shoulders of faculty in the absence of any kind of institutional support for it (see also: online teaching during the pandemic).  The problem isn’t getting the tech into classrooms.  The problem is keeping it working.  W120 Arts was a shining new example of cutting edge instructional design a few years ago.  A student told me the speakers all crackle and some of the mics are broken.  What’s your plan for infrastructure and maintenance?

I should be the target audience for something like this — I’ve been an early adopter of new instructional tech since the 1990s.  I was at conferences with Second Life in the 2000s when they were trying to get profs to have online classrooms full of avatars.  (Look them up — they tried your business plan).

Honestly, I can’t imagine anything I want less than a VR classroom.  I love my students, but I have less than zero interest in teaching in a VR headset or seeing my students as shitty airbrushed-looking cartoon avatars with no legs.

If I can’t see my students, I’d rather they just put pictures of their pets in their Zoom windows, which this is what we actually did during online teaching in the pandemic for those who did not want to appear on camera.

Sometimes lower tech solutions are better solutions.

Invented Scales

One of the fun things about Volte, my instrumental post-rock band, is that sometimes we write music in “invented scales.” I mean, we probably didn’t invent them because I imagine there’s music in pretty much every arrangement of 12-tone-equal-temperment notes by this point. But sometimes the notes of a piece will not fit on any particular scale I know. We’re heading into the studio in early April, so I need to nail down a solo I have been playing, as I haven’t been happy with what I am doing. So I sat down and just tried to figure out all the notes I could use with it to construct some new melodies, and had one of those “wow, so I guess I’ll just use this weird jumble of notes for it and they sort of work” experiences. Now to actually make the melody.

Capitalism is Theft (this category used to be called “Impotent Rage at Telephone Customer Support”)

We were zonked last night and ordered a bunch of food from Chu Chai through Skip the Dishes. Somehow, the app decided we wanted it delivered to an address in Outremont, even though we live in Villeray. I was very tired so I didn’t catch it until the order went in. There was no way to contact the driver through the app to fix it. I couldn’t get through to tech support. So it was delivered to someone in Outremont. Carrie hops in the car to go get it. When she gets there, the person at the address says “I refused it, and the driver took it away.” The driver never even tried to call us. Meanwhile, I finally get through to support (an hour or so after the first try) and am told “it was delivered, if it wasn’t delivered, it was your own fault, and we have a picture of the food on the porch.” So they gave us 50% of the price in “Skip Credits.” I’ll be contesting the charge on the credit card when it shows up, but it should not have been that difficult. We wound up just making the same order and Carrie picked it up from Chu Chai (we had to pay again but it’s not the resto’s fault). Obviously, we would have had an easier time if we’d just cooked something.


Last week I was in Minneapolis visiting family — I basically stole time away for the trip since we didn’t go over the holidays. Next week I’m on vacation at an undisclosed sunny location for spring break, so this space may be quiet again.

10 Feb 2023

New Text

Here’s a new interview with me about Diminished Faculties.

And I have a newish piece with Mehak Sawhney on machine listening and the will to datafy. I’ll get it up on the site, but if you’re at a university, your library should get Kalfou. Happy to email PDFs to people, too. Just ask.

“I’m so busy”

In my experience academics love to talk about how busy they are. It can be a sort of performance/or olympics thing on social media or in conversation, a kind of protestant/grind culture thing (“spring break is a great time to get caught up on my email”), or a status game. Sometimes people are genuinely excited about what they’re doing and just reporting that (on social media this can be read in an unnecessarily hostile manner). We’re not unique if you look at hours logged in some corners of the tech industry, law, medicine, and other professions.

But there has been a shift since the pandemic. Now, more often, among many faculty and staff around me, protestations about busyness have taken on a tone of desperation: “help! how do I make it stop?” This is a labour-management problem. As administrations fail to replace staff and faculty, or do so with contingent or outsourced labour, more work gets dumped on everyone. It also seems admin jobs have shifted and in some cases also doubled–for instance, deans didn’t always spend so much time on fundraising. In my faculty, staff jobs have doubled and in some cases tripled in terms of responsibilities in the time I’ve been here. This has ramifications for everyone.

The solution to this problem is not complicated, but it is hard: labour organizing. Generally academic unions fight for tangible things: wages, benefits, etc. Management may concede some of these things, then create workarounds (like new job classes outside the bargaining unit). But I am curious what a quality of life academic union movement would look like.

h/t JRo

No, click here, not there.

I’ve also become fascinated with the increasing reliance on software-managed work processes over the last few years. They are, quite simply, everywhere. They also add needless cognitive load and box-ticking.

In the 2010s I spent a lot of time talking with people who design software for musicians and sound artists. To the one they identified with the group they were serving, and often used their own tools. When I look at the software systems universities and grant agencies ask me to interact with, it seems they are almost never designed by — or with — the actual people who use them.

Again, I suspect this is a labour-management issue, though you’d also have to add consultancy and conglomeration to the mix. There is a tangible difference from bloatware like MS Word. It’s design actually makes no sense from the standpoint of the people who have to use it the most. (See also: Canadian Common CV.)

The joy of rereading old work

This week I taught Trevor Pinch and Wiebe Bijker’s “The Social Construction of Facts and Artefacts” in my grad seminar. It’s interesting how things age, and what stories do and don’t get told about them. It had been a long time since I had revisited the essay. I forgot, for instance, how tentative they were about “relevant social groups” — famously sent up by Langdon Winner with his “irrelevant social groups” — and how clear they were that SCOT wasn’t just a model to stamp on everything.

Also, I could totally hear Trevor’s voice when, talking about the black boxing of scientific and technical processes, he wrote “they might as well be making meat pies.” I was supposed to be on a panel in 2004 discussing the 20th anniversary of that piece but something came up and I couldn’t go. For all the talk of FOMO, this is one of the few events I actually remember having missed.

Effortful Mastery

In the same seminar, we had a nice conversation about people encountering new ideas and going running for their bookshelves as a kind of defence mechanism. We’re used to being good at stuff and get impatient when we’re not.

See also: me muddling through Hard Red Spring songs on touch guitar in Tuesday’s practice. At least in Volte practice on Thursday I felt in command of the instrument and all was right in the world.

This comment is not promoting a product; oh shit it is

The Swedish design house Teenage Engineering, famous among musicians for a small synthesizer they make, announced a $1500(US) work table. All I can think of is the Hater’s Guide to the Williams-Sonoma Catalogue.

Power and Power

Last weekend we lost power for about 19 hours. On the second coldest day of the year. I did not like it. We should have crashed with friends (we had offers) or gone to a hotel. Instead we white knuckled it and slept in our clothes. Thanks to decent insulation it only got down to 13 degrees (celsius, people) but that’s pretty cold. I was very angry with the power company. I’m sure the people in Parc Ex, who were without power longer than me, had it worse. And it just shows how entitled people like me feel to infrastructure that works all the time and generally stays in the background. Everyone should have that entitlement; relatively few actually do. On the plus side, our fridge is now very clean and well-organized.

Not Doin McLuhan

A lot of people have a lot of feelings about the McLuhan Centre not being the McLuhan Centre anymore. Just please always remember: some of McLuhan’s most important ideas were really racist. Here’s a good thread.

Twitter Post condemning the McLuhan Estate’s childish behaviour and reactionary whining.