And for the Record

Even though I love the Minnesota Vikings and will rejoice if they win the Super Bowl, 8-8 teams do not belong in the NFL playoffs. The NFL should do what the CFL does and move teams with a better record into the other conference for playoffs.

PS — The NFL’s tiebreaking procedures read like a surrel poem. My favorite is the last one: any remaining ties will be decided with a coin flip.

A New Museum

School started and so far so good. Despite the fact that McGill decided to have Monday classes on Tuesday this week, everything seems to be going okay. The students liked my first day sound and light show (even without the original soundtrack) and I’ve finally managed to begin putting my office together and decorating it. Yes, the place was a complete mess all fall. Since I keep most of my books at home, I’ve got some shelf space available in my office for other purposes. And so, I present to you

The Museum of Quirky Communication Technologies, With a Special Focus on Obsolescence

Pictures coming soon. So far, I have in my collection:

–an old portable typewriter, complete with “The Future at Your Fingertips” brochure
–two cardboard containers for cylinder records
–a 300 baud external Hayes Smartmodem
–a betamax video tape
–light-up devil horns (quirky, but not obsolete)
–a garish orange rotating optical-illusion generator (quirkly, looks retro but isn’t)
–a spring-loaded “hearing aid” (never worked)

I am looking for donations of communication technologies (broadly construed) that meet the following criteria:

–must not be too large or too tall (the typewriter is on the big and heavy side, though I do have a special place in my heart for weird old vaccuum tube equipment)
–preferrably obsolete, but quirky is acceptable
–decent condition and does not smell unpleasantly
–should not be worth much money
–must not get me fired

EXAMPLES: one of my TAs may have an old Atari controller and cartridge hanging around her apartment. If I’d know I was going to do this, I would have never given away the old Atari when I moved to Canada. Or the weird, micro-size 1993 laptop with mini-keys. Ah well.

Please contact me by email at jonathan at sterneworks dot org if you think you’ve got something suitable. I’m so not kidding about this. This is the best interior decoration idea I’ve had in a long time.

I have one item that stays at the apartment, though: the talk back skull, which repeats everything you say a half-octave lower (alternate link just because this thing is so fun — it’s a hit with children and grandparents).

Ah, the New Year

Well, once again I’ve demonstrated that I don’t blog on vacation. Such is life. We spent six days in Minneapolis and let me tell you they were BUSY. Busy socializing, that is. Between my family and Carrie’s parents (both divorced and repartnered) and our old friends, there were lots of people to see and we never really have enough time for everyone. But it was a welcome respite from school and everyone seems to be doing wonderfully, even Carrie’s dad who is recovering (surprisingly quickly, it turns out) from a motorcycle accident. My mom had a knee replacement and is also doing well, but not surprisingly so. So I won’t say Minnesota was relaxing, but it did give me some needed distance from my “normal life.”

I wish I had something profound to say about the Tsunami, but I don’t. And I’m pretty annoyed at the way it’s getting played out in the op-ed pages. When I can figure out who will make the best use of my money, I’ll send some.

I have no New Year’s Resolutions, mostly because I think New Year’s is an over-hyped holiday (as opposed to Halloween, which is just cool). As usual in 2005, I will try to work less, lose weight, etc. etc. The big thing for me is the hope that 2005 will be less crazy that 2003 or 2004. We made the big move here, and I am looking forward to hanging out in the town, enjoying the company of other people, putting together a newish course (1), working on the next book, and not spending the summer making my first international move (as opposed to 2004). It did take me by surprise when on Christmas day, a relative asked about my “goals” now that Carrie and I have landed the holy grail of two academic jobs in the same place — a feat that some couples spend their careers pursuing. I told him I had no idea. Compared to two-jobs-in-one-place-thing, I’ve got nothing at the moment. I’m just settling in and taking stock of the situation. Which is just fine with me.

Speaking of the new course (and of RECORDING, which I am now fully set up to do), I learned yesterday that I am not yet a good enough recordist to work “on deadline.” I came up with the idea for a powerpoint presentation with music and narration by me to start the course — a sort of automatic first lecture. Think of it as a slightly tongue-in-cheek filmstrip. So I got a tasty groove together (I absolutely LOVE the SupaTrigga plugin) Alas, the downside to DIY recording is doing it all yourself, and it took more tries to get the voiceover right than I’d planned. I’m still not happy with it. Then there’s the mix, the various bass parts (low sounds awesome, piccolo bass need some work, AND I appear to have misplaced my slide in the move), and editing the loops just right. Then there’s the images and timing them just right. To have it ready Tuesday I’d spent all my time doing that and not doing things like, say, catching up on recommendations, mailing people about various academic tasks, paying bills and doing the REST of the course prep I have to do. Maybe next year. Of course, maybe next year it could be a whole video. That’s the ambition talking. The good news is that I have a good first day lecture, and I got to toy around in the studio and spend more time learning Digital Performer 4.5, which has some nice enhancements from 3.11, but also moved stuff around on the menu. That always slows me down.

———-

1. It’s History of Communications. I taught something like it in 1996-7, but that’s too long ago (especially in terms of my development as a teacher) not to totally revamp the course.

Canadian Healthcare: First Report

I’m not a big fan of going to the doctor for reasons that I will narrate in another entry, probably when I finally visit a primary care physician.

But I go when I must, and indeed an ear infection (“external otitis” as I would later learn) and an overdue flu shot were enough to motivate me to make a visit. Quebec has these lovely neighborhood clinics called CSLCs. It is possible to make appointments, but like everywhere else (including my primo healthcare in the US), you’ve got to wait a bit. However, you can also walk in during office hours and be seen in the order that you arrive. They can see about 16 patients a day, so I guess I’ll want to make sure I get there early from now on.

Now, FINDING my local CLSC was a bit of a trick. A google search for “CSLC” and “Montreal” gives you nothing useful, and canada411.ca is also a bit unreliable. I did eventually call one in the right region, and they directed me to the one closest to me. It would be a few minutes’ walk, though I drove since I had to go buy office paper and bass strings after my doctor visit. Upon arriving, the security guard told me where to sign in, and the receptionist spoke good enough English that I didn’t have any problems. I could see a doctor today, no problem, but no slots for flu shots were available until January 6th. The main problem with waiting is that I would have to face my mom in Minnesota without having had my annual flu shot.

The waiting rooms and examining rooms look quite similar to the family practice clinics I’d visited over the years in the US. Except that the staff wore street clothes. They all had special tags so I knew they were staff, but none of the white coats and blue scrubs here. I waited about 15 minutes after signing in, saw a triage nurse who made a “hmmm” noise when she looked in my ear which suggested that I did indeed need to see a doctor. Her English wasn’t that great, so we communicated in a broken Franglais, but she was very nice and helpful. I learned that “la salle” (which just means “room” in the dictionary) can mean “waiting room” at a doctor’s office, and so did she. I waited another 40 minutes and had the pleasure of working through an advisee’s dissertation chapter, and then finally got called in to see a doctor. She spoke very good English and gave me the same examination and made the exact same noise when she looked in my left ear. I got my prescription. I also asked if there was any way they could sneak me in for a flu shot. She talked to a nurse and within moments I was getting the shot. 15 minutes and $10 later (and they were very apologetic for charging me) I was out the door with a prescription and a flu shot. Later, at the pharmacy, I paid $18 up front for the ear drops, which will be reimbursed by my insurance company.(1)

All in all, when you add up copays and the like, today’s experience cost me less than it would in the U.S., and the difference is that I would have to be privately insured in the US to even have the privilege of paying for the “copays.” Here, I could have been anybody and gotten the same level of care. And I didn’t need an appointment.

The quest for a regular “primary care physician” is still on, though. My Canadian friends don’t recommend going to CSLCs for anything much more serious than what I had today, but everyone who’s new in town (and some who aren’t) have complained to me about the difficulty of finding a “regular” doctor. I was pretty surprised to find that people who have been living here for quite awhile sometimes don’t have a doctor to whom they refer as “their” doctor. I have a tip, though, and I’ll report back on that saga in January, when I try to get an appointment for an annual checkup.

Carrie’s encounters with the health system are a little more interesting and elaborate, since she’s diabetic. But if she ever has a guest blog, you’ll hear the story from her. The short version is that she spent a lot of time early in the fall figuring everything out, getting insulin pump supplies is a little more bureaucratically complicated here but can be done, the care seems decent enough. Except that the hospital where she went looks like ass compared to the shiny, gleaming private hospitals in the U.S.

We have not yet rented Barbarian Invasions.

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1. On top of provincial insurance, Canadians can get private insurance to cover additional things, like costs of medicine, private hospital rooms, insurance abroad, etc. McGill offers such insurance as a benefit, and you’d better believe that both Carrie and I took it. Especially after I broke a 103 degree fever in Barcelona a couple years ago. It was like my own personal SARS.

Is the Casino Bot Bored, on Christmas Break, or Vanquished?

As of this moment, there are ZERO, count ’em ZERO comments on my last post, which means that the spam bot has not visited sterneworks in the last day.

I have only three thoughts:

1. It is a pleasure to finally be able to take the time to deal with things I’ve been wanting to deal with for months. I always feel a special sense of accomplishment when I send the “final” version of a piece off to a journal for publication. Of course, they could always tell me it’s too long or something, but I’m happy with it.

2. There are cool ice patterns on some of our windows, and the main room of the loft is actually drafty, which probably means it’s extremely cold outside. I’ll find out later when we take a dessert and the cat in the hat over to David and Lisa’s place in NDG.

3. The Ricky Williams interview on 60 Minutes wasn’t as great as it could have been. I never go for the eastern spirituality thing and Mike Wallace was dumb and patronizing, but Williams had two good comebacks (both paraphrased):

“When would it have been okay for me to quit? When both my knees went out?”

and when asked if he ever used more dangerous, addictive drugs than marijuana, he replied “sometimes I have a sugary dessert or drink a glass of wine.”

Overall, the piece was pretty lousy journalism, since it didn’t really talk about Williams’ previous problems with the game.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Williams goes back to football. Which is kind of too bad since his manner of quitting is so endearing. At least Robert Smith and Barry Sanders aren’t going back.

Brilliant? Upsetting? You Decide

http://www.angryalien.com/0704/alienbunnies.html

WARNING: graphic cartoon violence awaits you, but no more graphic than anything that happened in the movie Alien.

Accomplishments of the weekend:

–Two consecutive nights of socializing (note: social life less of an issue since end of semester, Thursday was deliberately taken off)
–Discovery of Lombardi Italian Restaurant
–Made Baby’s First Powerpoint Movie — with soundtrack (still hoping to have a first day sound and light show for the undergrads)
–Visited Geoff Stahl’s new blog. Became jealous of sexy look (though glowing text is harder to read!) and learned the WordPress does convert b2 files. Have no idea when I will have time to switch or upgrade the site before summer. It may have to wait.
–Reread old social construction of technology lit, overhyped essay by Bruno Latour in last winter’s Critical Inquiry
–Was charmed by early SCOT essays, reminded of why they are cool.
–Was annoyed by Latour’s politics, fawning over military strategists (like they’ve done such a good job the past few years), and God talk.
–Overwrote on introduction to After Social Construction issue of Social Epistemology. Will probably need to edit. Probably due to annoyance with Latour.
–Watched some football both Saturday and Sunday, looking forward to Peyton Manning breaking touchdown pass record tonight
–Compiled all sorts of demographic statistics on Canadian media use from Statistics Canada and other readily accessible sources. Fun fact: in 1998, the same number of Canadians (roughly) reported reading a book as going to a movie. See, this country is different from the United States.
–Will shortly cook excellent risotto

Media Blog

Medium 1: Television: The Indecency of Indecency Complaints

This news has been out for about a week but I somehow missed it, until today. It turns out over 99% of that famed “surge in indecency complaints” to the FCC are the work of a single activist group. The original report was in MediaWeek, though it’s now all over the web. Once again, this is an example of why I think PR is even more of a problem for political discourse than media concentration. For months, the press and conservatives have been going on about how there’s a sea-change in public opinion regarding TV content — and using the rise in complaints to the FCC as their evidence — when in fact it a giant lie orchestrated by people who know they are in the minority and choose to deceive the press into reporting otherwise because they cannot legitimately persuade people of their positions. Whew. OK.

Incidentally, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned him before, but the Globe and Mail‘s TV critic John Doyle is awesome. His column was my original source on this, and he marvelously skewers the latest FCC investigation into whether — get this — the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games were indecent. Honestly, I think it’s all a smokescreen so that people don’t start asking questions about what the FCC did not regulate.

Medium 2: Computers: Early Mousing

Steven Rubio posted a link to this set of videos at Stanford in his blog, and it is one of the coolest things I’ve seen on the web. It at http://sloan.stanford.edu/mousesite/1968Demo.html but for some reason my link doesn’t work. You can paste the link into your browser, though. It’s a 1968 demonstration by Stanford Computer Scientist Doug Englebart of a computer and interface setup that had been in use since 1962. The technology they are demonstrating? Cut-and-Paste word processing, mousing around the screen, and hyperlinking. Yeah, it’s not all prettied up like modern interfaces, but the essential characteristics are all there. AND, on his left hand, there’s a cool keyboard thingy, though in the end, the function keys on our modern keyboards do just as well. The videos are pretty dry, but pretty wild.

Medium 3: The Web: WebCT vs. Plone

WebCT is one brand of giant software program designed to manage and standardize online components of college/university courses. The design task is nearly impossible: on one end, the designers must make the interface easy enough for professors who have no web or programming experience but who might want to put aspects of their courses online. In the design lingo, it has to be “idiot proof” while still maintaining some flexibility. Then there’s me, on the other end of the spectrum. At my last job, I simply designed the websites for my courses from the ground up. I used a little bit of Blackboard (one of WebCT’s competitors) in my Media&Music course at Pitt, but otherwise did the truly massive MassComm website via Dreamweaver (started on PageMill in 1999) and sometimes by hand.

WebCT looks like a piece of software designed sometime in the 1990s. Its interface allows for little flexibility in areas where it could easily allow more. There’s actually a lot of guesswork built into the interface. Actions that plausibly might be repeated require several steps (like uploading files to the server if you want to code some of them yourself, as I do). Obvious, c ommon features are missing — for instance, it is impossible for even the course designer (me) to edit posts in the discussion board. Other pages, like the homepage, have “wizards” but surprised me by actually requiring some .html knowledge to get the text formatted correctly. Not a problem on my end, but doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole point of a “wizard” for the uninitiated?

McGill provides WebCT training, which I skipped. When I called tech support a couple days ago to ask questions, the support person was skeptical when I told her that. But once she heard my questions, she understood — every one required her to call the programmers, and all but one returned an answer of “no, you can’t do that.” And I was asking about stuff like editing discussion board messages or controlling the number of chatrooms on my course site.

The other thing I don’t like about the private aspect of course websites is that they restrict access. I can’t even show the course to my friends or colleague without giveng them special access. Which is absurd. Again, my old courses are up on the web for all to see.

I chose to develop my undergrad course on WebCT instead of on Sterneworks for two reasons: a) because it is theoretically more convenient for students to use; b) because I am contractually obligated to use WebCT for one of my courses in exchange for a free laptop. I also hear an update is coming sometime this summer, which may resolve some of these issues. If not, I may start to look for my own alternatives in the future.

That rant was so long that I won’t even get into my experience with ‘Plone for the Bad Subjects site. Suffice it to say that ‘Plone is infinitely more flexible, and seems to allow for all sorts of modifications. To be fair — it is beyond my current level of expertise, but that’s just because I haven’t learned the new protocols of xhtml (or rss, or the code to get rid of the casinos) yet.