Archive for category Reading

Mapping some Familiar Mark Z. Danielewski Tweets

A few days ago, I stumbled across a Twitter conversation about House of Leaves. That’s generally enough to get my attention. The people involved were an added enticement. But the conversation among Jesse Stommel, Chuck Rybak, Sean Michael Morris, and Paul Benzon took a different direction when Paul asked, if anyone had “theories on what’s up with the MZD numerical tweets?

This was the first that I had heard anything about this, so I quickly checked out Mark Z. Danielewski’s tweet stream. And it was very quickly apparent what Paul was talking about. MZD’s last 8 tweets have been a string of numbers. When I looked at them, my immediate thought was that they had to be linked to The Familiar, his 27-volume serial novel that should start being published in 2014. My second thought was that these numbers looked suspiciously like latitude and longitude.

I had a little bit of time that morning, so I quickly ducked into Google Maps to see what I could find out. The first of his numerical tweets appeared on 17 January 2013: 48-371204-9-7265. I decided to replace the dashes with commas and periods, and entered these coordinates: 48.371204,9.7265. A spot in the forest southwest of Schelklingen, Germany was the result. Easy enough. The second site was in Alles-sur-Dordogne, France.

The fourth tweet was a little more complicated, as it presented an em-dash instead of a dash in the middle of the tweet: 63-84823—20-8712. I decided that the em-dash was most likely a way of signaling a negative value for the longitude, and tried 63.84823,-20.8712. That seemed to work, placing me in Iceland; but to be sure, I removed the negative value, and found the spot in the ocean off Sweden. The sixth tweet contained a similar em-dash, and similarly dropped me in the ocean when I removed the negative. The same thing happened with the most recent tweet, which featured a negative sign at the front of the longitude.

So here are all eight locations:

View MZD Tweets mapped in a larger map

The locations are rather diverse, although only on three out of seven continents thus far. I suspect that we’ll see more places mapped soon. MZD has been tweeting once every two weeks, so I think in another 10 days or so I’ll be adding another location to this map.

It’s certainly possible that I’m completely wrong about these numbers being spatial coordinates. And they don’t begin to explain why he is tweeting a blank, black image along with every set of numbers. But if I’m wrong, I’ll be in good company. Someone blogging at had noticed the tweets before I did and had come to the same conclusion about them being best understood in relation to a map. There is, naturally, a post on the MZD forums, on the subject as well. Update: And, it turns out, some steganographic analysis that has been done on Reddit. 10 points to Paul for finding that as well.

It’s worth looking around the locations. Zach Whalen noticed, for example, that there seem to be several loops or circles near each point. That would work well with some of MZD’s thematics. But again, allways, and allready one must be wary of apophenia.

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Graphic Novels for 9 Year Olds

My oldest recently turned 9. And with birthdays, it turns out, come gifting opportunities. While there are always some good standbys for him (e.g., LEGO), he’s really been enjoying the Tin Tin collections from our public library. Since it’s been hard to get him to read long narratives—or even listen to them—we have been excited to encourage him. And so I took to Twitter to get recommendations for something age appropriate.

[blackbirdpie url=”!/briancroxall/status/176492749648953344″]

As I’ve come to expect from the great real-time community of Twitter, I got a lot of suggestions that were new to me. I also got more than a few requests to share all of the suggestions. So here’s a condensed list of everything that was mentioned:

Now, I know that some of these are comics or comic strips rather than graphic novels proper. But since they were suggested, I’m including them just the same. And there were some overwhelming winners on this list. I’ve ordered it roughly with the volumes with got the most mentions toward the top. Without question, Asterix & Obelix, Bone, and Tin Tin got the most votes.

There were also some suggestions for graphic novels that people acknowledged were probably too old for 9 year olds, but here they are for the record:

If you want to see the original tweets that led to this list, as well as who suggested what, check out the Storify I made with all the tweets. Apologies for not citing you all by name in this space, but I want to get this published.

Ultimately, we ended up getting him the first Asterix & Obelix omnibus (which has 3 different stories in it) and Super Dinosaur. Both have been great hits. We were also able to get Owly and almost all the Tin Tin volumes from the library. I’ll be hunting for more soon.

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Guest Post: Pick 13 at MLA 2011

The following is a guest post from MLA Executive Director, Rosemary Feal. Rosemary asked on Twitter yesterday if anyone would be willing to post a short guest post from her on his or her blog. I volunteered, and the rest is history. If you want to play along, you can find the 2011 MLA Convention program here [PDF]. –BC

It’s easy to cherry-pick 13 sessions for the purpose of finding plays on words, references to popular culture, use of specialized vocabulary, or titles that, well, just sound alien. Or are about aliens. Zombies, even.

What would happen if I picked 13 sessions entirely at random, I wondered? So I went to and asked it to choose 13 numbers between 1 and 821 (821 was the last session number on the MLA convention program). Here’s what it came up with. Try this at home, kids, and report in!
~ Rosemary G. Feal

466. Teaching Asian American Literatures

7. German in the Life of the University: A View from the Trenches

751. Writing and Curatorship: The History of the Book

249. Career Options in Translation for Language Students

67. Modernist Transnationalism and Japanese Noh: (Mis)Translating Culture in Yeats, Pound, Konishi

345. Psychoanalysis and Love

711. Literature before the Social Sciences

449. Where Are We Now? Ecocriticism and Narrative Scholarship

31. In and out of the Archive: Biography, Autobiography, and Constructing the “Self”

457. African American Literature on the Pacific Rim

115. Sephardic Resurgence!

37. Teaching the Senior Seminar

637. Narrating Lives from East to West (1400–1700)

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WordPress Books

Last week I asked several people on Twitter if they could recommend any books on WordPress. We’re working to more effectively implement a WP Install at Emory for faculty use and for low-key digital scholarship projects. (Bigger projects will most likely be running on Omeka.) A few others asked that I make the list available once I’d collected it, so I’m taking this opportunity to do just that. These books are listed in the order the recommendations came in.

  1. Ethan Watrall recommends Head First WordPress by Jeff Siarto.
  2. Dimitrios Diamantaras recommends Smashing WordPress by Thord Daniel Hedengren.
  3. Bill Wolff recommends WordPress For Dummies, 3rd Edition by Lisa Sabin-Wilson.
  4. Boone Gorges recommends Professional WordPress by Hal Stern, David Damstra, and Brad Williams.

In an ideal world, I would be able to purchase all of these texts, and I’m trying to ascertain what the library budget will countenance. If it comes down to my ranking them in the order of preference, however, I will probably rank them as follows: 3, 1, 4, 2.  But that ranking is simply based on what I’ve been able to learn about each text as I’ve read through different reviews of their contents and their approaches.

It’s worth mentioning that a number of people whose Word Press-fu I admire chimed in to say that they didn’t use books. Jeremy Boggs and Amanda French both indicated that they haven’t really used books in the past. Instead, they turn to online resources when they have questions they can’t crack. Amanda specifically referred to the WordPress Codex as a helpful place to go for information. Moaçir de Sá Pereira recommended New2WP as a place that he’s used on on more than one occasion. And Boone reminded me that his own blog, Teleologistic has descriptions of interesting WP hacks.

I think that when I asked the question, I was hoping that there would be some consensus as to which source would be the best for learning more than I do at the moment. Absent that, I look forward to drawing on all the different options as I get my hands dirtier. I do think that a book will be what I’m after at first just so I can avoid switching back and forth between browser tabs.

If we’ve missed some of the texts that you think are critical on WordPress, please let me know. (Here’s where you can see that I’ve been writing for ProfHacker for quite some time: I can’t end a blog post without an an appeal to the imagined reader.)

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Adjuncts –> The Glenn Beck-ification of Cultural Commentary

One of the Big Issue books to hit academia this year is Louis Menand’s The Marketplace of Ideas. The book got some notice at the close of 2009 when an excerpt–“The Ph.D. Problem“–was published in Harvard Magazine. In this article, Menand argues that the production of people holding the doctorate is broken due to the length of time required to complete the degree and the lack of job prospects facing those who emerge. Menand’s solution to the problem is to admit fewer people to doctoral programs and to shorten the time to degree.

I haven’t had the opportunity to read the rest of Menand’s book, but in connection with the recent 10-day seminar for CLIR Postdoctoral Fellows, I did read two different reviews of it. And it’s on one of those reviews–Anthony Grafton’s “Humanities and Inhumanities” in The New Republic–that I want to comment. These comments originate in something I briefly wrote for the CLIR seminar and in kinship with Mark Sample’s assertion that such informal writing is “the first drafts of scholarship,” I’m not going to clean them up that much. I’d rather circulate the ideas and revise as I get input.
After reading Grafton’s review of Menand’s book, I’m a bit puzzled. I don’t really take issue with his characterization of Menand’s argument as “curiously apathetic, and almost complacent.” But I don’t really see Grafton making much of an impact himself. After all, Menand makes a suggestion for changing something in the system (to wit, shortening graduate school). Grafton offers nothing except to say that (1) graduate school should be difficult, as “it is designed–badly, and clumsily, but not insanely [sic]–to attract and then to test people who think they have this sort of calling”–with his reference to a sense of a “call” and “conviction” sounding suspiciously close to the “love” that is supposed to motivate humanists and which Thomas H. Benton has skewered in The Chronicle; (2) that humanists must work to collaborate with others to try to create new pathways for knowledge–although he is remarkably (and admittedly) short on the details as to how this should happen; and that humanists “must learn how to use–and to create–new digital tools.” This last point is absolutely correct, but again he’s got no details to work on except for a vague notion of what we should all do and the recognition that including these tools in graduate education is going to make things “harder, since it will require even more skills than before.”

Forgive me if I sound defeated, Mr. Grafton, but I think I prefer Menand’s solution. At least he has the guts to offer us something we haven’t tried in a while. There’s been plenty done to make the humanities Ph.D. as difficult as possible, and it hasn’t really effected change. That being said, I don’t really believe that Menand’s answer is correct. But Grafton seems emblematic of what frequently plagues the humanities: we are far too good at being critics and far too unpracticed in the work of (artistic / tool) creation.

What seems to be called for at this moment of professional and personal destruction created by graduate school in the humanities is a real revision to how things have been done. Unfortunately, I too am a better critic than I am creator. But I know other people with good ideas, and one of them is Ian Bogost, who wrote a fantastic essay in January of this year that posited the problem with the humanities is the humanists themselves. Grafton should read “The Turtlenecked Hairshirt“; it’s shorter than Menand, and it ends with a solution to our increasing irrelevance (i.e., detachment) from the world around us: stop trying to be separate from (read, “above”) most of the rest of humanity.

But Bogost’s piece isn’t a very specific answer to how we’re going to fix things either. For that, perhaps we should turn to Marc Bousquet, who has written about how the university works (blog and book) and has suggested that the problems of the contingent faculty class could simply be done away with if we made all adjuncts into “real” faculty. It’s obvious that there is a great need for teachers since more than 70% of undergrads in the US are taught by contingent faculty. If we would pay people equitably (and then either subsidized or charged students for the real cost of an education), we would solve the problem facing the humanities at the present. No more cannibalizing the young.

I believe that this employment balance has a lot to do with how we are perceived by the nation as a whole. How, in other words, can we expect the nation at large to take us seriously as people who are able to comment on the acts of humans in context of a broader cultural moment if we outsource the teaching of this cultural critique to underpaid non-faculty? If we are outsourcing the teaching and interpretation of this context and history, why shouldn’t the rest of the nation outsource the role that humanists have traditionally played? Talk radio and shout television are, in part, the products of this outsourcing. We have Glenn Beck, in other words, because we have too many adjuncts.

I realize that such a comment may open me up to Bogost’s critique–and in truth, I don’t believe that only Ph.D.s are uniquely endowed to comment on culture. But is it any coincidence that the cultural role of the humanist has become marginzalized as those who teach the humanities become invisible and impermanent? Why should students or anyone else listen to someone whose own institution will not give her a job?

Perhaps neither Menand’s nor Grafton’s solutions (shorter graduate school or persistently lengthy graduate school) will fix this impasse. But it were a far, far better thing to do something than to do that nothing which we have already done.

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