New publication

Well, the title here is misleading. I have a new article forthcoming on moderation (see the About page) but I co-wrote it four years ago.

It has been quite the journey to get it published. For a long time I considered it an example of how peer review occasionally doesn’t work, because I and my co-author are at that point in our careers when we can smell whether something is publishable or not. And this piece has always had that distinctive smell, but no one was biting. I’m glad that it will have an audience now.

Fall 2014

So I have four classes to teach this fall. Three are my bread and butter – ENG 3302 Business and Technical Report Writing – and the loner is ENG 3318 – Studies in English Grammar.

While I teach 3302 virtually every semester, I haven’t taught 3318 since 2010. It is a welcome return. It is a very meaty course, in the sense that there is a lot of material to cover in a very brief time, and it is a general delight for me to teach grammar.

I’m going to concentrate on teaching this semester, so some writing projects are going to have to rest on the back burner, as they say. But, you never know. Some of my most productive writing has been during semesters when I was managing a heavy teaching load and the mounds of grading that accumulate. It’s odd how that happens.

I hinted in my last post that I had done a lot of writing over the summer. That is true. I’m not yet ready to share what I did, though, so I’ll continue to be enigmatic.

Update

So the summer, at least for me, is winding down, and it is time to start thinking about the fall semester.

Sunny, one of our Boykin spaniels, torn her ACL about a week ago here in Memphis. As a result she’s had an operation to fix the issue, but the recovery period is very long; she will have to stay in Memphis for a time while we return to Houston.

Originally we weren’t supposed to be in Memphis this month, but H’s grandmother passed away, and we came up for the funeral, where I was a pallbearer.

In other news, I broke my usual rule of not writing during the summer in a spectacular fashion. More on the fruits of that as things develop.

Vacation almost over

H and I have almost completed our May vacation. We go see Eddie Izzard Sunday and then we will return.

I have read five books while on vacation, all by Joe Abercrombie. He has six; I read the first one, The Blade Itself, before I left. The strongest one of the lot was probably Best Served Cold, the fourth one, and the least impressive was the last, Red Country. I didn’t like it as much as the others because it tried to be both a western and a fantasy novel and didn’t quite succeed at either; leaning on all of the tropes of the western was an odd thing to do for an author who had been – successfully in my mind – getting around most of the stuffy tropes of fantasy in his earlier works. But overall I have to highly recommend Abercrombie to the fantasy buff – he’s a strong writer and probably will continue to be a strong writer in the future.

Summer teaching starts on June 2. The schedule is early in the morning – not my favorite time of day – but the classes are back-to-back and should go quickly.

Update

It has been awhile since I updated this site, so I should probably say something now that the situation has come to my attention.

I have two forthcoming articles now; the one in Rhetorica and another, co-authored, in Business and Professional Communication Quarterly.

This semester I’ve been working on a new article about Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca’s The New Rhetoric. It has been a very difficult piece to write, quite possibly the toughest I’ve encountered. Normally it takes me about a semester to write a new article, but as this spring is almost over, I will have to admit defeat in this case. The difficulty lies not in finding a line of argument, which I have found and I’m confident about, but in the supporting materials; there are very few people talking about what I’m discussing due to certain assumptions in the very core of the discipline of rhetoric. This translates into a disturbing lack of citations that I’m simply not used to. My first article had over 100 citations, and I’ve come to think that I need at least a decent fraction of that to proceed further. More simply put, I am feeling alone in the woods on this one and progress is slow. It may take me until the fall to finish, as I typically don’t do much writing over the summer for various idiosyncratic reasons.

In other news, this is the year that I go up for tenure. I turn in my application in early October. I have been pretty proactive in gathering up materials in the last year or so, so it should be a relatively simple matter of scanning documents (the file is completely online these days, as I understand it) and placing them in the proper order.

This semester is almost done, but I am scheduled to teach in the summer once again (June) for my usual two sections of Business and Technical Report Writing. They are both early morning classes, M-TH.

Thief

Concerning the new Thief game, Kotaku is flat-out negative, while RPS is more sanguine. Here’s another negative one. I can’t say I’m surprised it’s getting mixed-to-negative reviews. Anything more would be a miracle. But I’m in the mood where I could accept a flawed gem.

In any case, there is the Dark Mod to play, which I tried out last week. If the mainline game fails to meet expectations, I’ll be running through the fan missions that seem popular from the forum discourse. To be honest, I’ll do that anyway, regardless.

Reading again

I ordered a bunch of scifi books to read last week, because the gaming front has been slow (mostly waiting for the new Thief in late February) and I felt like it. I haven’t exactly been plowing through bestsellers in the last ten years, so it is going to take me awhile to discover who among the current crop  is good and who isn’t. That is always the most frustrating part of reading books for me – the uncertain quality of authors I haven’t read. Will the experience be worth the three-four hours it takes me to devour a novel? Reading journal articles is a little more profitable in that light, because they’re shorter and I can read the beginning and the end near-simultaneously without feeling cheated.

Most of the books have arrived already. I picked them by reading lists of ‘best in 2013′. I read three this weekend: The Frozen Sky by Jeff Carlson, Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie, and Brilliance by Marcus Sakey. They are three very different books, but because I read them more or less at the same time I can’t help but compare them against one another.

The Frozen Sky is a first contact story set on Europa. It is a hard scifi thriller, meaning there are more ideas and action than character. All we really learn about the protagonist is that she is determined, which goes without saying. Of the first contact genre, it is of the ‘can we talk to them meaningfully’ type. So I didn’t find it sufficiently original, though it was written competently. The challenge with hard scifi is linking it to a actual rather than puppet protagonist.

Ancillary Justice was more interesting. It is about a troopship AI that is reduced to inhabiting just one of its  many previously simultaneously operating parts – a ‘corpse soldier’ or ancillary – after the ship and all the rest of its ancillaries are destroyed. The motivation is revenge – seeking out those who destroyed the ship. Lots of discussion of ethics. Also interesting was the treatment of gender. The ruthless yet principled and music-loving AI is very bad at discerning gender, and refers to everyone as ‘she’, which can make for some frustrating but enjoyable reading. An original book, I think, with the author worth sampling again.

Brilliance was light sci-fi. Its plot is basically the X-men with a helping of Heroes. In the early eighties one in a hundred babies are born ‘brilliant’ – having some kind of advanced cognitive ability. The government attempts to control the most powerful of these with NSA-like agencies, killing some and indoctrinating the rest from an early age. The protagonist is one of these ‘abnorms’, able to see patterns, especially body gestures, with uncanny accuracy.  He works for the government but – unfortunately in a predictable way – finds himself having problems holding to that allegiance. I thought this was the best written and most enjoyable of the three books – it had a steady flow to it – but in many ways the least original and most predictable. Sakey has written some other things, which might be better.

I’ll write some more about the other books as I have time. I’m working on a very difficult article this semester, one I’m not sure is even going to get finished, and that among other problems has occupied my thoughts lately.

The Last of Us

I finished The Last of Us the other day on the PS3.

It is a very, very good game, one of the best I’ve ever encountered, but kinda rough on the emotions. It’s going to take some processing before I’m ready to play anything like it again. It is probably the most violent game I have ever played, and I use the word ‘violent’ in the emotional sense as well as the physical. Playing it for a few hours sends you on a bit of roller-coaster of fear and apprehension. My jaw hurt after each session, because I’d been unconsciously clenching my teeth while playing. That is immersion.

Saying even a little about the game here will easily spill over into spoiler-territory. H, watching me play, was less apprehensive  simply by virtue of reading the Wikipedia page and thus revealing the important plot points. I did not and experienced it directly. I can’t say if some advance warning for certain parts of the game might have helped with the mental bruising. I doubt it; it’s a very visceral experience.

So brief spoilers for those having played follow.

Obviously the opening sequence is particularly brutal and sets the tone of the entire game – bad things are going to happen. That said, the sequence below the hotel where you have to start up the generator was pretty scary, but it wasn’t anything I hadn’t felt before. The death of the little kid and his brother was horrific, but I saw it coming.

What really disturbed me, though, was the entire sequence in the abandoned restaurant, with David stalking Ellie. Now Ellie had more than taken care of herself up until that point – and continued to do so – but for god’s sake, she’s still 14. The real tragedy of that particular version of a zombie apocalypse is not humans killing other humans – that’s always going to happen – but 14-year-olds having to kill, and do it alone, as she does with David. Not to say that anything Joel does – murder, torture, etc – is automatically somehow more acceptable – he’s older, is all.

The ending, I thought, was particularly effective. There’s no big boss fight, no Ellie-kills-Joel or Joel-kills-Ellie. Just a quiet moment of realization about how complicated their relationship has become, to the point that Joel lies to her and she lies – at least in my mind – about believing it.

Saga

What’s in a word? Quite a bit of money. I’ve written about Candy Crush Saga here before. Now King has gone and done something with the boatloads of money it has earned from its titles that deserves major opprobrium: try to push around a indie PC studio whose game has nothing to do with clicking on candy. Stoic’s game, The Banner Saga, isn’t an iOS game. It’s an epic Viking narrative that I’ve played that actually knows what the word ‘saga’ means. Completely different market, type, platform, you name it. No way anyone’s ever going to confuse the two things – save a lawyer.

Oddly enough, giving someone a taste of power – in this particular example, a Scrooge McDuck level of money – transforms what should be the relatively ethical enterprise of making games into “defending trademark,” which is, I argue, an essentially odious activity that has zero to do with being human. Now King does face a real problem in that they are facing copycat titles that attempt to associate themselves with their brand. What do I have to say to that? Tough cookies.  It must be difficult to swim in that vault full of cash. So sad!

Temping and unions

This story reminds me of a union drive when I was a temp.

Right before I starting teaching as a TA in graduate school in Memphis, 2003-2004, I spent some time as a temp at a company called Solectron that repaired laptops, printers, and Xboxes. I made about $10.50 an hour doing warranty repair on a variety of IBM Thinkpads and some Gateway laptops. With a BA and experience as a technical editor and writer, I was taking a pretty big hit to the paycheck, but jobs were hard to find and I had retreated back to Memphis, ready to accept anything that came along.

It was a bit like I would imagine working in an medieval guild; in the middle of a huge warehouse, we sat closely together at long work benches and had the laptops delivered to us on wheeled racks throughout the day. I usually worked the 7-4 shift. The job was very fast-paced. We were trained to fix a laptop in less than an hour; we practiced by taking apart and putting back together various models over and over until the motions became second nature. To this day I could take apart a T or X series in seconds. And we needed that speed, because while I was there, we went from 8 laptops fixed in a day to 10 and sometimes 12. Older workers told me it had used to be 6. There was constant pressure to increase productivity, because as I understood it through rumors that swept across the warehouse floor from bench to bench, as well as official pronouncements, that Solectron wasn’t doing well and had mishandled its contract negotiations with IBM and Compaq and HP and Microsoft, leaving scant money for temps, especially hiring them full-time. So I figured out that speed and accuracy would help me keep my job, but the chance of a raise or advancement was zero. At one point I was the fastest repairer in the IBM section, but I deliberately slowed down, realizing (too slowly for my taste, looking back) that I was getting nothing out of it.

Anyway, at one point while I was there, a union drive started. It was limited to the full-timers; the many temps would not get a vote. In any case, FTers and temps were steered into rooms where we watched some really bad anti-union videos and were lectured on the evils of unions, including the reality that the plant would close if the union was let in – what the article above calls a “captive audience meeting.” I said nothing; I needed my job a little longer until I had 18 graduate hours and could teach, and as a temp,  I couldn’t vote anyway. In any case, the union drive failed by a huge margin.

I took another pay cut when I left; teaching as a TA at the UofM, while a lot of fun, paid perhaps half that of temping, and provided no summer employment, which I always had to scramble for.

I’m not saying my time as a temp was bad – it filled a space when I really needed work, allowed me to maintain an apartment and a car, and mostly worked with a night graduate school schedule – but I was well underpaid, as I’m sure that Amazon pickers and other warehouse employees are.

pay no attention to that man behind the curtain