And to think we knew her before she made it big.

29 09 2011

Our pal Music for Deckchairs has been named one of Australia’s Top Ten Social Media Influencers by the Guardian. To top things off, she’s also in Sweden this week. [I want to go to Sweden! Of course, it’s pretty hard to name a place in the world where I don’t want to go.] While in Sweden, she’s writing about holding class through video conferencing:

But there’s something about the strange warping of distance and time that occurs when you can see someone sitting in a room on the other side of the country or the world, and you know that they’ve organised themselves to be there when you are. It’s not that different from the small jolt of simultaneity that happens when you catch someone on skype or, 15 years ago, when I taught out in the wilds of IRC.

What moves people about co-presence in time is just that: presence. The other person is there, awake, breathing, thinking, doing stuff, responding, exactly when you are. This is the here-and-now of being human at all that somehow can survive without co-location, and it can even survive when the other person can’t be seen or heard, but simply writes to you when you are sitting there waiting to hear from them.

While I’m tempted to make apropos pop-cultural references to the Buggles and the best Debbie Harry movie of all time, I really can’t muster up the energy because I don’t find MfD’s comments in the least bit incorrect or threatening. As I explained in a quick comment at her place, this stuff is far too expensive to catch on in America. I’ll elaborate here.

Earlier this year, when I was actually considering an online/distance education overload in order to raise some extra money to send my child through college with as little debt as possible, this was the kind of course that our people wanted me to do. It would have scheduled real time meetings with me in Pueblo and students literally all over the world. I was told that they had spared no expense with the technology, and I’d have all the help I’d need to make it work. This wasn’t going to be like Skype, where you can’t see past right in front of the computer screen. This was going to be the real deal.

“Can the students talk to each other?,” I asked. They said no, and that’s why I did too.

Class by video has so many real advantages. Real time conversation is probably the most obvious one, but as long as students can’t talk to each other it’s still inferior to face-to-face interaction. Is anybody going to bother throwing Coke cans at one another if they’re not in the same room? Ironically, the kind of direct interaction I’m looking for here has got to be easier and cheaper when everyone’s logging into a computer platform together, but it appears that real interactive video networking is too expensive as of yet (otherwise we’d have bought the technology to do so).

Even supposing students can get by using cheap web cams, the cost of turning every university classroom into a studio has got to be astronomical. In my place, they’re looking towards one studio with each professor getting their scheduled hour one after another. What happens when they all want 7PM in the evening? What happens when all the students want 7PM in the evening? How many studios does a tele-university need to have? In short, there are no economies of scale here, which is precisely why I predict it will never catch on in American higher ed.

On a related note, Natalia Cecire dropped in here with a long comment on the post I based on her excellent discussion of what I called the Digital Humanities backlash. This is the part of that which really crystalizes the very few differences that I have with Australia’s new social media superstar:

One very useful point that you raise is the distinction between DH and “online education”; one is an area of inquiry; the other is a business “solution.”

Private or public, the entire point of online education in the United States is to make it possible for universities to do more with less. In the for-profit sector, the savings go to the stockholder. In the traditional bricks and mortar sector, the savings go for whatever the administration wants (which is often more bricks and mortar, or perhaps just a climbing wall for the student rec center). Where they don’t go is more investment in instruction, which if you ask me is precisely the problem.

More power to all the Australians and the Swedes who choose to do distance education right, but I have no hope that will ever happen here. In the American context techno-skepticism with respect to online education is not just a self-interested job protection philosophy, I also think it’s the side of the angels.


Best. Wombat picture. Ever.

10 11 2009

As a well-known wombat fan, I was particularly struck by this picture:


The post at the Book Bench which this comes from is also very interesting.

Luna Park (Sydney) in red.

23 09 2009


What amazes me about the dust storm in Sydney is that it rained harder than cats and dogs almost every day in the month of May while I was there. Where did all that water go?

Update: My friend Greg in Sydney says the drought is inland and the wind is blowing the sand all the way to the coast. It’s just like the Dust Bowl!

Second Update: From City of Sound:

The dust came from South Australia, via the distant mining town of Broken Hill. The distances involved here are indeed vast. The dust cloud covered half of New South Wales and then stretched 600km up the coast to Queensland, where it would later appear in Brisbane in an altogether yellower guise. It had travelled around 1500km to get to Sydney, dropping millions (billions?) of tons of dust over the east coast.

It’s almost beyond comprehension that the dust filling the air is from that far away; that you’re inhaling South Australia. It’s akin to the notion that you’re constantly breathing in detritus from the Big Bang.

Cairns pictures.

7 06 2009

Cairns was the second and last stop during our trip to Australia. It is the main access point for the Great Barrier Reef. Alas, I didn’t have an underwater camera while snorkeling, but I can show you some other sites from around town:

Anybody know what kind of tree that is?:


Why is there no swimming at the beach in Cairns?:


Little old me again:


More Australia photos from Jaclyn’s camera.

6 06 2009

A better picture of the Archibald Fountain in Sydney’s Hyde Park:


Unnamed sea creature from Ocean World in Manly:


Everett in the Chinese Garden at Darling Harbour:


Luna Park, Sydney.

5 06 2009

I’m back from Australia now, but I have so much material stuff from the trip will still be dribbling out of here for weeks. None of the Australia posts I’ve done so far have actually been historical but Luna Park is. I thought it was a copy of an American amusement park. It is, but it actually dates from the 1930s!




More Australia pictures (finally)

26 05 2009

Part of the Archibald Fountain in Hyde Park, Sydney:


My son Everett feeding a kangaroo:


The rain forest in the Blue Mountains:


Two tasmanian devils.

26 05 2009

The one everyone knows:


The real one:


And a little natural history straight from Slate:

The world’s most famous Tasmanian devil, the character Taz from Looney Tunes, is aggressive and excitable. Are the real ones like that, too?

Yes, especially when feeding. Although devils do hunt other animals—wallabies, possums, and wombats are especially attractive—they’re primarily scavengers. They scavenge in groups of five to 12, possibly because it’s easier to pull apart a carcass together than alone. The competition for limited resources makes each devil highly protective of its share of the food. While eating, they emit a blood-curdling screech and nip at one another’s faces, often drawing blood.

Mating is also a violent process. Males fight over females, and whoever wins grabs the female by the scruff of her neck and drags her back to a den, where they mate. (Watch two male devils fight over a female here.) The male must then defend the female during her 21-day gestation period, lest other males come and try to mate with her, too. The babies also have to fight one another—female devils give birth to 40 or 50 young every season, all of whom must compete for their mother’s four teats.

The article goes on to say that they’re timid and withdrawn when not feeding or mating, just like the ones we’ve seen here in wildlife parks. I’ll have to wait for another trip to go to Tasmania itself.

With the pigeons.

14 05 2009


Sydney has got to be the only city in the world where you can find ibises traveling in packs with the pigeons.

Australia Pictures II

11 05 2009

These were actually taken by my daughter, Jaclyn. The Sydney Harbour Bridge:


The Three Sisters rock formation from Echo Point in the Blue Mountains:


Little old me:


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