Category Archives: tempora

Clay Shirky lays it out for you

Clay Shirky summarizes today’s situation eloquently in The End of Higher Education’s Golden Age. A few of the choicest bits:

Decades of rising revenue meant we could simultaneously become the research arm of government and industry, the training ground for a rapidly professionalizing workforce, and the preservers of the liberal arts tradition. Even better, we could do all of this while increasing faculty ranks and reducing the time senior professors spent in the classroom. This was the Golden Age of American academia.

…so long as college remained a source of cheap and effective job credentials, our new sources of support—students with loans, governments with research agendas—were happy to let us regard ourselves as priests instead of service workers.

…Over the decades, though, we’ve behaved like an embezzler who starts by taking only what he means to replace, but ends up extracting so much that embezzlement becomes the system. There is no longer enough income to support a full-time faculty and provide students a reasonably priced education of acceptable quality at most colleges or universities in this country.

…Of the twenty million or so students in the US, only about one in ten lives on a campus. The remaining eighteen million –the ones who don’t have the grades for Swarthmore, or tens of thousands of dollars in free cash flow, or four years free of adult responsibility– are relying on education after high school not as a voyage of self-discovery but as a way to acquire training and a certificate of hireability.

Oh but I was fortunate to be in when I was, and to exit when I did…

Ten Years

The Blog is 10 years old today, and that calls for some sort of Celebration.

In fact my page-making/html-wrangling life goes back 20 years, and began with online guides intended for distribution to specific audiences, initially in the ‘Library Instruction’ mode. These gradually morphed into subject-defined weblets, and then into dated and accretive logfiles. The earliest logfiles I can still find are from March and April 1998, just about 16 years ago, by which time I’d established the habit of opening a new logfile whenever I began a line of inquiry that I thought would be likely to persist. Many of the hyperlinks I collected in those pages are now dead dead dead, but often it’s possible to see/recover the process of discovery I enjoyed as I searched and read. A few examples: Spring 1995 OED exploration, 1995 page on searches in Biology literature, my first University Scholars course (History of Technology, winter 1999), and a suite of pages for my Fall 2002 sabbatical. Many more can be found via the Web Legacy summary (compiled Spring 2005).

By 2003 I wanted to explore RSS-linked blogging, but couldn’t get W&L’s computing services interested in hosting the necessary software; I finally set up my own domain in March 2004, and instantiated OookBlog using MovableType software. I’ve used the blog to track day-to-day discoveries and ruminations, mostly as a sort of electronic journal, with myself as the primary reader. In 2013 I transferred the contents to WordPress, and augmented the overall presentation with links to other material at the top of the page.

This morning I decided that improving the tagging of posts would be a good step at Year 10, so I’ve spent today going through the posts to add tags. Along the way I’ve reacquainted myself with stuff I’d forgotten about, and begun to think about things I might do more systematically in the next 10 years. I wish I’d been more systematic about blogging my reading, and I’m not too pleased with the categories or the consistency of my tagging (argybargy and musics show up a lot, also quote and reading; metastuff is my own creation). I’m surprised at the number and diversity of music videos (and note that quite a few are no longer available). The daily capture of my Delicious feed ended in September 2011, but I’ve discovered that my Delicious tags DO still work! The Zotero link is the best I’ve been able to do as a replacement for Delicious.

A few nuggets I was especially pleased to rediscover: the tune Otiose Maggie; a nice grasshopper picture; my first experiment in podcasting: On Musical Variety (2004); elements of my Nova Scotia Faces project: the sad tale of Poor Alice G. and two nice videos; and a scattering of poetical bits: haiku/senryu written while hiking the Appalachian Trail in Maine in 2002, a farewell to Makeshift, two on patriotic excess, one on debts of gratitude, and a longer one on connections.

Bits of quotation are everywhere, but today’s Prize goes to Emerson

A man of 45 does not want to open new accounts of friendship. He has said Kitty kitty long enough.

In sum, I’m quite pleased with the breadth and the onward progress reflected in what I’ve found today. I continue to Believe In this medium, even if I’m speaking mostly to myself.

Aaron Swartz

I didn’t know Aaron, but a whole lot of people whom I admire and follow did, and they have a lot to say. Just to put them in one place, for future reference

Larry Lessig
Alex Stamos
Quinn Norton
Cory Doctorow
Doc Searls
Ethan Zuckerman
Dave Winer
danah boyd
Dave Weinberger
Brewster Kahle
Remember Aaron tumblr
…and Ron Nigh adds Glenn Greenwald in The Guardian
…and The Digital Archive’s Aaron Swartz Collection, crowdsourcing “any digital materials you think appropriate in a memorial collection: emails with him, code archives, photos”
…and a Twitter hashtag #pdftribute (via Kerim)
Jason Scott, acerbic but believeable
and Dan Gillmor
and Gardner Campbell, who points to Matt Stoller’s post, among others I’ve already noted above

Mien and moue

I’m always on the lookout for passages that articulate things I’ve observed more clearly than I’ve ever managed to express them. Here’s one from Tony Judt’s Thinking the Twentieth Century that applies equally well to milieux I have experienced:

…to become an insider at Cambridge or Oxford does not in itself require conformity, except perhaps to intellectual fashion; it was and is a function of a certain capacity for intellectual assimilation. It entails knowing how to “be” an Oxbridge don; understanding intuitively how to conduct an English conversation that is never too aggressively political; knowing how to modulate moral seriousness, political engagement and ethical rigidity through application of irony and wit, and a precisely calculated appearance of insouciance. It would be difficult to imagine the application of such talents in, say, postwar Paris. (pg 56)

The details of mien and moue vary from place to place, and time to time (early-1960s Harvard not the same as late-1960s Stanford, in my own case, and present-day fashions are different again), but Judt really nails it with ethnographic precision and verbal elegance. I have the sense that Tony Judt spoke with semicolons…

Molly Millions sez

One of the most enduring lines in William Gibson’s oeuvre is

You can’t let the little pricks generation-gap you.
(Molly, in Neuromancer, pg 59)

–a passage I keep handy for topical application (and used as the epigram for a prescient 1999 posting [alas, the graphs link doesn’t work]).
Well, gappage happens. As a non-cellphone user I’m (happily) out of a bunch of loops anyway, but at my recent high school reunion I witnessed several of my contemporaries being taught the wonders of text messaging, and was content to adopt the anthropologist-watching-bizarre-behavior stance. The second cartoon in a Language Log posting today seems a balm.

40 years

Every five years I get a new installment in the ongoing saga of my college class (it was Harvard 1965), and the Fourtieth Anniversary Report arrived yesterday. I’ve spent quite a few of the last 24 hours immersed in the lives of people I didn’t know, or knew only very slightly, and I’m as much affected by the experience as I was by the seven previous iterations. This time around, the themes of retirement and grandchildren and parental death are much to the fore, with antiphonal threads of travel and health crises, and occasional notes of dissatisfaction with the directions in which the world is headed.
I am surprised to feel so connected with a group of people, my cohort, but at the same time so disconnected from nearly all of them as individuals. My freshman roommates are dead or vanished, and quite a few others I can recall pretty clearly are also gone. It seems that I didn’t have many friends in the class, though there are a few I’d be delighted to see again. I’m amazed to find that two classmates live within 5 miles (and that they’re recent transplants to Maine, as I am), but I’m not sure if hunting them up is likely to be a good idea, since what we share is granfalloonish membership in a fund-raising pool.
Wallace Shawn, yes that Wallace Shawn, wins my award for most eloquent entry, from which I’ll quote a paragraph:

And today, still addicted to the fantasy that we’re better than others and deserve a bit more, we accept with our well-known tight-lipped equanimity (occasionally broken by our well-known inaudible warblings of protest) all the blood spilled and the bones broken by our servants –Bush and the rest– in their effort to preserve our well-merited position down to the last Reunion.

Those I am most curious about are the 50-odd who are listed only with Last known address, and who have managed to escape the vigilance of the fund-raising arm of Mother Harvard. Their stories would be worth knowing.
There are a few whose lives and eloquence I admire, and whom I wish I knew.