In a press release today, Iowa State University (ISU) announced that “it has concluded its membership in the Association of American Universities (AAU)“. For those not steeped in the arcane associations which drive meaning and relevance in much of higher education, the AAU in question is an exclusive research collective which provides no actual benefits to member schools, but nonetheless commands and confers a great deal of prestige in an industry which values tokens of esteem to an embarrassing degree. To that point, while ISU is putting the best possible gloss on this breakup, the truth is that Iowa State would not abandon its AAU membership if it was not already under threat of imminent expulsion. [ Read more ]
Whatever your feelings about Apple as a corporation, former CEO Steve Jobs is rightly credited with exploiting the intersection of technology and fashion. The iPhone, for example, was not simply a revolutionary device, it quickly came to signify cultural cachet. If you were obsessively checking another portable device you were a dweeb, but if you were obsessively checking an iPhone you were hip.
Because of my feelings about Apple as a corporation I have only owned one Apple product in my long life — an iPod Mini, which was received as a welcome and generous gift. In terms of music storage it was functional, in terms of sound quality it was tolerable, but in terms of design it was as cutting-edge as a device could be at the time. Unfortunately, a foundational precept of Apple’s cutting-edge design aesthetic involves obscuring and abstracting device functionality to the point of incomprehension, leaving new users in the dark about how their sophisticated devices actually function.
I still remember fiddling with my new iPod Mini and being soundly rebuffed in my various attempts to understand the interface. I also remember reading the curt instructions in the enclosed insert, and finding no information which explained how to reliably navigate the various menus. I even remember trying to fight may way into the iPod Mini menu system in the hope that there might be some onboard instructions — even a README file — but again I was defeated. Only when i logged on to the internet and conducted a wide search did I find a demonstration of the distinctive thumb swirl which was critical to the functionality of the iPod Mini interface. [ Read more ]
I was reminded recently that conventional wisdom has no inherent connection to reason or fact, or even to simple math. Over the span of a few days I ran across several individuals on social media who were talking about upcoming milestone birthdays, and as is often the case those impending dates were being viewed with a mixture of resignation and dread. In fact, such sentiments seem to be particularly common at decennial birthdays, when turning a single year older ushers in an entirely new decade of numerical ages, along with varying cultural cliches about what a given decennial portends. (Spoiler: it’s usually not good.) [ Read more ]
As hard as it may be to believe — or perhaps not, depending on the toll 2021 took on you and yours — it is once again that time….
While you have been holding the fabric of the universe together solely with the psychic force of your formidable will, yet another calendar year has slipped by. If you are a content creator — whether an intermittent blogger or social media mogul — take a moment to start the new year off on the right foot by updating any public copyright notices to include 2022.
While this is admittedly a pedestrian clerical task, nothing demonstrates attention to detail like an up-to-date copyright notice, and that’s particularly important if your website offers services or is intended to demonstrate your professionalism or keen cultural relevance. Because if the person or persons running a given site can’t remember to update their copyright notice, why should anyone pay attention to anything they have to say?
Don’t be the person who forgets to update their copyright date, let alone does to for multiple years, who was definitely not me unless you have the time-stamped, notarized screenshots to prove it.
Have a great year — or at least a reasonable facsimile.
— Mark Barrett
Whether you consider yourself an aspiring, practicing or recovering writer, or are emotionally enmeshed with same, one perquisite which greatly appeals to many wordsmiths is the socially sanctioned synergy between creature comfort and presumed performance. Where pajama pants and a baggy T-shirt would be inappropriate for an attorney or banker, that ensemble not only ensures the necessary ease of movement over long hours spent shifting and slouching in a chair, it also provides the minimum necessary coverage to avoid arrest during excursions to various therapists. (Even for writers working regular hours in an office setting, there is usually a certain sartorial latitude granted in day-to-day practice, as compared to executives, managers or customer-facing staff.)
While there are certainly occasions when a writer should be presentable — say, in court, or at their own funeral — almost everyone agrees that what writers need to be is productive. In that context it seems axiomatic that if your work involves plumbing the depths of your imagination, psyche or intellect, you might have a hard time doing so if your senses are aggrieved. While a compelling need to limit distractions can also lead to compulsive rituals, if not histrionic demands of fellow employees, family members or random citizens — and may be motivated more by procrastination or a morbid fear of failure than any valid grievance — here we are concerned not with mental anguish about fashion but actual physical discomfort. So if you are currently debating whether to wear your new beret at a tilt or dead-level, or whether it might be time to transition to a full-blown dandy, we commend questions of both style and sanity to your personal support community. [ Read more ]
As fate would have it, while I was drafting a post about writers and keyboard comfort an email arrived reminding me that October is buy-one, get-one month for pink Wristies.
If you’re not familiar with Wristies — and most people are not — they are soft glove-like coverings for the wrists and palms, which leave your fingers free to do nifty things like press keyboard keys or buttons on a remote control. And yes that probably sounds like a product of interest only to people who have perpetually cold hands, but I am here to tell you that if you spend a lot of time typing on a computer keyboard you should definitely give Wristies a try. (Also good for working reporters who have to venture outside in colder weather, but leave their fingers free to take copious notes.)
Paying close attention for almost six years to administrative machinations at the university I attended in my youth proved to be perpetually dispiriting, but as a compensating balance I also became aware of the individual academic and educational contributions of members of that community. One such example is a book which was published earlier this year by UI Professor Ed Wasserman, titled, As If By Design: How Creative Behaviors Really Evolve. Situated like a traffic cop at the crossroads between cultural narratives and behavioral evolution, Wasserman’s book not only reveals the concept of a eureka moment to be unfounded in many celebrated instances, but fills in critical context which was excluded over time to bolster the romantic concept of individual inspiration.
Although Wasserman is a professor in the University of Iowa’s Department of Psychology and Brain Sciences, and as such is certainly familiar with statistics and the rigors of the scientific method, his book is accessible to readers of all ages and backgrounds. In fact, if you’re in secondary or undergraduate education, and looking for a text that will not only spur discussion but engage your students, you would be hard-pressed to find a better current example — and that’s particularly true if you are located in Iowa. (There are a number of Iowa-centric examples which will be broadly familiar to residents of the state, yet for those who believe they are in the know that only makes the missing details that much more compelling when Wasserman fills out the story.)
To be clear, you don’t have to be from Iowa to connect with Wasserman’s examples, many of which will be familiar to most Americans. Personally, as an Iowan I found the section on Iowa’s blackout license plates to be both hilarious and absurd, but if I had to pick a favorite vignette it would unquestionably be the section on Florence Nightingale. Although I already knew a great deal about Nightingale’s importance to the practice of medicine and profession of nursing, I knew nothing about her contributions to what we now call data visualization.
In short, an enjoyable and informative read, and an important corrective on the all-too-human tendency to create and celebrate idols.
— Mark Barrett
A long time ago in another life I spent a decade-plus working in interactive entertainment, more commonly referred to as the computer games biz. From the mid-1990’s until deep into the 2000’s I had a front row seat as the industry changed from a relatively small, creative-driven marketplace into a massive industry dominated by gaudy global corporations. Although Microsoft and Sony — with the Xbox and Playstation 2, respectively — did everything possible at the turn of the millennia to reduce computer gaming to a proprietary console monopoly, the fact that plucky Nintendo continued to shine, despite annual predictions of doom, was an important reminder that everything does not have to be reduced to cynical crap in order to be profitable.
Not only did I enjoy the work I performed in that new medium, including wrestling with complex theoretical issues underpinning the very concept of interactive entertainment, but I met a number of talented and genuinely decent people who were on that same journey. In an industry that has since become synonymous with bad behavior, if not a launch point for some of the worst ills in modern American society, it was both enjoyable and reassuring to find camaraderie in the pursuit of something new, and as a relative outsider to be welcomed into what was, early on, a close community. (In those early years the computer game community was also ahead of the cultural curve in its acceptance of transgender and LGBTQ individuals, at least until the corporate cowboys and graphics companies decided they could drive more business by focusing on realistic breast animations.)
In terms of my work experience, I can also honestly say that the only time I had a problem was with one of the multinational corporations referenced above, but that’s another story. In every other respect the producers I worked with were both professional and personable, and that includes John Podlasek, who I worked with over long hours in a recording studio on more than one occasion. (Recording studios are a lot like submarines. You learn who people are real fast because there is nowhere to hide.)
Not only does John’s background include music and the visual arts, but over decades in interactive entertainment he has worn every hat a producer can wear, yielding a formidable combination of experience and perspective. And yet at root he is a genuinely humble and often hilarious person, and if you have any interest in interactive entertainment I would suggest you make a point to listen to John’s ‘Game Dev Advice‘ podcast. You could talk to dozens of other industry veterans for days at a time and not get the kind of grounded and holistic insight that John passes along in a single episode.
— Mark Barrett
Six years ago to the day the corrupt Iowa Board of Regents announced the illegitimate appointment of an unqualified and belligerent crony boob as president of the University of Iowa. At the time that appointment came as quite a shock, but as the weeks, months and years passed it became clear that the university and indeed public higher education in Iowa had been and has been fundamentally compromised by politics. While that illegitimate president finally left office three and a half months ago — and that’s a good thing — we just learned from the Gazette’s Vanessa Miller that the university ignored a rape report that was filed with the Iowa City Police Department three weeks before the former president unexpectedly announced his intention to resign last October. In fact, had there not been a series of campus protests over the past few days about that reported rape, it is likely that report would never have come to light — much like similar events which took place at the university in 2018, also under the permanently blind eye of the former UI president. (Likewise, today the Gazette’s Miller also reported that after an earlier unexpected defeat, and the subsequent political packing of the council which delivered that initial rebuke, the Iowa Board of Regents just secured the right to build a massive new hospital complex in North Liberty, after intentionally falsifying the size and nature of that project to the crony-packed council which gave its foregone approval.)
Although the initial shock of that corrupt presidential appointment was disorienting, in retrospect the timing could not have been better. In the summer of 2015 I had been verging on contacting UI about an issue that might prove mutually beneficial in an academic and medical context, but given what I now know those thoughts were grossly naive. Over the intervening six years I learned what I could about UI specifically and higher-ed generally — and along the way probably met the equivalent criteria for a master’s and doctorate in one academic discipline or another — and what I learned was almost universally dispiriting. (As regular readers know, I grew up in and have lived most of my life in Iowa City, where UI is located, so I was not oblivious to the usual problems on a major college campus. But I honestly had no idea how pervasive the corruption is in the ranks of academic administration and by governing boards.)
That said, what a dispiriting six years it has been across the board. The state of Iowa slipped into cultural collapse and is now controlled by arch conservatives and fundamentalists — who, without irony — helped put a degenerate con artist in the White House, then conspired to overthrow American democracy in service of their delusions. Throw in the COVID-19 pandemic and Iowa’s determination to expose as many young children as possible to the virus, even though vaccine approval is on the horizon for kids between five and twelve years of age, plus the ravages of global warming, and a conniving abdication of responsibility by the United States Supreme Court in support of Texas’s subjugation of women, and gosh-golly what’s next?
In that context it has been interesting watching my mind slowly disengage over the past three and a half months from the singular pursuit of tracking events at the University of Iowa. Not that there still isn’t plenty to read, as attested to above, but I no longer feel an obligation to jot it all down and make sure I have the supporting documents and videos, because the narrative arc I was following finally did come to a close. (I’m sure there will be future revelations about the illegitimate president’s tenure, but for now UI is just another bummer in the news.)
What that mental space has given me is a chance to go back and look at old draft posts I was working on in 2015, as well as catch up on clerical and administrative chores I either dropped at the time or subsequently neglected over that six-year span. And as you might imagine, it feels good to be thinking about something other than failed human beings, and to be reconnecting with the positive pursuits I was focused on lo those many years ago. So…where was I?
— Mark Barrett
One year ago to the day I published a post titled ‘Coping With the Reality of COVID-19’. In a rational world that post would not have been necessary because every nation would have implemented strict policies to suppress the virus, but we humans do not live in a rational world. Instead, we live in a world constrained by our individual and collective narratives, and for the greater majority those narratives do not allow for intrusions. And a pandemic is an intrusion. [ Read more ]