Trials and Tribulations

I managed to avoid commenting on the first pseudonymous Chronicle of Higher Education article by “Ivan Tribble,” “Bloggers Need Not Apply. Tribble’s piece included a less than professional description of the academic review process, one that didn’t reflect well on either the author or the school. I thought Tribble was, well, profoundly clueless. I noted that a number of others who are wiser, smarter, and better writers than I am said what needed to be said, so decided not to comment. I was more than somewhat amused to notice that a week later the Chronicle published an article urging academic book authors to promote themselves and their books with a blog.

When Tribble published an even dafter follow-up to his first appearance, “They Shoot Messengers, Don’t They?” I only knew that the piece had been published because of a reference in Quod She by Dr. Virago, and comments from a few other bloggers. I noted that Tribble’s complacency and pompousness had devolved to a snide whine.

In the initial post, as Dr. Virago points out, Tribble complains that the bloggers interviewed for a recent job essentially provided too much information about their personal lives. He isolates three specific examples, including one engaging in misrepresentation, one that essentially suffers from “TMI,” Too Much Information or personal revealation, and one blogger he identifies as “Professor Turbo Geek,” who has an obvious interest in digital technology. Regarding the “Turbo Geek,” Tribble writes:

It’s one thing to be proficient in Microsoft Office applications or HTML, but we can’t afford to have our new hire ditching us to hang out in computer science after a few weeks on the job.

I suppose I should be filled with umbrage; I certainly qualify as a Turbo Geek, albeit not a professor, but I’m more interested in Tribble’s scholarly cluelessness. Many schools are delighted to hire humanist scholars who know enough Perl to write text parsers, analysis tools, or concordances, scholars who routinely teach with technology, and know where to find a Yogh in Unicode and the best way to digitize a manuscript leaf under ultraviolet, and how to properly utilize online databases for bibliographic research.

The naivete of comments like this one, again from the first essay, made me realize I was dealing with someone truly clueless:

We’ve seen the hapless job seekers who destroy the good thing they’ve got going on paper by being so irritating in person that we can’t wait to put them back on a plane. Our blogger applicants came off reasonably well at the initial interview, but once we hung up the phone and called up their blogs, we got to know “the real them” — better than we wanted, enough to conclude we didn’t want to know more.

As a job applicant interviewer and potential academic with “Turbo Geek” cred, I look at the situation differently. I’d have googled applicants before the interview, and any applicants the committee had reservations about would have been set aside in favor of more suitable prospects. That’s fairly common, and has been for at least five years. Frankly, when I apply for jobs, academic or geek, I’m doing a fair amount of googling myself regarding my prospective employer and colleagues. I check Nexus-Lexus, and various other proprietary data sources as well as the usual on and off-line bibliographic sources. I’m likely to talk to or e-mail people I know, in industry or the academy, to ask them about my prospective colleagues and employer. It’s not like background checks are new, after all. When I’m hiring, after the interview, I call the references and talk to them—often this is the point where you really learn about candidates, since much of the other data is carefully constructed by a candidate with specific rhetorical goals.

In his follow-up piece Tribble concludes:

As my original column made clear (and many amid the outcry reiterated) when it comes to blogging, I just don’t “get it.” That’s right, I don’t. Many in the tenured generation don’t, and they’ll be sitting on hiring committees for years to come.

It’s true, Tribble doesn’t “get it,” but he’s fortunately part of a rapidly shrinking minority. Yes, people do write stupid things in blogs, and some people write inappropriate or unprofessional posts—and some are fired for it. Intellectually engaged schools and companies have blogging policies, and that helps enormously. It’s been my experience that the people who are truly unprofessional online (and I’m not convinced Tribble’s initial three example bloggers are) are likely to be unprofessional off-line as well. These issues are hardly exclusive to the ‘net; they happen in traditional publications, and coffee shops and living rooms too. Some people even write editorials delineating inappropriate hiring practices.

Bibliography Software

I’m looking for free or cheap (under $100.00) bibliographic database software. I’d like something that uses MySQL, Perl, and/or PHP and that includes a GUI, or that one could fairly easily create a browser-based or AppleScript/AppleStudio GUI. Yes, I know, there are academic bibliographic products like EndNote or ProCite, but they cost an arm and a leg, are proprietary, and have horrible interfaces. I’m fine with paying for good software, but those applications really don’t work for me. In fact, almost no one I know, whether graduate students or faculty, uses them because they’re so poorly designed that they’re almost impossible to use.

I don’t need an application that interfaces with a word processor (though I won’t kick and scream if someone offers the feature!) but I need to be able to create entries for journal articles, essays in essay collections, and books. I need to be able to include a fairly long summary or annotation for each item—at least 1,000 words. I need to be able to search for strings based on fields (author, title, keyword). And I need to run it either on a Mac running OS X 10.3 or on a Unix server. Right now I’m still using a HyperCard stack I made, and while it’s fabulous (she says modestly) I know that it has a fairly limited lifespan, and it uses XCMDS that I can’t rewrite to use with Revolution. In other words, I’m really looking for a good bibliorgraphic database, before I give up and roll my own.

I’ve done the obvious thing— looked at VersionTracker, SourceForge and other collections, but so far, I’ve not found anything. If you have any suggestions, please use the Comment link below.

Linking and Citations

In the various discussions of whether or not bloggers are journalists, or the distinctions between war bloggers and tech bloggers, or what we do when we blog, perhaps we’ve taken for granted one of the most distinctive qualities of blogs and blogging: linking.

The emphasis on linking in blogs appealed to me immediately; linking is, after all, a way of creating footnotes and citations, something that as a medievalist, I must do all the time. But because of the emphasis on linking in blogs—the ease of creating citations, of providing source text and gloss side by side, bloggers make it easy for their readers to verify their data . As bloggers we present our sources with our conclusions, allowing us, as Ken Layne put it, to “fact check your ass.”

Updated 11/20/2005:Thanks to Ken Smith’s heads up I’ve updated the links in this post.

Information Architecture or Scholarship

According to Gerry McGovern at New ThinkingJ R R Tolkien was an information architect.”
McGovern writes:

Information architecture is concerned with the organization and layout of content. It is a discipline that has evolved over centuries, finding its roots in writing and printing. J R R Tolkien was a master information architect. He created complex genealogical and geographical architectures. If you want to master information architecture you need to acquire the type of skills Tolkien exhibits.

We used to call that scholarship. A scholar is, after all, what Tolkien “was,” in adddition to being an inventive writer and artist. He certainly identified himself in his roles as a philologist and medievalist as a scholar, as did his employer, Oxford University.

It is the task, and the joy, of scholars to accumulate information, organize it, and provide a naviagation system, whether of pages and indices or links to assist readers in making use of the information. It’s what they do.

SCORM and Modules

The Chronicle of Higher Education has an article about standards for courseware and CMS allowing “mix and match” development:

For the first time, evolving technical standards for software are making it possible for colleges to customize distance-learning programs by easily mixing online-learning software from multiple companies.

This is of course exactly the approach to a CMS system that makes the most sense to me. One of the standards the article refers to is SCORM, “the Sharable Content Object Reference Mode.” Here’s a good overview of SCORM. The difficulty is that talking about a standard is one thing; actually adhering to it is another, far more important step.