Tag Archives: RERO

Development and Quality: Reply to Agile Diary

Former WiZiQ product manager Vikrama Dhiman responded to one of my tweets with a full-blown blogpost, thereby giving support to Matt Mullenweg‘s point that microblogging goes hand-in-hand with “macroblogging.”

My tweet:

enjoys draft æsthetics yet wishes more developers would release stable products. / adopte certains produits trop rapidement.

Vikrama’s post:

Good Enough Software Does Not Mean Bad Software « Agile Diary, Agile Introduction, Agile Implementation.

My reply:

“To an engineer, good enough means perfect. With an artist, there’s no such thing as perfect.” (Alexander Calder)

Thanks a lot for your kind comments. I’m very happy that my tweet (and status update) triggered this.

A bit of context for my tweet (actually, a post from Ping.fm, meant as a status update, thereby giving support in favour of conscious duplication, «n’en déplaise aux partisans de l’action contre la duplication».)

I’ve been thinking about what I call the “draft æsthetics.” In fact, I did a podcast episode about it. My description of that episode was:

Sometimes, there is such a thing as “Good Enough.”

Though I didn’t emphasize the “sometimes” part in that podcast episode, it was an important part of what I wanted to say. In fact, my intention wasn’t to defend draft æsthetics but to note that there seems to be a tendency toward this æsthetic mode. I do situate myself within that mode in many things I do, but it really doesn’t mean that this mode should be the exclusive one used in any context.

That aforequoted tweet was thus a response to my podcast episode on draft æsthetics. “Yes, ‘good enough’ may work, sometimes. But it needs not be applied in all cases.”

As I often get into convoluted discussions with people who seem to think that I condone or defend a position because I take it for myself, the main thing I’d say there is that I’m not only a relativist but I cherish nuance. In other words, my tweet was a way to qualify the core statement I was talking about in my podcast episode (that “good enough” exists, at times). And that statement isn’t necessarily my own. I notice a pattern by which this statement seems to be held as accurate by people. I share that opinion, but it’s not a strongly held belief of mine.

Of course, I digress…

So, the tweet which motivated Vikrama had to do with my approach to “good enough.” In this case, I tend to think about writing but in view of Eric S. Raymond’s approach to “Release Early, Release Often” (RERO). So there is a connection to software development and geek culture. But I think of “good enough” in a broader sense.

Disclaimer: I am not a coder.

The Calder quote remained in my head, after it was mentioned by a colleague who had read it in a local newspaper. One reason it struck me is that I spend some time thinking about artists and engineers, especially in social terms. I spend some time hanging out with engineers but I tend to be more on the “artist” side of what I perceive to be an axis of attitudes found in some social contexts. I do get a fair deal of flack for some of my comments on this characterization and it should be clear that it isn’t meant to imply any evaluation of individuals. But, as a model, the artist and engineer distinction seems to work, for me. In a way, it seems more useful than the distinction between science and art.

An engineer friend with whom I discussed this kind of distinction was quick to point out that, to him, there’s no such thing as “good enough.” He was also quick to point out that engineers can be creative and so on. But the point isn’t to exclude engineers from artistic endeavours. It’s to describe differences in modes of thought, ways of knowing, approaches to reality. And the way these are perceived socially. We could do a simple exercise with terms like “troubleshooting” and “emotional” to be assigned to the two broad categories of “engineer” and “artist.” Chances are that clear patterns would emerge. Of course, many concepts are as important to both sides (“intelligence,” “innovation”…) and they may also be telling. But dichotomies have heuristic value.

Now, to go back to software development, the focus in Vikrama’s Agile Diary post…

What pushed me to post my status update and tweet is in fact related to software development. Contrary to what Vikrama presumes, it wasn’t about a Web application. And it wasn’t even about a single thing. But it did have to do with firmware development and with software documentation.

The first case is that of my Fonera 2.0n router. Bought it in early November and I wasn’t able to connect to its private signal using my iPod touch. I could connect to the router using the public signal, but that required frequent authentication, as annoying as with ISF. Since my iPod touch is my main WiFi device, this issue made my Fonera 2.0n experience rather frustrating.

Of course, I’ve been contacting Fon‘s tech support. As is often the case, that experience was itself quite frustrating. I was told to reset my touch’s network settings which forced me to reauthenticate my touch on a number of networks I access regularly and only solved the problem temporarily. The same tech support person (or, at least, somebody using the same name) had me repeat the same description several times in the same email message. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I was also told to use third-party software which had nothing to do with my issue. All in all, your typical tech support experience.

But my tweet wasn’t really about tech support. It was about the product. Thougb I find the overall concept behind the Fonera 2.0n router very interesting, its implementation seems to me to be lacking. In fact, it reminds me of several FLOSS development projects that I’ve been observing and, to an extent, benefitting from.

This is rapidly transforming into a rant I’ve had in my “to blog” list for a while about “thinking outside the geek box.” I’ll try to resist the temptation, for now. But I can mention a blog thread which has been on my mind, in terms of this issue.

Firefox 3 is Still a Memory Hog — The NeoSmart Files.

The blogpost refers to a situation in which, according to at least some users (including the blogpost’s author), Firefox uses up more memory than it should and becomes difficult to use. The thread has several comments providing support to statements about the relatively poor performance of Firefox on people’s systems, but it also has “contributions” from an obvious troll, who keeps assigning the problem on the users’ side.

The thing about this is that it’s representative of a tricky issue in the geek world, whereby developers and users are perceived as belonging to two sides of a type of “class struggle.” Within the geek niche, users are often dismissed as “lusers.” Tech support humour includes condescending jokes about “code 6”: “the problem is 6″ from the screen.” The aforementioned Eric S. Raymond wrote a rather popular guide to asking questions in geek circles which seems surprisingly unaware of social and cultural issues, especially from someone with an anthropological background. Following that guide, one should switch their mind to that of a very effective problem-solver (i.e., the engineer frame) to ask questions “the smart way.” Not only is the onus on users, but any failure to comply with these rules may be met with this air of intellectual superiority encoded in that guide. IOW, “Troubleshoot now, ask questions later.”

Of course, many users are “guilty” of all sorts of “crimes” having to do with not reading the documentation which comes with the product or with simply not thinking about the issue with sufficient depth before contacting tech support. And as the majority of the population is on the “user” side, the situation can be described as both a form of marginalization (geek culture comes from “nerd” labels) and a matter of elitism (geek culture as self-absorbed).

This does have something to do with my Fonera 2.0n. With it, I was caught in this dynamic whereby I had to switch to the “engineer frame” in order to solve my problem. I eventually did solve my Fonera authentication problem, using a workaround mentioned in a forum post about another issue (free registration required). Turns out, the “release candidate” version of my Fonera’s firmware does solve the issue. Of course, this new firmware may cause other forms of instability and installing it required a bit of digging. But it eventually worked.

The point is that, as released, the Fonera 2.0n router is a geek toy. It’s unpolished in many ways. It’s full of promise in terms of what it may make possible, but it failed to deliver in terms of what a router should do (route a signal). In this case, I don’t consider it to be a finished product. It’s not necessarily “unstable” in the strict sense that a software engineer might use the term. In fact, I hesitated between different terms to use instead of “stable,” in that tweet, and I’m not that happy with my final choice. The Fonera 2.0n isn’t unstable. But it’s akin to an alpha version released as a finished product. That’s something we see a lot of, these days.

The main other case which prompted me to send that tweet is “CivRev for iPhone,” a game that I’ve been playing on my iPod touch.

I’ve played with different games in the Civ franchise and I even used the FLOSS version on occasion. Not only is “Civilization” a geek classic, but it does connect with some anthropological issues (usually in a problematic view: Civ’s worldview lacks anthro’s insight). And it’s the kind of game that I can easily play while listening to podcasts (I subscribe to a number of th0se).

What’s wrong with that game? Actually, not much. I can’t even say that it’s unstable, unlike some other items in the App Store. But there’s a few things which aren’t optimal in terms of documentation. Not that it’s difficult to figure out how the game works. But the game is complex enough that some documentation is quite useful. Especially since it does change between one version of the game and another. Unfortunately, the online manual isn’t particularly helpful. Oh, sure, it probably contains all the information required. But it’s not available offline, isn’t optimized for the device it’s supposed to be used with, doesn’t contain proper links between sections, isn’t directly searchable, and isn’t particularly well-written. Not to mention that it seems to only be available in English even though the game itself is available in multiple languages (I play it in French).

Nothing tragic, of course. But coupled with my Fonera experience, it contributed to both a slight sense of frustration and this whole reflection about unfinished products.

Sure, it’s not much. But it’s “good enough” to get me started.

Blogging and Literary Standards

I wrote the following comment in response to a conversation between novelist Rick Moody and podcasting pioneer Chris Lydon:

Open Source » Blog Archive » In the Obama Moment: Rick Moody.

In keeping with the RERO principle I describe in that comment, the version on the Open Source site is quite raw. As is my habit, these days, I pushed the “submit” button without rereading what I had written. This version is edited, partly because I noticed some glaring mistakes and partly because I wanted to add some links. (Blog comments are often tagged for moderation if they contain too many links.) As I started editing that comment, I changed a few things, some of which have consequences to the meaning of my comment. There’s this process, in both writing and editing, which “generates new thoughts.” Yet another argument for the RERO principle.

I can already think of an addendum to this post, revolving on my personal position on writing styles (informed by my own blogwriting experience) along with my relative lack of sensitivity for Anglo writing. But I’m still blogging this comment on a standalone basis.

Read on, please… Continue reading Blogging and Literary Standards

Blogging Academe

LibriVox founder and Montreal geek Hugh McGuire recently posted a blog entry in which he gave a series of nine arguments for academics to blog:

Why Academics Should Blog

Hugh’s post reminded me of one of my favourite blogposts by an academic, a pointed defence of blogging by Mark Liberman, of Language Log fame.
Raising standards –by lowering them

While I do agree with Hugh’s points, I would like to reframe and rephrase them.

Clearly, I’m enthusiastic about blogging. Not that I think every academic should, needs to, ought to blog. But I do see clear benefits of blogging in academic contexts.

Academics do a number of different things, from search committees to academic advising. Here, I focus on three main dimensions of an academic’s life: research, teaching, and community outreach. Other items in a professor’s job description may benefit from blogging but these three main components tend to be rather prominent in terms of PTR (promotion, tenure, reappointment). What’s more, blogging can help integrate these dimensions of academic life in a single set of activities.

Impact

In relation to scholarship, the term “impact” often refers to the measurable effects of a scholar’s publication through a specific field. “Citation impact,” for instance, refers to the number of times a given journal article has been cited by other scholars. This kind of measurement is directly linked to Google’s PageRank algorithm which is used to assess the relevance of their search results. The very concept of “citation impact” relates very directly to the “publish or perish” system which, I would argue, does more to increase stress levels among full-time academic than to enhance scholarship. As such, it may need some rethinking. What does “citation impact” really measure? Is the most frequently cited text on a given subject necessarily the most relevant? Isn’t there a clustering effect, with some small groups of well-known scholars citing one another without paying attention to whatever else may happen in their field, especially in other languages?

An advantage of blogging is that this type of impact is easy to monitor. Most blogging platforms have specific features for “statistics,” which let bloggers see which of their posts have been visited (“hit”) most frequently. More sophisticated analysis is available on some blogging platforms, especially on paid ones. These are meant to help bloggers monetize their blogs through advertising. But the same features can be quite useful to an academic who wants to see which blog entries seem to attract the most traffic.

Closer to “citation impact” is the fact that links to a given post are visible within that post through the ping and trackback systems. If another blogger links to this very blogpost, a link to that second blogger’s post will appear under mine as a link. In other words, a blogpost can embed future references.

In terms of teaching, thinking about impact through blogging can also have interesting effects. If students are blogging, they can cite and link to diverse items and these connections can serve as a representation of the constructive character of learning. But even if students don’t blog, a teacher blogging course-related material can increase the visibility of that course. In some cases, this visibility may lead to inter-institutional collaboration or increased enrollment.

Transparency

While secrecy may be essential in some academic projects, most academics tend to adopt a favourable attitude toward transparency. Academia is about sharing information and spreading knowledge, not about protecting information or about limiting knowledge to a select few.

Bloggers typically value transparency.

There are several ethical issues which relate to transparency. Some ethical principles prevent transparency (for instance, most research projects involving “human subjects” require anonymity). But academic ethics typically go with increased transparency on the part of the researcher. For instance, informed consent by a “human subject” requires complete disclosure of how the data will be used and protected. There are usually requirements for the primary investigator to be reachable during the research project.

Transparency is also valuable in teaching. While some things should probably remain secret (say, answers to exam questions), easy access to a number of documents makes a lot of sense in learning contexts.

Public Intellectuals

It seems that the term “intellectual” gained currency as a label for individuals engaged in public debates. While public engagement has taken a different type of significance, over the years, but the responsibility for intellectuals to communicate publicly is still a matter of interest.

Through blogging, anyone can engage in public debate, discourse, or dialogue.

Reciprocity

Scholars working with “human subjects” often think about reciprocity. While remuneration may be the primary mode of retribution for participation in a research project, a broader concept of reciprocity is often at stake. Those who participated in the project usually have a “right to know” about the results of that study. Even when it isn’t the case and the results of the study remain secret, the asymmetry of human subjects revealing something about themselves to scholars who reveal nothing seems to clash with fundamental principles in contemporary academia.

Reciprocity in teaching can lead directly to some important constructivist principles. The roles of learners and teachers, while not completely interchangeable, are reciprocal. A teacher may learn and a learner may teach.

Playing with Concepts

Blogging makes it easy to try concepts out. More than “thinking out loud,” the type of blogging activity I’m thinking about can serve as a way to “put ideas on paper” (without actual paper) and eventually get feedback on those ideas.

In my experience, microblogging (Identi.ca, Twitter…) has been more efficient than extended blogging in terms of getting conceptual feedback. In fact, social networks (Facebook, more specifically) have been even more conducive to hashing out concepts.

Many academics do hash concepts out with students, especially with graduate students. The advantage is that students are likely to understand concepts quickly as they already share some of the same references as the academic who is playing with those concepts. There’s already a context for mutual understanding. The disadvantage is that a classroom context is fairly narrow to really try out the implications of a concept.

A method I like to use is to use fairly catchy phrases and leave concepts fairly raw, at first. I then try the same concept in diverse contexts, on my blogs or off.

The main example I have in mind is the “social butterfly effect.” It may sound silly at first but I find it can be a basis for discussion, especially if it spreads a bit.

A subpoint, here, is that this method allows for “gauging interest” in new concepts and it can often lead one in completely new directions. By blogging about concepts, an academic can tell if this concept has a chance to stick in a broad frame (outside the Ivory Tower) and may be given insight from outside disciplines.

Playing with Writing

This one probably applies more to “junior academics” (including students) but it can also work with established academics who enjoy diversifying their writing styles. Simply put: blogwriting is writing practise.

A common idea, in cognitive research on expertise, is that it takes about ten thousand hours to become an expert. For better or worse, academics are experts at writing. And we gain that expertise through practise. In this context, it’s easy to see blogging as a “writing exercise.” At least, that would be a perspective to which I can relate.

My impression is that writing skills are most efficiently acquired through practise. The type of practise I have in mind is “low-stakes,” in the sense that the outcomes of a writing exercise are relatively inconsequential. The basis for this perspective is that self-consciousness, inhibition, and self-censorship tend to get in the way of fluid writing. High-stakes writing (such as graded assignments) can make a lot of sense at several stages in the learning process, but overemphasis on evaluating someone’s writing skills will likely stress out the writer more than make her/him motivated to write.

This impression is to a large extent personal. I readily notice that when I get too self-conscious about my own writing (self-unconscious, even), my writing becomes much less fluid. In fact, because writing about writing tends to make one self-conscious, my writing this post is much less efficient than my usual writing sessions.

In my mind, there’s a cognitive basis to this form of low-stakes, casual writing. As with language acquisition, learning occurs whether or not we’re corrected. According to most research in language acquisition, children acquire their native languages through exposure, not through a formal learning process. My guess is that the same apply to writing.

In some ways, this is a defence of drafts. “Draft out your ideas without overthinking what might be wrong about your writing.” Useful advice, at least in my experience. The further point is to do something with those drafts, the basis for the RERO principle: “release your text in the wild, even if it may not correspond to your standards.” Every text is a work in progress. Especially in a context where you’re likely to get feedback (i.e., blogging). Trial and error, with a feedback mechanism. In my experience, feedback on writing tends to be given in a thoughtful and subtle fashion while feedback on ideas can be quite harsh.

The notion of writing styles is relevant, here. Some of Hugh’s arguments about the need for blogging in academia revolve around the notion that “academics are bad writers.” My position is that academics are expert writers but that academic writing is a very specific beast. Hugh’s writing standards might clash with typical writing habits among academics (which often include neologisms and convoluted metaphors). Are Hugh’s standards appropriate in terms of academic writing? Possibly, but why then are academic texts rating so low on writing standards after having been reviewed by peers and heavily edited? The relativist’s answer is, to me, much more convincing: academic texts are typically judged through standards which are context-specific. Judging academic writing with outside standards is like judging French writing with English standards (or judging prose through the standards of classic poetry).

Still, there’s something to be said about readability. Especially when these texts are to be used outside academia. Much academic writing is meant to remain within the walls of the Ivory Tower yet most academic disciplines benefit from some interaction with “the general public.” Though it may not be taught in universities and colleges, the skill of writing for a broader public is quite valuable. In fact, it may easily be transferable to teaching, especially if students come from other disciplines. Furthermore, writing outside one’s discipline is required in any type of interdisciplinary context, including project proposals for funding agencies.

No specific writing style is implied in blogging. A blogger can use whatever style she/he chooses for her/his posts. At the same time, blogging tends to encourage writing which is broadly readable and makes regular use of hyperlinks to connect to further information. In my opinion, this type of writing is a quite appropriate one in which academics can extend their skills.

“Public Review”

Much of the preceding connects with peer review, which was the basis of Mark Liberman’s post.

In academia’s recent history, “peer reviewed publications” have become the hallmark of scholarly writing. Yet, as Steve McIntyre claims, the current state of academic peer review may not be as efficient at ensuring scholarly quality as its proponents claim it to be. As opposed to financial auditing, for instance, peer review implies very limited assessment based on data. And I would add that the very notion of “peer” could be assessed more carefully in such a context.

Overall, peer review seems to be relatively inefficient as a “reality check.” This might sound like a bold claim and I should provide data to support it. But I mostly want to provoke some thought as to what the peer review process really implies. This is not about reinventing the wheel but it is about making sure we question assumptions about the process.

Blogging implies public scrutiny. This directly relates to transparency, discussed above. But there is also the notion of giving the public the chance to engage with the outcomes of academic research. Sure, the general public sounds like a dangerous place to propose some ideas (especially if they have to do with health or national security). But we may give some thought to Linus’s law and think about the value of “crowdsourcing” academic falsification.

Food for Thought

There’s a lot more I want to add but I should heed my call to RERO. Otherwise, this post will remain in my draft posts for an indefinite period of time, gathering dust and not allowing any timely discussion. Perhaps more than at any other point, I would be grateful for any thoughtful comment about academic blogging.

In fact, I will post this blog entry “as is,” without careful proofreading. Hopefully, it will be the start of a discussion.

I will “send you off” with a few links related to blogging in academic contexts, followed by Hugh’s list of arguments.

Links on Academic Blogging

(With an Anthropological emphasis)

Hugh’s List

  1. You need to improve your writing
  2. Some of your ideas are dumb
  3. The point of academia is to expand knowledge
  4. Blogging expands your readership
  5. Blogging protects and promotes your ideas
  6. Blogging is Reputation
  7. Linking is better than footnotes
  8. Journals and blogs can (and should) coexist
  9. What have journals done for you lately?

Confessions of a Blogwriter

A couple of days ago, a friend (and fellow blogger) asked me about the motivation behind my recent intello-bullying post. This friend assumed that a major event had triggered this type of rant. Got me thinking about the way I prepare blogposts. And I want to follow up on that bullying post. So I thought I’d combine the two. Especially since metablogging isn’t by itself that much fun. But it’s not working.

So I’ll just write about blog writing.

 

See, the way I write may be more idiosyncratic than I assume it is. In general, I tend to write very quickly, after having let something simmer for a while. On this, here, my main blog, I tend to post when I have something which smells like it’s ready for some kind of public consumption. Sometimes, I do blog quickly, right after having noticed some “story” which is “unfolding.” But my tendency is to leave things on the back burner. I did write quite a few drafts, several of which aren’t published yet. But my habit, these days, is to keep these drafts as headnotes, instead of cluttering my WordPress.com dashboard.

Though this all sounds like a contradiction to my RERO mantra, I hear it as a corrolary of RERO. Or, at least, a method which allows me to make my RERO goal more realistic.

In my head, it all makes sense. Feel free to ask if it sounds really unclear.

In general, I like to use posts to connect a few things together. One reason is that connecting issues is “the way I roll,” in my life in general. Another is that it tends to enable me to take a step back from a given issue. Plus, it’s more efficient for me to put different things in a single post than writing different posts, one after the other. What’s more, microblogging (on Identi.ca and Twitter, especially) has taken over the “immediate blogging” and “compulsive writing” functions I would occasionally assign to my blog. Facebook allows me to do all sorts of other things that people do on blogs, like sharing cool videos and commenting on news items.

Which makes my blogging activities more “compartmentalized” and more limited.

 

So… How do I write blogposts?

Well, I typically start from a vague idea, floating in my head. Most of the time, I leave that vague idea there, in my head. If I think I can write a full blogpost right away, from that idea, meaning that I seem to have enough time to do so, I may blog right away. But, again, microblogging has taken that space in my life, over the past several months. So most of my blogposts are written after some of the main ideas had been “sitting in my brain” for a while. These vague ideas are sometimes related to specific things I’ve heard or read. Even when it’s the case, those vague ideas take part in a broader context which include ongoing reflections or discussions, in my life. Some ideas come back at different points in my life, like the social butterfly effect about which I first thought in 2005 and am now toying with, on a fairly regular basis. Other ideas are more situated in a time period. The latter is especially clear with reflections which happen while I teach.

So I get all sorts of vague ideas in my head. I keep them on several backburners. I let them influence one another. I may mention one or two of those ideas in conversations I have offline or online.

Occasionally, I may take a few notes about those vague ideas. I tend to take a lot of notes. About anything. From just about anywhere. And stashed in about any corner of my digital life. On my Gmail account, as draft blogposts, as Notes on my iPod touch, etc. I’ve put aside a number of note-taking methods, over the years. Some I might take up again, others which have been completely replaced. For instance, my iPod touch has completely replaced the PalmOS PDAs I had been using for about ten years. But it’s possible that I might resume my use of Evernote, OneNote, or Windows Live Writer. I still wish I had a good outliner. Little known fact about me: I’m an outliner freak. Evernote doesn’t do outlining and OneNote doesn’t really cut it either. For course material, I’ve resorted to outline mode in PowerPoint (or, more recently, OpenOffice Impress).

Still, on most occasions related to blogging, I keep headnotes. In a way, it enables me to sort out the most important issues about which I want to blog. If something really sticks in my head, “there might be something, there.” IOW, I use forgetting (and absent-mindedness) as a time-management strategy. Not sure Merlin Mann would aprove of my method, but I’m quite happy with it.

At some point in the process, I decide which “code” I’ll use in writing: language, main register, tone, and style. This decision is sometimes conscious, especially when I decide to write something in French. But code selection is also where I take decisions without even noticing. Sometimes, the object imposes the code. Or maybe I’m just in a mood to use a specific tone, as has happened on a few occasions when I felt a bit ranty or snarky. And I do eventually notice the implications of my choice of code. But it’s funny to realize how “unconscious” this process can be.

Once I’m ready to blog, I usually start from some kind of webpage, especially if there’s another blogpost available. Sometimes, it might be one of my own blogposts (typically, because the ideas behind my new post take part in an ongoing reflection of mine). Or it can be some content that I find after having thought of something I want to blog. In other words, I often go and look for a page which will serve as the starting point in my actual writing session. Though it may sound as if I’m blogging another blog entry, I’m frequently using another blogpost as a “pretext,” in multiple senses of that word. One reason I do this is that I like pings and trackbacks. I’m not that concerned about these. Some trackbacks don’t seem to work and I’m not even trying to rectify the situation. I just like to use trackbacks whenever I can. Though I do wish that some of those trackbacks may help get the attention of someone, it’s mostly about striking a conversation or even about sustaining a relationship. I’ve made a few friends through trackbacks and there’s nothing a social butterfly like me enjoys more, from blogging, than making new friends.

So, when I have a relevant webpage in front of me, I usually click on a bookmarklet which allows me to start a new blogpost with the full link (URL plus title) and, sometimes, a quote from that webpage.

(Bookmarklets are gravely underrated, IMHO. Probably because they’re too simple. But they’re, really, very convenient. Sometimes, I use them repeatedly to collect full links from multiple pages to which I want to link a post I’m writing. I know there are other methods but this one makes sense in my workflow.)

Once I have a blank page with a convenient link, I just start typing. More often than not, I’ve already prepared some complete sentences that I wanted to use in that post. In some cases, I even have a fairly detailed outline of what I want to write. In those cases when I do have a structure in mind, I usually end up cutting a lot off. Much of that extra content might simply become part of other activities of mine. I do the same thing when I prepare lesson plans for a course I teach, so it’s a rather well-ingrained habit.

As I type, I refer back to  some of my headnotes. This is actually when forgetting connects with RERO. If I have a difficult time retrieving some of the points I wanted to blog, I assume that they weren’t that essential or that I’ll have other occasions to use them in the future. So it allows me to restrain my blogging session a bit. This may sound a bit counterintuitive, but not keeping a clear plan often helps me to not devolve too much time to writing.

While I write, I often look for other links to include (including to acronyms I use), I check some things online, and I look for the right word. I never agonize on any of this but it can take a significant amount of time. Still, I write pretty painlessly and rather quickly. I’d say my average is probably around a thousand to 1500 words or more an hour, including lookups and link additions. I never really checked, but it sounds about right for most unproblematic writing. Maybe it’s not so quick when compared to others, but anecdotal evidence seems to show that a number of people I know who write a fair deal (without being practicing journalists) take more time to write.

As is surely very obvious, I allow myself to go on many tangents, as I type. In my blogging activities, most of these tangents are kept in the final version of my blogpost. In other types of writing, especially formal writing or any type of writing with high stakes (say, a very diplomatic message written as a way to help solve a tricky issue), I can leave very significant sections out of the finished piece of writing. In fact, I’ve written fairly long messages to replace them with a single sentence. IOW, I do censor myself outside of blogging. But I mainly do so after having written.

Though my mind doesn’t really work in linear ways, my blog writing does tend to be fairly linear. I may go back and forth between paragraphs but, as I write, I tend to go pretty sequentially from one thought to the next. OTOH, I never worry about sequence as I write anything. I think about the text as a whole, about the detail of what I’m writing, but I pay relatively little attention to how it flows from one paragraph to the next. What’s funny is that this might be the part of my writing which has changed the msot, with experience. I used to be more concerned with finding the most appropriate way to connect paragraphs or sentences within a paragraph. After having been told that, at least when writing in English, I should use less connecting words, I learnt to not worry as much. I’m sure I still use way too many connecting words than is deemed appropriate by native speakers (I also use too many parentheses, too many quotes, too many adverbs, too many words…). But I’m “choosing my fights.”

Once I’m done with a draft of the main text, I go through the whole thing again. Sometimes, I edit very little. With shorter texts, especially texts with very low stakes, I don’t even copyedit. With blogposts on this blog, my second pass through the text is usually the time I use for listing categories and tags (yes, those things I make way too extended a use of). That second pass is also the one during which I switch the order of some paragraphs, look a bit more at the structure, etc. In more formal writing, this would also be the time at which I settle on some headers. When I use an outliner, the process is mostly one of replacing a keyword by some kind of title.

I sometimes do a third pass, especially if I’ve added significant amounts of text during the second pass or if the text is a bit tricky in its potential consequences. In more formal writing, the second pass is merely about structure, the third pass is more about proofreading/copy-editing, and I may go through the text a few more times afterwards. In some cases (outside of blogging), I do occasionally start over. Sometimes, starting over is even a kind of cathartic experience. But my writing habits have stabilized enough at this point that my subsequent passes through a text tend not to change that text so much.

In blogging, I even “push  the envelope” in terms of posting something even when it’s not to my liking. I often get an alea jacta es moment and I occasionally tell myself «les jeux sont faits, rien ne va plus».

In the case of this specific blogpost, I’ve pretty much decided not to edit at all. I’ll add tags and categories and I’ll press publish.

RERO!!!!

Buzz Factor

I have an ambivalent relationship with buzzwords and buzzphrases. I find them dangerous, especially when they contribute to groupthink, but I also like to play with them. Whether I try (perhaps clumsily) to create some or I find one to be useful in encapsulating insight.

The reason I’m thinking about this is that I participated in the PodCamp Montreal UnConference, giving a buzzphrase-laden presentation on social media and academia (or “social acamedia,” as I later called it).

I’ll surely revisit a number of notes I’ve taken (mostly through Twitter) during the unconference. But I thought I’d post something as a placeholder.

Some buzzphrases/-words I’ve been known to use should serve as the bases for explanations about a few things I’ve been rambling about the past few years.

Here are a few (some of which I’ve tried to coin):

Not that all of these paint a clear picture of what I’ve been thinking about. But they’re all part of a bigger framework through which I observe and participate in Geek Culture. One day, I might do a formal/academic ethnography of the Geek Crowd.

Enthused Tech

Yesterday, I held a WiZiQ session on the use of online tech in higher education:

Enthusing Higher Education: Getting Universities and Colleges to Play with Online Tools and Services

Slideshare

(Full multimedia recording available here)

During the session, Nellie Deutsch shared the following link:

Diffusion of Innovations, by Everett Rogers (1995)

Haven’t read Rogers’s book but it sounds like a contextually easy to understand version of ideas which have been quite clear in Boasian disciplines (cultural anthropology, folkloristics, cultural ecology…) for a while. But, in this sometimes obsessive quest for innovation, it might in fact be useful to go back to basic ideas about the social mechanisms which can be observed in the adoption of new tools and techniques. It’s in fact the thinking behind this relatively recent blogpost of mine:

Technology Adoption and Active Reading

My emphasis during the WiZiQ session was on enthusiasm. I tend to think a lot about occasions in which, thinking about possibilities afforded technology relates to people getting “psyched up.” In a way, this is exactly how I can define myself as a tech enthusiast: I get easy psyched up in the context of discussions about technology.

What’s funny is that I’m no gadget freak. I don’t care about the tool. I just love to dream up possibilities. And I sincerely think that I’m not alone. We might even guess that a similar dream-induced excitement animates true gadget freaks, who must have the latest tool. Early adopters are a big part of geek culture and, though still small, geek culture is still a niche.

Because I know I’ll keep on talking about these things on other occasions, I can “leave it at that,” for now.

RERO‘s my battle cry.

TBC