james.wiedner's blog

“Rueful Reluctance:” An Unwitting Cat Owner’s Search for Meaning Among Memes

A Workshop from a Visionary about Data Visualization


Source: Mark Andrew Goetz

 About 2 months ago Austin was lucky enough to be among the handful of cities selected as a stop on a one-day presentation and workshop featuring Mr. Edward Tufte.  What's more: The DWRL agreed that covering the cost of admission for a few of their staffers to be money well spent (thanks, Will Burdette).

For the uninitiated, Mr. Tufte is the granddaddy of all things related to visual representations of large amounts of data, complicated concepts, historical trends, and- quite literally- just about anything else you could think of.  Hailed as “The Leonardo Di Vinci of Data," by the New York Times.  Tufte was synthesizing massive amounts of information into beautiful visuals before the term “big data” had even pushed “the cloud” out of the way as the buzzword(s) of the moment. 

Arnold Newman's Photos...And Some Photos Thereof

Image Credit: Photo from Arnold Newman Exhibit, Harry Ransom Center, taken by author; protected under Fair Use.

On February 12th, the traveling exhibition Arnold Newman: Masterclass began a four-month stop at UT’s esteemed Harry Ransom Center.  As Newman was a prolific photographer with a strong belief in the instructional potential of photographs, the chance to see his life’s work first-hand was nothing short of spine-tingling to those of us with an unusually strong interest in visual culture and artifacts, especially when they have pedagogical implications!  (Pretty dorky, I know.)

Sure, Your eBook Looks Neat, But Can It Prop Open Your Door, Decorate Your Shelves, or Swat A Fly?

Above: An example of books serving in Ancillary Capacity #422: "The To-Do List"

In his book, “The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable,” Nassim Nicholas Taleb unapologetically and only somewhat jokingly points out some of the “superficial” benefits of the printed book versus the e-reader:

[I have realized] the foolishness of thinking that books are there to be read and could be replaced by electronic files.  Think of the spate of functional redundancies provided by books.  You cannot impress your neighbors with electronic files.  You cannot prop up your ego with electronic files…Objects seem to have invisible but significant auxiliary functions that we are not aware of consciously, but that allow them to thrive- and on occasion, as with decorator books, the auxiliary function becomes the principal one.  (Taleb at 319)

While the ability to impress your friends with your lofty collection might not be seen as a terribly compelling argument in the print/e-book debate, implicit in what he says is an acknowledgment of a separate, secondary (or tertiary, and so on) “meaning” that books can have that is entirely detached from the words written therein.  Books, precisely because they are physical, tangible objects, lend themselves to a connection with the reader on multiple levels.

A New Version of the South's History for Students of "NewSouth"

                                                                                                                         Image Credits: Amazon.com

In researching and writing my last blog posting, which sought to explore the possible dangers associated with the expurgation of the literary classics we use in the school setting, I found myself digging a little deeper into a story from a couple of years ago that I was only vaguely familiar with.  In that last posting, I focused upon the ways in which e-books were, by the nature of the medium, particularly susceptible to modification and/or censorship.  But these concerns are not ones we should only ascribe to the digital; I wanted to demonstrate that modification of canonical works for the purpose of “protecting” people from any content that might be unpleasant to the modern reader’s sensibilities can and does happen with our “old-fashioned” paper textbooks, too.

The Hype Cycle Is A Red Herring...Just Ask Tolstoy

Credit for Eedited Image of Leo Tolstoy: Sean Ludwig

Educators and everyday people alike have spent (at least) the last half of a decade in a state of ever-increasing turgidity as they speculate as to all of the amazing feats the e-reader (usually, “e-reader” means “iPad” in the popular discourse, so I might use both terms below) will achieve in the context of public education.  It is almost assumed that replacing every student’s bulky, quickly-dated paper textbooks with sleek, capability-rich e-readers is an unequivocally good, nay, downright imperative educational initiative. 


Rhetorical Collusion

Image Credit: Screencapture of graph created by the Collusion for Mozilla add-in.

I'd speculate that every instructor is familiar with the feeling that comes with anticipation and apprehension battling each other out before the first day of the semester.  Maybe I'm just too easily flustered, but the prospect of standing up in front of a group of heretofore-unknown students, while pretending to be the infallible instructor of heretofore-unknown material always rattles my cage a bit.

"The Family Circus" is NOT a Comic

Image Credit: Self-Portrait by Scott McCloud, Google +

I realize that looking at the rhetorical aspects of comics (and the implications thereof) is well-trodden ground.  However, I am of the humble opinion that there are still some pretty interesting things to think about in this area, as well as some already-propounded ideas that would seem to demand further (and continued) examination.  Indeed, I believe that there is still much to be gained by looking at the (relatively) early texts examining rhetoric and comics.  In support of this contention, I’d like to offer the musings of Mr. Scott McCloud as Exhibit “A.”

Rhetological Bingo, or, More Attempts at Teaching Fallacies to Bored Freshmen

                   Image source: Dinosaur Comics

The bulk of my last posting was spent singing the praises of Mr. David McCandless; as anyone who has checked out any of his work before or since then can attest to, such accolades are/were more than justified.

Specifically, I loved his “rhetological” fallacies project, where he vizualized a colorful list of about 50 different rhetorical or logical fallacies, and created an unadorned yet arresting image to accompany each of them.  Pretty cool stuff.

Rhetological is SO a word!

Image Credit: Rhetological Fallacies

As an instructor teaching an introductory rhetoric course, I sympathize with my students, I truly do.  I don’t mean this in some sort of self-effacing “so sad for them, they lost the instructor lottery, I suck.”  To the contrary, when one considers the fact that I have to engage 18-year-olds at 9:30 in the morning on matters as dry as the differences between Aristotelian and Platonic notions concerning rhetoric, and/or the finer points of JSTOR navigation, I’d say that I do a halfway decent job.

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