The Linux Migration: Password Management

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Previously in this series: Text Expansion

Summary: It is a truth perhaps not yet universally acknowledged that a Mac user migrating much of their home and professional life to Linux will found themself in need of a replacement for their password manager. Importing my 1Password (Mac) vault into Enpass (Linux) works more than well enough.

Password Management

This is when you have an application that holds all your account user names and passwords; that creates new strong passwords for new accounts; that uses a "browser extension" to auto-fill these user names & passwords into Web forms when you want to log into an account like your Amazon or email account; that probably also holds secure text notes and other kinds of private information; and that secures all of this behind a single, hopefully strong and easy to remember, passphrase.

On the Mac

I've been using 1Password on the Mac for years, and couldn't cope without a password manager. However, Agilebits has no interest in developing 1Password for Linux. Once upon a time, 1Password allowed full-featured web access to your vault via Dropbox, a feature they called "1PasswordAnywhere." But that feature went away, and Agilebits has made clear that reintroducing "1PasswordAnywhere" isn't going to happen. I had hoped that their new subscription service, which allows web access to one's vault, would basically replace 1PasswordAnywhere; turns out, though, that this "web access" lacks the functionality of a browser extension: it doesn't fill fields with your user name and password, and you're forced to copy/paste. Long story longer: 1Password isn't happening on Linux.

On Linux

My solution: Enpass, the free password manager for Linux, Mac, and Windows. Enpass will import items from your 1Password vault, and includes browser extensions. The import is a little janky--categories are lost, so logins, secure documents, credit cards, and all are simply listed together in "All". Still, the Search feature does a lot to make this only a minor inconvenience.

I am still using 1Password on the Mac, even as I use Enpass on Linux. This means that I should only add new log-ins on the Mac, importing the vault over to Enpass once each month or so. If I add anything directly to Enpass, I don't really have a way to export it the other way into 1Password for Mac. I'm willing to put a pin in this problem for another day.

One heads-up on Enpass: You have to enable its browser extension in the app's preferences. Until you do, the installed extension won't respond when clicked. It's easy to wrongly believe that the extension is broken, and waste time troubleshooting (as I did).

The Linux Migration: Text Expansion

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Summary: I am migrating much of my computer life from the Mac to Ubuntu (Linux). I needed a replacement for my text-expansion tool, TextExpander. It looks like Autokey will do well enough. See the last paragraph if you care to know why I am migrating.

Text Expansion

I don't know how anyone lives without it. Is there anything you type more than once? (Phone number, email address, comments on student papers about what makes a good thesis statement? Common phrases for correspondence, like "Thanks for writing" or "Let me know if the attachment gives you any trouble"?) A text-expansion tool allows you to assign that text string a "snippet": type the snippet ("tfw") and it automatically exands ("Thanks for writing"). It works in any application: email, web browser, MS Word, wherever.

Not convinced? Think of it this way: it's not even about saving time (though it saves a ton of time). It's about saving attention. Let your text-expansion tool do the mindless work, while you keep your attention on the task at hand.

TextExpander for Mac

TextExpander is simply the best. No contest. It makes it super-easy to include wild cards (like current date and/or time, in multiple formats), dropdown menus of your own making (such as Mr./Mrs./Ms./Dr. for salutations), fill-in fields ("NAME"), and many other fancy-pants add-ons to the relatively simple idea of text expansion. It's the Lexus of text expansion. I miss it already when I'm on Ubuntu. If you're on the Mac, get over to Smile Software and give them your money.

Autokey on Ubuntu

It's not the Lexus of text expansion, but it's...well, I don't know cars well enough to offer an analogy. It's free. It does text expansion except that results are a little chancy in Firefox. It relies on Python scripts for wild-card additions and macros; I don't know Python, but it includes a few examples that I can hack on with my piddling knowledge of regular expressions and other programming languages. Oh, and something TextExpander doesn't do: Autokey lets you set "hot keys" for (say) launching your favorite applications. Take away: If you've used TextExpander, it's a servicible but not enthralling replacement that brings some of its own possibilities to the table. If you've never used a text expansion tool before, you'll love Autokey to death, I'm not kidding.

Why the Migration?

Our IT department cut our hard-drive space in half on the last computer "refresh," that's why! (Trying to save some money while moving to the more expensive SSDs, or solid-state drives.) I've had my whole life on a single laptop since my adjunct days when I owned my own machine, and when I eventually got an institution-owned computer, they simply had me copy my whole Home/user folder over. Now, to be clear: my 20 GB of photos (many of which are work-related anyway) and 8 GB of game folders (Civ 5, come on) are not the reason that my 370 GB of data on a 500GB machine won't fit on this new 250GB SSD machine. But, I can't make a case for a larger HD as long as anything non-work is on the machine. Anyway, it got me thinking that it really would be healthier to have a "room of my own," especially since I seem to have little choice. So, why Linux? I'm a Mac user since 1994, but they cost the moon, and I am starting to chafe at the demands and dependencies of the walled garden. Linux is the pain that everyone says it is, but I know from experience that Windows is like an itching-powder union suit to me. I'm comfortable on the command line and philosophically supportive of open source. Anyways.

Mobile Learning: Reflections in Progress

Posted on by Brooke Lester

This post is a "during-course reflection" for "Mobile Learning," a course in the Advanced Studies Certificate: Distance Education Professional Development program at the University of Wisconsin (Madison).

It is written in Markdown on an iPhone 6+, using the Squarespace blogging app, Byword, and DropBox, as well as the public-bookmarking site Diigo.

The "guiding question" or "essential question" that I've brought to mobile learning is, "How might mobile devices make it easier to integrate reflection/activity on a course's subject matter with other elements of one's life, generating unpredictable possibilities for unexpected connections?"

Abstract: In a constructivist view of learning, knowledge is built, or constructed, through meaning-making activities that bring previous understandings into relation with new understandings. Learning is an irreducibly "creative" act: it is created via synthesis. Does the mobility of mobile devices make it easier to facilitate the regular integration of new understandings with the understandings (already) active in the other areas of one's life: family, play, work, etc.?

This short piece on "Connecting the Army to Digital Applications," while brief and summarizing, piqued my interest simply by its intentionality. What would it be like if seminary students, accomplishing their degree programs in real-world loci of practice (churches, non-profits or other non-government organizations, etc.), were provided class activities that could be accomplished "in the field" as opportunities presented themselves? How about their pre-program orientation, their advising, library usage, and so on? What if learners received explicit instruction on using mobile devices (from flip phones to smart phones) to do so? I have found myself preoccupied by a phrase used in this piece: that the goal is to foster "a persistent learning environment."

The "Basics" page of ADL's Mobile Learning Handbook and the Upside Learning "Quick Start Guide" ebook (edit: corrected click-through) have both helped me broaden my introductory understanding and get up on the lingo. For example, the concept of "push and pull learning" (intuitive enough to coders who use repositories like GitHub, but probably not to others) provides a kind of lever by which a fan of "just-in-time learning" to plug that set of pedagogical insights and practices into a mobile-friendly course design.

Integrating that concept of "push and pull learning" into my guiding question should become part of my final project for the course, along with the idea of "interactivity" in this piece by Jesse Stommel, noting that mobile devices facilitate an "easy move between reading and content creation."

My guiding question still makes sense to me as originally written. I found another student keen to provide Spanish-language learning resources to learners in the places where trying to use that language, and became interested in expanding on that idea (perhaps in Hebrew-languages courses that I teach occasionally).

Connected Courses

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Talk about just-in-time learning. One day, I begin to fumble through creation of a "connected course" for 2015. Next day (more or less), my Twitter feed coughs up an invitation to Connected Courses,

a collaborative community of faculty in higher education developing networked, open courses that embody the principles of connected learning and the values of the open web.

This is gonna be great.

Dress Like a Professor: The Office Kit

Posted on by Brooke Lester

It's not easy to dress like a grown-up in the academy. Conditions vary, hours are long and irregular, and salaries encourage instructors to conserve rather than replace. This has led me, over time, to develop an "office kit" to cope with the daily challenges of "dressing like a professor."

The Kit

Dedicated walking shoes: I keep a "dedicated" pair of shoes at work: brown Rockport walking shoes. I chose a pair that looks enough like dress shoes to get by, and they are amazingly comfortable for walking and standing all day. They take shoe shine, so I keep one of those Kiwi sponge-top bottles of instant polish in a desk drawer. I also keep a couple of spare pairs of shoelaces there, in case of a midday shoestring blowout. A dedicated pair of shoes, kept at work away from the wintry elements, makes my work shoes last longer.

Shoe care again: When I change shoes, a little Lysol gets sprayed into the pair I'm removing, bowling-lanes-style. Yes, I wash my feet. It's a small office, and I'm like the proverbial frog in the pan of water: if I think I'll notice when things start to get smelly, I'm fooling only myself.

Good, curved hangers in the closet: I remove my blazer or suit jacket several times each day. Also, once a week, I go straight from work to teach Taekwon-do in the elementary schools, changing out of my work clothes before leaving and packing out out my suit or blazer and pants. So, I always keep several hangers in my office closet: not cheap wire hangers or even the plastic ones, but the nice curved ones that come with a suit or blazer. These keep the shape of the shoulders properly, even when I'm carrying my suits and blazers around or hanging them in the car.

Lint brush and soda water: I like a real lint brush more than the sticky-paper kind, because my principal enemy is chalk dust. A six-pack of soda water with a dedicated clean handkerchief stands ready to take out small stains (including the spot of blood on my collar that I missed in the bathroom mirror that morning).

Change of shirt and tie: This is a work zone. There is coffee, soup, mustard, chalk dust, toner, ink, and every manner of hazard. I haven't yet had to draw on the dress shirt, slacks, and necktie that I keep hanging in the closet, but I'm always glad to see them there.

Climate control: Three words: brown cardigan sweater. Great for relaxing in a drafty office, and in a pinch can substitute for a forgotten blazer.

Casual clothes: This may be overkill, but I like to keep a set of season-appropriate casual clothes (jeans, long-sleeve tee) folded in a drawer, just in case I want to go somewhere after work without looking like like Ward Cleaver.

What about the adjuncts?

For several years, I shuttled between schools as an adjunct, walking and taking public transportation. None of the schools had an "adjunct office." What can the vagabond adjunct do to reduce wear and tear on the work clothes that he can't afford to replace?

  • Resist the temptation to "dress down" as an adjunct: having less real power, the trappings of power are more important to you, not less…they are just much harder to maintain.
  • Wear walking shoes instead of dress shoes. Even "comfortable" dress shoes are murder as the miles rack up, and they also fall apart under hard use. If you can't arrange a change-of-shoes routine, then plan to go through your walking shoes annually, especially if you walk to work or take public transportation. When you buy a new pair, keep the beat-up ones for casual use.
  • Wide, padded shoulder straps that won't cut into the shoulders of your blazer or suit jacket. Consider a backpack with a hip-belt suspension system, which will take the weight off your shoulders altogether. (If you protest that you'll look like a dork, I'm afraid that I have bad news for you.) This will also save your back, and since you don't have health insurance and don't have time to be laid up with spasms, seriously: consider the hip belt.
  • See if a friendly office secretary has a place for you to keep your wet boots, umbrella, and coat while you're on campus. Or, if s/he can wrangle you a commuter locker, even if those are reserved for students. Similarly, is there a safe place to keep your large and heavy books on campus when you don't have a reason to drag them home? The less you have to carry everything all the time, the easier it is to keep the clothes on your back unrumpled and in good repair.

As a man, recognize that I enjoy my culture's relative clarity and stability concerning a man's "uniform" in the academy. I would especially love to see women instructors round out my suggestions for the "kit" in the Comments. Thoughts from anyone? Improvements?

[Dress Like a Professor: The Office Kit was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2013/10/17. Except as noted, it is © 2013 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

My Other Blog is a Seminarium Blog

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Much of my recent work is at Seminarium Blog, a group blog about pedagogy in religious studies (higher education). Seminarium is a creation of Fortress Education. I have added a page to Anumma, linked in my sidebar, pointing to my recent writing and vlogging at Seminarium.

I haven't walked away from Anumma blog, though I am definitely in one of those periods where Anumma is eclipsed by the rest of my writing life: Seminarium, scholarship projects, student assessment, administrative writing, etc. It's not my first fallow period here--as Anumma has evolved from solid Old Testament and ancient Near East studies, into "biblioblogging," into Hebrew Bible and higher education, and increasingly into digital learning--and, insh' Allah, won't be the last. Thanks for reading, keep me in your feed, and come visit us over at Seminarium!

Fear and Anger in DigiWriMo

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Remember when we all used to apologize for "not blogging lately"? In those days, readers would have to click all the way over to your blog (uphill both ways, in the snow) in order to see whether you had posted anything new. So, we felt guilty if there wasn't always something waiting for them, to justify the trip. I think that, by now, we all know about "readers" and RSS feeds: as long as someone still kicks out a blog post from time to time, we can keep their feed in our reader of choice, and it doesn't matter if a few weeks pass between posts.

So this isn't an apology. What it is, is an observation, or a pair of them. This month is Digital Writing Month, and I am doing my poor best to write 1,667 digital words each day. (I won't get to the whole 50k-in-the-month: if I don't manage the quota for a given day, then I start fresh the next day without trying to make it all up.)

A lot of days this month, I don't succeed. One of the reasons I already knew about, but it's worth holding up for attention during Digital Writing Month. The other, I guess I knew that too.

Observation 1: If I do not write, it is often because so many other people have control over my calendar.

This is what Merlin Mann would describe as the bigger-picture "In box" problem: an In-box is anything in your life (not just email) where people can drop stuff that thereby becomes your problem. For contingent and junior faculty, it can be super frightening to say No to anything. When you're afraid, your whole life is an In-box: an ever-increasing list of items that are "unknown, ambiguous, or incomplete."

Observation 2: If I do not publish, it may be because I am angry.

There's a reason that so many bloggers in academia are pseudonymous. They are in a position to write freely, in a semi-ranting mode (or even full-tilt), about things that are happening now in their courses, or among their faculty colleagues, or in their administration, or among their institution's partners. We "nymous" bloggers aren't so free. For the most part, when something gets right under our skin, we need to process on it a while, to detach, before being able to write on it publicly. And anger doesn't compartmentalize: when I'm well ticked off about one thing, it colors the way I write about anything. Fortunately, I consider unpublished ranting Drafts to count toward my Digital Writing Month total.

I consider these reflections to be a mark of how good Digital Writing Month has been for me so far this November. We're all so busy, it's not easy to stop and pay attention. I've got some decisions to make about this In-box business and the things that bother me, and Digital Writing Month helps me see them more clearly every day, both on "good writing days" and on the other days as well.

Is there anything that Digital Writing Month is helping you to see more clearly?

[Fear and Anger in DigiWriMo was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/11/14. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Digital Writing Month: My Plans

Posted on by Brooke Lester

Today marks Day One of DigiWriMo (Digital Writing Month), in which I try to write 50,000 digital words during the month of November. DigiWriMo is inspired by the concurrently-running NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), and is the brainchild of Jesse Stommel and Sean Michael Morris of Marylhurst University.

So what are my plans for DigiWriMo? These:

  • Blog posts like this one. Some blog posts I will publish, and others I will bring to Draft status and keep in the can. I also have a number of drafts already in progress that I can work at.
  • Finish my self-paced online course. I am enrolled in the 10-CEU Professional Certificate in Online Teaching course (University of Wisconsin-Madison), and have been stalled on the last two projects of this course for months. So, now's my chance to treat it as a priority and finish up.
  • Keep my SBL/AAR presentation in progress. This happens in only two weeks, but I'd like to do a lot of free writing on the project and see how that causes me to continue revisions between now and the day I present. Once it's been delivered, I'll record an a/v version for YouTube.
  • I've had an idea for a biweekly newsletter, and have even drafted the first issue. I'd like to re-visit that first issue, then also get a bunch of features drafted for later issues. I'll feel better about launching that project if I've got several articles "in the can."
  • Tweet a bunch, as usual and maybe more. Keep a hand in on the DigiWriMo Facebook page.
  • Where possible, participate in events planned by the good folks at DigiWriMo.

So there are my first 400+ words (including Markdown markup), toward a daily goal of 1667+. Are you participating in DigiWriMo (or NaNoWriMo, or any other WriMo)? What are your own plans?

[Digital Writing Month: My Plans was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/11/01. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

See You at THATCamp Hybrid Pedagogy

Posted on by Brooke

It's official: I will be attending THATCamp Hybrid Pedagogy in Portland OR, on October 20-21.

Last year, I made it to THATCamp Pedagogy in Poughkeepsie NJ. I would love to see a more-or-less annual pedagogy unconference unfold, in some form or other.

More as we get close, but you can expect some live-tweeting and blogging from THATCamp Hybrid Ped.

[See You at THATCamp Hybrid Pedagogy was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/09/13. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

The Real First Day, RBoC

Posted on by Brooke

Classes start a week from tomorrow. But as of today, summer is officially over.

Today begins our 2-day faculty retreat. Then, the rest of the week is new-student orientation. Then, a relatively joyless Labor Day weekend filled with the last-minute labors of course preparation. Then finally, "Good morning, eager young minds."

Here are my start-of-term Random Bullets of Crap:

  • Try to chill out and enjoy faculty retreat for two days;
  • Prepare for student orientation session on online coursework and our Bible Content course;
  • Get advisees safely settled into their sockets for the term;
  • Finish planning, syllabus, and LMS build for online course Intro to Old Testament;
  • Complete last set of Flickr slides for face-to-face course Elementary Biblical Hebrew;
  • Make progress in home stretch of online course in online pedagogy;
  • Make long-postponed repairs to my suits: buttons, hems;
  • Office housekeeping: get plant out of water pitcher into planter, and swap out cafeteria plastic tableware for a couple of sets of proper, if cheap, table settings.

Where are you in the start of the term? What are your own random bullets?

[The Real First Day, RBoC was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/08/27. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]


Posted on by Brooke

The "Unconference"

Many of my readers will already be familiar with the "Unconference" model of the professional conference, especially through its use at THATCamps. Those who aren't familiar with THATCamp or the "unconference" can get a quick history in Episode 2 of the Gradhacker Podcast. Briefly, an "unconference" is an academic conference for which the sessions and agendas are, for the most part, established collaboratively on-site, at the outset of the conference.

I've been to one THATCamp, and was deeply impressed by how well the on-site collaborative planning went. The veteran supporters clearly had a lot of experience, and used that experience to empower newcomers to fully participate efficiently and successfully in the session planning. I wound up taking some notes on what made it work well.

  • Canvassing for provisional ideas before the event: in the days and weeks before the unconference, attendees can write tentative proposals into a comment section on the THATCamp's blog.
  • An intentional eye on "splitting and lumping": watching for opportunities to split a compound idea into separate sessions and to lump similar or related ideas into single sessions.
  • Fixed "Bootcamps": an anchor set of planned sessions, showing enough variety that many tentative proposals can be hooked into the Bootcamps rather than require a session of their own.
  • Asking attendees what sessions should not be held concurrently. Attendees loved this.

So, this got me thinking about what else I could "Un." This Spring, I took a shot at "un-ning" my Moodle training sessions for faculty and Ph.D. students.

The "Untraining"

Most of our faculty and Ph.D. students have had "basic training" and some experience with our Moodle learning management system, which we have used only since Summer 2011. I wanted to continue to offer "Moodle for Users" advanced training, but since this is an entirely optional training, I have to make it attractive to a lot of really busy academics who have other, more immediate, demands on their time.

So, I set it up as an Untraining, using the strategies listed above. I would canvass for ideas ahead of time, encourage splitting and lumping, and offer one or two fixed concepts to be taught. (At this time, I am the sole facilitator, so concurrent sessions is not an issue…though I'd love attendance to rise until it becomes an issue.)

Attendance was small, largely for institutional reasons; for example, many faculty tend to arrange their schedules to come onto campus for packed, marathon TWRs, while working from home on MF. And a lot of our Ph.D.'s commute a good ways. Nontheless, participants responded positively to the "Untraining" aspects of the advanced training, and remarked that they were relieved to find the session worth their while.

In 2012-13, I will look for ways to make attendance easier, and to fully "market" the advantages of the Untraining model in my invitations.

Have you "un-ned" anything besides a conference? What might you "un," and what sorts of challenges or promise do you think it has?

["Untraining" was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/06/14. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Re-thinking My Creative Commons Licenses

Posted on by Brooke

I'm rethinking my copyrights.

Bethany Nowviskie wrote recently that she is dropping the "no-commercial-use" specification—the clause that prevents people from making money off her work—from the Creative Commons copyright she holds on much of what she makes. Briefly, she concludes that, if she is already making the content available for distribution, and requiring that the work be attributed to her, then the "no commercial use" clause only functions to slow the work's dissemination…and thereby to limit the dissemination of her name and ideas.

Creative Commons offers six kinds of license (scroll down). All six require others to grant you attribution for your work. To select a license for what you make, you have to decide whether others may re-mix your work into derivative works; whether others may use your work for commercial projects; and whether those using your work must license their work with the same license you have chosen.

Recently, I was collecting photographs from Flickr to use in a recorded presentation. In this case, the presentation is to be published on our school's web site. While we won't be "selling" the images, and the purpose of the presentation is educational, we are putting the video next to an Admissions link: not very different from how an overtly commercial site might wrap the images in clickable advertisements. Therefore, I had to restrict myself to Flickr images employing Creative Commons licenses permitting commercial use. You know, that thing that I myself don't allow for my own Flickr images. And I thought of Bethany. If someone wants to use my Hebrew learning images, and is willing to grant me attribution, do I want them to be frightened off by the fear that using them in a tuition-based context will violate my "non-commercial" clause? Even if they're used in a work published for profit…well, look, I do make some stuff for private distribution and (hollow laughter) potential profit, but if I've made something for open distribution anyway, I don't lose anything if someone incorporates it into a non-free work, and I gain by their attribution.

This weekend, in response to a Prof Hacker post, I was experimenting with making my syllabi available on GitHub for other teachers to "fork" (duplicate in whole or in part to re-mix into their own "branch" syllabi). I began to attach a "CC BY-NC" license (allowing distribution and derivative works but forbidding commercial use), when I thought of Bethany again. Almost anyone creating syllabi is making them for a course that charges tuition, a commercial use. I want my colleagues to use the work without fear, as long as they grant me attribution.

This blog is a different story. For one thing, I do not want the content re-mixed, because words taken out of context combined with attribution sounds to me like a recipe for abuse. Also, the most common commercial use of blog posts—scraping the RSS feed and surrounding the content with ads—is unethical: posts tagged "Education" wind up scraped onto sites that plug the worst of the for-profit-education scams. Here at Anumma, I'll keep the "CC BY-NC-ND" license, allowing distribution with attribution but forbidding re-mixing into derivative works and also forbidding commercial use.

But, the GitHub syllabi (on which I will write more soon) are available for attribution alone, and once I've had time to sit on it a bit, the Flickr images are likely to follow.

What are your copyright practices for your own open work? Do you agree that a "no-commercial-use" license is unnecessarily chilling for educational use?

[Re-thinking My Creative Commons Licenses was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 20121/04/23. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Borrowing Syllabi: Collaborate, Re-mix, Acknowledge

Posted on by Brooke

A number of years back, Chris Heard posted the flowchart [link updated] by which he assessed a certain paper-writing assignment. I have mentioned before that I picked it up and modified it for my own use. At that time, I incorporated much of it into a checklist for the students to consult before submitting the paper. More recently, convinced of the value of rubrics for assessment, I have developed that into a three-column rubric. I realized recently that, some point, in the heat of revision, I had dropped my standard acknowledgment of Chris's original work.

Katharine Harris wrote recently on the value of including acknowledgments in syllabi: if we are smart, we are re-mixing assignments and assessment tools designed by others, and as an ongoing research project in curriculum, a syllabus should reflect that.

"Re-mixing" syllabi created by others (or their elements) is not different from how designers of open-source software "fork" already-existing applications: taking a tool that exists, then copying and modifying it into a new creation, is to create a new "fork" for that tool. Brian Croxell talks about "forking a syllabus," and Lincoln Muller offers tips on using GitHub—an online resource for sharing and forking software code—to collaborate on and share syllabi, assignments, and assessment tools.

I have begun developing an online lesson for faculty on the value of using plain text [in] the writing process and in collaborative writing, and a section of that lesson will include the use of GitHub for sharing modules from syllabi: policy statements, projects, assessment tools, and so on. I will plan to work out parts of that lesson here on the blog.

How have you built on tools drawn from others' syllabi? What are your habits regarding acknowledgment?

[Borrowing Syllabi: Collaborate, Re-mix, Acknowledge was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 20121/04/18. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Poetics of Scribal Culture in Inner-Biblical Oralities of Allusive Redaction-Echoes, and Stuff

Posted on by Brooke

My main research focus, when I can get to it, concerns literary allusion in the Bible (also called "inner-biblical interpretation," or "inner-biblical exegesis").

Insofar as I have a Big Idea, it mostly involves running around like Chicken Little and yelling that the field of biblical studies isn't producing a coherent conversation about "inner-biblical allusion" because we quarantine ourselves (as we so often do) from the secular ancillary scholarship (in this case, on the poetics of literary allusion).

What disturbs and intrigues me recently is, I think that there is another scholarly context to which I'll need to tether my continuing work in biblical allusion. You know it well, and most recently, it looks something like this.

Upside: maybe I get to blow the dust off my Akkadian again. Downside: Hier werden deutsche.

[Poetics of Scribal Culture in Inner-Biblical Oralities of Allusive Redaction-Echoes, and Stuff was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/01/16. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Learning to Code the Web with Code Year

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On January 9th, I received my first unit of Code Year, a one-year, weekly lesson in Javascript programming offered freely by CodeAcademy. A short time later, the Boy and I were working through it together.

Javascript is the programming language on which most of the Web is built, and is one of the simplest coding languages to learn. And, just as natural human languages share most of their basic features with one another (nouns, verbs, adjectives, &c), the elements of Javascript are also used in other programming languages like Perl or Ruby.

Any of you who know me--or who see how rarely I've posted here lately--know that I am pretty extraordinarily busy these days. So why would I take ten minutes, a few evenings per week, to learn something of computer code?

How much of your work is accomplished on the Web or by means of some digital tools or other? Whatever percentage that is, remember that those environments and tools are the way they are because somebody decided that that is how they should be. Learning to code means learning what some alternative possibilities might look like. If we understand something of programming code, we begin to join that community of deciders.

If you are in the Humanities, you may well already be a "Digital Humanist": do you ever use digital tools to accomplish Humanities research? Or, do you ask Humanities-questions about the growing digitalization of our information and our practices? You don't have to code to be a digital humanist, but learning something of how the Web is coded may spark ideas for you about tools or processes that could improve your research and writing.

Do you have kids in school? If they even have "computer class," that's likely to mean, "Learning to use things made by Microsoft," rather than "Learning to build cool things that don't yet exist but could." The weekly units in CodeYear are broken down into several short lessons, perfect for children's lower stamina and shorter attention spans. (Okay, by day's end, my own stamina and attention span are pretty well shot as well.) Sit together on the sofa for ten minutes in the evenings, and learn together the language used to create on the Web.

If you are interested, you can read what others are saying about Code Year, or about Code Academy. But I recommend you just jump right in and sign up for your weekly email lessons. Have fun, and tell me if you decide to get started learning to code.

[Learning to Code the Web with Code Year was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2012/01/13. Except as noted, it is © 2012 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Letters of Reference Check List

Posted on by Brooke

So, one of the duties that feature heavily this time of year is “letters of reference”: for Ph.D programs, for scholarships, for employment. (The other duties you know also: students need help planning Winter or Spring courses; students struggling with current course work are looking for life lines; and grading for the current term, so well managed up to this point, has just now spun out of control.)

Sometimes it’s hard to write a good letter. Scratch that: it’s always hard to write a good letter, in the same way that it’s always hard to get to any of the housekeeping that fills itself in around course work, administration, office hours, and (hear my hollow laughter) scholarship. What tends to really make the difference is the student herself, by performing at a high level in the first place, by getting the request in to me nice and early, and by giving me lots of information instead of requiring me to make of the letter a whole new research project. It’s arithmetical: time not spent housekeeping a letter is time spent writing the letter.

Over time, I have developed a “check list” that I return to students who ask me for a letter of reference:

The Check List

  1. Whenever possible, please plan to have given me 30 days to write. If not, give me as much time as possible.

  2. If I have written a letter for you in the past, please remind me of this, telling me when that was and who it was for.

  3. Please include the full name and appropriate title for recipient of letter.

  4. Please include the full address for recipient.

  5. Please include any information materials about the program/scholarship/job/etc, unless that information available clearly on a web page (see next). This can be in electronic form or hard copy.

  6. If the scholarship provider, program, employer, etc. has a web presence, please include an URL for that web site.

  7. Please remind me what classes you’ve had with me, and what term(s) they took place. Or, remind me of our other ties. (Sorry, I really can remember, but if you save me these minutes, I’ll put them to better use for you working on the letter itself.)

  8. Please give me clear instructions for delivery: mail directly, return sealed to you, &c.

  9. Please include a portfolio of work you have done for me in the past. (This may not be necessary, I usually still have anything that we have exchanged in electronic format, but at least check with me about this). Material can be electronic or hard copy.

  10. Please offer me a few sentences on how I can really help you with this. What talking points would be helpful? What are the details of the impression you hope to convey? How does my letter contribute to your overall package?

  11. Always remember that a letter writer’s “stock in trade” is honesty. The very best way to secure good letters of reference is to distinguish yourself from your peers early and often in course work. Thanks.

The whole point is to be able to quickly organize the resources that will inform an interesting, positive, distinctive letter.

What do you think? If you teach, have you composed a similar check list? If you are a student, do you have any thoughts about these kinds of requirements?

[Letters of Reference Check List was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/11/17. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

THATCamp Pedagogy This Weekend (Picking My Feet Edition)

Posted on by Brooke

Have you ever been to Poughkeepsie?

I'm on my way this morning to THATCamp Pedagogy (ProfHacker post), an unconference on teaching and learning as an aspect of digital humanities (THATCamp home). The unconference is in Poughkeepsie NY, and is sponsored by Vassar College.

Besides the "unconference" sessions, there are planned "boot camps" on:

  • integrating digital projects into undergraduate courses;

  • teaching with Omeka;

  • the undergraduate's voice in digital humanities;

  • "So Long, Lecture."

I will plan to live-Tweet as opportunity allows. On Twitter, you can follow me for the weekend at @anummabrooke to see my Tweets alone, or follow the hashtag #THATCampedagogy (note the single "p") to follow all Tweets on the unconference.

[Addendum: the hashtags actually used at the unconference have been #THATCamp and #pdgy]

Have you ever been to Poughkeepsie? (Not Safe For Work!) [Update: cut from French Connection since blocked on copyright grounds]

[THATCamp Pedagogy This Weekend was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/10/14. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

MultiMarkdown and Me

Posted on by Brooke

MultiMarkdown: All I Never Knew I Wanted:

When I write, I want to write text files that are ready to be published either as word processing files or to the Web, with full formatting, while still already human-readable simply as text. And I didn’t even know how badly I wanted that until I discovered that it’s possible with Markdown. This is probably easier to show first, then tell.

As you can see, the *.txt file is human-readable, and I get the same formatting results whether I publish to *.rtf (for word processing) or to HTML (for web publishing as you’re reading it now). This is the point.

Results Explained:

These examples illustrate the gist of it. As a writer, this is what I gain from MultiMarkdown:

I get to create a human-readable document that can nonetheless be exported to the Web as HTML. Have you ever seen a page of text that is marked up for HTML, that is for web viewing? It’s a blizzard of tags that make the actual content unreadable. (You can see an example if you select, in your browser, View: Source or Page Source.) But with MultiMarkdown (or just Markdown: see below), I have a document that is prepared for the web, but which is also totally readable in plain text.

I get to create a human-readable document that can nonetheless be exported to a word processor as *.rtf (RTF). Have you ever seen a page of text that is marked up as *.rtf, for opening in Word or another word processor? It’s even worse than with HTML. (You can see an example if you take the RTF file linked above, change the suffix from *.rtf to *.txt, and open it in Apple’s TextEdit or in Microsoft Notepad.) But again, with MultiMarkdown, I have a document that is prepared for export as *.rtf to almost any word processor, but again which is also totally readable in plain text.

I get to write this file just once, and archive it as a single file, no matter whether I used it for word processing or web publishing. The same file, written in MultiMarkdown, can be exported as an *.rtf document, easily read in almost any word processor, or as HTML, easily read by any browser or pasted into a blog post or web site.

I get to compose this file in plain text, in any application that suits my stage in the writing process (collecting ideas, outlining, drafting, editing, publishing). It doesn’t feel like I am writing “markup,” it feels as much as possible like I am simply writing. The beauty of Markup is that most of it derives from email conventions: a line of white space between paragraphs, or asterisks surrounding a word or phrase to mark emphasis, or two asterisks for strong text. There are multiple ways (see below on Gruber’s Markdown) to write Web links that are wonderfully readable, completely unlike HTML web link markup.

I get to be sure that it will be readable in twenty years, without a word processor or web browser to render the formatting. Do you have any old files that you cannot read anymore because they only exist in an obsolete format like “AppleWorks”? The stuff I wrote during my Masters work can only be opened as plain text, and the text is entirely buried in obsolete markup and code. But the stuff I write today in Markdown is already human-readable in plain text, and will remain human-readable for as long as we have plain text.

This is the beauty of MultiMarkdown: plain text files, easily readable to the human eye, but already marked up for headers, sub-headers, ordered or unordered lists, emphasis, and footnotes…both for word processing via *.rtf or for web publishing via HTML. Yeah, it’s the writer’s holy grail.

What is MultiMarkdown?

John Gruber developed Markdown with the web-publishing end in view. Markdown allows almost any formatting one will need for most purposes: emphasis (usually italics), strong text (usually bold), paragraphing, lists, block quotes, hyperlinks to the web, and more. However, Gruber’s Markdown exporter only exports as HTML, because web-publishing is what Gruber has in mind.

Fletcher Penney developed MultiMarkdown as a supplement to, or extension of, Gruber’s Markdown. It accomplishes two things:

  • It exports Markdown as *.rtf rather than only as HTML. (It also exports to OPML, LaTex, and other formats that you may or may not know about or be interested in.)

  • It adds syntax for things like bibliography, footnotes, tables, and more.

So, MultiMarkdown incorporates all the features of Gruber’s Markdown, and extends the idea beyond web publishing to word processing. Note that you do have to install Fletcher’s MultiMarkdown script and support package in order to export MultiMarkdown plain text files as HTML, *.rtf, or other file formats.

My Workflow

I like this because I often don’t know where doodling, note-taking, and outlining might leave off and “writing” begin. I am learning to write in MultiMarkdown all the time, in every stage, because any of that stuff may, at some point, become part of the written piece. Composed in Markdown, anything I write is legible while I play around with it, and it won’t require additional formatting for word processors or for the Web once that writing sits in the final, published piece.

For example, this blog post was

  • begun as a note in NotationalVelocity,

  • moved into OmniOutliner while I played with structure and began some drafting,

  • imported via OPML into Scrivener for continued drafting and editing. From Scrivener I can compile it as HTML (as for this post in WordPress), or as *.rtf for word processing. I save it in Scrivener, but also compiled as plain text ( *.txt) for archiving.

At any of these stages I can compose freely in MultiMarkdown, working in whatever tools suits my present location and purposes, knowing that the result will be a human-readable plain text file formatted for word processing or for the Web.

What do you think? It can sound complicated, and there is a bit of a front-end learning curve (not much, for anyone who already habitually writes in “email style” paragraphing), but once learned, it is all simplicity itself. Can MultiMarkdown do for you what it does for me?

[MultiMarkdown and Me was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/05/02. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities 2011

Posted on by Brooke

Along with everything else in life that you’ve been missing, the Day in the Life of Digital Humanities (“Day of DH”) 2011 came and went a couple of weeks back. What are the “Digital Humanities,” you ask? You could settle for me telling you that it’s humanities accomplished digitally, or you could ask the Wikipedia about it; or best of all, you could simply hear the explanations offered by those who have self-identified over the last three years as working in “digital humanities.” Here are just a few:

Digital Humanities is the application of humanities methodologies and theories to modern technology research. -Andy Keenan, University of Alberta, Canada

Under the digital humanities rubric, I would include topics like open access to materials, intellectual property rights, tool development, digital libraries, data mining, born-digital preservation, multimedia publication, visualization, GIS, digital reconstruction, study of the impact of technology on numerous fields, technology for teaching and learning, sustainability models, and many others. -Brett Bobley, NEH, United States

I think digital humanities, like social media, is an idea that will increasingly become invisible as new methods and platforms move from being widely used to being ubiquitous. For now, digital humanities defines the overlap between humanities research and digital tools. But the humanities are the study of cultural life, and our cultural life will soon be inextricably bound up with digital media. -Ed Finn, Stanford University, USA

On the Day of Digital Humanities, hundreds of folks who see their work in this way agreed to write a blog post about what they were doing that day, March 18, 2011. (This was the day that I became aware of the term, "digital humanities,” because the Day nosed its way onto my Twitter feed, whereupon I followed the tag #dayofdh for the rest of that day and the next.)

You will be excited to know that I’ve saved the best news: Because the fine folks at Day of DH have made the RSS feeds for the blog posts available as an OPML file (or, to translate, “Because blah blah the internet is cool”), I have been able to place the blog posts on my public NetVibes page! And you have a whole year to peruse them before Day of DH 2012!

[Day in the Life of the Digital Humanities 2011 was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/04/05. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]

The First Rule of Write Club is…

Posted on by Brooke

…you do not talk about Write Club. The second rule of Write Club is you DO NOT TALK about Write Club.

Okay, that isn’t how they're numbered by Claire P. Curtis, and she doesn’t call it Write Club. But Writing Group has rules:

  1. [Y]ou must schedule a time every week

  2. There is no backing out.

  3. [All are] responsible for reading and commenting carefully.

  4. Three seems to be the  magic number

(School House Rock bonus link by Brooke).

Do read the entire article: The rules are fleshed out with personal experience, and Curtis has excellent suggestions about choosing participants and making Writing Group work.

I have occasionally discussed a Writing Group with colleagues, mostly back when we were in course work and already had plenty of external pressure to write. During the dissertation years…well, you’d have to be a sadist to bring up a Writing Group with an ABD (that’s “all but dissertation,” or “antisocial behavior disorders”). And anyway, putting three ABDs into a room for Writing Group would be like the legendary Roman death sentence for parricide.

It is probably time for me to re-think Writing Group: my employment situation is settled for the next few years, and while my administration and teaching responsibilities are pretty consuming—especially for the next year—I should be able to carve out some manageable, defined space for research and writing. To offer an analogy: my wife, who handles the books in our household, has always been amazingly good at making sure we “pay ourselves first” even with our often-preposterously-modest incomes: something goes into savings before any bill payments go out. Writing, by analogy, is how an academic “pays herself first.”

Are you now, or have you ever been, a member of Write Club?

[The First Rule of Write Club is… was written by G. Brooke Lester for and was originally posted on 2011/03/30. Except as noted, it is © 2011 G. Brooke Lester and licensed for re-use only under CC BY-NC-ND 3.0.]