They might walk again !! Really cool research I heard about in a podcast.

Listening to a Science Friday podcast in the car this morning to pass the time and WOW … this segment played:  “Reawakening Limbs After Years of Paralysis”  xray from science friday








Here’s what the Science Friday website says: Reporting in the journal Brain, researchers write of reawakening the legs of four men paralyzed from the waist down. They did so by implanting electronic devices in the men’s spines. The devices send out electrical stimulation that re-trains the nerves to listen more carefully for signals, allowing voluntary movements after years of paralysis. Study author Susan Harkema of the University of Louisville and Roderic Pettigrew, director of the National Institute of Bioimaging and Bioengineering, discuss the device and the path towards commercially available treatments.

Nice to hear some positive news, something that brings people hope.  The researchers talked about how the spinal cord might be more “intelligent” than they’ve believed … how the body might be able to recover the ability for movement with a combination of stimulation and specialized physical therapy.  Okay, I didn’t follow everything they said, but I did think – this is wonderful.

Would there be people in wheelchairs who would choose NOT to walk again?  If someone’s been paralyzed for years, if that’s become part of one’s accepted identity – would the change be too frightening?

Most people would probably leap at the chance (pun intended), but even positive change can be scary – so I can imagine that it’d be a complicated path.  Of course, according to the researchers, it takes lots of focused work over months too, so it’s not like they implant a device and people get up and walk a few miles.  Way slower than that … which would also make it easier to accept and embrace.


And now … the rest of my professional life …

Since I started teaching full-time at Longwood University in August, I have had to focus on course preparation, the transition to new job, new routine, new institutional culture, and completing and defending my dissertation, which I did in October over Longwood’s fall break.

No time for blogging.  Not much time for anything really, except the job.  But I was “hooded” in a December graduation ceremony – officially becoming a Doctor of Philosophy in Media, Art, and Text.

Being “hooded” sounds creepy, but I found it to be a cool ritual.  I walked into the ceremony as part of the formal procession of faculty and graduates, carrying my academic hood over my arm like a four-star waiter’s towel.  During the graduation ceremony, my name was called, I walked forward, gave the hood to Dr. Kathy Bassard, chair of VCU’s English Department, and turned around so she could drape it over my neck and arrange it behind me.

Because she’s shorter than I am, I had to kneel down slightly – which added to the ritual of the moment.  Being hooded felt like a sort of soft-cloth knighting ceremony – with roots back into the Middle Ages and the birth of universities within monasteries.

My parents, my husband and my daughter were in the audience as witnesses, as well as several professors and some MATX’ers I’ve been in seminars with.

Also in attendance was the chair of my dissertation commitee, Dr. Noreen Barnes, who let me wear her academic tam instead of the standard-issue mortarboard VCU had given me.  Not only was the tam more attractive – the fact that she let me borrow it for the ceremony was a nice symbolic gesture. As an Associate Professor in VCU’s Theatre Department, she knows the value of ritual and gesture.

So now that I’ve completed the MATX PhD program, the question becomes –  how do I stay fresh and engaged with my field so my classes in Communication Studies at Longwood stay fresh?  And, given the interdisciplinary nature of the MATX degree, what constitutes my field?  What journals do I follow and what conferences do I attend?  Is that even the path I will take as an academic?

Those questions are why – although I could have spent the day grading the design projects I took in on Wednesday or working on notes for the Communication Theory class I’m teaching – instead I spent the morning investigating professional associations and journals.

The Oral History Association ?

The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication ?

One I may join simply because I love the fact that they meet every March in Orlando, Florida, and cover topics like: “Gender and Feminism in Science Fiction”,  “Staging Monstrosity” and “Terrifying Futures: Post-Apocalyptic, Post-Human Dystopias” …  The International Association for the Fantastic in the Arts

Who do I want to become as a writer, media producer, and scholar?

on the US military “going green”

I had no idea that the U.S. military was leading the way on “going green” … there might be some hope for us yet.

The Real Reason the Military is Going Green by Natalie Pompilio — YES! Magazine.

Here’s a snippet from the article:
    …  Climate change simply brings the question of alternative fuel development into sharper focus.   “[Climate change is] a threat multiplier, increasing instability in some of the most volatile regions in the world,” said Lt. Gen. Norman Seif, a retired U.S. Air Force commander who is now active in promoting clean energy. “That can be a threat to us and our own national security.”  …

The military’s initiatives are much broader in scope than simply developing alternative fuels to end dependence on foreign oil.  By 2020, the Army will have 17 bases using “only as much energy and water as they can produce” – part of their “net zero initiative.”

The Marines like solar power for a number of reasons.  There’s more room in their packs for food and supplies if they’re not hauling in batteries.  And solar-power generators are quiet … “Marines start using this, and they believe it scares the bad guys because they can’t hear where we’re at because there’s no generator running” (Marine Col. Bob Charette, director of Expeditionary Energy for the Marine Corps as qtd in the article).

I guess it’s a lucky thing for the planet that the military doesn’t have time for the rhetoric and doublespeak that’s preventing the rest of us from doing what we need to do about climate change.  But I do wish some of that military funding for innovation would be diverted into the private sector.  It’s not good for our democracy if only the military is “green”.

on being plugged in … how much is too much?

This seems important for my dissertation research, as well as my eventual teaching in media studies. Turkle argues that we need to ask ourselves if an obsessive use of social media technologies is taking humanity to a place we’ll want to inhabit.

In my research, I’ve broadened the question to include other forms of technology, like bioengineering and the use of chemicals in agriculture. What if our trust in technology is taking us someplace we don’t want to be? Seems true for farming. For a sense of community and local economies. For freedom and privacy. For civil discourse. For happiness.

Definitely an issue worth talking about. A conversation, perhaps over a meal … with everyone listening and no one texting.

I do think that most people try to strike a balance and unplug themselves occasionally … at least in our sleepy southern city of Richmond. Or maybe I just run with a more contemplative crowd – a crowd that likes to unplug, that dislikes the tether of instant communication. Seems like people I know are asking these questions. I don’t think I know anyone who sleeps with a cell phone … wonder if Turkle’s research took her outside the urban Northeast corridor?

The future of universities: a virtual reality?

This morning. I stumbled across a line of questioning about the future of universities that I find unsettling, probably because I’ve invested a lot of time and have developed quite a few skills as a writer and teacher and would like to land on  solid ground in the near future. Specifically, a March 7 “Wired Campus” blog in the Chronicle of Higher Ed asked the question: Could Many Universities Follow Borders Bookstores Into Oblivion?

The question is a bit doomsday-esque … but bricks and mortars organizations are proving to be at risk in the digital revolution.  The blog post is an interview with Richard DeMillo and Paul Baker, director and associate director of Georgia Tech’s Center for 21st Century Universities, who consider their center an equivalent to a Silicon Valley garage for higher education.  I  don’t know about that – seems like an officially run center located in an institution could never be the equivalent of an entrepreneur’s garage.

Still …  in a February 22 blog post for the Pope Center for Higher Education Policy, DeMillo writes that “incumbents” misread new technologies and become “relics” before they even realize what is happening.  He uses the newspaper industry as an example, which does support his point and makes me hyperventilate a bit.

The Center for 21st Century Universities (C21U) is supposed to encourage innovation in university teaching and research … incubate risk-taking to figure out what best practices in the 21st century digital universe would look like for higher education.    They’ve got lots of good ideas – which may get lost somewhat in the doomsday language – and yet it’s the crisis language that got my attention and probably a lot of other people’s attention too.

Jeff Selingo, editorial director for The Chronicle of Higher Education, devoted his Sept 27, 2011, blogpost to the opening of C21U. He called it “If Engineers Were to Rethink Higher Ed’s Future.”  At the end of his blog, he writes: “At a kickoff event for the center … I moderated a wide-ranging discussion with some leading thinkers on the future of higher ed, and among my questions was this: If you had a chance to run this center, what one project would you put on its agenda?”

Some of the ideas he found most interesting are ones that I agree with as directions for universities:  Improve Social Engagement, Create Incubators, Interactive Learning, and Stop Teaching Subjects.  Luckily, I’m studying and teaching at Virginia Commonwealth University – a public university that is exploring these in pockets all over campus.

Put in this context, perhaps it’s a future to be embraced.  Is the old version, based on medieval monastic training, really working that well for most people?

I’d be sorry to see a business model applied, however, since there are research questions – especially in the humanities – that need to be asked and there does need to be a place of reflection to do so.  That’s what universities have provided a space for and I’d hate to see that disappear – the same way I treasure a brick & mortar bookstore – for discovery.  I don’t always know what I’m looking for until I stumble across it and I’ve found the same thing to be true in education.   Algorithms can be too smart for lucky accidents and that’s not a world I want to live in.

Uneasy about Google’s new privacy policy?

NYT, 2/28: France Says Google Privacy Plan Likely Violates European Law

The headline is a bit bland for the digital privacy issue.  What the French are saying is that Google’s “proposed policy [is] murky in the details of how the company would use private data.”   Should I be concerned about “murky in the details”?

I have to admit, I’m one of the 88 % of Google users who has not read the new policy that takes effect tomorrow.

From the letter sent by the French privacy agency, “Rather than promoting transparency, the terms of the new policy and the fact that Google claims publicly that it will combine data across services raises fears about Google’s actual practices. Our preliminary investigation shows that it is extremely difficult to know exactly which data is combined between which services for which purposes, even for trained privacy professionals.”

Okay … combining data from my Google searches, YouTube searches and my Android smartphone.  “Don’t do evil”  … right?

France has asked Google to delay the new privacy policy for a few weeks, so they can “assess its compatibility with European Union law.”  Google said “no” – “we are confident that our new simple, clear and transparent privacy policy respects all European data protection laws and principles.”  Also – they’re too big and too rich to care?

Somehow “don’t do evil” doesn’t make me feel any better.  And yet, I’ll probably Google something else today.  Maybe it’s time to check out Yahoo.

on adrenaline and the preparation of presentations

I’m writing the third of three presentations I’ve had to give in about two weeks.  This one’s on the Eastern Shore Stories oral history project.  I feel more pressure with this one, simply because so many people I know and people whom I’ve interviewed will be there.

But I also have a lot to say, and the writing of this presentation is going quickly.  I’ve decided to write down and time out everything I’m going to say and share … and to limit my tech needs to using my laptop to play edited sound clips through portable speakers.  Keep it simple and less can go wrong.

The best presentations I’ve given, I’ve read aloud at academic conferences.  I don’t want to read aloud here, but I’m not going to speak from notecards or bullet points. I want to know exactly what I want to say and practice so much that I’ve got it memorized.  Then I can relax and concentrate on connecting with the audience during the talk.

Adrenaline aids public speaking, right?  I’ll be glad when the season of presentations and occasional adrenaline rushes are ended.

mostly unplugged

I’ve managed to do a few oral history interviews since I last blogged. I’m taping people who lived and worked on farms in Accomac County (rural eastern Virginia) before 1960. I find being without wireless or easy phone access frustrating … but that’s nothing compared to a time about 75 years ago when people around here walked ten miles on Saturday evening to get to a town to walk up and down the street … to see or be seen by neighbors who’d also walked a distance or driven in from farms on sandy roads that could wash out in a good storm. They’d spend a dime for the movies or an ice cream cone.

equipment and media work

I’ve squirreled away enough money in my “educational / professional development” savings account to purchase some equipment. So yesterday I started pricing and spec checking external hard drives and digital audio recorders / microphones. Time to pick up the phone and place an order. I’m going to do this the old-fashioned way so I can ask a few technical questions before the stuff is bought and shipped.

I’m also working on a new blog – this one specifically for the farm life oral history project. It’ll be a repository for the stories I’m collecting – I’ll publish one a week for about sixteen weeks. My plan is to go live on June 1, and publish a new story each Monday for sixteen weeks. Maybe some photos too, if I have some that fit and I like.

art as experience

One of my graduate teaching assignments this semester was working as a writing coach with seniors in the sculpture department, helping them with artist statements. One of the coolest things about this GTA was that I got to see so much great work and hear about their artistic practices. Wish I could do this sort of work full-time!

Art’s not just about making a thing (although it can be) … sometimes it’s about documenting an experience – or creating an experience for the audience. Made me think about what we do in the MATX program – about ideas and diversity and cross-pollination.

I’m thinking about this because I stumbled across a radio piece on Studio 360, about the artist Josh Greene whose work is experiential. Art as life as art.

In this particular piece unlicensed therapy he does pretty much what he says – he creates a therapist’s “office” and takes “clients.” In this project he listens, in real time and real space, to his “clients” (one at a time) for a sustained period of time, just like a licensed therapist does. Gives them his attention and support. What interests me is that despite the multiple communication spaces we use daily – communicating through email and facebook and twitter with multiple people all day long – wonder how many of us are starved for one other person’s undivided attention – in real time and physical space?