Tuesday, October 27, 2009

NEW VENUE for Town Hall Meeting

Dear First Year MI Students,

I have heard a rumour that second year students would like also to have a chance to attend tomorrow's meeting between 5-6pm. Given their interest I wanted to write to the Student Council President to offer her the opportunity to invite them to attend. Because I do not know how many students will wish to attend from either the first or second year and fire regulations would only have allowed around 250 students to come into the room my colleagues had booked we have found another room with a higher capacity.

So the Faculty of Information town meeting will now be held at

Mechanical Engineering Bldg

5 King's College Road

Room 102 (MC 102)

In case those of you who will be speaking want to get an appreciation of the space, something that I have always found helpful, I include a link to a picture of the room (http://www.osm.utoronto.ca/room_pics/MC-102.html ).

For those of you trying to find the meeting room you can find a map at (http://rrs.osm.utoronto.ca/map/f?p=110:1:5760345334091742552)

So I look forward to seeing as many of you as can make it tomorrow, 28 October, at 5 pm.


Seamus Ross

Sunday, October 25, 2009

A little debate

There's been a debate going on in the comments section of the "Glorious Five Year Plan" post about the theoretical vs. practical aspects of our course, and how its being taught. I had an epiphany last night.

Several of our professors have admitted that they have no experience teaching classes of the current size, and I think therein lies the problem with the teaching styles that we've been seeing. Reading off slides, speaking entirely in jargon...these are the actions not of incompetent professors, because talking with them one-on-one they know their stuff, but rather of workman trying to make due with substandard tools.

Most of these people are used to lecturing small groups of students, engaging them in direct discourse, and being able to explain the things they say. They are used to discussing examples, talking about theory, expanding on ideas. But how do you do that with 270 students? You can't. You have to use something that everyone can see, and make it as elementary as possible.

I think we scare them. On some basic, academic, primal level, we scare them. To use a kitchen example, its like staring down the gullet of a 250 person rush in a restaurant that normally never tops 70 covers a night. Full house, two or three sitting, night of full-bore crazy. And that's us.

The administration brought in more students than it could handle and shackled these professors down to classes bigger than many of my first year lectures. What do the professors do? They try to find some way to cope. Unfortunately, I get the impression that most of them aren't good group lecturers. They don't lecture crowds well without prepared speeches. They're used to a graduate level of teaching, wherein lecture is a two way street, and the students are looking to understand the information rather than simply absorb it as rote fact. They had to set up a course so that it could reach the lowest common denominator, because they couldn't afford to take the personal time to work with their students, resulting in days which are essentially first year pablum, whereas others are high theory that is actually applicable all around. You can really tell the content from the filler.

Simple fact of the matter is that none of our courses have exams. We don't need to absorb all of this rote information for future course use. Much of what we're learning is basic history as a filler for the professors not being able to instead fill the time the way it should be filled: in dialogue with the class.

We can see this in the INF100X series, where TAs, and sometimes profs, run up and down the aisles with microphones like we're on the set of Jerry Springer. That's no way to hold a dialogue with students. They cut off attempts at dialogue because the class is so big and everyone has to have a chance to ask their question. Asking questions of the Dean was like trying to ask a question in the White House press room: Everybody wanted to speak, only a few were allowed to.

That's the problem. The course size has sabotaged the professors as much as it has us. And I think we'd get many many times more out of the educational experience with smaller class sizes.

This doesn't make all the professors blameless. There are a few who, without a doubt, had a say in how this new program design came about. They confuse me greatly. But I have a hard time imagining that certain members of the faculty would have backed a plan for class sizes and teaching styles that seems so at odds with their own.

It feels sometimes like the Faculty itself is schizophrenic. It is inconsistent. It has little nagging voices in its head and pushes forwards with an irrational and illogical course of action because of them. It is internally conflicted, liable to just sit down in the gutter and argue with itself for hours while the student body watches on helplessly, trying to figure out what's going on. It cannot decide what it wants to be.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

5 years of Chasing the Muse

On October 31st, this blog will celebrate its 5th anniversary.


Friday, October 23, 2009

Best grad school subject line received so far

"please don't feed the creatures"

Apparently they've seen mice around the library. But still. I got that and wondered if someone was sending me Cam email at the wrong address again.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Faculty Town Hall meeting!

Faculty of Information town hall meeting!

Next Wednesday! 5pm-6pm, Medical Sciences 3154!

Dear First Year MI Students

Thank you for raising your concerns about mechanisms for delivery of the new core courses with me yesterday. As you know, we wish to be responsive to concerns raised by students, especially as we implement the program’s new curriculum. I have gone away to think about all the issues you raised and am having discussions with my colleagues to see what approaches we can take to address them as quickly as possiible.

As I felt that many of you did not have a chance to speak, I offered yesterday to arrange another session. To that end, I have booked Room 3154 in Medical Sciences Building from 17:00-18:00 on Wednesday 28th of October so that we can continue our conversation and so that the Faculty can take necessary steps to ensure a quality educational experience.

I do hope that you will all be able to attend at ths time.

Once again, thank you for your comments yesterday.

Yours Sincerely

Dr Seamus Ross
Dean and Professor
Faculty of Information, University of Toronto
Telephone: 416 978 3202

And the latest problem...

It has been, at this point, a thoroughly disheartening week at the iSchool.

Monday: INF1002 Professor, Lynne Howarth, delivered a lecture entirely from her slides, almost verbatim, citing Wikipedia as her main reference for several parts of it. Students were allowed to evaluate the class. From what I hear, it was almost universally panned.

Tuesday: Well...you already heard about Tuesday. Comrade Comissar Dean and Glorious Five Year Plan.

Wednesday: INF1300 students are handed back their first paper. Everyone is marked down for not using secondary sources. Students were told by Professor Caidi, in class, two weeks previous not to include secondary sources in their papers, as they only needed the interview itself in order to present their case. TA was flummoxed. I really like Professor Caidi, she seems like a genuinely intelligent, knowledgeable, and interesting person, and is probably the only professor (with the possible exception of Prof. David Phillips in INF1003) who I actually feel tries to connect personally with her students. But the *ENTIRE CLASS* was nodding and agreeing vocally when I informed the TA that we had been told not to include secondary sources, that they were not necessary, and that we didn't have to worry about a citations page. There is the possibility that we might all get re-marked next week. I am unsure.

Finally, my blog seems to be getting a surprising degree of traffic from my classmates. Which...actually kinda confuses me, because I had absolutely no idea any of them read it, or indeed even knew it existed. I gave one person the address so they could read my summary of the Dean's address...but...huh. *shrug* Well, hey, folks! Guess I'll have to be more careful with what I write, given that I'm getting attention here.

The simple fact, at day's end, however is that I am really not enjoying my program. The classes are problematic and redudant, the professors are having great difficulty teaching classes of our size (and many admit to never having taught classes this big before), and the whole system just seems to have been thrown together with duct tape and bailing wire, hoping it will hold.

Well. Let me end with a brief little analysis.

Our course of study is information infrastructure. The systems of our program transmit information from the professors on one end to the students on the other. We are the end users of our program. According to Star, one of the qualities of infrastructure is that it becomes visible upon breakdown. Otherwise, people tend to ignore it. They take it for granted. In a normal course of study, we accept that we will be asked to attend class, read material, write papers, give presentations, and the like. This system functions as the fundamental infrastructure underlaying our graduate program. Normally, it is invisible. It is accepted. However, the infrastructure has been twisted in such a way as to become inoperable. It has broken down. It has become visible.

Information infrastructure is analogous to Law's heterogeneous engineering. It is composed of many parts which associate with each other to create a greater whole. Students, faculty, computer systems, papers, readings, the rooms themselves, all come together to create the whole of our program, to create something that is greater as a whole than any could be individually. Disassociation of one part of the network, however, can cause major problems, more so than if the components were separate. Disassociation causes the network to be seen as a network, rather than a single whole. And once again, we are seeing disassociation of aspects of the network.

Shall I analyze what is going wrong? Shall I take a look at where our infrastructure has broken down, where our network has suffered disassociation? I'm not sure how useful it would be, but it might help organize my thoughts on this. They encourage us to write and to apply what we have learned. I am sorely tempted to use what I have learned and apply it to the Faculty, to make some use of the jargon laden, applied computer theory that they have given us and put it to the ends they seem to expect us to use it for. We are told to study information itself, to study data, to study documentation, to study how people interact with information, and yet the only examples we are given are those of computers.

Written above the gates of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi were the words "Gnothi seauton": Know Thyself. It is fundamental to so many things, is self awareness. It is fundamental to all wisdom seekers...and to all wisdom givers. To understand others, first one must understand one's self. It is fundamental to the giving of wisdom, for how can you give a thing to others if you do not see it in yourself? It is easy to analyze other things, but turning the lens inward is harder. I feel that this is what the Faculty is truly missing. There is a plan. I don't have an issue with thinking in the long term. But this plan is occurring to the detriment of the Faculty's current students, because those who are heading the plan refuse to look at what this is doing to those students. "Know thyself".

However I should stop writing now, as I'm getting into a philosophical tangent. Its 1am. Its been a long 3 days. A long 7 days if you could the last three and the four I spent smashing my head against a wall working on the INF1001 paper, trying to pull the rabbit out of my not inconsiderably sized top hat. I need to get to work on the INF1003 paper, the script for the INF1002 presentation (as well as my notes for my part of the paper), and my side of the INF1300 annotated bibliography...

...and somewhere in there I need to get more notes together for my NaNoWriMo novel, "Requiem for a Fictonaut", and prep for ICC!

"I will relax in Atlanta" is my new mantra. I may have to drop out of some of the volunteering I'm doing there. I can't afford to go there and need a vacation from my vacation.


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Glorious Five Year Plan

My faculty has a five year plan.

This five year plan is to double the current number of students. 500. That's the magic number.

My current average class size is 230. IN A GRADUATE SCHOOL PROGRAM.

Why? Well, the bigger the faculty, the more lecturers. The more lecturers, the more famous the faculty. The more famous the faculty, the more money it makes. The more prestigious the students.

Our Dean is focused entirely on building future faculty over 5 years to fit this new plan. Students? Well, we'll have smaller class size...in 5 years.

I shilled out $8300 this year alone for this program. I will not benefit from the Glorious Five Year Plan. I will never see these smaller class sizes.

We are customers, he says.

...glee. Somebody just shouted out their lack of satisfaction. And got an applause. The Dean is flabbergasted. He is gasted *AND* flabbered. And now he's waffling, unable to deal with an ENTIRE CLASS OF PEOPLE applauding the concerns being brought up by students. He is making empty promises.

I want red and green shades. I want my filthy assistants to set their attack wombs to terror! I want to monster this class in my black suit and my black hat, with my press pass stuck in the brim.

He is now promising a career liason officer to help us find jobs. Ladies and gentlemen, my faculty is now on the dole! "There are more jobs in the information arena than there ever were before. There are greater employment opportunities in libraries." Apparently we are being trained to be managers, not book-workers. There is apparently a huge need for us to become library managers.

...holy fuck. He just admitted that their co-op program won't actually be ready in time for our class. He just fucking admitted that there will be no co-op program for us, because it won't be ready yet.

"I want to give you an answer today, but the answer I have for you isn't availible until two years from now." Now he's lecturing us again on his Glorious Five Year Plan. He is, once again, looking at doing more recrutiment. Apparently faculty were assigned *BEFORE* they got the enrollment lists. Now those faculty members can't be moved or changed as they have...

...oh god. He just used the words "digital age" and "new media". Yup. We're back at our readings, still stuck in the 90s...

...been given tenure. They don't have a sufficient number of library teachers. Its all information studies teachers. Its all about being "new". Its all about "emerging opportunities" and "crossing domains".

There are, however, not enough grads with doctorates in library sciences. Well thank fucking god for that. That's actually some good news today. There is apparently a real gap in the demand for academics and the actual number of academics. Well. That's actually useful to know.

Ahhh...and now the rub. Someone is asking about the ridiculous degree of overlap. And the question of the paper we have where the professors don't actually know how to use the database program we've been asked to use for the papers themselves. The professors have directed us to talk to our TA about it.

The Dean is at a loss for words. It looks like the profs in that course may be about to get in shit from the Dean.

The profs and TAs are hanging their heads. They don't know how to deal with this. The Dean is getting slaughtered on stage, trying to defend why our classes are repeating information we got in high school. Now the professors are coming to the Dean's defense to try to break off this train wreck. I feel the need to monster this man by shouting up and shouting "SHOW US YOUR PLAN, DEAN! THE PUBLIC HAS A RIGHT TO KNOW!"

The Dean has now been backed into a corner. The entire faculty, plus himself, are going to come out for a townhall lecture next Wednesday from 4-6pm. Just in time for ICC, I get to monster my program. I need a journalist's suit. I need a journalist's hat. I need my old camera around my neck to capture their terrified expressions.

This cannot end well.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Menu for This Week (10-19-09 to 10-24-09)

-Lunch: Leftover spaghetti bolognese
-Dinner: Leftover pot roast with vegetable puree and boiled beets

-Lunch: Chicken samosas, baby carrots, cheese crackers, mini-Halloween sized kit kat bars
-Dinner: Blackened chicken breast with green beans, cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and beets

-Lunch: Turkey soup
-Dinner: Beef scallopini with balsamic reduction, beans, beets, and fried zucchini

-Lunch: Roasted vegetable soup and garlic bread
-Dinner: Blackened salmon fillet with raw vegetable salad of beets, butternut squash, green beans, and red onions in a balsamic-red wine vinagrette

-Lunch: Breaded fried chicken cutlet with beets and brussel sprouts
-Dinner: Fusili bolognese

-Lunch: Leftover fuzili bologense
-Diner: Baked sardines with sauteed green beans, zucchini, and red onions

Saturday, October 17, 2009


Sure. Why not?

Unfortunately, due to the rules of the thing, I cannot write an extended Clint Corona story. So I'm going to have to write something different.

It will likely be suitably gonzo. Not quite as drug induced as Ray Gun, but it should be appropriately deranged.

I'll try and keep things updated here. I have at least three Ray Gun stories roughly plotted out as Clint goes to terrorize Kassidy Kazam, B-whatever-the-fuck-I-called-him, and Officer Buzz Bradsky of the Space Police (his full name).

That is all.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Have Ray Gun! Will Travel! Please Pay Me! (part 13)

The staff in the space diner fear me. I can't understand why. I am a man full of canniness, in need of a good laundering. But I am a mighty space adventurer! They should cheer my exploits! OH YES! Cheer me!

I have no space drugs, and I've drunk nearly all the rocket liquor. The world's starting to take on terrible shades at the edges. Sobriety brings the Outer Dark. That bastard Dirk Gradient was spawned in the Outer Dark. He was spawned from the filthy hole of a beast of darkness known as Mrs. Susan Gradient! Oh that woman will pay for the spawning that she committed!

The staff in the space diner fear me. I wave around my ray gun and demand service. But the service is too slow, so I started calling all their orders for them. This ensured that I was able to pick and choose the best meal in the house. I've terrified their chef into killing all his talking sandwiches before he sends them out, and my food no longer screams. My cup runneth over with rocket liquor. They've given me some for the road, but I can only carry what's in my belly. I am considering acquiring another belly. Then everywhere I go they will shout in fear of the man with the many liquor filled bellies! Fear the belly! The belly speaks, the belly knows!

As I fill my belly with rocket liquor and savage my silent meat sandwich, I consider my options. While I eat, the crew of the space docks of the space station that this space diner is in fill the heathen death phallus with the fuel that will lubricate the pleasured bits of the universe. They assure me that the heathen death phallus will be lubricated by this new rocket fuel, and that space will moan around me as I fly. I do not want space to moan around me. I like the silence of space. In the silence, all I can hear is myself and the Friendly Peanut's mad rantings.

I am so alone.

The only way to combat the loneliness is space drugs. I'm not sharp. When I'm dull, I'm lonely. When I'm sharp, I have my many friends! But...that seems to remind me that I have not called upon my friends. Many left me after that bastard Dirk Gradient made off with my rocket ship and Cindy the Girl Computer. But some must still love me. That should be my next move. I must acquire friends and influence people. Through that influence, I will acquire further space drugs. The space drugs will make me mighty enough to face the enemy head on!

I must consider my friends carefully.
1) Officer Buzz Bradsky, Officer of the Space Police! Buzz is the only space policeman who doesn't carry a sissy pistol. He carries a pirate ray gun. It is set to "ZOT!", which is an inferior setting to my mighty ray gun, but he tries. Buzz will help me, but he cannot know of my use of space drugs. This could be problematic. I cannot trust a man who cannot trust space drugs. He is clearly a pawn of the Outer Dark.

2) Kassidy Kazam, Space Pirate. More promising. Kassidy will sell me space drugs. Many, many space drugs. But he has been bested by Dirk Gradient many times, and so will be wary of him. I cannot count on Kassidy for revenge. He has been beated by that bastard too many times. His spirit has been crushed when it comes to challenging Gradient. What use is a space pirate who gives up after losing a kidney, a lung, eight fingers, and two eyes? He is an Laphamata Centaurion! He has six kidneys, ten lungs, fourty fingers, and four eyes! So what if he can only see in three dimensions now? I can only see in three dimensions (except when I take Super-Orange space drugs...), and I do fine! I am a picture of health! Besides, Kassidy is green, the color of the optimal human being. My green veins attest to this. I am the mightiest mortal alive.

3) B'zing'zam'zot'zoom'zowie, The Onamanopoetic Man. Despite having a name that I cannot pronounce, B is alright. He is a man of action! He shoots, he slices, he fights, he burns, he breaks, he hits, he shoots....all to his own sound track! B had speakers built into his arms hooked to a sound nullifier field so the universe would make the proper sounds when he hit things. He can be depended upon for abject violence and mayhem. He is also a man of few words. And fewer questions. And he knows where I can get space drugs. Space drug dealers throw their space drugs at B. If they do not shower him with their glorious narcotic ejaculate he becomes irate and proceeds to insert sound effects onto them. No man survives B's mighty sound effects. He would make a good Chief Security Officer aboard the Mighty Rocket Ship Heathen Death Phallus! But...would he take orders from the Friendly Peanut? This I do not know. It makes me question.

Three friends. Three different star systems. One will help me find Dirk Gradient. One will give me the space drugs I need to hold back the Outer Dark. And one will strike soundly upon anyone I come across who so much as thinks funny.

I must put down my note pad. I must finish ravaging my already murdered sandwich. Then I must drink up. I need another few for the road!

* * *

The space station housing the space diner has a dry cleaners! I have had myself laundered, again, which has cleaned off the last of the goo left on me by the green noodles, as well as the dust raised by the gigantic aliens. Those people are weird, and their dust smells of wet moose and burnt whale blubber. I am a freshly laundered man, my brittle exterior hiding the Fear. The Fear has come upon me as the Outer Dark yawns, and even the rocket liquor from the space diner will not hold it back.

But...what is this? A shop selling strange powders...this must be one of the few legal black market space stations! Their range of illegal products is innumerable! They have space drugs. Not many, not many enough, but they have just enough to get me Kassidy Kazam without falling into the Outer Dark and the yawning maw of Mrs. Susan Gradient, the Great Space Whore, Mother of the Bastard! I can see you, madame, legs spread wide across the starry void! I will not allow the filthy bastard spawn of your loins to take me! I will take these space drugs and I. Will. Like THEM!

The shop's owner stares at me now, and I realize that I have my notepad on dictation mode. I am shouting out my secret plans for all his shop to hear. Thankfully most of his customers are the Earless Folk of Vandervilk XIII, and they only know that I am vibrating oddly across the 9th dimension of smision!

Give me your wares, oh foul shop owner! Overcharge me, for I am a tourist! Don't bother with a bag, strap the space drugs to my great, mighty, manly green veins! They are manlier than your puny blue veins, for they are GREEN!

* * *

I was asked to leave the store after the space drugs had entered my system. They are neon back-lit black. The cheap space drugs cut with moon dust and jet fuel. They turn aside the Outer Dark and close the legs of Mrs. Susan Gradient. The sky is full of stars, not her great yawning space orifice. My pituitary gland bulges against my skull. This is the true insidiousness of neon back-lit black space drugs: They open up your pituitary gland and allow space radio stations to use your brain as a pirate antenna. Right now I am having extradimensional space pornography beamed across my temporal lobe and into the television sets of the unsuspecting public. I do not have to watch it, though. I do not want a forehead sphincter.

Now that I have space drugs, however, and am being followed by the local detachment of space police cadets, armed not even with sissy pistols but instead with MEGA-ULTRA-KILL-DEATH(tm) truncheons. They run whenever I turn to face them, gesturing emphatically with my ray gun to illustrate the direction my pituitary gland is pointing. It has become a homing device, a terrible space radar zeroing in on the location of Kassidy Kazam. It leers against my forehead, a meat gun that radiates the dreaded epsilon-wave, the truest form of television signal in existance!

Set pituitary gland to "murderfy!" and "enlaserate", Friendly Peanut! I am boarding the heathen death phallus. My next stop, Kassidy Kazam's pirate ship! I shall find my wonderful 5 kidneyed friend, and I shall wring all useful space drugs from him before having a brief fling with one or sixty of his space floozies.

I am coming for you, Dirk Gradient. Not even your great deific prostitute of a mother will be able to save you now. Ha ha! I laugh the laugh of the pituitarially deformed! I have new space drugs, Dirk Gradient, and a belly full of rocket liquor. My heathen death phallus slides through space, ribbed for the universe's pleasure! The moan of the engines cannot be heard over my screaming! I scream for glory! I scream for valor! I SCREAM FOR REVENGE!

I am travelling! Dirk Gradient, you. Will. PAY!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Food Blog: Recollection the First

Lately I've been digging into the two worst sources when it comes to trying to keep my journalistic insights on the food industry at bay: Anthony Bourdain and Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan. I wrote a lengthy paper last week on the organization of the restaurant industry, and another analyzing a failure of the POS system. And it got me realizing that I have seen, in the last few years, the underbelly of the kitchen business.

I think its in the last year that I really came into my own within the industry. I'd quit being naive, and I'd stepped into a restaurant that cranked food out full time. Hard core, full bore, balls to the wall, and damn the consequences. I have worked under chefs who were teachers, chefs who were assholes. I have seen chefs who were so passionate about their jobs they burned themselves out trying to do their best, and I've seen chefs who couldn't give a rat's ass how the restaurant turned out. I have seen alcoholic chefs, druggie chefs, and chefs with bizarre sexual predilections generally involving reptiles. I have seen the lizard brain of the kitchen, because the industry runs on its lizard brain.

So I think I want to talk about it. I want to explain the grotesquerie of the kitchen, the yawning crevasse of the crazy men and women who throw themselves under the bus for the good of the business. I need to get some of this shit out of my head, and try to explain textually this strange obsession I have with the industry even as I try to leave it.

Prepare for me.