The Updates #30

Estimated Reading Time:  14 minutes

Week 30 of the updates and I'm so late, I'm combining a month's worth!


Ok--progress (Ever so slowly) is being made). I've gotten a few more interviews reviewed and coded.  I'll take it and can feel the momentum.  I've also found out there may need to be some changes made to my committee and my timeline may once again be pushed back a little.

No longer counting days until July 1 cause my timeline is IDK until I check in with my chair.

A gif of a few images of the garden from the soil being turned to it being flattened to it being covered.
The Garden: Stage 1

I found my pacing at work over the last few weeks and am turning the corner on feeling like I can get things moving to where I need them to be so I can start working on the big-picture projects.  We'll see if this holds.  

However, this past week was the week that I needed.  This past week was the NERCOMP annual conference.  NERCOMP is a regional entity of EDUCAUSE and does lots of different things at the intersection of technology and education. Every year, they have a conference in Providence, RI and it's been about 4 years since I've last been.  I've made many a friend and colleague in this space and have generally enjoyed the conference every year I've attended; they usually have some solid keynotes as well. Besides catching up with folks, attending excellent sessions and the workshop (talk more about that below), I also loved the fact that it was in Providence and attending was basically a 20 minute bus ride.  

But the most amazing thing is that I co-facilitated a 4 hour workshop on developing policy for AI generative tools in higher education. It was fantastic as a whole, filled with lots of rich conversation and folks from instructional design, IT, library, and other parts of the institution.  And my students from my AI & Education course at College Unbound spoke on a panel for a hour and they provided a rich and thoughtful discussion for everyone there.  They were great and helped folks realize how important it is to have students as part of the conversation rather than a part from the conversation.  

Some of the work that the students were discussing at the workshop was also highlighted in this piece from the Chronicle of Higher Education (which also came out this week - non-paywall version if interested).  

What I'm Reading


Ithaca (The Songs of Penelope, #1) by Claire North:  A fascinating retelling of Penelope's life in the absence of Odysseus told through the eyes of Hera as she observes the different events, including the arrival of Orestes and Electra in search of Clytemnestra who has killed Agamenon and fled to Ithaca. I really enjoyed this feminist lens as we see the ways that women must navigate a male dominated world yet still find ways to challenge the status quo. It's deeper in some ways than Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad and is clearly going to continue one with more stories to spin.

Skyscraper Lullaby by James Fritz:  What happens when your baby is a monster?  What happens when it disappears?  This is a fun production that explores these two questions.  Not amazing but enjoyable much like a popcorn flick at the theaters.

Rise of the Machine (These Walls Can Talk, #3) by Erin Mallon: An interesting story about storytelling, audiobook narrators, and what happens when AI can potentially replace narrators. There wasn't a lot of substance here and it felt like it was trying to hard.  

Prometheus Unbound by Aeschylus:  The particular version I listened to here was a bit too grounded in using a translation that felt a little too clunky or maybe it was more interested in being auralistically beautiful while also making it harder to understand the story.  


Atlas of AI: Power, Politics, and the Planetary Costs of Artificial Intelligence by Kate Crawford:  Crawford's work highlights the (often) hidden problems and challenges of artificial intelligence.  Much like other types of extractive technology, it also relies on extractive resources of energy and material goods.  Crawford explores the contradictory frame of AI as this way of making everyone's lives better but comes at the cost of exploitation of workers in mines for rare metals, the environmental impact of extractive economies, and the social impact upon those who must train or be trained by AI.  

The Extended Mind: The Power of Thinking Outside the Brain by Annie Murphy Paul: This is one of those that I'm recommending to everyone and will own this book.  Paul considers the way that we use the spaces, people, actions, etc around us as part of our thinking brain.  From action to dialogue to physical layout and more, Paul captures the different ways that humans lean on their environment to extend their ideas or hold knowledge.  I found this quite relevant and it helped me make sense of how I often use space to support certain practices and ideas.

Machine Learning by Ethem Alpaydin: Another MIT Essential book, Alpaydin explores what machine learning is, how it works, and the different ways of leveraging it. It was decent but at times got too technical for me to full understand. 

AI Ethics by Mark Coeckelbergh: A solid primer that explores the complexity of ethics in and around the use of artificial intelligence.  It's part of the MIT Essential series and so just enough to feel like you learned something but not necessarily something that one might find provocative.  

The Ethical Algorithm: The Science of Socially Aware Algorithm Design by Michael Kearns:  The book's title might elicit ideas that it relates to pairs well with books like Algorithms of Oppression or Automating Inequality--and it does in some ways but not as directly.  Kearns' goal is to situate the conversation directly into thinking about what does it mean to engage with algorithms in a way that means to be ethical without inevitably causing harm. Among many things, this includes considering how private data is used to inform the algorithm but also what it means to adjust the algorithm for more equitable outcomes and responses. 

Slaying Goliath: The Passionate Resistance to Privatization and the Fight to Save America's Public Schools by Diane Ravitch:  It will take decades to undo the harm to the public that charter schools and the billionaires and other rich folks who fund (and profit) from them--that's Ravitch's thesis in a nutshell.  But through he book, she traces the money and highlights how often privatizing education fails to deliver on its promises as well as highlights the scenes of resistance and ways that individuals, schools, and communities resistance to these forces.  

An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo: A sweet and provocative collection of poems that are both about the present and also evocative of Indigenous peoples in America.  Some capture perfect moments of reflection and others pack emotional punches.  

A zucchini blossom in full bloom
Basement Zucchini

Graphic Novels

Public Domain, Volume One: Past Mistakes by Chip Zdarsky: Zdarsky's series is about a aging comic creator who had most of his intellectual property stolen by the company he worked for and how the man's two adult children find a way to wrestle back some means of ownership--at least, that's the first volume. It's invoking the story of Jerry Seigel and Joe Schuster, the creators of Superman. I'm curious where volume two will go but as story, it's probably pretty niche for those curious about the history of comics and also a strong interest in ideas of copyright and public domain.

Made in Korea by Jeremy Holt: A couple decided to "adopt" an AI bot but this one comes with more than is expected.  It's a curious tale that both plays upon the problematic adoption of Korean children and the raise of AI fulfilling a variety of roles that we may not think will happen and yet, aren't entirely convinced it won't ever happen.

Demon, Volume 1 by Jason Shiga: A dark graphic novel about a man who can't seem to die, not matter how hard he tries but only then discovers that he is a demon, which means whenever he dies in a body, his demon spirit escapes to another. It's a curious experiment in death and dying and not one I recommend for folks who grapple with self harm and suicide.  

What I'm Watching

Picard Season 2:  Season 2 finds Picard facing his two classic antagonists, the Borg and Q.  And it's a fun and interesting means of closing these plotlines for Picard's story. I know there's one more season but really appreciate how this one played out.  

Ted Lasso Season 2:  I know folks aren't as big a fan of this one and yet, it's made me love the characters all the more in that we get past the veneer of the first season and dig deeper.  The Coach Beard episode I'm still a little strange about but saw it as the opportunity to go a bit deeper with him. What I appreciate about the show (without giving away too much), is the way the show displays friendship in many different forms while refraining from making too many people come across as mean just for the sake of being mean.  The only real discardable character is Rupert and even then, I think that will change by the series end.  

The Sandman Season 1: I finally got to Sandman and really enjoyed it. It's been 15 or so years since I last read the series.  It's clear they updated certain features but it still felt solidly in alignment with the comics and its central story and atmosphere. It's harder for me to tell if it is as intriguing for a person who hasn't read the story but it feels like a wildly fantastic series that grapples with the literal and metaphorical dreams and nightmares we carry with us and where those can lead us.  

The Blob: An old classic horror that I probably watched before but figured I'd take another go at when my partner was game for an old movie night. I mean, if the film was made today, there is no doublt. it would have been made into a metaphor about sexually transmitted infections.  There are some movies that when you watch from the mid-20th century that you can see lots of deep thought and I found that less to be the case here.  Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this 1958 film how the teens (including a 28 year old Steve McQueen) are largely discarded and dismissed by the police and seen as hooligans--which given the decade where the US became obsessed with "juvenile deliquinits"--that feels rather on brand.  

Children of the Damned:  A sequel to Village of the Damned, the story explores the similar concept of a bunch of children born at the same time who are weirdly intelligent, have mind-control abilities, and who scare the hell out of adults.  It has some similar themes and elements to the first film though now we have a child from each continent and national governments deeply involved in their movement.  The ending here too suggests humanity's folly in reconciling with what they don't understand and that so damn often, what it doesn't understand is its own children.   

This Week's Photos

The Garden: Phase 1:  So it has begun. I've turned over the soil, thrown some more stuff down, and will be getting some seeds in there.  I've got a new layout this year and some things have changed in the garden space that makes me wonder how this year shall proceed. 

Basement Zucchini:  Even while I'm getting excited for the outside garden, I also appreciate the growth of the basement garden and how it continues to produce food--even if it's not as consistent as a traditional garden as I'm still learning what works and doesn.

What's on My Mind

Last week also started with my column on grand jury being published. I'm still working through a lot of thoughts on it and trying to find the right balance of the different thoughts.  Struggling to figure out if I should write each piece and published it or write all of it and then, that allows me to move things around as makes sense or if a later piece falls too short.  I think I need to map out the different pieces and then as I finish each, publish it.  

As folks saw, I got another two reflections posted here on generative artificial intelligence.  I'll have more soon enough, though some of them might be more collaborative or come in other formats (e.g. video).  If we're keeping score, I've got a good amount of things around this currently:

Words of the Year

Focus: I started to change up a few habits that I think are helping with doing the things I want to get to every day. I'm doing some creative writing early in the morning (5:15am-5:45am) and that's getting the ideas going. My partner and I also switched to doing a walk and breakfast together so we're with each other earlier in the day when our energy is a bit more full. I've found this overall to be helpful in the morning which is a mixture of mental and physical work coupled with relaxing time.

Kind: I've had to think about this one a lot recently. In one vein, I see it a lot at work and am continually moved and impressed with how kind folks are to one another. It's not that there are grand gestures but just in the every day ways folks work to let one another they are cared for. I've also been thinking about what it means to be intentionally kind in a relationship (yes, with a romantic partner but also with friends). I don't think I'm unkind but I keep wondering about how do folks in my realm experience that with me. I think I do kind things when it's evident but I'm often moved by the unbeckoned kindness that I see and wonder about what kinds of mindsets or practices produce that.

Earnest: Of late, I've been thinking about the work that I do and how earnestness can show up. Folks know I do a lot of loving on College Unbound and all it represents and does. I also have a fair share of critical internal conversations with folks as well. But I think a thing I'm trying to navigate is that as we bring in new faculty to balance both that unbridled enthusiasm with being real about the difficulties of the work. That's not to say that I'm hiding anything nor dismissing certain aspects of this work but I think there's a place to also be like, "hey, here's the things you will grapple with here because of the kind of institution we are." So it's something I'm trying to better integrate into my work with faculty.

Till next time...

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