Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Story on teachers blogging

Michele features in a story published in the Houston Chronicle on teachers blogging -- often anonymously -- on aspects of their work. The story is being picked up by other papers across the US and reads very sympathetically in regard to an important current cause.

Nice contribution, Michele.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Harry Potter fanfic published!

It looks like the Harry Potter universe has plenty of room for popular fanfic to be formally published and released to fans--how thoroughly cool! According to the BBC online, La Septima M is "the first of three books that 23-year-old Chilean journalism student Francisca Solar was contracted to write by publishers Random House, following the online success of her unofficial sixth Harry Potter story, Harry Potter and the Decline of the High Elves".

According to Francisca, "All the things I know about literature, about writing, I learned in the fan fiction world... I owe it everything." For a YouTube acccount in Francisca's own words of her move from writing fanfic online to having it published by Random House, go here.

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Sampler is published

Maybe it has to do with the subject matter -- being digital and all -- but there was certainly nothing "analogue" about the time it took to produce the New Literacies Sampler collection from the time the proofs were delivered. The proofs headed off to the printers a day or so after Christmas. By the time Michele returned to her office, on 15 January, after the coffee picking in Mexico, the book was on her desk.

Thanks to the chapter authors and all those involved in the production (the Peter Lang New York team and, especially, Sophie Appel), and to Eva Lam and Jabari Mahiri, who read the proofs and turned around their much-appreciated endorsements almost by return, this book has been a pleasure from start to finish.

In fact, the next to last 'act' in the whole thing belonged to Kevin Leander, whose sense of humour leaves us helpless with laughter at regular intervals. It went something like this (and justifies the decision to have Kevin's chapter at the start of the book. You can't leave the last word to this guy .... ever).

Michele emails the contributors to tell them the book is out, and Kevin replies. The exchange goes follows:

Dear all--

I have here on my desk your respective copies of "A New Literacies Sampler" and it's a mighty fine looking book! Congratulations everyone on a super job--and many thanks again from both Colin and me for your fab contributions!


Hope this finds you all well and happy and enjoying the start of the new year!


Michele & Colin

Dear Michele,

I'm sorry to inform you that I'm still a bit behind on this chapter.
If I get it to you this next week, before you send out the copies,
would that be okay?

yours sincerely,


Saturday, January 06, 2007

New Literacies Theorist

A year or so back we blogged with some excitment about catching up with and hearing Larry Lessig on a plenary trek to Oslo. We were so taken with his lines on new literacy that we archived (and blogged) the soundfile we'd made of his talk because we knew we'd be drawing plenty on it in the new edition of New Literacies. So it proved to be. Lessig became the latest instance of the people we refer to in our work as the ones who provide us with insights we find so much more useful than a lot of the stuff that comes packaged as heavy duty THEORY in academic literacy tomes. Before Lessig we had drawn a fair bit on people like Jeff Bezos and, of course, John Perry Barlow.

Courtesy of a BoingBoing post by Cory Doctorow, coming via Michele on dialup in Coatepec, we have the link to Larry Lessig's Keynote at the Berlin Hacker 23C3 conference. A lot of this talk is very close to what he presented in Oslo. His artifacts in the opening 10 minutes or so alone show just how difficult it is going to be to stretch familiar modes of textual analysis to provide useful explanations of entire domains of new literacies practices. That, of course, is not Lessig's concern so far as new literacies are concerned. His concerns go to the heart of legal impediments to cultural creation -- to the right to use freely the 'new alphabets' of new literacies.

Of course, on this kind of theme it is simply no party without Perry. So here is the link to An Interview with John Perry Barlow conducted at the same 23c3 conference. It is Barlow at his best, calling us to to acknowledge a bottom line of attribution when we use material for cultural production, but insisting that that bottom line is the top line too. You have to love it:

"If you wanna share something -- share it. If you wanna use something -- use it. Try to do so ethically in the sense of don't take things without arrtibution, attribute. Make sure that the people who did create actually have the opportunity to get some enhanced reputation and, thereby, you know, greater economic return. But ... pay no attention to these people when it comes to being creative. Go ahead and do the stuff that Larry showed in the beginning of his talks and do a lot of it. And every time they put a lock on -- break it. And every time they pass a new law -- break that ..."

Friday, January 05, 2007

Basic Numeracy: The Price of Beans

As we blogged some time ago, we bought 3 hectares of coffee land in Coatepec, in the state of Vera Cruz up in the Sierra Madre de Oriente hills near the Caribbean Coast of Mexico. This is the first coffee crop since we bought the land. The harvest period is Christmas-New Year, and this year I have had to work over in Australia. That basically left it to Michele to organise the harvest. Neighbourhood networks kicked in in very interesting ways, as did the fact that the agent we bought the land from has kept the block next to ours for his own hobbying. Gabriel must surely provide the best 'after sales service' of any real estate agent on the planet. He set up a harvesting arrangement for us that would get the coffe picked and the beans sold at the market. Then we would get half the proceeds from the sale and the pickers would get the other half. In addition we kept back almost 70 kgs of the beans to process ourselves, which would ultimately yield about 8 or 9 kgs of roasted coffee beans. In the future we plan to process the lot ourselves and make a genuine hobby of it.

As it happens, this year is a very good harvest. Our 3 hectares yielded almost 400 kilograms of pure bean, for the first picking. There could be another picking later, but that would only be a fraction of the first. Now, the basic numeracy on this stuff is interesting because the crop on our land was probably a pretty good average for the area. Maybe a seriously managed lot would yield a bit more, but probably not a lot more. At the markets Don Antonio got 3.6 pesos per kilo for the raw bean. A week or so back the price was around 4 pesos a kilo. At today's rates 4 pesos is a little under 37 cents US and 47 cents Australian. So the entire proceeds from 3 hectares of coffee land for the first pick with a comparable harvest to our own would yield a grower somewhere around 1600 pesos, maybe as many as 2000 pesos if the yield was 20% heavier. If they pay the pickers between 1.5 and 2 pesos per kilo, that would them around 1000 pesos -- US$ 91 or Australian $117 -- for their 3 hectares of land. If we suppose they could squeeze $US 100 per 3 hectares at the market, they would need 150 hectares of land to get US$ 5000. That factors no production costs, rates costs, or transportation costs into the equation. It is the maximum they would be left with after the costs of picking.

It is little wonder coffee growers are simply abandoning the land, selling it for real estate if it is close to towns, and so on. We paid around US$32,000 for the land. At $100 per harvest -- per good harvest -- and assuming the seller of our land got $27,000 of that, it would have taken 300 harvests for the land to deliver in gross revenue for beans what they got from selling the land. You might get the equivalent of 3 good harvests every two years. 200 years is a long time. And 2007 was a good year.

It's no wonder coffee tastes good. Of course I am going to have to keep checking my maths on this, but I think it is pretty close. Our land had not been cropped for years. Now we know why. It will be cropped from now on, however. And the land will be fertilised and well maintained. But as a hobby. This is the kind of maths, of course, that can keep you awake at night, thinking about globalisation, privilege, and all the rest. About what it means to try and be a decent global citizen and do the right thing. I guess when all is said and done, Coatepec's future economy will have quite a lot to do with migrants buying former coffee land. Doing the math is easy. Balancing the citizenship books requires more thought. But thought well worth the giving.

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