The meta-tutorial and the proto-tutorial

I’ve decided to introduce two new genres of writing to this blog: the ‘meta-tutorial’ and the ‘proto-tutorial’.

The web is full of really helpful little tutorials on how to do various things. I’ve learnt a lot from them. I basically learnt Python programming from the Stack Overflow question-and-answer site, the official Python language docs, and a bunch of tutorials by random programmers. Less the latter than the former two, but still. There have been those times when what I’ve needed as a reader was not the nuts and bolts of ‘how do I do X?’ but an understanding of how somebody who does X thinks about X, and in those cases, the tutorials have been really valuable. It doesn’t have to be programming; that’s just an example.

I don’t think that the value of a tutorial depends on whether anybody actually follows the tutorial. At times, I’ve learnt something from a tutorial without following it. Guiding a hypothetical newbie through the nuts and bolts of a thing seems to provide a good structure for publicly thinking the thing through, whether or not that’s how the writer in question intended it. Well, that’s how it seems to me anyway.

So I’m going to start posting meta-tutorials here on this blog. They’ll be like tutorials in that I’ll be explaining how to do things, but the emphasis will be on reasoning about the doing of the things that I’m explaining. I’m not sure whose benefit I’ll be writing them for. I’d like to say that it’s for yours – but I don’t know whether anybody’s really going to read them and I’m not sure that it matters anyway. The discipline of explaining how to do something in enough detail that somebody else could potentially follow the steps has value of its own as a spur to thought, and – even in the absence of a pupil – there may be as much to be learnt from teaching as there is from being taught. And if anybody does follow the steps and finds the following of them helpful, then so much the better. A meta-tutorial can ideally also be used as a tutorial, although its purpose is still fulfilled even if that never takes place. Perhaps that’s the case for all tutorials, but with a meta-tutorial, it’s explicit.

Then there’s the proto-tutorial. A proto-tutorial is the thing you wish you’d read before you started doing the thing that got you into the mess that you had to read tutorials to get out of. From my point of view, it’s less a way of thinking through the nature of X by explaining how to do it than a way of looking back over everything I had to do for the sake of X and asking myself whether X was really worth it in the first place. A proto-tutorial could simultaneously help me the writer to persuade myself that something was worth it and help you the reader (if you’re really there) to feel vindicated in your decision not to bother with it. But its real purpose is simply the reckoning that its construction requires.

I’m going to retrospectively tag my recent essays on blogging and LaTeX as a proto-tutorials, because that’s what I consider them essentially to be.

I haven’t written any meta-tutorials yet.


Why blog?

Okay, so I’ve posted only twice in the last six months, and both times I was posting my grief over dead rock stars. Posting it late, as well – I did the ‘oh man I’m so sad’ thing first on commercial social media sites, then turned up here long afterwards to make a more public statement that fewer people are likely to read.

On the other hand, I’ve had a big internet hit (as academic internet things go) with an article I published on another site with a couple of people I’m lucky to know.[1]

So the question is, why bother with a blog? A few years ago, when I started this thing, I thought I knew the answer: putting all my writing here, I could show how various parts of it fitted together. Does that work?

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Casey got her job back last year (and other old news)

I haven’t had time to work on this blog for a long time. In the meantime, various things have happened. Here are three of them:

The list could (and probably should) go on, even if limited (as per usual for this blog) to non-personal issues. But I still haven’t got time.

That said, it’s good to be posting again. And to have a new theme for the website.

See you around.


A year in the academic blogosphere

I published my first piece to this blog twelve months ago to the minute. Has it really been that long? Yes, it has really been that long. And what have I learnt? What I have learnt is that the use for which I intended this website is not perhaps the use to which a website is best put. This is how I expressed myself in my very first post (just this once, I’ll dispense with a full bibliographic reference):
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On open access, and why it’s not the answer

0. Preamble

In the last two or three years, open access to academic journal articles has gone from being something that noisy idealists were unrealistically demanding to something that’s going to happen whether we like it or not – at least in the UK, and probably elsewhere as well. Not so long ago, I was in favour of it and doing what I could to put it into practice with regard to my own work. Now, it’s just another of those things that I must pragmatically accept, like the vice-chancellor’s high level appointments. I feel like a man with a beard in a country where shaving has just been banned.

And all this has made me reflect. On open access: what’s it for? What did its advocates (me, for example) think it was going to facilitate? And now that it’s become mainstream, does it look as if it’s going to facilitate that thing we had in mind, or something else entirely? Quite recently, it would have been almost dangerous to think in such terms, because people were getting so cross – perhaps inevitably, as the conversation was largely taking place online, and it’s been argued that social media disseminate anger more effectively than any other emotion (Fan et al, 2013). But now that there’s no point in anyone’s getting cross – now that it’s all happening anyway, regardless of who’s in the vanguard and who’s a bourgeois reactionary – perhaps it’s becoming possible to see things a little more clearly. I must admit that I backed the wrong team: I was a supporter of one kind of open access, but it looks as if the argument for the other has carried the day. And now that the arguing is by-the-by, it all feels so different. The more I look back, the more I realise that open access had been proposed as the solution to a range of problems some of which had very little to do with one another. The more I look forward, the more I realise that among those problems were some that might actually be exacerbated by the form of open access that has become official policy in the UK – and others that were never likely to be addressed by any form of open access (including the one in which I believed).

Be careful what you wish for, the saying goes. As a sort of penance, I have chosen to think the issues through not in an academic journal article but in an essay on this blog. Not quite the use for which I originally intended the latter, but a symbolically apt use just the same.

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Thanks to all the spam…

…I have decided to start closing comments on posts that are more than about a month old. I do this with some regret, as real comments continued to be added to one of my articles well over a month after I originally posted it. But the volume of spam this blog attracts has become unmanageable, especially at a time of year when I am supposed to be finishing a book manuscript and dealing with exam-related admin.

If anyone wants to comment on a post over a month old, I hope that he or she will email me to ask for comments to be opened again. I am not doing this to close down discussion – just to get rid of all those pesky Tramadol adverts.


Now it seems…

…that the furore over my ‘Managerial humanities’ blog article has blown over (on the subject of which: a big thank you to Digital Humanities Now for making it their Editors’ Choice for the week of 30 April-6 May, to The New Inquiry for including it on the Sunday Reading List for 19 May, and to the Cyborgology people at The Society Pages for featuring it in an In Their Words list for 19 May), I am glad to report that I can at last get back to speaking to people face-to-face instead of endlessly arguing on the internet.

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The time has come…

…to connect this website to the web. Up until now, I’ve been adding pages and posts to get into the swing of things, but without creating a single inward link from anywhere else. Now I’ve changed all that. This means that search engine web crawlers can at last begin to creep their way in and index what I’ve written. Which in turn means that – before long – somebody’s going to end up reading this stuff. It also means that spambots will start trying to post links to dating sites and other online garbage, but I haven’t made it particularly easy to leave comments yet, so that’s less of an issue now than it might have been.

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After much deliberation…

…I have decided to create my own website. I am conceiving it firstly as a means by which to show how my various publications and other projects fit together into a body of work (hence the static pages), and secondly as a platform on which to publish shorter pieces of writing that don’t fit into my publication schedule (hence this blog).

Continue reading “After much deliberation…”