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Being nicer

The body of this musing has been (mostly) deleted for the reasons that it was intended to address.

Disclaimer: Although much of this musing describes The Grinnell Guide, the primary focus is on my attitude toward the world and not on that document.

The other day, I watched two Grinnell students present their excellent work on the new Grinnell Guide to Research, Writing, and Speaking [1]. I have not had time to fully explore the guide, but the parts that I’ve looked at have been very nice, from coverage of the Oxford Comma [4] to a wide variety of suggestions on how to approach the writing process that acknowledge that one size does not fit all.

But my initial reaction was not It’s so great that we have this resource or It’s wonderful that we trust students to develop this resource or The students should be incredibly proud of the work they’ve done. It was Why is it hidden behind a password wall on GrinCo? Actually, it was a bit worse than that. It was Given that the folks developing this guide relied on public resources at other institutions, it is immoral to hide this guide behind a password wall at GrinCo [5].

I also had other less-than-positive reactions.

[Text elided.]

Wow. That was harsh. I don’t mean for it to be. I need to change.

So, here’s my question: Why can’t I have more positive initial reactions? I find myself acknowledging that there is great work here, but my initial reactions are to think about problems, not the positives. And those initial reactions are the norm, rather than the exception.

I probably need a few years of psychotherapy to answer that question.

But here’s a quick attempt at self reflection. For whatever reason, there are a number of things I value highly. These include openness [6]; design and typography [7], particularly in printed materials or materials that mimic the printed page [8]; clarity in references and ability to reference [9]; consistency [10]; and accessibility. People should trump policies. Oh, yeah, as a computing professional and one who uses too much software, I also value usable software and good UI [11] and UX [12] design. That’s not to say that the document suffers from any of these issues [14]; they are just things that I find myself getting upset about in various situations.

I have spent too many years of my professional life fighting with folks who don’t seem to share these values. I have been particularly frustrated by the past five or so years at Grinnell in which I’ve regularly dealt with people in power who don’t even seem to acknowledge that there is a value in openness or understand the moral and ethical concepts that underlie that value. It doesn’t help that I’ve dealt with five years of promises that we will consider the issues. And so I seem to have lost my ability to say That’s okay; things will get better. Instead, I just get upset.

I should probably just accept that I’m an outlier in all of these issues and try to have them mean less to me. But that undermines who I am. And, as I’ve suggested, some of these views are deeply rooted in my ethical values. I don’t want to change those.

I should remember that I know lots of people, including my colleagues in CS and elsewhere on the faculty, who share many of my values. And I should hope that those shared values will eventually triumph.

So, let’s focus on the positive. The Grinnell Guide will provide an excellent resource for campus [15]. Congratulations to Vincent and Helen, as well as their advisors Janet and Tim, for a job well done. I look forward to seeing how it grows and evolves, and perhaps even contributing to that growth and evolution.

Next up: Learning to start and stop with paragraphs like that.

Also: Making sure that I think more clearly about who I might affect when I complain or write.

[1] I cannot provide a link to it because it is behind a password wall on GrinCo [2,3].

[2] A.k.a. GrinnellShare.

[3] People with access to GrinCo can find it at

[4] Coverage that also includes a nice example of why one might not use the Oxford Comma.

[5] Where the College permits the document to be placed is clearly not the students’ fault. It’s probably not even their advisor’s fault.

[6] I use openness particularly in the sense of making academic materials freely available to others.

[7] Although you might not be able to tell that from my Web sites.

[8] Michelle will confirm that I’ve cared about design for as long as she’s known me, which is more than thirty years.

[9] As an example, in the text that got elided, I had a footnote that read I will never use They Say, I Say because they do not provide full citations for the examples they use, which undermines nearly everything I teach my students about the value and purpose of citation.

[10] Useful consistency, not the kind of consistency that is the hobgoblin of small minds.

[11] user interface.

[12] user experience.

[14] It clearly does not.

[15] And, I hope, the broader academic community.

Version 1.1 of 2017-08-26.