D&D for Me and for Thee

by Maria on February 19, 2016

I went to a conversation the other night. It was between David Mitchell and Kazuo Ishiguro and the approximately two thousand people watching them.

David Mitchell said he always asks other writers whether they played Dungeons and Dragons as teenagers. He keeps a mental list of writers who did and who didn’t. He played D&D himself (surprise!) and feels a certain bond with other writers who did.

Kazuo Ishiguro had never even heard of D&D. Not a surprise. He is the wrong generation. Too old. And also, he is that kind of very straight writer who conjures a pinch of the clothes peg when dabbling in ‘genre’. (That said, he came across as a lovely man, and one who has come carefully to terms with his necessary public persona.)

But, guess what, according to David Mitchell, Michael Chabon not only played D&D but was a dungeon master to boot. I wonder what other contemporary writers played D&D or who *must* have done? It would make me like them a little more, too.

A friend writes:

I am putting together a teaching workshop in my department that will focus on strategies for reaching out to students who have gone missing or are falling behind. Any suggestions of short things to read that I could circulate ahead of time?

I don’t know of any short readings, but thought that some CTers might and that, even if not, a post might generate a discussion worth reflecting on.

All I have are anecdotes and I’m inhibited from telling them because the people involved might recognise themselves — the more detailed the anecdote, the more useful, but also the more likely they are to recognise themselves. My main strategy, if you can call it that, is to write gentle emails to students who are persistently absent, in a tone that invites them back to class without bugging them or being harsh. This almost always elicits a response, and several students have observed, later, that the tone of the email was important because the student had missed enough classes that they were embarrassed to come back, and some of their absence was just caused by previous absences.
Here’s one that I feel confident the student in question will recognize, but will be fine with:

“Are you doing ok? I’m just writing because you missed class last week, and I wondered if you’re doing ok. Don’t worry, I’m not giving you a hard time: mainly I want to nudge you to be sure you’re in class on Tuesday because it will be fun, and you’ll make good contributions.”

Obviously, the final phrase is only there because it is sincere (I knew she would make good contributions if she came to class, and in this case knew that she probably knew that too). Occasionally such an email prompts much deeper interaction — obviously, some persistently absent students are just absent, but others have real problems that they are not handling well, and need help with. But even though such emails usually get a response, and always a friendly one, they are not all successful — in the class from which the above email is taken another student persisted in absenteeism, and wouldn’t get help.

Anyway — if you can recommend reading that’d be great, and if you can’t, but have stories that of things that have worked, or haven’t worked, that’d be great too.

That Apple FBI back door thing

by Maria on February 19, 2016

Here at CT we’re not big on posting about topics just because they’re happening. (Unless it’s the 6 Nations, obviously.) But this Apple FBI back door saga is making me feel I should post something, not because it’s topical, not because I know a lot more about it than anyone who reads a decent newspaper / tech journal etc. (because I don’t), but because it’s becoming clear that this event is morphing into something of a turning point in how governments interact with tech firms in the US and, at more of a distance, the UK.

(For a comprehensive and thought-provoking piece on governments and tech intermediaries, read Emily Taylor’s recent piece, The Privatization of Human Rights: Illusions of Consent, Automation and Neutrality, for Chatham House.)

I’m going to assume you know most of the facts and the larger repercussions, and just jot down a few observations of my own and that I’ve come across in various digital rights back channels. [click to continue…]