A Grumbling Emergence from Introversion

My university’s summer class schedule is rather thin, and I’ve ended up taking my first online course. Looking back over the past weeks, I find that have learned two (2) things from this course: first, online courses are bollocks; second, I loathe academic software engineering.

I am deeply unimpressed by the “online class” experience. Perhaps the specimen to which I am currently being subjected is an unrepresentative sample, but I have to say it is woefully inferior to even a very bad classroom-taught (or “traditional”, as it is quaintly called) course. The “teaching” has been reduced to a few irregularly posted PowerPoint decks; I have no concept of who the teacher might be or if he is actually competent. Interaction with classmates is limited to that strictly necessary to complete assignments. There is little sharing of experience and less camaraderie.

We are required to use inferior web forum software for all course-related activities. This software lacks even rudimentary notification abilities, so one has to check several times each day to see if anything new has been posted (which it usually hasn’t). It logs one out after fifteen minutes, so every post is an exercise in frustration. It pops up dialog boxes with unhelpful diagnostic information every single, bloody login. It re-implements email! Even the teacher and T.A. can’t seem to use the “helpful class-management features” of the software to get grades posted properly, sometimes requiring three attempts. While the T.A. seems to be a reliable enough person, the overall impression of the course is of inferior technology and desultory disorganization.

Perhaps the state of online classes will be improved in five years; this one certainly does not seem to be ready for prime time. I’m seven or eight weeks into this course, and I could have learned just as much spending two days with Google Scholar and a list of a half-dozen seed papers (with much less exasperation and a far smaller outlay of cash).

The course topic (software testing) has not much helped my enthusiasm for this lackadaisical flapdoodle. This is the first software engineering course I’ve taken, and I have to say that it’s not doing a lot for me. The several dozen papers I’ve read are shining exemplars of Sturgeon’s Law. There are few interesting bits buried in the crud, but these are, by and large, derivative of more basic computer science results.

Don’t get me wrong; software engineering is a valuable (and, I assume, more practical than it seems from this course) discipline, but I’m deuced certain that I’ll be spinning my thesis topic in a much different direction.


Roma Revivens

Shinjuku LogloIn Snowcrash, Neal Stephenson posits a future where traditional nation-states have been superceded by FOQNEs: Franchise-Organized Quasi-National Entities. In this vision of shattered sovereignty, each bite-sized chunk of real-estate (called a ‘franchulate’) is the legal territory of its corporate parent, governed by its laws, and one may become a ‘citizen’ by paying appropriate membership fees.

FOQNEs were brought to mind when I did some research on Nova Roma this past week. I’m more than passingly familiar with historical recreation groups, having had an intermittent association with the Society for Creative Anachronism for the past twelve years or so. Nova Roma seems to be of the same ilk, focusing its efforts, as one might deduce, on classical Rome. Even so, the following passage on their wiki took me somewhat aback:

Roman Historical Recreation EventNova Roma is more than a historical recreation society, although we are that. We are more than a pagan religious organization, although we are that, too. We are more than a classical studies group, but that falls within our purview as well. We are nothing less than a sovereign nation; an attempt to re-create the best of classical pagan Rome (with a few compromises to modern times), and we invite you to join us by applying for citizenship today.

Surely, you’re saying to yourself, they can’t be serious. They’ve anticipated this reaction, and address your skepticism in their FAQ:

Are you serious about the sovereignty thing?

Yes, we are completely serious about our declaration of sovereignty. However, we are also very realistic and do not expect to function as an actual sovereign nation with our own territory in the foreseeable future. We look at it in three ways; as a long-term goal towards which we can reach, as a very convenient way to organize the administration of Nova Roma (especially given our Roman orientation), and as necessary for the full and complete restoration of the Religio Romana (since many religious duties were inherently tied to the State).

The SCA, while half-jokingly claiming to maintain the world’s largest private army and organizing itself via an elaborate system of kingdoms, baronies, shires, and so on, to the best of my knowledge has never claimed to be an independent nation. How are we to understand ‘sovereignty’ in this sense?

In fact, there is a curiously vigorous stream of semi-secessionist movements of varying degrees of seriousness. Perhaps the best introduction to their variety is this Angelfire page on micronations, which groups these efforts into a taxonomy that includes self-proclaimed states (Sealand is the most famous of these), sedition and exile groups (including the impressively straight-faced Neue Slowenische Kunst movement), new country projects (Nova Roma is categorized here), United States tribal groups, model countries (including the SCA), and actual small countries (I retain a soft spot for the S.M.O.M.). The exuberant florescence reminds me very much of the panoply of constructed human languages, from Lojban to Esperanto to Klingon to Eaiea to DiLingo.

I’ll admit to some curiosity. Nova Roma doesn’t appear to have a strong Pennsylvanian base, but there does seem to be an active New York contingent. One of these days I’ll play the traveler and make the trek to the City for my chronicles. Perhaps they know more than they’re letting on: after all, ‘the Empire never ended’.


[Image of Shinjuku Loglo courtesy KinkiMcG. Image of a recreation of a classical Roman festival courtesy Livia Drvsilla.]