Why I am dropping Tebeaux’s book from my course (and how I plan to replace it with my own)

I am not friends with anyone who teaches technical communication, but I do follow many academics in this field on Twitter. I was shocked when a professor in the field posted excerpts from the editorial “What Happened to Technical Communication?” from JTWC in 2017. I don’t read editorials on the state of writing because I typically find them pompous or pedantic, and this one is not only both of those, but also xenophobic. Needless to say, I was unaware of its existence when assigning the textbook co-authored by Tebeaux. I will no longer be assigning this text in any course in the future.

I won’t waste the time addressing Tebeaux’s arguments here, because nearly every paragraph contains a statement that is tone-deaf, overly-generalized, out of touch with the field, or just plain incorrect. I find her fetishization of pragmatics over theory, and her seeming assertion that one hurts the other or that they are incompatible, to be myopic. I don’t understand why, in an age of exceptional scholarship in this field, JTWC even chose to run this piece. It was a bad decision.

I take personal offense at the remark that immigrant, bi-lingual students are somehow hurting the education system in this country. It saddens me that a professor and PhD would say it, and that a journal editor would publish it. Again, bad decisions.

I have always felt that the argument “students are just dumb and lazy and their writing is getting worse every year” is a pathetic deflection of one’s own failings as an educator onto one’s students. With that in mind, I coauthored a magazine piece in 2009 called “The Decline of Writing” illustrating that no, technology doesn’t make students bad writers, and writing is not getting worse. I’m unhappy with how it was edited without my permission, otherwise I would link to it here.

Earlier this year, I decided to write my own textbook on Technical Communication, mostly because I am dissatisfied with the utilitarian, “Johnny-do’s and Johnny do-not-do’s” of existing titles. The book will focus on the history of communication, theory and practice of writing, and how technology plays a role in the writing process. It will also weave in historical context, ethics, empathy, and compassion for writers throughout all the chapters (instead of the laughable “ethics chapter” that many books contain). As of this post, I have two chapter drafts and an outline for the rest.

If you are reading this and interested in publishing, I have no arrangement with any publisher yet. If you like, this piece can serve as my proto-prospectus. Contact me via email (just google me) or via Twitter DM (@andrew0writer).

I also don’t usually publish work stuff on this blog, so sorry if you’re reading this and expecting any intelligent discourse to follow. It’s all rubbish (except for this post, I hope).

Happy Place – The 95-96 Chicago Bulls

It’s been a few days since my last entry. I was working on my COVID-19 transmission poster, but I had to devote almost every minute between last Thursday and now to getting my classes ready (for the second time this semester). In addition, I re-aggrivated the tendonitis in my right foot, so that has restricted my life from “apartment only” to “couch and bed,” which is even more depressing. Not a reason to complain, given the circumstances, but still not fun.

On the plus side, while I was sulking on the couch, tired and bored, I stumbled on a replay of the 95-96 Bulls/Knicks series on the local cable sports channel. I had almost cancelled my sports package since there’s nothing going on at all, but I’m really glad I didn’t. The whole thing is naked nostalgia, but I don’t care at this point. As soon as the starting lineups were announced I was transported to childhood, with all my favorite players taking the court.

This was the 72 win season that was only recently eclipsed by Golden State’s freakishly good team. In game one, Jordan had lower back pain but still put up 42 and carried the team to the win. I forgot about the intense rivalry between the Bulls and Knicks, including a playoff defeat during Jordan’s brief retirement. Even though there was little hostility (despite about six players getting a T for yapping), you can tell the series is going to get heated, especially with agitators like Dennis Rodman and Charles Oakley. As stupid as it sounds, I’m not even looking on Wikipedia for the outcome of the games. It’s been so long that, apart from remembering Chicago winning the championship, I don’t remember anything about the series. I’m really looking forward to the next game tomorrow night (NBCSN, 7:30 p.m.).

Happy Place – St. Patrick’s Day

I have no Irish family members that I know of, and, thus, am not Irish myself. Nevertheless, this was a big thing in my neck of the woods for some reason, perhaps because of the exuberance of ethnic holidays in Chicago (home of Casimir Pulaski Day). Normally, I cook a big Irish-themed dinner including a dessert on the occasion and we watch some sort of Irish-themed film. The celebrations are a little muted this year.

Although Boondock Saints was a cult classic around my college years, one of my favorite Irish stereotype films is Darby O’Gill and the Little People. And I mean Stereotype with a capital “S” (quizzically, Sean Connery, the world’s best known Scotsman, plays the hunky lead). It’s shot in beautiful technicolor and has some remarkable special effect mirror work (for the time).

Toward the end, Connery (in his pre-Bond days) confronts the local blowhard and boot lick, Pony, while Darby (the colorful old man who believes in Leprechauns) looks on approvingly. No surprise, Connery gets together with his love interest and everything works out just fine (it’s a Disney film). It’s of a time, for sure, and the plot is fairly predictable, but trust me when I say that the special effects will be a trip (I don’t want to spoil them here).

Happy place – Voting


My wife and I voted by mail for the first time today. It was painless. All I had to do was request our ballots, and they arrived in the mail a few days later. They even included the little wristband they give you when you vote in person (a nice touch by the board of elections). We filled them out tonight and I walked them over to the mailbox. Done.

Like many things (however soon it may be to lament such things), I missed the act of going to the polling place at the park district. Many times, a local charity will have a bake sale on election day, which is something folksy that reminds me of my first vote. There’s plenty of kids at the park too, and it gives me a sense of renewal in our democracy.

The first time I “voted” was when my mom took me, as a child, to our little town’s only polling place: the village hall. My ballot was of the old variety, where you literally punched a chad out of a card with a stylus. I believe I voted for Abraham Lincoln on the sample ballot they used to give the kiddos.

Anyway, my decision to vote by mail was probably the only prescient thing I have done since this whole thing began. If only my clairvoyance extended to pre-ordering toilet paper.

Happy Place – Waffle House

Photo of a classic-style waffle house, taken by Billy Harthorn from Wikimedia Commons, Creative Commons license attribution and share alike.
Photo from Billy Hathorn / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

I almost didn’t think of anything today because I had a rough day (not bad, just rough). Luckily my family as far as I know is safe for now.

I was on Twitter a lot today, and I saw that Waffle House was trending. I’ve heard that Waffle House has a legendary status for remaining open in rough times, and it is also the type of barometer on which people make a judgment between inconvenience and catastrophe. We view CPS similarly in Chicago, and it just closed.

I had a hard drive down to my family’s Christmas gathering in Tennessee a few years back. We had been up all night getting ready, then encountered a couple lines of severe thunderstorms in Kentucky on the Bluegrass Parkway, complete with a few zero-visibility rain deluges. After a while, when I was pulled to the side of the freeway, we decided to wait out the storm.

I was dead tired, and we pulled into the only restaurant open, a Waffle House. We had to run through the downpour to the entrance, and were soaked like dogs on entering.

There was a cook and a waitress, and that’s it. The waitress came to our table, and in a hushed tone she said we didn’t have to buy anything and we could just sit if we wanted. We were both starving and tired, so we got their breakfast with ample coffee (my wife had to take over driving).

There’s something super comforting about a diner to me, especially in hard times. I’m thinking of tending to a loved one in the hospital, after a wake or funeral, when you undergo a tough medical treatment, or when you feel like you have nowhere to go. It doesn’t matter if it’s a chain or a hole in the wall. I’m a little sad that we can’t go to those places now in my city and that some will disappear, but I understand and empathize and will grieve, and I think it will make those that remain, and those that emerge, a little sweeter down the road.

Happy Place – 120 Minutes (MTV)

I grew up in the country and didn’t have cable until maybe junior or senior year in high school (16-17 yrs. old). Apart from ESPN and ESPN2 (“The Duce”), who did double-header hockey coverage, my favorite channel was MTV. I hated pop (N’Sync, Backstreet Boys, Brittney Spears), liked hip hop (Biggie, Puff Daddy and Ma$e, Busta, Luda, Jay-Z, Lauryn Hill), and tolerated “rock” (Korn, Limp Bizkit [or however the f**k you spell it], System of a Down, Rage Against the Machine, Foo Fighters, Green Day).

My favorite bands were Wilco and Radiohead, and they still are right at the top. I also liked weird mainstream (e.g. Weezer), mainstream electronic (e.g. Chemical Brothers), mainstream psychedelic (e.g. Flaming Lips), alt-raido rockers (e.g. Matthew Sweet, Dinosaur Jr.), emo (e.g. The Getup Kids), and weird-folk-my-brother-brought-home-from-college (e.g. Andrew Bird’s Bowl of Fire). There was only one place to get all that on MTV: 120 Minutes.

The performances were great, but the videos were better. All videos by weird artists I liked, and many by weird artists I would grow to love. The closest thing I have in my life is the Sirius/XM station SiriusXMU, but we only vibe like 3/4 of the time at best.

The interviews were not great on MTV, even on this show. While watching an interview of Thom Yorke, I grew bored and searched for a performance on 120 Minutes, only to find Radiohead’s full set at the Tibetan Freedom Concert. Matt Pinfield, one more time, with the assist.

Here it is, friends. Enjoy.

Happy place – Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan

It’s a weird film in that you will recognize the cast and villain from an episode of the 1960’s television series, but that doesn’t add a whole lot to understanding/appreciating the film as a whole. That’s not a diss. In fact, I think this might be the best Star Trek film of them all. Nicholas Meyer directs Shatner particularly well, reigning in some of the hammy-ness of the TV Kirk while transforming the grim pragmatism of the Kirk in the first film into an introspective, regretful, middle-aged man.

My favorite scene of the film is when McCoy (DeForrest Kelley) confronts Kirk about his mid-life crisis. Kelley is the perfect crotchety, irascible advice columnist for Kirk. Plus, Kirk’s pad is so damn smooth. (Why have we never seen Picard’s study, by the way?) If I could live inside of a movie set, it would be this one. It’s elegant like my aunt and uncle that had a vacation condo in Lake Geneva (trust me, that was once a big [and controversial] deal).

Enjoy, friends:

The board game (1860)

I was visiting my brother and his family last weekend, and after dinner we played a game my sister-in-law had salvaged from a thrift store: Go to the Head of the Class. The board reminded me of Around the World, which you probably remember from such high school romps as “Learn Your Spanish Verb Conjugations” or “Master the Names Associated with the Holy Roman Empire.” The game, while fun, is actually quite complicated and took us about two hours to complete, mostly because of the bizarre affinity in the question bank for musical composers (Irving Berlin’s name came up an abnormal number of times) as well as the stiff penalties associated with a lack of enthusiasm for musical theater popular to 1967 board game aficionados.

I joked to my niece that board games were the internet when I was growing up, an observation that produced the proper level of eye rolling (excessive).


I realized that I didn’t even know what the first board game was. It is The Checkered Game of Life by Mr. Milton Bradley himself, ca. 1860. It’s preceded by any number of checkers varieties, which it undoubtedly copies (“checkered” as in “game board resembling a checker board”), but it includes such quintessentially upbeat American outcomes as “Prison,” “Ruin,” and “Disgrace” (see also “checkered” as in “marked by periods of varied fortune or discreditable incidents”). The perfect game for the city on the hill.

The first version of Monopoly was an anti-capitalist teaching tool co-opted by Parker Brothers. I’m not sure it comes across with the same message now, having just played a Star Wars version with my nephew last Christmas. At least you learn math; does Fortnyte teach you that? I think not (but I know not either, nor am I sure I spelled the name of that video game correctly).

I owe countless hours of childhood happiness to Milton Bradley and Parker Brothers, playing games like Axis and Allies, Fortress America, Shogun, and Conquest of the Empire. I still love Risk, but find little opportunity to play it having few friends (grad school).

I occasionally see people playing European-style board games that emphasize cooperation, but for me the American board game emphasizing ruthless dominance, backstabbing, and arbitrarily complex rules (though Euro games have made headway there) have a special place as the games of my youth. If only we could take out our frustrations via a board game about Feudal Japan instead of endless rage spirals on Twitter.

Mars Pathfinder Rover (1997)

The term “break the internet” gets used for stupid, vain, idiotic purposes these days, but it was not always so. The Mars Pathfinder Mission and its Sojourner rover really did break NASA’s website in 1997. Now that we have reliable internet access at high speeds and 24/7 access to any content we want, the luster of something like “photographs from the surface of Mars” seems laughably quaint. Nevertheless, we’re still all captivated momentarily by scientific wonders (remember the “heart” on Pluto anyone? — or the discovery of the Higgs Boson?).

In 1997, people went ape shit over pictures from the Mars Rover. I didn’t even own what we now consider a modern computer until winter 1997, but I rode my bike to the public library to use their slow-ass Compaq whatever with a 28.8k modem to make it to this site:


The “Load Capacity” seems similarly quaint (measuring hits in the tens of millions — with an “m” — as opposed to billions — with a “b”). Perhaps anticipating a small number of astronomy enthusiasts, NASA greatly underestimated the way in which the American public and world would react to photographs from the surface of the red planet. How nice it is to think that there were so many people filled with curiosity and so little skepticism (or worse, phony conspiracy bullshit) that they broke down NASA’s doors in a feverish attempt to get a glimpse. And even by today’s standards, it’s quite a glimpse:


How satisfying it must feel to say “this is the best we had, and this is what we produced,” and have the effort produce astronomically (pun intended) more interest than expected.

The images loaded in strips like a digital telegraph, and the screen resolution was so low that it probably looked like an orange blur, but it was Mars, and we made it happen. For those of us not born when the Apollo moon missions were a shared collective achievement, and old enough only to remember the bitter tragedy of Challenger, the Pathfinder mission was a scientific redefinition of NASA as the people’s window to discovery and innovation. Posting photos on the internet was genius: publicly-owned content posted for anyone to view at their leisure. Judging by my students, private companies inspire a similar sense of wonder, but NASA didn’t try to sell anyone anything in 1997, and they don’t do it now. It’s just there for you to see.

“We’ve been smart” – Better times in American History / 1988 Moscow Summit

Lately I’ve just been so down every time I put the news on, and when I heard Trump’s comments at the joint news conference with Putin, it really came across as a low point in American history. I’m not talking about the substance of the comments necessarily (though those were disturbing to me), but more the way he disparaged the country with the toss off line, “I think the United States has been foolish.”

This country really has been foolish and wrong throughout history, and in the past I’ve written about the lack of historical understanding around Labor Day (it was a capitulation to labor leaders after a violent crackdown against unionization), antebellum Irish immigration (they were worked to death, as opposed to slaves who cost money), and the myth of Columbus (his troops were genocidal rapists that enslaved the native population).

But we’re far from foolish about everything. In fact, we do a lot of things right. I decided to counterprogram the stream of invective and bitter resentment that is current news and social media by writing once a week about something Americans did alright with. I, like many others, can’t stop watching the news, but I need some good stuff (and I’m not talking about soft-news interest pieces). I’m planning to write about great moments in culture, communication, and yes, maybe even some science.

This week: a timely reminder of diplomacy we could all be proud of.


1988 Moscow Summit

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan attended a special screening at the White House of a film called The Day After, which depicts in graphic detail the effects of a nuclear attack on the United States. In his diary that night, he wrote that he found the film “very effective” and that it left him “greatly depressed.” Four years later, the U.S. and Soviet Union would agree to ban intermediate range nuclear weapons at a summit in Washington D.C.

I don’t think, growing up as I did during the tail end of the Cold War, that I fully understood the prior animosity towards the USSR. I knew that they were the enemy, but I also didn’t understand why. This seems natural to me now. It was another generation’s war. My parents used to joke that they got a great deal on their honeymoon hotel because they went to New Orleans during the Cuban missile crisis (it was true), but on their bookshelf they had a title called A Day in the Life of the Soviet Union that I used to page through. It certainly has pictures of soldiers and state buildings, but it also depicts ordinary folks doing the same things we do, walking the same beautiful landscapes that we have here. It’s a photographic overture to detente.

In 1983, did Ronald Reagan even think that the Soviet Union was an “evil empire”? I imagine there were a lot of hard liners that this message resonated with, but the 1988 Moscow Summit wasn’t about hard-line tactics. The summit itself was something of a failure, with no “substantial progress on strategic arms control issues” resulting from the meeting. Nevertheless, Reagan had the opportunity to visit cultural sites and interact with the Soviet leadership in a more relaxed setting, having just pinned down that major arms ban treaty the previous year.

During the trip, Reagan and Gorbachev walked around Red Square with a group of security agents and press standing around them. At one point (about 10:00 in this video), they discuss the potential of a student exchange program; after Reagan gives a broad outline, Gorbachev remarks that they will meet each other while they are still young. The tail end of the remark is unintelligible due to background noise. Someone then points to an onlooker holding his child, and Gorbachev takes the kid and holds out his hand for Reagan to shake. The onlookers seem like plants, and it is pretty convenient that there’s an adorable child just as they come to the topic of student exchange, but the sentiment surpasses the artificiality of the setting.

Later, when a reporter asked Reagan if he still thought the Soviet Union was an “evil empire,” he replied simply “no.” His reaction shows that he’s a bit uncomfortable in that moment. Perhaps he was thinking about the infant and the average folks that wanted nothing to do with nuclear war, realizing that the hard line approach was something of an awkward hanger on in the current atmosphere. Gorbechev starts to say something, and the reporter follows up with a “why not.” Reagan comes up with a truly great response: “I was talking about another time, another era.”

Bullshit, you might say, as that era was theoretically only five years prior. But the pace of change was picking up. Reagan viewed the Cold War as essentially over after the summit, but the major symbolic end really was only a year away with the fall of the Berlin Wall, called for by Reagan in 1987.

His comments weren’t exactly an apology or a capitulation, but they effectively brushed aside mistrust and hostile rhetoric in favor of a future focused on peace and arms reduction. I remember being in middle school in the 90’s and laughing when a teacher tried to tell us that we still needed to learn “duck and cover,” just in case nuclear war broke out. The optimism and diplomacy that those leaders demonstrated at that summit may not have resulted in any nuclear weapons being destroyed, but that spirit enabled an entire generation of children to think the prospect of a nuclear war was a relic of “another era.”