The toils of history

Late in the summer I was asked to read, and review, the new memoir of Dr. Wayne Flynt. He is a retired history scholar who was educated at Samford, where he would first teach. He’d go on to earn his greatest acclaim during his almost three decades of scholarship and activism while on the faculty at Auburn. Here’s the review, and a brief segment:

For his ground-level view from the center of many critical turning points in the state in the last 30 years Wayne Flynt’s memoir is worth reading.

But you’ve probably read this far to see what Flynt says the power struggles at Auburn. That starts in Chapter 12, which he’s titled In the Eye of the Storm.

Here again Flynt delves deep into Auburn’s long history to establish the setting. A lot of talk over the years, dating back to President Isaac T. Tichenor (1872-1881) has centered on the mission of Auburn University. Flynt — noting that Auburn has a unique history as a Methodist school that taught the classics before the Morrill Act created the land grant institution — almost distills decades of dispute to the mutual identities as an institution with an agricultural and mechanical mission and as an institution of the classics and other liberal arts. Flynt, the history professor in the College of Liberal Arts, acknowledges in his memoir the role and need for both, while portraying board of trustee member Bobby Lowder as a nearly exclusive supporter of the former.

From such divides Flynt recalls the pesky matters with the the SACS investigation and subsequent probation, the NCAA and, of course, coaching changes. Lowder, who wanted Auburn to aspire to be like Clemson, is of course the central figure.

If you’re interested in history, education, religion, the rural post-war South, the modern day political landscape of Alabama or, in particular, Auburn University, this might be a book worth your time.

Elsewhere, class prep, grading things, trying to figure out a new assignment and reading.

I also started The Kennedys. Sometimes Greg Kinnear is John Kennedy. Other times he’s just Greg Kinnear. You can totally buy Barry Pepper as Bobby Kennedy, however.

You can see why Kennedy fans didn’t want this show to get picked up. Early scripts got panned. The final script is apparently different and, still not well liked. The mini-series, which won four Emmy awards and was nominated for three more, was finally aired on something called ReelzChannel. The History Channel passed because, “this dramatic interpretation is not a fit for the History brand.”

As I write this The History Channel is in an Ancient Aliens marathon.

This is the best quote on the subject, in the New York Times of all places:

There is something wonderfully Kennedyesque about a backroom campaign to discredit a series that claims the Kennedy White House had more than its share of backroom shenanigans.

Also, methamphetamines? You learn something new from television everyday.

Google Reader. I got the update last night and was immediately dismayed. Not the least of all because it removed the thing I was reading at the time. And then I looked at it, and oh, the thing is just dreadful. Best part, you have to actually seek out how many unread items there are. And in Chrome, Google’s own, you can’t see that number across the top of the browser because there is no top to the browser. The design aesthetic is now working against them. A lot of people are complaining of wasted space — I have big screens, so I can only imagine their pain — but I do agree with everyone’s sentiment about the lack of color and the inherent un-usability that comes with this roll out.

There’s a word you don’t see with Google a lot. But, as they say, you get what you pay for.

If you decide to stay, then please do send us your feedback on today’s set of improvements. Google+ is still in its early days, after all, and we’re constantly working on improvements. If, however, you decide that the product is no longer for you, then please do take advantage of Reader’s subscription export feature. Regardless where you go, we want to make sure you can take your data with you.

So you take a product that works and people like. You turn it into something people hate — and apparently near universally judging by Google’s own un-answered message boards — to try and bring it in line with Google+, which is fighting for its own life. You strip the communal Share feature from Reader so you’ll have to do that in Google+, without considering that the user might have or desire different audiences and communities at different places.

Look, I like simplicity — Have you seen the rest of this site? This iteration was designed as an ode to basic code — but Reader has abandoned simplicity for starkness. Two horizontal rows over three columns, and now nothing to differentiate any of it. Stylistically it looks like a step back to 1997 (can the subscription button blink?) built for baud modems in old East Germany and devoid of color, graphics or anything of any kind that might be useful to the eye.

White space because the #FFFFFF pixels are cheaper. (They are not.) Air, as a design element in the print format is a beautiful thing. Air in an ultra-data format, an RSS reader, betrays the point of concisely packing a lot of information on a page. And when you have data, you’re going to need a color or two and a rule here and there to separate the basic elements. Now, it is all gone.

It is a polar bear, walking across an empty ice floe looking for food. Finding none, it has moved on. Also, the javascript is slower. There is no Classic Version reset button. No option. (Though the former lead designer has offered to help fix the thing.) Take it or RSS elsewhere.

So, yeah. Find me an reader that gives me a browser and a phone version that are both tolerable. Allow them to communicate with one another — “He’s read this feed on the computer, the unread items should disappear on the phone.” — and I’ll export and move on.

My only regret is that I would not be giving ad opportunities to Google. Not that their using that trick in the Reader just now.

Oh, and GMail is due a change too. I’m sure that’ll push more stuff to Google+ and allow even more spam through.

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