|Prompt: (See below)
||[Posted on Sunday, 20 January 2013 at 5:17 am]
Prompt: Is the relative dominance of private schools in MSHAA D3 sports an issue? If so, what should be done about it?
Sorry I kind of let this sit for a while. I didn't forget; I just kind of got sidetracked on another project for a while. Also, I'm going to address this as private schools generally, not just in terms of D3.
I'm not really sure if it is an issue. When you see the same names appearing as champions time and time again, I think there's a natural tendency to view it cynically and try to make it out to be somehow unfair. Sometimes a school simply has a powerhouse program. (Usually this is a result of having a great coach who motivates, teaches, and inspires their players and utilizes their individual strengths to get the best possible performance out of that year's group.) Houghton's girls basketball team has won 12 straight conference titles and 13 straight district playoff championships, and they recently lost their first game to a team west of Iron River for the first time in over a decade. Nobody's crying foul about that, because their players are all "home-grown" and simply representing the school district that they happened to be born into. But that's where we start to get into the beef that people have about private schools.
Private schools are classified for sports divisions the same way that public schools are: purely by enrollment total. This does cause a few ripples that might lead to waves of problems. The one that I think absolutely is a problem is the case of an all-boys school competing in boys sports against public schools with the same number of total students. A football team from a private school of 400 boys is not the "same" as one from a school with 200 boys and 200 girls.* (I suspect the numbers are different, but this is essentially the case Negaunee ran into in the D8 football final in November; Negaunee won in spite of the stacked odds, howeverwith a backstory that even Hollywood never could have dreamed up.)
*Girls can, in theory, participate on high school football teams; however, in practice such participation is negligible. Furthermore, the argument applies also to sports like basketball or track, where girls participate on separate teams.
There would be a pretty simple fix for this; simply assign teams to a division in each sport based on the size of the player pool available at that school for that sport. (So the all-boys school with an enrollment of 400 would be going against public schools with a total enrollment around 800, not 400, because the girls at the public school don't affect their ability to field, for example, a boys track team.) This isn't the end of the issue, though.
Private schools, unlike public schools, arguably have a talent pool larger than the number of students actually in their classrooms. A private school has two categories of non-students who might have ended up on its athletic teams: those whose applications to the school are refused and those students the school recruited but who decided on a different school. This is where I think people start making this out to be an issue; public schools don't have the opportunity to recruit outside their district or turn away students. What's more, small districts often run cooperative programs, where a student from one school can play a sport his school doesn't offer under another school's colors. The combined team is classified according the total enrollment of both schools; that is, two schools that would each be in Class D on their own might field a single team that has to play in Class C. This feels fair; after all, the team can draw freely from both schools' pools, even if only one player comes from the "other" school. So why don't private schools have to take into account everyone that might have played for themeven if they aren't in the school?
This gets tricky. This "hidden enrollment", if you will, is difficult to quantify, and thus virtually impossible to enforce. If we know anything about college recruiting practices, it's that the whole business resists all attempts at regulation. It also probably wouldn't be that difficult to "lose" a few applications when it comes time to count those. Furthermore, state law requires that these students be in school somewhere until they're 18, so they already count in the enrollment of the school they actually attend; it would be relatively insensical to count these students twice.
So if it's impractical to adjust classification because of these practices of ambiguous fairness, the only other option seems to be creating a new block of divisions solely for private schools. (Private schools come in different sizes, just as public schools do.) Now we're looking at forcing the MHSAA to organize as many as twice as many tournaments, though I suspect the actual number of private schools isn't anywhere near large enough to support as many divisions as the public schools do. Even with a smaller number of divisions, I suspect the number of relevant schools may be small enough to make even that impractical.
There are some people who will bring up the additional point that there is something "pure" about playing for your home school, and that going to a private school is somehow "selling out". This I would call no more than grumbling; mercenaries are as old as conflict itself, and people are always willing to compromise certain values in exchange for some kind of personal gain.
So is it a perfect system? No. But given practical considerations, and with the exception of the adjustment for single-gender schools, I don't think it's one we're likely to improve on.
|Prompt: "My First Trip with UG: Deep into the Jungles of Borneo with Hockey Sticks"
||[Posted on Wednesday, 9 January 2013 at 9:59 am]
(Poetry lovers should probably avoid this untitled bit of... whatever this is...)
(And for anyone wondering, "UG" refers to my Uncle George, who is real and provided the prompt, but nothing below here is remotely factual.)
I once, in a note from an uncle called GEC,
Was invited to come on an infamous trek.
And since I had tired of my usual dreck,
I said to myself, "Oh well, what the heck."
I set out to meet him down south of Lake Tahoe,
And, when I arrived there, asked, "Where shall we go?"
He said, "Well, I thought we should try Borneo--
I'm destined to speak all in verse, as you know.
"And since our dear tongue is bereft of good rhyme
I thought it a valuable use of my time
To learn some new words. And as well as the clime,
The number of languages there is sublime."
Then after a lengthy, unfortunate ode
Some clothes and a camera apiece were all stowed
And so with this hopefully light-enough load,
We got on a branch of old Bilbo's Road.
I then pointed out that I'm lacking a passport,
And feared that I'd never get past the first airport.
Unruffled, he said, "There's no need to abort.
We just have to say that we'll teach them a sport."
He took from the backseat my two hockey sticks
I'd been thinking of taking, but only for kicks.
(I realize in truth that this could be no fix;
In fiction, though, readers allow a few tricks...)
So somehow we made it to Kalimantan
And baked in the hot equatorial sun.
My uncle, God bless him, he never was one
To sit around waiting for anything fun.
"The Jungle!" he cried, and he set out apace,
A gleam in his eye and a grin on his face.
While I, with my hockey sticks, thought it disgrace
That ice couldn't ever be made in this place.
I followed as well as I could in his wake
As he shouldered his way to an unfrozen lake.
(No language there spoke of a word for "snowflake";
Between you and me, it was more'n I could take.)
We slept in the jungle at night; I would dread
To think of the animals there, but unsaid.
My uncle was nestled all snug in his bed
While visions of who-knows-what danced in his head.
But ev'rything's better in morning sunshine
And each day I woke, I felt more and more fine.
So shocking it was when we pulled back a vine
And found ourselves facing a thrice-worded sign:
In Arabic, English, and local Malay
"You're now in Malaysia!" it troubled to say.
My uncle, now flummoxed, had quite lost his way.
His quest to the west was rather astray.
"Well since we're so northbound regardless", said I,
"We may as well go all the way to Brunei!"
Thus to Indonesia we bid our good-bye
So right across Sarawak's bush we could fly.
I cannot remember too much of our trip;
In retrospect now--it's naught but a blip.
The hockey sticks, well, we did not need equip,
To pass through three countries at such a fast clip.
The States even let us sweep under the rug
My brazen escape--just let off with a shrug
And more than a hint that my house they'd not bug--
When they saw I'd been led by the infamous UG.
|Prompt: "Does the act of walking in corduroy pants qualify as human stridulation?"
||[Posted on Thursday, 3 January 2013 at 2:04 am]
I confess that I had to look up the term "stridulation" in order to respond to this, so I'll begin by summarizing what I found out. (Where would we be without dictionaries and Wikipedia?)
In short, stridulation is the act of some creature rubbing one part of its body against another part to create an audible sound. Most people are probably familiar with this in terms of chirping crickets, but the phenomenon can be found in a variety of species. The sound created by stridulation can serve a variety of functions, depending on the species, but is often used in attracting mates, threatening foes, or warning away comrades.
Humans don't partake in this. This is not to say there is a complete dearth of self-rubbing activities, but the objective is not to create resonance vibration in any case. The act of walking in corduroy pants does indeed result in sound directly attributable to the rubbing of the wearer's covered thighs against each other, however I would argue against this being classified as stridulation.
First, in all cases from the animal world (based on my limited research), stridulation is the act of rubbing two body parts together directly, not using any external surface to help create or amplify the sound. Human thighseven the ever-popular "thunder thighs"alone do not provide any sort of characteristic sound when rubbed together. One could possibly argue that this is yet another example of humans manipulating their environment to achieve otherwise-impossible results, but this leads me into my second argument, which deals with the motivation of such a deed.
Once, I suppose, corduroy might have been considered a high-end fabric (I can't assert this for certain), which (if that's true) would have signaled the wearer's affluenceand, with it, desirability for a potential mate. In contemporary times, however, it seems to me that the fabric has developed something of a bad repthat is, as a fabric that the affluent would scoff at. So if not to attract a mate, what purpose, then, would a person hope to fulfill by buzzing around in corduroy pants? It isn't very musical. Issuing threats and warnings is common among humans, but is nearly always done vocally or with letters cut from magazines and pasted to a blank sheet. Frankly, the sound of cords seems to me to be simply a marginally distasteful side effect of a particular variety of clothingnot unlike the black marks some sneakers leave on hard floor surfaces.
So no, I wouldn't call walking in corduroy pants "human stridulation". People make all sorts of sounds, but I'm not too inclined to give that term to any of them. For once, let's let the animal kingdom keep something as its own.
|Prompt: What would it like to live to be 104 years old?
||[Posted on Sunday, 30 December 2012 at 4:37 am]
Assuming I live that long, I would turn 104 years old in 2088. What will it be like then? Given that I was once accused of being "an old man in a young man's body" at the age of 17, I think it's probably fair to say that I will be even crankier and routine-driven by then. Then again, who really knows what the future can bring?
I'm not what you would call an "early adopter" when it comes to technology, but even I own a laptop with a Blu-Ray player, a Kindle Fire, an HDTV, a separate DVD/VHS player, a Wii, and a cell phone. OK, so the phone I use is still a flip-phone that operates on a pay-as-I-go basis, but that's not the point. I still buy music on CDs more often than via downloads. (So basically, I'm a good 5 years behind where Corporate America expects me to be.)
When I was in kindergarten in 1989-90, the rotary dial phone on my parents' kitchen wall was not even unusual; now it's a relic. (But it still works!) We had a VCR and a TV, but we got three channels when the weather was just so (and we could really only rely on getting one of them). None of the other crap in the last paragraph was even a thing yet except CDs. (We had a few of those, but not as many as vinyl records. Vinyl only continues to exist in Hipster and Nostalgia niche markets.) What I'm getting at is this: technology drives almost everything we do these days, and it changes so fast, it's virtually impossible to know what will be important to us in just few years. When I was a kid, things I saw in old reruns of The Jetsons seemed absurd on every level, but videophones are common already; maybe flying cars will be possible by the time 2088 rolls around. I don't think the Jetsons ever said what part of the 21st century they lived in.
There are certain things people would like to think will never change, or at least will endure longer than we will as individuals. For me, one of those things is the cultural phenomenon of Sesame Street. The one channel we could rely on getting before the Bresnan cable man first came to our house was PBS, and Jim Henson himself was still working on the show then. I haven't watched Sesame Street in years, but it's comforting to know it's still there, still doing the things Jim set out to do. I hope it will still be maintaining the delicate balance between wholesome whimsy and age-appropriate educational content if and when I ever have kids, but it's plausibleand worrisomethat it might have ended or, worse, gone sideways by then. (Hey, they already changed the Cookie Monster's fundamental character trait....)
Then again, there are some things we can't wait to see the end of. Since we got cable and I was introduced to the concept of a Red Wing, the NHL has had 3 major work stoppages. That crap can stop any time. Also in my lifetime, the United States has held eight presidential elections; by this time in 2088 we will have seen 19 more (assuming we don't have any sort of fundamental breakdown in the interim). I'm no fan of the way elections are contested, what with all the mudslinging, accusations, and general ill will. But really that's all just a growing symptom of the way our political system "works". Mudslinging is a time-honored tradition during elections (even the revered Abraham Lincoln engaged in it), but the current level of animosity that each of our two major parties directs at the other is unprecedentedand growing. Moderates who actually try to reach compromises are derided by their own party. That there only ever seem to be two sides of any issue presented is fundamentally flawed, and I look forward to the day when delegates return to their mandate of representing their constituents, rather than the parties that nominate them.
That quickly degenerated into a tangential rant, so let me simply wrap this up by saying that I don't know whether I'll live to be 104, or if I'll even want to. Family history suggests that I'm doomed for some sort of heart problems, but that I might live well into my 80s anyway, even with early21st century technology. But let's say I do make it to 104. If history is any teacher (and history teaches me that it is), I'll probably still be scoffing at anything that was new since I was 100. Unless it's a flying car. I would totally want one of those.
|A relatively unguided series of words about words
||[Posted on Wednesday, 14 November 2012 at 1:54 am]
There's something magical about the written word. I'm not talking about physically marking an actual piece of paper, brick wall in an alley, or a the wall of a public toilet stall (although these are all legitimate media). For my purposes, "the written word" encompasses the obvious print and digital media, but also less obvious things like road signs, computer code, storefronts emblazoned with neon, and the "Watch Your Step" placard at your friendly neighborhood food court.
It's the idea that you can encode an idea so that people you'll never meet might have the opportunity to read, digest, ponder, ruminate over, internalize, regurgitate, adjust for their own purposes, andmost importantlyre-read as many times as they'd like that awakens my sense of wonder. It's partly about mastery of (a) language, but more about the fact that by reading something, you've joined some sort of a club that was founded by the person who wrote it.
Have you ever said, "Have you ever read ___?" or had someone say it to you? It is followed in 96.4% of all cases by "You should!" or "Isn't it awesome?" (depending on the response). The remaining cases are treated with "You shouldn't!" or "Isn't it awful?" (respectively). And as much as I'd love to come up with a third category to be an obscure, humorous, miniscule slice of the pie, nobody ever says, "Have you ever read ___? Meh."
People read, and they recommend (for or against) based on how they feel about their membership in that club. If you liked what you read, you want to invite other people into the club so they can enjoy it as you did. Like so many other things in life, it speaks to the fact that most people get a kick out of shared experiences. And the beautiful thing, unlike a traditional club, is that there's no limit on membership.
Which always makes me feel like I'm missing out on something. I remember little before I learned how to read, but what I do remember is that I was forever pestering my parents and big sister with the same question: "What does that say?" There was information out there, and I didn't have it. Even then I knew that even the familiar part of my world was bigger than I'd ever be able to get ahold of, but I'd be damned if I wasn't going to try to get ahold of as much of it as possible. Still, for every club that I join, I uncover numerous others that I'd like to be inducted into.
I find it impossibly frustrating every time I come across something written in a language I don't understand. That impossible frustration is compounded (if that's possible) when it appears in one of the numerous writing systems whose clubhouse I haven't visited. (I might be able to stumble through pronouncing a paragraph of Spanish, even if its meaning is gobbledegook to me, but I literally wouldn't even know where to start if presented with Braille, Chinese characters, or heiroglyphics of any sort. I actually can't use the phrase "It's Greek to me" the way most people would, because my engineering background forced me to learn what most of the Greek letters are, and my natural burning to know made me figure out their Latin equivalents.)
And so I read a lot. Books, TV listings, newspapers, menus, ESPN's BottomLine, food packages, books, books, books, books, books, box scores, game stories, books, packing slips, book reviews, weather reports (which I rarely heed), books, and the greatest invention of all time: WIKIPEDIA. Somewhere in there, I developed a taste for well-developed ideas, which I think brings about at least a part of my difficulty interacting with actual people. Almost everyone sounds dumb to me if they don't speak in properly structured sentences, or at least ones that deliberately break from standard in order to serve some rhetorical purpose. What's more, I can't stand to be thought of that way (even though I'm consciously aware (now) that virtually no one else thinks that way), so I usually don't speak until I'm confident I can express an idea with grammar that is at least defendable, if not outright unassailable.
As a result, I cannot bear the company of anyone who isn't funny enough to make me overlook their grammar, and I speak far less than average. On top of this, I tend to speak as I write: in compound, complex, and compound-complex sentences which almost invariably involve an unusually large number of commas, adverbs, and conjunctions.
So I go back to my books (etc.), and in times of self-pity, I often choose a book I've read before because I know I like to visit that clubhouse. And that's where the real magic of the written word is: re-readability. Without any resistance, I can go back to any given page and find the exact same words just waiting there for me. (And while there's all that sort of business about not being able to stand in the same river twice, I'm not feeling post-modern enough to go into the ramifications of changing perspectives right now.) Sometimes that property feels like a curse when I read a paragraph ten times without processing it, but the beauty is that no matter how many times my mind wanders, no matter whether I fall asleep in the middle, I'll never miss anything, because I can just pick up where I left off. And whoever had the idea would thank me for sticking it out and getting every word, as opposed to speakers who would likely be annoyed by a lack of attention and would rather not have to repeat themselves.
So if "always there for you" is the definition of a friend, the written word is easily the best friend I've ever had.
|This is mostly for Cox.
||[Posted on Monday, 9 April 2012 at 11:25 pm]
I don't normally partake of ASCII art, but I was bored.
Seriously, Gmail, how do you not let people pick fonts, in particular fixed-width ones?
|I wonder how many have been in the Lode and the Bull...
||[Posted on Monday, 6 February 2012 at 11:57 pm]
The Daily Bull doesn't seem to have much of an online presence, so I figured I'd let you read the piece I wrote for them last week. They printed this (without advising me of the fact) Friday, 3 February 2012.
"Improbable Lions Cause Hellish Cold Snap"
Some say that it was bound to happen eventually, that the law of averages simply applied. Others say that some actual skill may have been involved. But we Detroit football fans know the truth: the Lions reached the playoffs; therefore we can safely conclude that Hell has indeed frozen over. While the Lions predictably bowed out of the postseason quickly, the damage to the Underworld cannot be undone.
As a result, the Devil has been scrambling to figure out how to deal with this unforseen predicament. In an exclusive interview, Satan said that his initial rage at the dropping temperatures kept things thawed for a while, but even his brimstone-fueled fury couldn't stop the inevitable. When asked why he didn't use his powers of evil to keep the Lions out of the playoffs in the first place, he said, "Well, I'm not God, you know."
He has, however, developed a new strategy to cope with the frigid conditions. Having heard of the winters here in Houghton, His Darkness recently visited the area as a sort of scouting trip to learn how to cope with the bind he is now in. "My plan was to learn how the locals find pleasure in such conditions, and expressly forbid them in my lamentably frozen domain in order to inflict maximum torture."
Unfortunately for Lucifer, due to the recent warm snap, his arrival was met by conditions less severe than he expected. "I had to double-check my map. I saw the sloppy, wet conditions, and I thought I must have accidentally landed downstate in Hell, Michigan. It would be a natural mistake for me." He added that since it is an election year, he's not as behind on souls as usual, but he's always looking to make a deal.
So, Beelzebub convened a special joint meeting with the City of Houghton and Blue Key. He said, "It was clear that these two organizations had the most to lose if things didn't chill down in time for this Carnival of Winter of theirs (or whatever they call it). Naturally, they were receptive to what I could offer."
A representative of a joint committee representing the city and Blue Key -- who asked to be identified only as "Johnny" -- issued the following statement: "We are very happy to announce that Winter Carnival will be able to go ahead as planned. The Prince of Darkness has graciously agreed to siphon some of his unwanted frost and icy wind into the Copper Country. This is a strictly no-cash deal; we simply relinquish our souls when our bodies are used up."
The Daily Bull obtained a copy of the agreement from the city under the Freedom of Information Act. While Johnny's statement reflects the majority of the terms, there is some fine print that Tech students may find interesting. A double-or-nothing clause states that anyone who participates in Winter Carnival in any way, including "glancing at a snow statue at any stage of construction," is also subject to forfeiture of their souls unless the Detroit Lions win the division next season.
In response to this clause, Johnny said, "It might be a sin, but we took the bet. We think the Devil will regret it, because next year's Lions look like they'll be the best there's ever been."
In response, the Devil remarked happily, "I can't lose. Even if I don't get to reap a city's worth of souls, I still get to watch all the righteous Packer fans squirming while they root for the Lions to save them from damnation. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a few appointments in Washington."
|My first byline
||[Posted on Saturday, 5 November 2011 at 2:03 am]
An abbreviated form of this article appeared in this week's issue of The Michigan Tech Lode, with the note that you could read the full article online. For some reason, the online version reflects the same cut. In the interest of completeness, I offer the full article here.
Edit [10 November, 12:43 AM]: They've finally put up the full version on the Lode website, but I'm leaving this here anyway.
Campus Security Report provides valuable information
On April 5, 1986, Lehigh University student Jeanne Clery was raped and murdered in her own residence hall bed. When it came to light that Lehigh students had not been informed about 38 other violent crimes on campus in the previous three years, Clery’s parents began a movement involving other victims of campus crimes and their families to require more substantial reporting of crimes on all campuses. This movement eventually led to the passage of the Crime Awareness and Campus Security Act of 1990.
This act requires all postsecondary education institutions participating in federal student aid programs to produce an annual report detailing crime statistics for the prior three years and to distribute the report to all active students and employees at the institution. Since the requirement is tied to student aid and not government funding of the institution, the act covers both public and private institutions. Amendments to the act in 1992, 1998, 2000 and 2008 have gradually expanded the range of required elements in the report to include such things as rights of victims, notification about registered sex offenders and procedures for response to campus emergencies. The 1998 amendment also formally renamed the legislation The Jeanne Clery Disclosure of Campus Security Policy and Campus Crime Statistics Act, usually known simply as The Clery Act.
On Sept. 30, the Dean of Students Office at Michigan Tech issued an email to inform the campus community that Tech’s Annual Security and Fire Safety Report was available online (http://www.mtu.edu/publicsafety/police-services/administration/campus-security-act) and as a paper copy at various locations on campus, including the Administration Building and Public Safety. This was ahead of the federally required notification deadline of Oct. 1. Associate Dean of Students Patricia Gotschalk said that the report is for information in calendar year 2010, following the federal regulations with regard to the reporting period.
Gotschalk said that although all students and employees are apprised of the report, she is unsure about how many people actually read it. Nevertheless, she stressed the importance of the report: There is a lot of useful information compiled in a convenient, well-indexed document.
The report begins with a brief profile of Michigan Tech before going on to outline the requirements for the report and to describe Michigan Tech’s Department of Public Safety and Police Services. This is followed by recommended procedures for reporting criminal incidents and other emergencies, including the use and locations of campus emergency telephones. The report continues with descriptions of situations warranting Timely Warning Notices and Emergency Notifications. These announcements would be issued in a variety of formats through the Safety First Alert service, which students and employees can register for at no cost through Banweb in the Personal Information section. Those who register have the option of receiving alerts via email, voice mail or text message.
Pages 12 and 13 of the 46-page report detail the steps one should take in case of a hostile intruder on campus. Pages 13-27 are devoted to information regarding sexual misconduct, including the university’s sexual misconduct policy, rights of both the accuser and the accused, procedures victims should follow and several detailed examples intended to illustrate what behaviors constitute sexual misconduct. Gotschalk said this information is required by the legislation, but added, National data indicates that sexual assault is an ongoing problem on college campuses, so there is also educational and prevention value in providing information to the campus community about sexual misconduct.
The next section of the report deals with drugs and alcohol, beginning with a summary of relevant laws. This section also provides the university’s policies regarding these substances, including disciplinary action that violators may face. The section ends with a summary of resources for anyone wanting more information or help.
The last section of the report is most relevant to what Clery’s parents originally strove to have reported. It includes crime- and fire-incident data for 2008, 2009 and 2010 for both the Houghton campus and the Ford Forestry Center in Alberta, Mich. The relatively low numbers in these tables bear out the Reader’s Digest 2008 College Safety Survey, which listed Michigan Tech as the third-safest campus in the country. As Vice President for Student Affairs Les Cook said, the report does a nice job illustrating that Michigan Tech is a safe campus and environment.
Maintaining that safety record is the responsibility of everyone on campus. Gotschalk said, I hope that students, staff and faculty will review the document every year and bookmark it on their computer in order to keep current on our student policies and procedures, as well as emergency response and management information.
|HU2642 digital media distribution paper (revised)
||[Posted on Wednesday, 8 December 2010 at 6:47 pm]
[Revised version posted 3:43pm, EST on 13 December, 2010.]
When developing my digital media project, I felt drawn to the cause of Michigan Tech's recruitment. Toward that end, I created a series of five short whiteboard cartoons promoting campus life at MTU. In order to reach the target audience of technology-savvy potential students, I chose to make use of the capabilities at YouTube.com* and facebook.com. In the rest of this essay, I will discuss why these choices regarding distribution of the production are rhetorically appropriate and why these choices qualify as Web 2.0.
Simply put, the videos I created have been posted to YouTube. However, since it would take 1700 years to view all the content on YouTube (even if you don’t get Rick Rolled every century or so), it’s pretty unlikely that anyone might light upon any of the cartoons without some sort of publicity. In fact, as a bit of an experiment, I posted them to YouTube three weeks ago, and didn’t tell anyone; they got zero views in that time.
So, to increase the odds, I’ve also posted the links to my facebook profile. Within just a couple of hours, all five videos received multiple hits, and the facebook status received a “like” and an independent comment. So, now that I’ve established that these videos have been released “into the world,” how do I know that this is even appropriate?
If you recall way back to my Design Plan, the primary target audience for this production consists of people "approximately age 17-25" who are "fairly comfortable with receiving digital media." While usage statistics are difficult to locate, YouTube’s Fact Sheet boasts that over half of users between ages 18 and 34 "share videos often with friends and colleagues." Furthermore, over 77% of embedding of YouTube videos to other sites is done by people ages 13-35. This sharing is critical to reaching audiences beyond my personal circle of facebook friends, and the statistics are encouraging that the targeted age range is using YouTube in this way.
Similarly, over 36.5 million people in the United States alone between the ages of 13 and 24 are facebook users (as of 4 January, 2010). This group alone represents over 10% of the population of the entire country!
In Tim O’Reilly’s "What is Web 2.0" he outlines several "core competencies" of companies that are truly Web 2.0. These include (among others) having control over a unique data set that strengthens as it is used, trusting users to develop content, and offering software above the level of a single device. Let’s look at how these factors relate to my distribution choices.
Virtually all content on YouTube and facebook is created by users; the companies merely provide a framework for it to reside in. This content, especially as it becomes increasingly inter-linked, can’t be found in other places, and the links can provide information about what videos or friends (for example) might be suggested as being relevant. What’s more, both these sites are compatible with mobile phones for both browsing and uploading. YouTube even has an interface designed solely to work with the Wii web browser.
From another perspective, Henry Jenkins, in "Why Participatory Culture Is Not Web 2.0: Some Basic Distinctions”, says that Web 2.0 "refers specifically to a set of commercial practices" and that it is, without modifier, "a business model."
Facebook and YouTube don’t collect money from everyday users; this is part of their wide appeal. However, they are each able to leverage their high traffic into huge advertising profits, thus rendering each of them as a viable business entity.
Regardless of whether they conform to an arbitrary definition or not, both YouTube and facebook are effective at distributing materials online, especially among digital natives. I don’t expect to get any animation contract offers as a result of my efforts, but that wasn’t the purpose. If my hours of writing, drawing, voicing, and editing reach any potential MTU students and cause them to see the university in a more positive light, I would consider the production a rousing success. In the meantime, I feel that the actions I’ve taken are adequate to make my work available; the Internet gears are already turning.
* Episodes can be viewed via YouTube:
|HU2642 post #(n+1)
||[Posted on Monday, 6 December 2010 at 5:33 pm]
Reading: "Art Form for the Digital Age: Video games shape our culture. It's time we took them seriously." (2000) by Henry Jenkins
I think Jenkins summed things up pretty nicely, even aside from all the rhetorical techniques he used that I could talk about from my other classes this semester. Or, more properly, by way of those techniques. However, I'm here to talk about content rather than method.
I also absolutely disagree with the sentiment that certain things "can't" or "shouldn't" be considered art. Art is expression. How you choose to do it is just the medium. People snobbed on photography when it was new, because it wasn't painting. Now, hardly anyone paints anymore -- at least not anything recognizable. The point being that every significant new thing goes through its growing pains -- geeks geeking about it to other geeks while everyone else either laughs or remains ignorant; kids start geeking about it to other kids while their parents furrow their brows; young academics start writing things about it (which is about when the older academics start noticing it for the first time); older academics start whining about this newfangled contraption that wasn't around in their day while the rest of the world adopts it into their daily lives. Eventually the stiffs either come around or go extinct, and the thing finally gets the "official" acceptance to back up the practical reality it's had for a few years already. By then, kids are already geeking about the next thing, and it starts all over.
So basically, everything that sticks for any length of time becomes acceptable, and ten years later, Jenkins seems to ring pretty true. Even his comment that "the future art of games may look more like... dance" immediately conjures up the DDR craze that ballooned not long afterward.
He also really hits an important point that people should "talk about how to strike a balance between this form of expression and social responsibility." Unfortunately, this is probably two layers of subtlety beyond what most gamers are wanting to talk about. And parents often don't take the time to have this kind of conversation with their kids because everyone's being too busy "having a life" to sit down and be responsible for five minutes.
Reading: "Dream Machines" (2006) by Will Wright
There are some good points here. The idea that people who grew up as video gamers will "treat the world as a place for creation, not consumption" is particularly intriguing. It ties back somewhat to what we talked about last week as far as the broadcast v. networked media distribution models; the Web 2.0 generation expects to be part of the process, not have it fed to them.
There are a couple of things I take a bit of an issue with, however. The big one is that Wright writes: "Games have the potential to subsume almost all other forms of entertainment media." This seems to suggest that video games are the be-all end-all of how we will be spending our dollars. And while filmmakers seem to be bent more and more on making re-makes, sequels, and novel adaptations, they're certainly not losing any steam at the box office or the DVD sales shelves. I agree that contemporary games are more multi-faceted than any medium before, but certain things like the disaster appeal of American Idol can't really be delivered in a game.
He then goes on to discuss how he sees the future of games: semi-intelligent programs that respond to players' interests and skill level. Not only is this kind of creepy, it's extremely similar to the fantasy game encountered by Battle School students in Ender's Game, which was published in 1985 -- over 20 years before this article. (In the sequels, we find that this game "evolves" into a fully sentient entity, so if you're worried about artificial intelligence, you might want to keep that in mind.) We're already seeing rudimentary forms of this sort of thing with TiVo that can suggest similar TV programs to what we've already watched. It's weird enough that Google seems to know where we all live....
|HU2642 post #n, a triple-decker
||[Posted on Wednesday, 1 December 2010 at 11:37 pm]
*** Where n=x+1, and x=(whatever the last post I put a number on was) ***
Reading: "Streams of Content, Limited Attention: The Flow of Information through Social Media" (2009) by Danah Boyd
I thought this was pretty interesting. Boyd tackles the different natures of broadcast and network approaches to media distribution and some of the difficulties associated with the latter. Essentially, we're no longer dealing with an information distribution system that is effectively controlled by the few rather than the many. On the flip side of this, simply being able to post your creativity in a space where many can see it, doesn't mean that anyone will.
As a result of this, there has been a fundamental power shift. Previously, in the broadcast media model, those who controlled which content was available to the public could guide public opinion. Now, with the influence of networked media distribution, there are a whole mess of viewpoints available out there... somewhere; the trick is finding them. Thus, the power now resides with anyone who can guide the selections of the audience. From the audience's perspective, this doesn't make a whole ton of difference, unless you're aware that you are being guided among choices, rather than being spoon-fed whatever doctrine.
The thing that struck me at multiple times while reading this was the idea of targeted advertising online. Boyd talks about people being immersed in a flow, being able to grab information "when it is most relevant and valuable, entertaining, or insightful." In other words, poorly timed advertising is worse than useless. Cross-referenced websites like Wikipedia or IMDb make heavy use of this concept as well. There's little that's more frustrating than trying to read up on a topic and not being able to understand the terms being used; Wiki's cross-linking (or what I like to call "interclickability") doesn't disrupt the reading, but makes available the context that is often much needed at a moment's notice.
Reading: "What Is Web 2.0" (2005) by Tim O'Reilly
So I've been hearing more and more all the time about this alleged "Web 2.0", but really didn't have a proper notion of what it entails. Who better to tell about it than someone who was in on the process to coin the idea in the first place? Or at least that was how I read the second paragraph. Either way, this makes rather a lot more sense.
On the one hand, it's like, yeah, yeah, uh huh, yup, this is all stuff I've seen happening on the Internet over the last few years. But when it's described in its broader terms, rather than in the context of individual updates, it kind of blows your mind. All this business about users creating content online, not just receiving it and deciding whether they like it or not kind of takes my American understanding of what "democracy" is and blows it completely out of the water. Take that, party conventions!
And in a really creepy twist, just shortly after I finished reading the section about designing "above the level of a single device" an ad appeared during the TV show I had on for Google TV. So not only did I get a really spiffy example to use handed to me just when I needed it, I started looking around to see if Big Brother (i.e. "Google") was nosing around the living room with some of that targeted content software talked about earlier in the article. The day somebody figures out how to target content based on non-digital consumer choices (like reading a printout, as I was doing) will be a spooky day indeed.
Reading: "Why Participatory Culture Is Not Web 2.0: Some Basic Distinctions" (2010) by Henry Jenkins
Jenkins talks a lot in here about people collaborating in ways that improves everyone's work. It's not a new idea; I grew up with the phrase "bouncing ideas off each other" for the phenomenon. Bringing in different perspectives ensures that more angles will be considered and productions (of all kinds) will feel richer, more fleshed out as a result.
However, what he's talking about here is more of a sense of voluntary membership in some sort of community that allows each individual to feel connected to not only the topic they have in common, but also the other members of the community. The community provides the sounding board, while its voluntary nature ensures that the audience will provide enthusiastic and useful feedback. What's more, members can earn credibility within the group by any sort of contribution to the greater cause.
I also like the idea he brings up of the difference between "messing around" with technological tools (tinkering with their capabilities) and "geeking out" with them (working with more in-depth features to achieve some result). This was really relevant for me with the recent production project, as I'd "messed around" with Windows Movie Maker in the past, but only very briefly, and I had to "geek out" with it a fair bit to achieve the cartoons I ended up with.
|HU2642 feedback for more persons
||[Posted on Tuesday, 16 November 2010 at 3:06 pm]
Purpose/argument: Promotion for village of Calumet.
Strength: Historical information and photos are consistent with current marketing.
Weakness: Other than placeholders needing to be filled in, this seemed pretty finished.
Production: Flash game
Purpose/argument: Helping children learn. (And helping undergraduates waste time...?)
Strength: "Adorable" animals and pastel colors are little-kid friendly.
Weakness: Any kind of indication on a "wrong" answer would be useful, like a slash appearing through it, just so you know that it registered the click.
Presenter: |V|c|<!|\||\|/-\ (McKinna)
Production: Web comic "Reality Bites"
Purpose/argument: Satire of 1337-speak.
Strength: No frills, no distraction. I think the fact that you have templates to build more comics from the same elements is really good.
Weakness: Text is small and crammed into speech bubbles.
Production: Rap song
Purpose/argument: Discourse on life at MTU.
Strength: It doesn't sound like it was recorded in a bathroom or something. (I also love the fact that you brought up the absurdity of not being able to use "MTU".)
Weakness: The lyrics were pretty tough for me to pick up. Enunciation was a little indistinct, but I think just remixing so the background doesn't overwhelm the words would be tremendous. Then again, it's a rap song, so maybe that's deliberate...?
Purpose/argument: Spoof of MTU promo material
Strength: Background selections were appropriate to each interviewee, makes them seem "in their element".
Weakness: The music tends to dominate the voices somewhat.
Purpose/argument: Limitations of MTU career fair.
Strength: Well-developed concept. Text interspersed throughout amplifies credibility...
Weakness: ...at least it would if it stayed up long enough to read it.
Purpose/argument: "Be ordinary, make your life extraordinary."
Strength: "Real" video clips really fit with the message. Syncing with voiceover was effective.
Weakness: Some clips were obviously repeated for no apparent reason. Either create a little more footage to fill the time, or find a way so that the reason for the repetition is clear. For example, the clip could run each time a phrase is repeated in the voiceover.
Production: Website/blog "UP Movie House"
Purpose/argument: Promoting film appreciation and related events in the UP and surrounding areas.
Strength: Color contrast is distinct, but doesn't feel forced...
Weakness: ...but it's all black/white/gray. Maybe this was intentional (I noticed the clip you had posted was from a black and white film), but even just a little color could go a long way.
Production: Music video
Purpose/argument: Artistic expression of the music
Strength: Video style has a ton of uncertainty and urgency, which is exactly what the song choice calls for.
Weakness: I was going to comment on not being able to read the writing on the napkin, since everythings starts going backwards at that point, so it's clearly a significant moment. But, since you come back to it at a point where it makes more sense in the song, I think it feels really resolved, and the tease made me more eager to read it when it came back. I know this isn't really presenting it as a weakness, but your project felt so developed and polished I don't really see much else you could improve on.
|HU2642 feedback for projects in-progress
||[Posted on Thursday, 11 November 2010 at 3:14 pm]
Before I forget to post this....
These are my notes, and do not necessarily reflect the views, expressed by anyone else in any other venue (i.e. class) or those which are not expressed at all.
Production: Flash game
Purpose/argument: We didn't see all the choose-your-own-adventure endings, but the choices seemed to reflect a nonviolence and/or acceptance of cultures bias.
Strength: Easy to use, familiar format.
Weakness: Very short. I realize a lot of time goes into producing something even that short, though.
Presenter: Kyle M.
Production: Kung fu video
Purpose/argument: Promotion for the kung fu discipline.
Strength: Close up shots of techniques, especially in slo-mo.
Weakness: Intro text disappeared before I could read all of it.
Production: "Teach Me How to Husky"
Purpose/argument: As is, works like a karaoke scroll to sing parody lyrics. If sung lyrics are added to the background, it becomes a straight-up parody video.
Strength: Lots of different photos, Pep Band, sports, campus.
Weakness: If I hadn't talked to you about this previously, I wouldn't that it's a parody of something. Maybe I'm just out of the loop.
Production: Online portfolio
Purpose/argument: "Selling" personal communication skills.
Strength: Typefaces consistent throughout adds continuity to overall structure.
Weakness: Popups need to be resized when they open.
Presenter: Kyle R.
Production: Online portfolio
Purpose/argument: Presenting various personal projects.
Strength: Background images don't carry down into text area. Much improves readability.
Weakness: Colors seemed a little flat. Lots of gray.
Production: Nintendo DS program
Purpose/argument: It appeared to be some sort of game.
Strength: Pressing the buttons actually made something happen.
Weakness: Honestly, this presentation was so short, I couldn't make head or tail of what you were showing.
Production: Outdoor adventure blog
Purpose/argument: Promoting outdoor activities in the Keweenaw.
Strength: Great photos.
Weakness: I didn't realize there were links included in the text until you clicked one.
Production: Photo blog
Purpose/argument: Artistic expression... I think.
Strength: Straightforward layout, easy to follow.
Weakness: Kind of bland, didn't really excite me about photography.
Additional comment: If you continue posting pictures, the "new" background with all the books seems like it might be distracting, since it's a graphic itself.
|HU2642 project thus far
||[Posted on Thursday, 11 November 2010 at 12:32 am]
Storyboard layout of images and placement of sound files is complete for all five parts of the series. Parts 3 & 4 of the 5-part series are synchronized and hopefully finished. Parts 1, 2, and 5 still require synchronization, but I am satisfied with the sights and sounds that I have to use.
Bear in mind that there may be a certain amount of context missing from the uncompleted portions that precede these. Each portion stands alone, but all are stronger as a cohesive, sequential unit. Oh. And they're WMV files.
||[Posted on Tuesday, 9 November 2010 at 12:35 pm]
I kind of dragged my feet getting started, and it took me longer than expected to track down a brown dry-erase marker, but other than that, I think I'm reasonably well on track. I did underestimate somewhat how long it would take to do the drawings/take the pictures yesterday. I blocked out the whole afternoon, never dreaming I'd need all of it, but it was a good thing I did, because it took all afternoon. I was hoping to record at least some of the audio yesterday also, but I didn't have time. I'm going to try to get that finished tonight.
But I think I have all the pictures I will need, and they're all loaded into the computer. It's probably going to be another long day Wednesday getting the storyboards laid out alongside the soundtracks, even just getting things roughed in. Hopefully from there, though, it will be a relatively simple matter of fine tuning the timing of things.
|HU2642 Assignment #3 Design Plan (including revised statement of purpose)
||[Posted on Wednesday, 27 October 2010 at 7:06 pm]
I propose to provide a positive image of Michigan Tech to prospective students (incoming freshmen, transfer, or grad students) while simultaneously entertaining the audience with humor. The audience members are relatively smart (average ACT score over 26*) people, approximately age 17-25, who can thus be considered to be fairly comfortable with receiving digital media. The communication will be received by people who will most likely be stressing about a big life decision, so humor is desirable both to provide short-term stress relief and to provide a happy association with the things Michigan Tech offers.
In order to reach this young, tech-savvy audience, I want to create a small series of short, stop-motion cartoons that would be uploaded to one or more video sharing sites like YouTube. This can then easily be linked through networking sites like facebook, LiveJournal, etc. The series would be arranged as a chronological progression of a student at first investigating whether to attend the University, through a few typical experiences as a student, culminating with graduation with a valuable degree. This is to encourage not only making the decision to come, but to stay to complete the work.
I plan to "animate" each cartoon with a series of whiteboard drawings (art level not much above stick figures) recorded as digital photographs, synchronized with recordings of voiced dialogue. Each cartoon would run approximately 30-45 seconds, with the series consisting of approximately 5 episodes. This way, each cartoon could be viewed individually, or the entire series could work together as a coherent whole, while still fitting into the time budget of a modest "study break" for a student.
* -- I read this somewhere recently, but I honestly don't remember where.
|HU2642 Assignment #3 pre-production phase
||[Posted on Monday, 25 October 2010 at 7:57 pm]
Purely escapist humor
Statement of Purpose:
After years of exhaustive "research", I have come to the conclusion that the entertainment industry exists for a reason: people like to imagine scenarios that are different from their own lives in some way in order to put aside their real problems temporarily. Not only that, but many instances of entertainment become stale after a certain number of times a particular person has received them (watching a movie multiple times, for example). Therefore, it is imperative that new entertainment be created on an ongoing basis in order to satisfy this escapist need with fresh material. Secondarily, I have always had a personal desire to make those around me laugh, so I have chosen "humor" as the genre of entertainment I will attempt.
The audience I will primarily target is college and high school students in the USA with Internet connections. These groups have a significant amount of free time to devote to entertainment purposes as well as unprecedented power to spread the word about it (sharing links, the facebook "like" button, etc.), which would (ideally) show my work to a much wider audience. (Worst case scenario: they bash me online, word snowballs, and I never realize the pipe dream of becoming a comedy writer.) Being in an online space means that literally anyone can see it, though, so some consideration will be given for parents and younger siblings of the primary audience.
The cartoon is intended for online space, such as YouTube, which can easily be linked through networking sites like facebook, LiveJournal, etc. This will help to reach the primary target audience more easily, as well as being a free and easy way to disseminate the video.
|HU2642 post #13
||[Posted on Wednesday, 20 October 2010 at 11:25 pm]
Reading: Compose, Design, Advocate -- Chapters 1 & 2 (pp. 17-55) (2007) by Anne F. Wysocki & Dennis A. Lynch
The structure here is excellent, and makes an intimidatingly long reading go a little more quickly. Clearly, they've taken their own advice and thought long and hard about what they're trying to say and the order of presentation. I especially like that chapter 2 has more detailed instruction on each of the points that was introduced in chapter 1 -- which in turn followed directly from a concrete example.
I'm also really impressed by the attention given to the idea given on page 20 that "making arguments... only makes sense if you respect other people's rights to argue" because I get frustrated to no end when people state their own side of an issue as if it were inscribed in the living earth and refuse to acknowledge that another position even exists, let alone possesses merit. This is the primary reason why I am completely disenchanted with governmental politics.
Closely related are the subsections in chapter 2 with each concept under the "your responsibilities" headings. In my first semester as a student in the HU department, I've already heard quite a bit about logos, ethos, pathos, purpose, audience, context, and so forth, but this is the first mention I've come across that holds the communicator to some standard higher than simply not boring or offending the audience.
|HU2642 post #12 -- short stack
||[Posted on Monday, 18 October 2010 at 6:13 pm]
Reading: "Copyright and Fair Use" (1999), by Megan J. Forness
This seems like a fairly straightforward discussion of copyright, although it's far from thorough. I did a report in high school about a year after this was done on the topic of copyrighting. This would have been a really good source for that, especially since it's likely that all eleven of the links provided at the bottom would still have worked, instead of only two as is the case today.
Reading: "The Ethics of Web 2.0: YouTube vs. Flickr, Revver, Eyespot, blip.tv, and even Google" (2006), by Lawrence Lessig
This is about sharing content, particularly user-generated content, online. It doesn't deal expressly with copyright, but it singles out YouTube among several other content sharing sites because it is unfriendly about allowing content to be downloaded. This is presented as a drawback of YouTube ("fake sharing"), but I think this feature is an important obstacle in the effort to prevent completely unabated trafficking of protected works. Sure, you can still get the material off of YouTube, but at least in doing it, you have to be aware that, in deliberately going around that roadblock, you're doing something kind of underhanded.
Content: "Larry Lessig on laws that choke creativity" (2007), video of presentation given by Lessig
This ties the two parts together. I liked this presentation, partly because it was well organized and well coodinated with the visuals, but also because it appeals to my extreme middle-of-the-road mentality. Lessig rejects both extremes: the desire to suppress the use of any copyrighted content without regard to fair use considerations AND what he calls "copyright abolitionism" whereby authors' rights would be done away with and everything would become free to use.
Instead, he proposes a balance, where creators choose to express that their work is free to use for non-commercial purposes -- which would render any question about YouTube mashups moot. As part of that balance, businesses would enable and foster an attitude where content that is more free (yet short of completely free) is less objectionable.
Content: "Open Source, Open Culture" (2010), video interview with DJ Spooky
Here we have a short interview with a DJ and recording artist who leans more toward allowing more sharing in "this rip, mix, burn kind of scenario" where today's youth -- Prensky's Digital Natives -- reside. Even regarding his own work, he sees the recognition generated by sharing as more than offsetting the loss of potential revenue.
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