Monthly Archives: December 2013

The beginning is the end; keeps coming around again

This, if I have counted correctly, is my last required post for Writing and Digital Media. I’ve actually had a blast in this course. The projects required a great deal of hard work — often more than I realized until they were in full swing — and really challenged me to push the bounds of my own writing as well as that of my multimedia skill set.

The course was an exercise in embracing the unfamiliar: I learned how to operate at least half a dozen entirely new media platforms or applications and had to not only adapt to them but push them to their limits to see what they were capable of creating. I learned to edit video, make recordings in a sound booth, compose music, write essays in Tapestry, refresh myself in HTML, critically analyze new apps, and countless other peculiar little skills that I suspect may actually be useful somewhere down the line. Even if they aren’t directly, performing these tasks made me more comfortable with working in an unfamiliar medium, and challenged me to expand my ideas of what multimedia discourse really is, and the ways in which I’m capable of contributing to it. And that, to me, is pretty damn worthwhile.

It’s very late at night as I’m typing this post and I’ve got a song stuck in my head again. I listened to this track on repeat while working on a number of the aforementioned projects this semester. It’s from a band called How To Destroy Angels, and has a bit of a multimedia quality itself — the band uses a blend of traditional and electronic instrumentation in their songs, and the visual aesthetic of all their videos focuses on “analog glitches” — taking digital film, converting it to analog VHS cassette recordings, running it through a broken VCR, and filming the results with a digital camera. Multimodality is really an excellent thing.

Here’s to the end of something great, and to the hope of more quality digital adventures in the future.

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Wrapping up the Trees

Well, it’s that time of year again — the last HRCS blog post is due tonight, and many of us, dreary and delirious from impending finals and ongoing projects, are grasping at straws for something to write about. The Knowles book was lovely, but academic writing is particularly hard right now, and I know even I’m looking for a change of pace. So instead of answering this vague not-prompt directly, here’s a collection of tree-themed resources, many of them calming and a little fun, that might serve as a jumping-off point for someone else’s final post.

+ Identify a tree!

+ Play with a fractal tree!

+ Look at some amazing trees!

+ Plant a virtual tree!

+ Check out cool treehouses!

Happy finals, friends, and godspeed.

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Online Identity Roundup

Another post of references for the Unit 4 project:

+ Blogging Anonymously — A short piece on the importance of pseudonyms and how to create one online. Interestingly, all the author’s recommendations run counter to the behavior rewarded on Tumblr: she suggests you keep all information vague, don’t mix business and pleasure, avoid posting photos, never give out your contact information, and never trust people with your real identity. On Tumblr, though, this is commonplace behavior. To what effect? I’m not quite sure, but it sure is interesting to see how standards change.

+ Pseudonyms Are Essential Online — a very strong argument for the use of pseudonyms that focuses on them as a way to create a safe space folks who risk being harassed and bullied for their identities, particularly LGBTQ* youth.

+ To Be or Not To Be a Pseudonymous Blogger — a really good piece on how pseudonyms impact the credibility of the writers behind them, and whether it’s ever appropriate to use them in a professional context.

+ Why I No Longer Blog Anonymously — a short entry on Tumblr identities being discovered and the awkwardness that ensues. Directly relevant to my topic, for once.

This project seems to be leaning in a somewhat different direction than I’d anticipated based on the sources I’ve found. Not that that’s a bad thing, just a little unexpected, but I’m rolling with it. Here’s hoping it works out all the same.

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Every day we’re Tumblin’

Okay, so it looks like the final project’s gonna be on digital identity after all, which means I’m gonna need to add some sources about Tumblr to build out from my original essay. The following link roundup may or may not wind up being relevant to my project, but they’re interesting articles all the same. There is a serious lack of academic articles about Tumblr, which, I know, is a little ridiculous to say, but it is a unique platform that I’d be interested to see more academic discussions about. There’s plenty of material out there — memes, selfie culture, linguistic anomalies, reaction gifs, social justice blogging — that manifests uniquely in the culture that evolved on the site. For now, have a couple of tangentially related links.

+ Tumblr Is Not What You Think — an outsider’s perspective on the site that addresses pseudonymity and argues that Tumblr is, in some ways, the “anti-blog.” I disagree with several parts of this piece (mostly the suggestion that there’s very little in the way of interpersonal interaction on the site), but it’s an interesting point of view.

+ Pinterest, Tumblr, and the Trouble with “Curation” — Not directly related to my topic, but an intriguing article on why people collect images and cultivate their blogs (and this their online identities) the way they do. Quote of the night: “A commenter added: “My Tumblr isn’t so much curated space as it is a symptom of deeper pathologies made manifest.”

+ Tumblr needs to fix its transparency problem — Again, not directly related, but as a Tumblr user I couldn’t agree more. For all the site’s positive qualities, it doesn’t always listen to (or, some would argue, respect) its user base. As someone who grew up on Livejournal and has been watching LJ slowly go dark over the last few years due to similar woes with the site management, it’s a worrying pattern to establish.

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Remix Roundup

Emily’s got a great blog post up about the art of the remix that’s got me thinking:

I’m not going to get into an argument about copyright law here – though I want to, because copy right law is the most ridiculous thing – because Part 4 of Everything is a Remix makes the argument better than I can. What I will say is this – without remixes in music, we would have never had the ‘golden age’ of hip hop. We wouldn’t have an alternate interpretation of Year Zero (an album that went so far into storytelling, it created a universe). We wouldn’t have Star Wars or Star Trek or Stargate. Society would have missed out on countless books loosely based on life, on genre, on problems with fantasy.

Let the world remix, because we’re missing out on that kind of originality.

In the spirit of that post, let me link you to a couple of remixes in a range of media that I’ve found particularly inspiring — or at the very least, amusing — lately.

+ DJ Earworm is best known for his annual United States Of Pop mashups, which combine over a dozen of the year’s hit pop songs in a mix that not only sounds great, but actually makes sense lyrically. It’s a great recap of the year’s Top 40s hits blended in a novel way — whether or not you actually like what’s on the radio these days, you’ll appreciate the skill it takes to blend this many songs seamlessly.

+ We all probably consumed so much turkey last week that you don’t want to hear about poultry ever again, but I have to mention the horrendously catchy PSA from State Farm that shows how you can prevent turkey fryer fires with the help of none other than William Shatner himself. Not content with a simple spoken announcement, State Farm created a remix of their original ad, setting Shatner to weirdly addictive music and thus ensuring that it would get stuck in listeners’ heads — which is, after all, the point of a public safety announcement. I know I’ll never forget how to safely operate a deep fryer after this, and you won’t be able to, either.

+ And this fantastic blog as a whole: RebelliousPixels, run by ‘pop culture hacker’ Jonathan McIntosh. McIntosh discusses everything from gendered advertising to copyright claims to what happens when you combine right-wing politicians and Donald Duck. Trust me, you want to check this out.

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Tropical glitch

(Another day, another blog post about glitch art. I’m beginning to sense a theme here.)

Earlier tonight I was sorting through some old photos I keep in my desk and rediscovered a small stack of highly unusual images: pictures of the jungles of Madagascar, though you wouldn’t know where they were taken at a glance. They’re blurry, oddly-colored, and poorly-composed, but it’s not the fault of the photographer: these pictures were taken by a motion-activated trail camera used to document wildlife passing through the forest.

I have these photographs because I used to do undergrad research with the team of wildlife scientists who set up these camera traps. They were looking for endangered animals native to the region, and to do that they had to sort through thousands upon thousands of trail cam pictures, manually identifying any creatures they saw and collecting that information in a spreadsheet. My job was entering that data, and I’d sit for hours at a time flipping through stacks of photographs, looking for the telltale signs of glowing eyes or the tip of a tail that meant an animal had passed that way.

The problem with leaving cameras in the jungle is that the jungle really doesn’t like cameras. If you take any electronic device out in hot, wet weather and strap it to a tree and abandon it for a month, chances are some things are probably going to go wrong, as evidenced in these photos. While many pictures turned out just fine, some did not. These particular images would usually have been trashed, but they looked so unique that I decided to hang onto them instead.


Here’s a double-exposed photo. The spokes that wind the film forwards and backwards in the roll must have gotten jammed somehow, leading to two shots of the same treeline. It’s also clear that this photo itself was a mistake — found at the beginning of the roll, it was probably a misfire from when the researchers were setting the camera up and must have accidentally pressed the button while the lens pointed skyward.

The red patches you see here are from a light leak. Somehow the housing of this camera was damaged, allowing a little light to get in and burn the unexposed film. It’s possible this camera took a bad fall from a researcher’s backpack, or was hit by a falling branch, but either way the red patches made many of the details hard to resolve.

Ah, yes, and my favorite kind of error — you see those colorful patches that look like little fireworks? Do you know what that is? Mold. It’s mold, growing directly on the film inside the camera. The rainforest is not a good place for electronics to begin with, and the damp, hot climate means that mold will grow on absolutely anything — including the gelatin in a roll of film — with great enthusiasm.

I love these photos. While they’re useless from a scientific point of view, they’re eerily beautiful, and they actively demonstrate just how hostile an environment the jungles of Madagascar can be. The cameras we used became waterlogged and misfired and were overtaken by fungus, and they were state of the art research equipment. A picture’s worth a thousand words, but a damaged picture that demonstrates the hazards of the environment in which it was taken could be, I think, worth even more.

It’s easy to forget that there’s more to a photograph than the subject it depicts — there was a machine present that brought the image into being. Glitches are a reminder of the presence of the machine, and then of the humans behind it. These errors showcase the nature of the medium and environment that produced them: they are, in their own peculiar way, an exercise in mindfulness. By displaying evidence of what went wrong in their creation, these broken images call direct attention to the devices that produced them and how those devices operate, making the process of their composition inescapably visible. 

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