Enjoying the Nature

I’ve come to realize how much I appreciate the nature throughout the few semesters I have spent at Virginia Tech. Although the school itself is pretty developed, many areas emit purity as well as a sense of solitude when I dwell amongst them.
Now, most of my appreciation comes from my morning jogs. My workout routine allows me to think about my plans for the day and de-stress. However, recently I found another factor that clears my head.
I run four times a week for three miles and every time I run, I pass fields of grass. Although that in itself isn’t really considered the “cream of the crop” type of nature, I have come to enjoy it more than ever before.
It is inevitable that cars will pass by me on the roads since I live in a more “developed” part of Virginia Tech, away from the farms. However, I look forward to running past the fields of grass because I can smell the distinct scent of grass and trees and it has a therapeutic effect. Aside from the light smoke that are emitted by cars, trucks, and busses, I look at it as a moment to recollect.

Back at home, I run around neighborhoods so all I see are houses so it gives me a sense of confinement whereas at Virginia Tech, I have this open space of nature (partially) that allows me to feel free. I think it’s the little things like that you gradually come to appreciate as you become more observant.
Now I’m not trying to go all “zen” on you guys but I think this epiphany I just had deserved a blog post.

Aside from that note, I am in a Physical Geography and Literature and Ecology classes. I think those two classes slightly opened my eyes to how I see nature in a local scale (such as Virginia Tech) as well as a global scale.
I recommend you guys take those two classes if you have the chance.
It’s a good way to be aware of the environment around you and how you can make little changes to help nature!
Signing out,
Jenni

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Weaving in Tapestry.

My tap essay was recently featured on the front page of Tapestry, which was a pretty neat experience for someone who’d been entirely unaware of the app’s existence until a couple of weeks ago. I absolutely love this style of storytelling. The minimalistic format inspired me to take my piece in a somewhat unusual direction and really consider the impacts of the graphics I used in particular. I’ll definitely be making more of these in the future — there’s something powerful about the streamlined aesthetic, and the rigid boundaries are less of a cage and more of a challenge to push the format in whatever new directions I can. 

You can check out my essay here: https://readtapestry.com/s/HQshUFTcC/ . (Wish I could embed it, but WordPress apparently can’t handle technology this cutting-edge. Some day, some day.)

 

Interrogating Interfaces

In my Writing and Digital Media class we are discussing interfaces. We are learning how to explore different interfaces and analyze the features and usability of similar software and applications. We began by interrogating Twitter’s website, Twitter for mobile, and TweetCaster, a Twitter app. I compared and contrasted the abilities and constraints of each app, paying particular attention to usability.

I found that the Twitter website was the easiest for me to use. However, I am the most familiar with Twitter mobile and find it the most convenient because, when I want to tweet, my phone is usually more accessible than my computer. I think that TweetCaster was the most difficult for me to use because I was the least familiar with it. Also, I do not see a need for Tweetcaster because all of my “tweeting needs” are already fulfilled by Twitter.

In class, we discussed why many people do not branch off and use other Twitter apps, such as TweetCaster, and instead chose to trust Twitter to have all the features that he or she may need. One student in my class explained his theory that he trusts Twitter because the company has established credibility and earned his trust through his Twitter experience. He uses Twitter every day and rarely has problems with it, so why turn anywhere else? Also, many people begin their Twitter experience with Twitter’s website or Twitter’s mobile application and fall in love with it, and therefore do not see a need to branch out and explore other Twitter-related software.

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Back to Reality

The past week has been awesome for me. Having basically no work in all my classes has lead me to be so much less stressed. I wake up early, I have more energy during the day, and I save a lot of money by not stress eating and consuming copious amounts of coffee. It was a slice of heaven. I was able to do whatever I wanted during the weekend without feeling guilty. But now, as I sit here in the library completely unprepared for my Management exam that is tomorrow, I realize I am back to reality. Why do professors pound us with so much work all at once? Every student knows about the dreaded “Hell Week” before a chunk of exams. Can’t professors realize how well we function under a healthy amount of stress, not an overload? Writing this blog post has given me time to procrastinate even further, but now it’s time to get back to studying. Ugh.

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Microsoft Word Appreciation Day

It seems like poor old Microsoft Word gets so much hate in this digital age of beautiful typography, fancier word processors, and new simplistic writing platforms. Today in class, we were introduced to two old different word processors- WordStar and Writer. In the days of pre-Microsoft Word, this is how the world of writing was run. After we typed along in these two older systems, we played with the platform Write or Die. Here are some screenshots from today’s exercises. Disregard the spelling errors- they’re only apt to happen in these word processing environments!

1

 

This first screenshot is from the ancient platform WordStar. It’s not even operable anymore; you have to download a file to use its emulator. The task at hand here was to write a letter to someone. I wrote to anyone who would read, and basically just went through a stream of conscious here. (Hint: click on the pictures to see what I was actually thinking at the time!)

2

If you can train your eyes to be able to endure this for long enough, you’ll see that I expressed concerns about the difficulty of backspacing and deleting misplaced characters. I noted for myself that for some reason, my spelling errors were less than they normally are. This is probably because with WordStar, the content matters much more than any styling…mostly because there are no styling options.

There is a keystroke for deleting, but I didn’t take the time to figure it our today. I just went for it and typed. You can use the arrow keys to go back and add letters should you forget them.

Another 20th century staple- COPY AND PASTE- does not exist. This was devastating news. How did people do without this wonderful feature? Of course, I dealt with its absence. It just required me to take a screenshot instead of copying and pasting my letter into this post.

One other thing I forgot to mention- you do not use a mouse with this program. Not at all. It’s purely keyboard strokes. My grandpa has a taped note to his laptop with his rudimentary keystrokes. In WordStar, clicking on the screen will get you nowhere. It can be frustrating!

4

 

This screenshot features Writer. It was a little better (read: lots) than WordStar. Although the colors are a little more creative, it’s still pretty cut-and-dry. There is the option, though, to change the fonts and colors and other personalized  options. Writer also features the indispensable ability to delete words. When you’re flying by typing, it’s so necessary to be able to go back and fix errors. (Editor’s note: the work done in these screenshots was not edited.)

There is a word count in the bottom right-hand corner, and you can even set a goal. In fact, a little fanfare even plays when you have successfully reached this goal.

Other innovative options offered by Writer include a one-click PDF converter, as well as the ability to print. If you’re feeling stuck, an embedded link (although you can’t insert hyperlinks in the text itself) will take you to an online thesaurus.

Another plus is that your work is automatically saved, which is always helpful.

All in all, Writer > WordStar.

 

write or die

At the end of class, I was introduced to Write or Die. I had heard of this but had never actually used it. It was a hopeful concept at first, but then just became stressful as I went along. The goal I set was 400 words in 5 minutes- which turned out to be a heck of a lot! I don’t have a screenshot posted because I wanted to reach the goal; to do so, I figured out that one letter alone counts as a word, so I had a lot of that going on toward the end. Oops. Maybe next time I won’t set such an crazy goal. Mind you, this was also in “Kamikaze” mode, with the “Evil” setting for punishment. (aka my text started deleting itself if I didn’t type fast enough or paused!)

I would recommend trying Write or Die for brainstorming. Just getting everything out at once and going from there can be a relief.

msword

 

So, the next time you open Word with all its bells and whistles, think about how far writing technology has come. Be glad you’re not staring at a black screen, and think about all those cool features that used to be unavailable. If you still think Word is boring, old school, or inhibits your productivity, try one of these other options! But whichever you choose, don’t stop writing.

Technology & the Revision Process

Recently for my creative fiction course, we were assigned to read Rick Moody’s “A Guide to Revision”  and it was a worthwhile and insightful read. He opened his essay by saying

“Revision is the most important part of what we do as writers. It’s also the least studied stage in the process.”

When I originally read that line, I expected it to end differently, saying, “It’s also the least fun, the most heartbreaking, the equivalent of pulling a writer’s teeth,” because, to me, it feels exactly that way.

Moody refers to the revision process as a “long, slow deliberation”. He goes on to assert that “haste and a lack of interest in line-by-line work are the literary diseases of the age”. As someone who considers themself a writer in this generation, I don’t disagree that this is a serious deficiency in writing by me and my peers. I blame this on society and technology’s pressure on fast paced, instant gratification results. But overall, Moody offered a plethora of guidelines to help my generation overcome its aversion to carefully plotted writing.

First and foremost: omit needless modifiers. Moody tells the story of his boss’s exercise with the redundancy of the phrase “buy fresh fish here”. While I see the legitimacy of this thought process, I also find it too quick to expurgate. An acknowledgment needs to be made that sometimes the most proper grammatical structuring is not always the most effective. The way literary writers and advertising writers craft words differs immensely, each carrying their own pros and cons. This same assertion applies for all different forms of writing.

Next, sacrifice your modifiers. Moody claims, “adjectives and adverbs are for the grammatically insecure”. While I’m not sure I would go quite this far, I have learned, through studying Hemmingway, the beauty of simplistic sentence structure. Moody goes on to suggest the writing practice of removing all adjectives and adverbs, and then strategically placing select ones back in. While I appreciate suggestions like this, I can’t help but feel like this overall self-consciousness is more counterproductive to my writing than anything. If I want to describe something, whether it be yellow, or shiny, or small, I feel as though I have the right to use an adjective when I please.

Moody goes on to suggest several more rules. He mentions rhythm, and compares literature to music, along with listing the differences between prose and poetry (not all of which I agree with). He degrades “to be” verbs, reminding me of my overzealous high school teachers who would permit a specific number of said verbs in each formal paper. Moody addresses everything from tenses to parentheticals, alliteration to abstractions. He writes, “the removal of the word ‘love’ from a novel or short story has never harmed the story”. This particular point rang especially true for me in my own writing. It’s pure laziness to use an abstraction instead of explicating an emotion, and I fall guilty of this frequently.

Moody finally goes on to formally address what I think it the root of many writing issues faced by my generation: technology. He writes, “word processing is many bad things, but one thing it is not is a good system for the preservation of idiosyncrasy”. The way in which we compose stories nowadays is what allows for so much of the thoughtless writing that passes us by. Moody further goes on to write: “There’s an insularity to virtual prose. It might have been banged into shape by editor and copyeditor, but it has never lived and breath, nor been pronounced, not had things crossed out and rewritten.”

Perhaps the most admirable part of Moody’s guidelines are his closing remarks. He bravely admits to an inadequacy that most writers try to deny, saying

“I know, in my heart, that I am not a good enough writer, that I will never be as a good as the dead writers I admire, nor even, probably, a great many of my contemporaries. This is a truth that disappoints me. But I do make myself better, and give myself a leg up, by rewriting.”

It is this honest sentiment that reminds me of the importance of the revision process.

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Praxis makes perfect.

This week, I’ve been learning a lot about investigating digital interfaces (sorry to break out the big vocabulary words so early in the week.) I spent the weekend analyzing three different Twitter platforms – Twitter on Google Chrome, Twitter on the iPad and Tweetdeck for the iPad – and digging deep into the different services they do and don’t provide.

Side note: I am very proud of this blog post’s title. Praxis is most easily defined as an established practice or custom, and I have learned that in order to understand an interface’s inner workings and history, I must understand it’s praxis (praxes?) Before that, though, here’s a basic breakdown of the way I use Twitter on the Mac.

Screen Shot 2013-10-28 at 11.56.37 AM

 

This is the first thing you see when encountering my Twitter profile (the above picture links to the profile itself, by the way.) This is not the profile of a very active Twitter user, although according to my account I manage to tweet at least twice a day. I also consider my following list to be small, but only because I have tried to whittle down the list several times. A strong majority of the users I follow are somehow related to Virginia Tech or journalism, and the rest are simply friends or organizations I am strongly interested in hearing from regularly. My followers, in comparison, are a colorful mix of random spam accounts, friends/coworkers and people who have found me through stories I’ve had published. Because I am a stubborn curmudgeon, I refrain from using hashtags on Twitter in most situations (it’s a personal vendetta against the hashtag and it’s use on Twitter, not because I don’t like engaging the Twitter community.) This probably accounts for my visibility on Twitter, although I don’t really mind. Now that you have a little insight into my own personal praxis, I can explain the three applications/extensions I analyzed.

Twitter was a great platform to begin with because several apps and interfaces have been created to help users interact with Twitter to the fullest extent. Using Twitter as I normally do on my computer was also a familiar exercise, because I have explored their website in my regular use. Twitter for iPad was almost as easy to use, with some exceptions. I try to keep application use to a minimum when using the iPad to save battery and stay organized – it’s like keeping a desk clean, but virtual – and interacting with some of the features on Twitter opened applications that I didn’t want to use (I’m looking at you, Safari.) I never felt truly lost using either of these applications, despite the wide variety of tasks I tried to figure out.

Then came Tweetdeck, one of the most impressive-looking Twitter platforms I’ve ever used. In the past, I’ve used Tweetdeck on my iPod Touch (along with HootSuite and Twitteriffic.) Tweetdeck is meant for users who want to dig deeper into Twitter and really use it to the fullest, but it expects the user to come to the table with a lot of knowledge. Tweetdeck feels like a waste if users don’t create several customized lists to fill the wide screen space it allows. Tweetdeck also seems to drum to a different, more literal beat when it comes to the idea of live-tweeting. Updates scroll by themselves on Tweetdeck, rather than waiting for users to refresh their pages. The inattentive user might get lost in the ever-flowing river of tweets if they are following a significant amount of users.

I don’t think the point of this was to pick a favorite, though. Even though I don’t like to spend too much time on Twitter regardless of platform, I enjoyed truly investigating my options. We live in a world were certain options are marketed to us much more than others, and as a result we lose sight of the variety that exists in the digital world. We are a group of people who learn and use interfaces in a variety of ways, so why not use them the way we use fashion and create our own styles? Some of us will definitely become the fashionistas of the digital interface world and develop our own applications, it just takes steps like this to get closer.

2:00 am Foolishness

Just a quick little post.

I feel like it’s insane how many college students push themselves to stay up until ridiculous times of the night in order to finish projects or study for tests. I’m not going to pretend I don’t do it, because I do. And I really hate it.

Mostly because I find it counterproductive. There is a certain point past which no real work can be done anymore. Your brain refuses to come up with smart ideas in a bid to force you to sleep.

I have a name for this magical point. I call it 2:00 am.

Once the clock hits 2:00 am, every single idea you have is officially stupid. You can go ahead and still have ideas if you want, just know that they are stupid. They cannot be proven to not be stupid unless you go to sleep, get a good amount of sleep, wake up, review your stupid ideas, and then make a logical decision whether or not the idea truly is stupid or not.

Why am I writing this? Because it’s currently past 2:00 am, and I’m currently stupid. Posting this on my blog was a stupid idea. You are reading the output of a stupid man right now.

Seriously though, despite how stupid I am at this moment, consider setting limits on how late you stay up. If you spend all night studying for that important exam, you’ll end up doing horrible because you are so tired during the actual exam.

Get some sleep people.

(If you do get enough sleep, good for you. The rest of us hate your guts. Sorry about that.)

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Back After a Month: why does everybody hate Shipka?

This might end up labeling me as some sort of total weirdo, but I have a confession to make: I didn’t completely hate Toward a Composition Made Whole.

Honestly, I see where everybody’s coming from. Shipka is very difficult to read. Perhaps the way she writes is par for the course for book written for instructors, but her writing style is incredibly convoluted. Whenever I read her stuff, it seemed like she was deliberately making everything as technical and drawn-out as possible. It made the book seem unnecessarily arcane.

But once I managed to crack the labyrinth of each chapter, I always found myself appreciating the heart of the content to some extent. I thought that her main points were very important to understanding the writing process.

Now I might be a bit biased. I might be defending Shipka because her book goes into detail on the time-consuming and convoluted writing processes that many writers have, and I may have spent the past several years feeling guilty about always procrastinating and having such a long and winding writing process, and I may have been nursing a bit of an inferiority complex as a writer because I can’t just sit down and start producing output like other majors can…

Seriously though. If Shipka had eased up on the esoteric throttle, I think that her book might have been much more successful and digestible to classrooms like ours. I do think that there were some good lessons in that book, but this can also serve as a lesson to writers in general and Shipka in particular that making your works long and difficult to read in order to supercharge your ethos tends to drive readers away.

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Apple Conspiracy Theories

Earlier today, I was on Reddit (as usual) and came across a thread questioning the reliability of Apple. One user complained that his devices were still running slower, despite not making the upgrade to iOS7. He and many others believe that companies like Apple will do “silent updates” that will slow down devices. This causes the user to upgrade to a newer version of the device.

Now, I’m not saying Apple is intentionally slowing our iPhones down. The iOS7 upgrade has brought a lot of great changes, like showing the time of each text message and even an iTunes radio. However, I’m noticing several bugs on my phone that weren’t present before I upgraded.

Delete Screen: Here I am, scrolling around on Twitter, and BOOM! I’m suddenly back on my home screen, except the apps are all wiggling around with the x’s in the top left corner. This happens on almost every single application I use. It’s even caused me to almost accidentally delete apps.

Safari: Before the upgrade, I could use safari on my phone with ease. Now, it takes me several attempts to type in an address. The last time I tried to search something on my iPhone, it took me 6 tries because the address kept mysteriously disappearing as I typed it.

Keyboard: For some reason, my keyboard likes to disappear in the middle of texting. This happens a couple of times each day. Sometimes, only a few characters or letters will be missing. It happens with emojis as well. 

Maybe I shouldn't text so much...
Maybe I shouldn’t text so much…

Clearly, iOS7 is creating some issues for Apple users everywhere. There was even a case of people being able to “hack” into a locked iPhone through the convenient camera feature (story linked below). Apple is already working on fixing these more severe issues, but for now, it seems like some of these bugs are here to stay.

iOS7 Camera Bug: http://gadgets.ndtv.com/mobiles/news/ios-7-bug-lets-intruders-bypass-iphones-passcode-get-access-to-photos-app-421361

 

 

 

 

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