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.

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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.

Every so often, a new app surprises me.

As it turns out, you can download and use iPhone-specific apps on your iPad. I found that out this weekend when I downloaded Snapchat and began to add my friends and family. For those who don’t use Snapchat or aren’t aware of the application, it is a photo and video-sharing application.

But Jess, you might ask, why not just send someone a picture or video text? That’s a great question, I’d respond. One that plagued me for a while. Snapchat was designed (with certain shady intentions) to completely erase the video or photo you send after a certain amount of time. So if you send someone, for example, an ugly picture of your face, and you don’t want it to be around forever, you can set the snapchat’s time limit to 5 seconds. After that, it’s like it never existed.

In it’s own little way, Snapchat is trying to solve a privacy issue that has grown since the age of digital media sharing. I really don’t want to open the floodgates of a discussion about digital privacy, but I will say this – I’m glad the app has started some discussion. Sure, having the ability to send gross pictures of yourself to friends without fear of embarassment is fun, but this app goes beyond that. Snapchat is making it safer for you to be vulnerable online and over text/multimedia messaging systems. Snapchat says you’re in control of what you send, and you don’t have to let your mistakes rule you. It says hey, you may not look your best today, but we’re not gonna remember in ten seconds so it’s fine.

That, my friends, is the beginning of a great friendship – a friendship I didn’t expect to want in the first place.

Lazy days mean lazy blog posts.

Is usually make the effort to log into WordPress and blog from my computer, but today is a lazy day. The weather in Blacksburg is definitely October-esque, and what better way to celebrate that than by writing on a blog while eating peanut butter and sitting in your pajamas at home?

There is no better way in the entire universe, I checked for you.

Recently, I’ve been drafting a tap essay using the Tapestry app. Writing a tap essay feels novel in a really interesting sense – it’s not just me learning a new medium, it’s me learning a new medium that the world has never really encountered before. Robin Sloan’s “Fish” really opened the door for the Tapestry to exist as a form of communication rather than just art, and I think that’s kinda neat. It’s just really interesting – you can group a lot of social media together under a “status update” umbrella category, but the tap essay sort of made its own category.

Facebook and Twitter have become so big, their names became the standard? In the same way that we say “can you grab me a Kleenex” versus “can you grab me a paper tissue,” we now say “Facebook it to me.” In that last sentence, it took me a while to even remember what to call a tissue without calling it a Kleenex.

Since Tapestry is kind of sitting there on its own, I think the tap essay could turn into something big. The thing is, it’s been in existence for a while. How long did it take for Facebook and Twitter to bow up? If something doesn’t become exponentially popular in a year or two, will it sit forever unused? Tapestry definitely holds the potential to be a beautiful, effective learning tool, but as I use it today I can’t help but wonder whether my message will be received without using one of the supernova social media tools.

And that leads me to a question – how important to we need to feel before we share a message? If you only had one Twitter follower, how would you tweet differently? If you had no Facebook friends, what would you post?

Then again, I don’t think anyone reads this blog, and here I am. My challenge to us both: just tell your story, and let social media figure itself out.

Out of all of the things I thought I would read today, Science Magazine definitely wasn’t one of them.

In my Writing and Digital Media class, we’ve learned a lot about the importance of looking at new material in new ways, and today I found myself reading in a sort of multimodal fashion without even planning it. Sometimes, thanks to the host of social networks and forums I find myself browsing each week, I manage to come across great articles that I would have never been curious enough to seek out. This is one of those articles, and I’m glad to have found it.

In 2012, John Bohannon discovered that some scientific publications were being less than academically honest. One company in particular, Scientific & Academic Publishing Co., didn’t seem to exist at all.

After months of e-mailing the editors of SAP, I finally received a response. Someone named Charles Duke reiterated—in broken English—that SAP is an American publisher based in California. His e-mail arrived at 3 a.m., Eastern time.

But Bohannon’s article points at a bigger picture. Apparently, many scientific journals don’t just claim to exist in places they don’t – they also claim to thoroughly review submissions when they don’t. To test these academic journals and their peer reviewing skills, he crafted more than 300 versions of a scientific article riddled with obvious errors and ethical problems. In theory, anyone with high-school knowledge of science should have seen fit to reject the articles immediately. This wasn’t the case.

More than half of the journals Bohannon – or should I say “Ocorrafoo Corange” – wrote to accepted his submission. Bohannon even created an interesting (but also confusing) 3D data plot that shows the submissions, which journals accepted or rejected them and the true location of the companies (as revealed by IP addresses from their email correspondences.) Feel free to view the map here, but be warned: red means accepted and green means rejected, because green means good and rejection is what Bohannon wanted.

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Acceptance was the norm, not the exception. The paper was accepted by journals hosted by industry titans Sage and Elsevier. The paper was accepted by journals published by prestigious academic institutions such as Kobe University in Japan. It was accepted by scholarly society journals. It was even accepted by journals for which the paper’s topic was utterly inappropriate, such as the Journal of Experimental & Clinical Assisted Reproduction.

PZ Myers of FreeThoughtBlogs also stumbled across this meta-experiment, and did more digging than I did while reading the article. Thanks to Reddit user u/OptimalCynic, who just happens to have a very appropriate username in a field full of people trying to get their research published by these supposedly-legitimate companies, I read his article too.

The other problem [with Bohannon's experiment]: NO CONTROLS. The fake papers were sent off to 304 open-access journals (or, more properly, pay-to-publish journals), but not to any traditional journals. What a curious omission — that’s such an obvious aspect of the experiment. The results would be a comparison of the proportion of traditional journals that accepted it vs. the proportion of open-access journals that accepted it… but as it stands, I have no idea if the proportion of bad acceptances within the pay-to-publish community is unusual or not. How can you publish something without a control group in a reputable science journal? Who reviewed this thing? Was it reviewed at all?

Overall, Myers and the rest of Reddit’s comments on the subject agree that peer reviews require actual, thorough reviewing. As someone who spends lots of time reading her own work and the work of others, legitimately trying to better that work and the person’s thought process, this is equal parts amusing and disappointing. I often wonder, as a college student thirsting after a steady career, why people are able to cut corners as easily as this. Forget India, I know 30 students who would be more than willing to review a scientific research article who live within 15 miles of where I sit.

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Introducing the Tap Essay

Using the Tapestry app has been an interesting experience so far. Inspired by Robin Sloan’s “Fish,” the app allows users to create an interactive narrative. It’s somehow more intimate than turning the page of a physical book, even though the stories are relatively short and exist online. In my opinion, Tapestry is the digital equivalent of listening to a story someone else is telling you, including all of the pauses where they wait for your affirmation to continue.

In order to create my own Tapestry, I’ve come up with several topics that might translate well into what I think is an exciting new format – it’s the narrowing down and selection process that’s giving me trouble. Do I turn an old commentary about Twitter and erroneous citizen journalism into a humorous, snarky tap essay? Do I choose the image-heavy idea about math and beauty in nature? Do I go with the topic I know and love, Dave Matthews Band and their fanbase? What about the more serious route of explaining third-party trackers and the Google Chrome extensions that block them?

Again, my problem isn’t that I feel too limited in Tapestry, it’s the opposite. While only one of these ideas might be good enough to translate into a class project, the rest are Tapestries just waiting to be made. And although these seem like they’re more fun to read than they are to make, I’m looking forward to the process just to see what storytelling can become. It’s nice to think that Sloan’s dead fish inspired so many living, active stories, isn’t it?

If @Horse_Ebooks isn’t real, what is?

Is nothing sacred? Two days ago, the New Yorker broke a story revealing @horse_ebooks’ true identity. The internet’s favorite horse is NOT an automated spam account, it’s the work of Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender. Since then, news publications like, Buzzfeed, the New York Times and CNN have chimed in with articles and tweeted responses to the unmasking of @horse_ebooks’ authors. Here are some reactions from Twitter that might put this announcement into perspective (for those of you who are giving your screen a strange look.)

@TheAVClub: “Everything on the Internet is a lie: @Horse_ebooks was a ‘conceptual art’ piece all along”

@paezpumarL: “It’s unfortunate the horse ebooks thing happened this week because it’s been a ‘EVERYTHING HAPPENS SO MUCH’ week.”

As it happens, @Horse_ebooks was indeed a conceptual art piece put together by Bakkila and Bender, who revealed their work in order to promote their next project. Was @horse_ebooks  an extremely long-con that worked nights as a viral marketing scheme? If so, they lost a lot of credibility and respect in the process by being arrogant jerks to a reporter who was trying to help them out. To quote the horse, “unfortunately, as you probably already know, people.” In my opinion, disrespecting a journalist who is spreading the word about you is a really rude move. The Washington Post also posted an article about artist Burton Durand, who created Horse Ecomics. This, in my opinion, is the true loss we’re experiencing by losing the mystery behind @horse_ebooks.

The mention of Durand and Horse Ecomics helps pave the way to the point I’m trying to make about art and hoaxes. So does this tweet by Twitter user Dave Lozo.

@DaveLozo: “I hope the point of horse ebooks was to show how something intentionally dumb can gain popularity by people pretending to understand it.

Let’s take a quick trip back to 1944 Australia. Max Harris, the 22-year-old editor of a literary/art publication called Angry Penguins, is working on publishing his next issue of his journal. Harris named the publication after a poem he had written himself, the narcissist. He also stirred up lots of drama with Angry Penguins on campus at the University of Adelaide by angering fellow students by publishing anarchist sentiments. Enter Lieutenant James McAuley and Corporal Harold Stewart – the masterminds behind the Ern Malley hoax.

These two mediocre traditionalist poets, both in the army and stuck in the Victoria Barracks with lots of time on their hands, decided they would be the ones to teach Harris a lesson.

McAuley and Stewart essentially did the same thing that @horse_ebooks did – they created bizarre poetry from random lines of text and published it as authentic works of art. However, when Ern Malley’s true nature was revealed, the response was different.

After the prank was revealed, the hoaxers said their work had no literary merit – and that was the point. Harris, however, stuck to his guns. Whether they liked it or not, he asserted, McAuley and Stewart had written their best poetry, their only poetry of real genius. The assumed persona of Ern Malley had liberated them.

The subsequent issue of Angry Penguins largely was devoted to analyses of the poems – with contributions from Sir Herbert Read, Geoffrey Dutton, Reg Ellery, A.R. Chisholm, Brian Elliot, Adrian Lawlor, Albert Tucker and many more.

Whether they intended it or not, the creators of @Horse_ebooks made poetry that we, as an online public, connected with. We loved seeing random words from ebooks come together to form strange, if not poignant, pieces of wisdom. To paraphrase what Dave Lozo said, something made to be intentionally stupid can absolutely gain popularity by being filtered through our streams of media. And that’s not a bad thing.

Let me try and make my point as transparent as I can – sometimes it’s nice to be duped into believing something is more serious and poignant than it is. Sometimes the little things that we encounter in our lives, whether they be pieces of art or random sentences that enter our consciousness in some way or another, become big things that matter to us. If @horse_ebooks isn’t real, what is? The fun we had in following him. The days that were brightened when a tweet inspired laughter. The idea that art, however it is manufactured and inspired, can mean anything to us. In the words tweeted by the horse himself, “We speak and breathe everything.”

Book dumping in the 21st century, the downside to the digital composition bias

Like some of you, I’m one of those people who loves owning paper copies of books. I’ve tried before to explain why I’m partial to the print editions of things, especially when I also use a Kindle for Mac application and regularly text, email and chat. Before, I couldn’t put my loving nostalgia into words, but I think I’ve found something that can back up my bias – it’s not a book burning, but it’s close.

Imagine my surprise when The Washington Post tweeted an article about my county’s library throwing away books and getting rid of qualified librarians. Are you imagining a disappointed, affronted sort of surprise? Good, then we’re on the same page.

Hearing complaints that the Fairfax County Public Library was throwing away tons of books, County Supervisor Linda Q. Smyth (D-Providence) decided to peer into a dumpster.

Twice, she found stacks and stacks of high-quality books, bought by the taxpayers, piled in the trash. The second time, she filled a box.

Smyth knew that libraries discard books all the time to make room for new ones. But many libraries have volunteer groups that take the discards and resell them to raise money. Or libraries donate discards to shelters, schools or less fortunate towns and cities.

But as Sam Clay, Fairfax’s longtime library director, launched a plan to revamp the county system, no books were given to the Friends of the Library for seven months this year, and more than 250,000 books were destroyed, Smyth said.

“If I didn’t pick up some of these books,” Smyth said, “no one would believe it.”

Now, even in the summer and winter when I am home, I make no use of the Fairfax County Public Library. That doesn’t mean this is any less confusing or upsetting, because for starters, why can’t you recycle books instead of trashing them?  Why is that not the immediate and obvious choice if you have to get rid of books (besides, oh, i don’t know, donating them to people who normally couldn’t have access to them even in a free public library setting?)

Even after reading about the outcry from the rest of the county, a bitter taste remains on my tongue. Digital technologies impact our composition and education in many more ways than this one example, but all it takes is this one example to make me question that impact. If this is one of the consequences of pushing forward into an age where books and other educational materials aren’t valuable when they’re printed, consider me one of those hipsters who buys way too many books and lets them collect on my shelf. Better dusty than destroyed.

I accidentally contributed to the millennials conversation a little bit.

I’d like to start this blog post by saying this: I never intended for my first post to turn into a rant about millennials. In order to get off on the right foot and avoid talking about ‘ME ME ME’ (because we’ll get to that later,) let’s talk about you.

Let’s say you, as a human being, have a daily list of tasks you must fulfill. Let’s go even further and say you’ve got reading assignments that will help you prepare for future tasks. How do you prioritize your list? Which assignment do you complete first? And most importantly, what music do you listen to while you work?

Let’s also pretend you asked me those questions. Today, I’m starting on the shallow end of my to-do list by reading ‘Toward a Composition Made Whole’ by Jody Shipka (and I’m listening to my ‘Currently Listening’ Spotify playlist, which features songs by Penny and Sparrow, William Fitzsimmons and James Blake.) I’m also ignoring the advice I’ve received from several instructors to keep my sentences under twenty five words in length.

Shipka wrote what I consider to be a lengthy introduction. I know all about lengthy introductions. I’ve spent three whole paragraphs introducing this blog post, and I still haven’t written anything meaningful. Or have I?

Would you like me to sum up Shipka’s introduction in one word? Easy: multimodal. I want to point out an excerpt where Shipka shares a pair of ballet shoes with a writing workshop group.

“I had encouraged the session’s participants to ask questions while I was describing the tasks and student texts I had brought to the session, but it was not until I shared with the group a pair of pink ballet shoes on which a student had transcribed by hand a research-based essay that a member of the audience, a teaching assistant in the history department, interjected, ‘I have a question. So where did she put her footnotes? On a shirt?’”

Later on, Shipka continues,

“My sense is that his attention was focused primarily on the final product, while I was positioned – by having created the assignment, the course itself, and having worked closely with the student over the month she spent working on the shoes – in ways that allowed me to see, and so to understand, the final product in relation to the complex and highly rigorous decision-making process.”

These passages helped Shipka to define and demonstrate the importance of multimodal communication, but for me, they also highlighted the generation gap that exists between some students and teachers.

I’d be willing to bet that my generation has witnessed and adapted to more changes in digital media and technology than any other generation, and not just because ‘digital’ hasn’t existed for more than 50 years. Books like Shipka’s wouldn’t exist if figuring out new ways to use developing apps, tools and other technologies (like evolving language) wasn’t critical to our futures, yet we, the students in charge of bringing the future to the world, are being criticized for our development, adaptation and technological experimentation. That’s what the teaching assistant’s remark sounds like, anyway.

Unfortunately, as you might have guessed, we’ve arrived at the millennials conversation.

If ‘multimodal’ is the buzzword from Shipka’s introduction that ‘s scaring readers, it’s nothing compared to ‘millennial,’ the buzzword currently scaring all Americans 30 and older.  TIME Magazine’s ‘The ME ME ME Generation‘ is one of hundreds of articles bashing my generation for growing up and learning how to exist in our society. The following is author Joel Stein’s introduction to the now-infamous article:

“I am about to do what old people have done throughout history: call those younger than me lazy, entitled, selfish and shallow. But I have studies! I have statistics! I have quotes from respected academics! Unlike my parents, my grandparents and my great-grandparents, I have proof.”

I’ll save you the trouble of describing Stein’s millennial argument and instead link you to articles that have done the counter-arguing for me. The Atlantic Wire’s Elspeth Reeve countered a bit of Stein’s ‘proof’ in ‘Every Every Every Generation Has Been the Me Me Me Generation.’ Tom Wolfe compared and contrasted ‘ME ME ME’ to the original ‘Me Generation’ of 1976. Ah, 1976. I remember it like it was yesterday.

Even a quick skim of those articles clues us in, dear reader, to the same concept that Shipka is trying to get us to open our minds to. The future is a tabula rasa for us to scribble on, erase and spill coffee across. Essays and traditional compositions don’t have to be one and the same.  Ballet shoes doesn’t scare us, and they shouldn’t scare you, either.

Finally, it’s time to talk about me (even though I’ve been doing it for the entirety of this article.) I’m a communication major, I’m a writer and I did write something meaningful in this blog post. I’ll let you define it yourself.