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.

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.

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.

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.

A cozy kind of glitch

I’ve been on a bit of a glitch art bender lately — ideas for my Unit #4 assignment, maybe? — and while I was out doing a little holiday shopping this weekend I mentioned to my friend that I’d love to see glitch aesthetic incorporated into clothing somehow — the brightly-colored abstract patterns that can result from databending would look awesome printed on a scarf or a shirt.

As it turns out, someone had a similar idea. Glitch Textiles doesn’t make clothing, but they do produce stunning blankets woven to look like they were produced by broken VCRs or digital cameras. I’m not sure I’ve ever coveted a bolt of fabric more.

DCP_0219

At $200+ apiece, these blankets are way rich for my blood, but I can admire (and obsess about a little, okay) from afar. There’s something intriguing and terribly cool about taking an unassuming digital error and converting it to something deliberate, tangible, and useful in the real world. I love it.

Decisions, decisions.

Augh, how on earth am I supposed to decide on a topic for our final project for Writing and Digital Media? I’ve got two ideas, both of them equally exciting, that I have to choose between, and it’s a source of some real consternation. A brief overview of where I might be going with both:

1. Online Identity

My argument focuses on the idea that online and real-world identities are beginning to merge in unusual ways, and that managing both simultaneously is a complex task that grows ever more complicated with each new bit of personal information shared, voluntarily or not, online. I would shift the focus and content of the original essay to how the nature of the Tumblr community impacts the sort of information people share about themselves on it. Presenting an essay about a particular platform on the platform itself would be an interesting exploration of how it works in real-time. I would incorporate multimedia elements and feature links to relevant sources within the body of the blog.

or

2. Glitch Art

Some individuals are reluctant to classify glitch art as art, as its production involves much more in the way of trial and error and an eye for aesthetic than physically doing the kind of work or requiring the kind of technical talent needed to produce other types of art. Because glitch art is inherently random, its critics sometimes claim that there is no skill involved in its production and it is more of a novelty than a legitimate art form. I, however, would argue that glitch art is art in the same way that photography is art: while the machine you’re using is technically doing all the “work,” there can be just as much thought and effort that goes into composing, editing, and curating glitches as there might be in any other artistic medium.

I know, I know, better this than having no ideas at all — I guess I’ll just blog a bunch about whichever one I don’t use to compensate.

Another finished piece!

Here’s my finished website for our Interrogating the Interface assignment:  https://sites.google.com/a/vt.edu/interrogatingpaper/

While I can’t say I was a huge fan of our Ignite presentations (time limits that strict make me feel like I’m trying to defuse a bomb, even if I’ve practiced plenty) I actually enjoyed this part of the assignment. Google Sites aren’t particularly attractive platforms, but all pre-built clunkiness aside I am happy with the end result. I loved being able to integrate multimedia aspects into the body of this piece — because Paper, the app I focused on, was based on creating images, it was great to be able to demonstrate not only the inner workings of the program but also showcase pieces I’d made with it myself.

I’d used Paper for almost a full year before I wrote this essay about it, and while that certainly ensured that I had plenty of first-hand experience with it, in some ways experimenting with a completely unfamiliar app would have been really neat. I already knew many of Paper’s ins and outs and had adjusted to its quirks and learning curves, and thus approached the assignment a little differently than I would have if given a new program to dissect with a strictly analytic eye. I’m curious to see how many of my classmates will continue using the app or program they reviewed after this assignment is complete — while reviewing something less-than-helpful would have made for a fun, snarky essay, I am glad I got to work with something I genuinely enjoyed already. 

Media and messages

(Doubling up on blogging assignments here — this post contains topics relevant to HRCS and ENGL3844.)

As an aspiring science writer with a soft spot for things in the woods that aren’t charismatic megafauna, I’ve really enjoyed reading The Forest Unseen, our most recent book for HRCS. I do, however, wonder why on earth we’ve chosen to read it as a book.

My Writing and Digital Media class has recently focused on the topic of remediation, which refers to representing something produced in an old medium in a new or developing medium. Blogging is a perfect example: it takes standards from traditional printed texts and builds on top of them, incorporating old canons while growing in novel and interesting directions itself.

David Haskell’s excellent blog Ramble contains the same sort of philosophical musings on natural phenomena as his book, with the added benefit of images and hypertext. The multimedia nature of the blogging platform he’s chosen allows him to bring his text to life in ways that would be impossible on printed paper: he can link to previous entries that deal with similar topics, source scientific information, and illustrate his prose with images of the creatures he describes. He’s also able to tag the topics of his posts, and a comment section allows for ongoing discussions with other readers and the author himself.

Who, when given the choice between a printed book and a blog containing  interactive multimedia information (which, by the way, is also free), would choose the book — and why? The fact that this year’s HRCS did choose the book over the blog is somewhat telling, and I’ve got a couple of theories as to why this is the case.

Despite the information in the book and the information in the blog being of equally high caliber, there is the idea that blogging is inherently informal, while a published book is inherently more academic. To be fair, publishing a book means that a certain number of highly qualified people have seen your work and found it to be worth sharing with the public — in many ways, publishers act as gatekeepers of information, particularly in the scientific realm. Even if the information in a blog and a published book are identical, the book will be given greater credit. This is not entirely unfair, but it is not always accurate, either — the quality of a piece of writing is independent from the platform it’s presented on.

The HRC is in the somewhat uncomfortable process of renovating the small group meetings formerly known as CMs, and in an effort to add more academic heft, HRCS has more or less been turned into a reading group where we read “real” books (and hopefully have “real” discussions about them.) In an effort to look as professional and academic as possible, I think we may have missed an easy opportunity to explore a medium that’s quite new to some folks here (we’re required to blog, so why not use a high-quality professional blog as inspiration?) and provides just as much — if not more — of an opportunity for intellectual discussion and engagement as the book we wound up with.

I’ve got some further thoughts on this, but I’ve also got quite a bit of other homework to complete and will duck out for now. Stay tuned — I’ve got the sense that I’ll be mulling this over for a while.

 

The Setup

Inspired by this site, here’s how my setup works.

Who are you, and what do you do?

E. Lower, senior in STS. Science writer, amateur naturalist, and habitual tinkerer. Jack of all trades and master of none, but I’m pretty cool with that. I have an approximate knowledge of many things.

What hardware do you use?

An ancient and highly temperamental Toshiba laptop named Jimbo. An iPad adopted from the Learning Technologies department named Jensen. An old but functional 4 GB iPod Nano named Tony. A Samsung Intensity II dumbphone named Wheatley. An external webcam, a Wacom Bamboo tablet, and an infinite number of flashdrives. Several palm-sized marble composition books that are good for tucking in pockets to take notes on the go, a cheap cork-bound sketchbook, and even cheaper ballpoint pens that are better for sketching than any fancy felt-tip.

And what software?

I am the king of online programs and the 30-day free trial: I sketch and color artwork in Pixlr, remix songs in Abledon and make my own in MusicShake, and experiment with almost every platform that is both interesting and free across the web. Most  of my writing is drafted in Wordpad and finished in MS Word. Microsoft Outlook has been perpetually open on this laptop since I purchased it six years ago. My music is played through iTunes but very little was purchased there. I spend a lot of time on various blogging sites, though WordPress isn’t usually one of them.

What would be your dream setup?

I’ve always thought multi-screen computer setups were the height of cool. In the absence of futuristic technology that lets you play with holograms, I’d settle for a faster computer that doesn’t make noises like a drowning lawnmower when I’ve got too many programs running. Good speakers and a tablet connection for digital art are a must.

As far as the rest of this environment goes, I’d like a good studio space, preferably in the attic or basement of wherever I was living — I like being separate from the rest of my living quarters while I work. I’d like a big desk as a work surface, something that looks nice but is easy to clean up when I inevitably spill paint or ink or tea on it. Bookshelves are important, stocked with good reference material and interesting things to look at for inspiration. I’d have a huge cabinet filled with art and craft supplies and various tools I might need. I’d like to have my guitar and maybe a keyboard on hand too. A few final things: a leather recliner to sit in and read or do some sketching, an electric teakettle, and Christmas lights or little lanterns hung up everywhere.

 

The art of breaking things.

I was sorry to miss last week’s discussions on word processing programs — as an avid fan of Wordpad, I would have loved to chime in. Wordpad’s got a couple of really neat qualities that I take advantage of whenever I’m struggling to draft a piece of original writing. I often have a hard time getting started on a story, and there’s something about the bare-bones simplicity of it that takes the pressure off and lets me jot down ideas without fixating on the red and green lines of Spellcheck or a toolbar filled with clutter I don’t actually need. I’ll freewrite huge chunks of the work I need to do and then just copy it into Word for editing, but the change in scenery, if you will, does a lot to clear my head.

There’s another reason I am incredibly fond of Wordpad, though, and it has nothing to do with writing. Wordpad is my program of choice for making glitch art — deliberately corrupting the raw data in an image to get interesting visual results.

My first introduction to glitch art was through Rob Sheridan, creative director for the band Nine Inch Nails. I’ve always been interested in using tools in unexpected contexts, and when I figured out I could experiment with this myself in some simple ways, I dove right in.

By opening a bitmap image in Wordpad (something that was never intended to happen) and adding or deleting just a few symbols here and there, the information contained within the image gets scrambled and the end result is a unique jumbling of colors and lines. It’s very easy to break an image so badly it won’t even display anymore, but with some careful tinkering, it’s possible to generate some eerie and occasionally very beautiful outputs.

You can go from this:

skull

To this:

skullel

Pretty neat, huh? And all that by simply opening an image in the “wrong” program.

For a primer on databending and simple glitch art, check out this neat article, and then try it out for yourself if you like! Be sure to save your original image somewhere else though — it’s extremely difficult to undo the intentional damage you’re about to cause.

Have fun.

skullgif

(Thanks to Emily Goodrich and Ben W.R. for their contributions to the gif above — last night turned into a databending party and I went ahead and made something from our collected results.)