Writing in a Digital World

Our cool Informatics program has posted this article about my new course: ENGL 380/INFO 390: Writing in a Digital World.

My favorite line that came out of the interview: "Design what you're saying, don't just say what you're saying."

Spring 2011
MWF 1:00-1:50pm
ENGL 380 / INFO 390: writing in a digital world

This course explores the rhetorical and cultural significance of new
writing forms in this, our digital age. The written word still
matters, but writing online is increasingly visual and enmeshed in a
range of media forms. Learning to create interesting content for the
web allows one to contact a global audience. Students in this course
will study what it means to write in this digital world. Students will
create eight digital online projects, all coded in simple html, css,
and javascript. No previous coding experience or practice creating web
sites is needed. Experienced coders and web writers will be able to
work at an accelerated pace.


XtraNormal Response "Paper"

In my English 505: Introduction to Writing Studies class last week, I encouraged students to experiment in their reading response papers. After a few weeks, the rather rigid format I'd been asking for seemed to be getting a bit stultifying.

One particularly clever student turned in this video. It's made using XtraNormal, which is a web-based video composition tool. Something about the juxtapositions—workplace setting + cartoon characters + academic-register—makes the video just too funny and smart. Gotta love what people can do.


5th and Hill Site in Champaign, IL

I've been teaching up at the Douglas Branch of the Champaign Public Library System, which means I ride right by the toxic 5th and Hill Site on Thursday evenings. Last Thursday, the huge containment tent at the site was being taken down and, I'm guessing, moved to another part of the property.

In bookmarking a few pages relating to the 5th and Hill toxic site, I came across this image of the plant when it was still up and running.

It's hosted over at http://temporarytraveloffice.net/mMigration/mMigration.html, a page with a number of details about the site. Since benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene were present during refining, the "site" is not really as bounded as the fence around the property suggests. Several houses nearby are undoubtedly positioned on top of toxic land (and water).

A quick Google search for "5th and hill" reveals another contested zone of the same address ... this one in Los Angeles. Somewhere there is a piece waiting to be written about this cargtographic coincidence and the socio-environmental impacts felt in both places.

5th and Hill in Los Angeles:

5th and Hill here in Champaign-Urbana:


Use DropBox, Don't Drop Out

This story of a grad student who had his dissertation and the backed-up files stolen from his car. Bummer. Now he may have to drop out.

Don't let this happen to you! Back up your stuff using DropBox or a free online service like it. Store stuff. Don't drop out.


Soy Aphids, Part II?

It's that time of year again in Champaign-Urbana: time to start wondering if the soy aphids will return like a plague. As everyone with a face and lungs remembers from last year, the bugs were everywhere. They'd cover your face when you walked, jogged, or biked—and they were all too easy to breathe in.

So we wait. For the bugs.


Holding Phone Deadly to New iPhone

In breaking news, it has been revealed that holding the new iPhone leads to lost calls. Since the new iPhone was not designed to be held in the human hand, it seems that setting the phone on a tabletop and speaking into it is the best bet.


The Death of the Viral Video Chart (More on Internet Trash)

One of my fave daily sites for the past few years has been the Viral Video Chart. It's been cool because it has traditionally featured videos that get a lot of plays and reposts. Interesting new videos usually show up there.

But in the past five or six months, the Viral Video Chart has almost exclusively featured music videos. I'm not saying videos aren't popular and interesting, and they can certainly be viral, but as a "hot new video site," the site simply doesn't do it for me anymore.

In several recent posts, I've talked about how the growing clutter online (okay: I've called it trash) makes it difficult to find information. Most search tools increasingly yield trash as the volume of tagged info online grows. Perhaps the death of the Viral Video Chart can be attributed to the trashing of the web, but I suspect it's more the hyping of music videos. Manufacture plays and reposts, and you can make something appear to be viral which, of course, makes it viral.

Anyway: time to find a new video aggregator.


Super Teaching?

From a piece in IHE, I find SuperTeaching.org. What is Super Teaching? Well, it is a "whole-brain, breakthrough ... with special advantages for "new brains" ... [using] three screens." That's right, chalkboards are the problem. White boards too. Even a single projection screen is not enough if you want to be a Super Teacher. All it takes is three screens and you can "elevate learner concentration and retention." Order today!

In some of the promo videos for the multi-screen classroom mod, you'll see that the same image appears on all three screens. Watch as it captures your attention!


War By PowerPoint

A decent article today in the New York Times about war by PowerPoint and the war on PowerPoint.

It focuses on the spaghetti graphic that's been floating around and is always worth reposting:

Fave quote in the piece, because it makes the software, which is slideware, seem as if it requires the bulletpointing of ideas:

“It’s dangerous because it can create the illusion of understanding and the illusion of control,” General McMaster said in a telephone interview afterward. “Some problems in the world are not bullet-izable.”

UPDATE: Nice response to the article over at Elizabeth Losh's blog.


Volcano Ash Clouds via Photoshop

One of the easier tools to use in Photoshop is the Polygonal Lasso, as it allows you to create a region with straight sides. This is what happens, though, when a billowing ash cloud is realized in a graphic via the Polygonal tool. Oh and angularity of the ash cloud! (from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/8628605.stm)

UPDATE: This article out on ash-cloud datagraphics.


F is for Field Guide

Tried to post the slides from today's guest lecture on trends in document design in field guide literature, but SlideShare.com couldn't handle my images. So this little sampling of thumbs (which grows if you click it) will have to tell part of the story:


Flickr Fail

Searching Flickr in recent weeks, the system seems to fail. Just a few years ago, it seemed like community tagging of digital objects would collectively yield vast networks of accessibility, connecting searchers to user-generated-content of relevance. But increasingly tags seem to yield ... crud. Or subterfuge. But certainly not access.

A recent search on Flickr for "chicken" brings up these images:

"Chicken" even yields this image ... because it's chicken wire.

A few posts ago, I discussed "the web as trash." In this view of what has been previously imagined as clean place, the web is a kind of sea of garbage with content circulating and re-circulating unendingly and without context. The fluidity of folksonomies seem to contribute to the trashed out nature of the internets. Search for "chicken" and find: a hamster, junk, flowers, a dog. Of course, there are ways to find images of chickens, but folksonomies seem to increasingly misdirect toward the clutter.