Category Archives: New Media

writing and image

au printemps

The struggle of writing against the image – historical consciousness against magic – runs throughout history. With writing, a new ability was born called ‘conceptual thinking’ which consisted of abstracting lines from surfaces, i.e. producing and decoding them. Conceptual thought is more abstract than imaginative thought as all dimensions are abstracted from phenomena – with the exception of straight lines. Thus with the invention of writing, human beings took one step further back from the world. Texts do not signify the world; they signify the images they tear up. Hence, to decode texts means to discover the images signified by them. The intention of texts is to explain images, while that of concepts is to make ideas comprehensible. In this way, texts are a metacode of images.

Flusser, Philosophy of Photography

How would McLuhan respond to this? He might be ok with the idea of struggle. He might be good with conceptual thinking born of writing, as an abstraction from senses. This might be a trace to the spectacle, too, as writing and the writing stand in for the world.

silenc and volum

First, a visualization that would interest students in #en4709: Digital Humanities. silenc

silenc is a tangible visualization of an interpretation of silent letters within Danish, English and French.

Silent letters themselves aren’t (semantically) silent. They guide pronunciation in some instances (tin | tine – pin | pine), can signal meaning that context would disambiguate in others (night | knight), and are signs of the word’s history and derivation (ptomaine). But the visualization points up that even though we read silently, we use the sound of the words to guide meaning.

silenc is the kind of work currently going on in digital poetics (here, here, and here), experimenting with concepts such as, in this case, the distance between speaking and printing. Books don’t disappear, but print gets a good hard look. In the same stall as Humument, and Tree of Codes.



As for volum, I read this morning in The Guardian that January is ZTT’s 30th anniversary.

The blue spaceship in Basing Street is housed in the studios where, all those pre-punk years ago, Island Records first recorded Bob Marley and the Wailers. Island boss Chris Blackwell’s swinging 60s bachelor pad in the west wing is still there, unchanged except for the blue and white ZTT dots splattered on the walls. But then these are everywhere, even the loos.

Inside this gilded palace of din, the new home of the hits is expanding daily. Yet another studio is being constructed, yet more personnel being drafted in. Not that you’re in a pop factory: Trevor Horn vociferously denies that ZTT is any such thing.

Island Records (now ZTT) is over the bridge and just down the Westway from the pub I used to work at en retro diem, a pub that Trevor used to visit once in a while. I didn’t know then he was Trevor Horn. I admit, I didn’t know then who Trevor Horn was at all. Just one of the weekend punters who worked down the studio. Did some production. Played bass. Pint of lager in a sleever, right, Mick?

Turns out, I discovered five or six years later, he’s this guy:

Video Killed the Radio Star from 2004 Prince’s Trust concert

ZTT produced others: Frankie, Art of Noise, Propaganda – and Yes (Prog-Rock video warning) which is nothing to shrug at. So, on its 30th anniversary, ZTT is adding a new studio and looking for new projects.

But that’s not the point. The point is that 30 years marks a turning point, summed up by Video Killed the Radio Star where one medium was giving way to another, and the artists were guiding and negotiating the transition. Who knew? Video Killed the Radio Star was a one-off pop song, that was also the first video to be aired on MTV. MTV? That can’t last. Dead in a year. (Well, it took 20 years and YouTube to kill off MTV. But it’s dead now.) Trevor? Just a nice bloke who played bass one night in the pub with a skiffle group. Who knew?


Three lessons on reading Geoffrey Sirc’s “Box-Logic” for the 4th or 5th time in preparation for a graduate seminar in Composition Theory.

Lesson One

I attended the local Times Talk lunch on Wednesday, and I appreciated the salad of iceburg lettuce and sliced chicken with oil and vinegar dressing over spaghetti, but  I discovered, when I asked the students attending the lunch about their reading habits, something less appetizing. I asked them, when it comes to news, do they pick up a paper and read what they find interesting or do they, maybe, go to google and search on a topic that interests them, like eurozone, f’rinstance, and read around what they find there? I guess I could have predicted the answer of mass comm students and student senators at a Mass Comm department and NY Times sponsored lunch about reading the NY Times: We read the paper. If you read blogs (I didn’t mention blogs, just “read around,”) you have to figure out if the source is credible. We don’t have the time to do that. What’s the eurozone? How are we supposed to know what’s important? The NY Times rep wasn’t helpful, remarking that a story in the Huffington Post was “a rumor,” while The NY Times wouldn’t report it until it was “news.” These students, it seems, like their news pre-packaged and branded to guarantee quality. The newspaper spoon in the Naked Lunch. The market share.

Then, today, I’m reading Sirc, “Box-Logic” (pdf), and I stop at this:

I really don’t think it’s up to me to teach students how to process that ‘serious writing […] the long and complicated texts’ (B and P) of the academy; if certain disciplines feel the need to use those texts, they are certainly free to teach students their intricacies themselves. 143.

Which got me thinking about that lunch again in this way:

A professor from the psych department who attended the Times Talk made it clear she did want to teach students how to process that serious writing when she commented to the group at large that she taught her students how to distinguish between a news story and an academic journal article. Why? Well, she said that her students have difficulty telling a news story from an advertisement from an academic journal article. That sounds like hyperbole, but given the reading habits the students mentioned … well, when you eat from the newspaper spoon, you don’t need to make distinctions. If her students have difficulty reading a psychology journal article, that’s her lookout, not mine, and it sounds like she has it all well in hand.

But doesn’t that make me part of the problem? Shouldn’t I, as a professor of composition, teach students how to distinguish between a news article and an article in a psych journal? Isn’t that my role in the academy?

Well, no. I needn’t teach the distinction. That is the psych department’s job. I would argue, in fact, that to make the distinction meaningful to the students it is meant for, the distinction has to be taught in the psych department.

In fact, given the reading habits of those students above, it’s clear that Sirc’s box-logic pedagogy does address the concerns of the psychology professor – and more fundamentally than simply discussing differences between two genres.

And suddenly I’m not part of the problem anymore. I may not be the solution, but I’m not part of the problem. I feel better now. I feel good. I feel better than James Brown.

Lesson Two: Vocabulary for this Chapter

Cut them out. Paste them on cards. Collect them all.

– a convolute – box logic – hip hop – rap – Fluxus – engagement – paratactic assemblage – association – implication – poetic concretism – expressionism – passion – constellated – constellation – trace-capturing – pulsion – academic curator – daybook – Abercrombie & Fitch lives – aggregate – juxtaposition – annotate – re-mix – re-purpose – share – docent-guided tour – self-guided tour

Lesson Three: Two Reasoned Responses to Sirc

Reasoned response #1. Sirc is advocating nothing more than throwing shit at the wall to see if it sticks. He might use 20th century modernist artists as a base for his ideas, but he relies on worn-out notions of romantic expressionism and the trendy, self-help ideas of engaging your Passion to defend his so-called pedagogy. The truly difficult – and highly valued – mental work of analysis goes by the board in this plan, as does any criteria for evaluation of the work or of students. There’s no critical thinking going on here – not even the possibility of it occurring. This is Creative Writing 101 Lite. You don’t even need a teacher to do this!

Reasoned response #2. Sirc is re-defining the comp teacher as curator, and the processes of composition as it unfolds in the classroom as a physical, material engagement with those practices, ‘from l’etat brut inquiry” to the logic of being engaged scholars 138. The influx of new media may be the occasion for this re-definition but the box logic Sirc sketches places students in a valuable pedagogical relationship with that new media and new media practices – practices that go on around us all both inside and outside the academy: within and without the walls. You can’t write this off by calling it creative writing, mere expressionism. The approach, the method, might be novel to humanists, but it’s how Agassiz or any good science teacher teaches the next wave of scientists. The approach patently requires a teacher, but one that acts as a curator rather than a docent.


Diagrams, exemplars, bootstrapping in #PLENK2010

Ergonomic Workspace Planner, Workstation Installation ToolLooking through some diagrams of PLEs at edtechpost has given me the impetus to create a diagram of my own, and the permission to really goof with it. Exemplars.

To my mind, these diagrams illustrate what happens when a straightforward exercise is approached with a PLE attitude. Given the variety of diagrams, it looks like learners chose their own terminology, media, and modes to work in. The diagrams become semiotically supercharged. The titles, the terminology used, the contexts represented, features of the model overall (eg: where the learner is placed in the model and how represented; how links, knowledge, services, contexts are represented, and the like), as well as the choice of media and mode (whiteboard, big paper, concept mapping software, illustration software, t-shirt) all signify as choices.

The variety complicates easy reading of each diagram and of the collection, but that’s appropriate for the issue. The diagrams become the ground and impetus for another turn. That is, they have to be actively interpreted, worked with, in order to become personal knowledge.

Which opens us into critical literacies. Interpreting these diagrams demands an approach – for, me a semiotic approach. Bootstrapping again. This would be the point where I would look into social semiotics social semiotics as a way of making sense of the diagrams.

Composed at the office, Target, and in the front garden. Posted using BlogPress from an iPad

things we would never put on the university home page

This graphic has been making the rounds.  I found it on The Bamboo Project Blog: It’s About Answering Their Questions, Stupid: What Goes on the First Page ? – where I find a lot of Good Stuff.  The reminder that Michele gives:

[W]e still have this broadcast notion of content that can trip us up at the oddest moments. We need to stop thinking that social media–or any online content, for that matter–is first and foremost about us. The best stuff is always, always about our users.

If we could only get our PR/Communications people to hear that, we’d see an improvement in BSU’s little website – an improvement that the students who use the site – and those who never enrolled because the couldn’t find what they were looking for at a university – could then carry forward into their professions. [Warning: Don’t expect any of the following on our front page.]


But design, it’s really about control, isn’t it?

#critlit2010: trees and linkers


photo by robokow


This morning I’m reading “The Hypericonic De-Vice,” from E-Crit, Marcel O’Gorman, and right in the middle of this passage –

… According to Ong, Ramus was simply responding to the need of universities to corporatize knowledge delivery:

… in the university, the teacher was also part of a corporation which was uncalculatingly but relentlessly reducing the personal, dialoging element in knowledge to a minimum in favor of an element which made knowledge something a corporation could traffic in, a-personal and abstract (almost as though it were something which existed outside a mind, as though one could have knowledge without anybody to do the knowing, as Ramists were eventually to maintain one could). (1958: 152)

The Ramist spatialization and infinite binarization of the world, which Ong refers to as a ‘corpuscular’ episteme, haunts our educational apparatus to this day; the same technological drive towards efficiency that spawned textbooks on logic is ow producing distance education and the ambitious electronic archiving projects that characterize much of the humanities scholarship in the digital age. (51)

O’Gorman is juggling Ramus, Ong, and Blake in this chapter. Here he is discussing Ramsus’s appearance at the cusp of printing, so that his trees articulating the division of knowledge into “natural” relations from generals to specials arrived at the moment when it could be distributed in print to young learners. Mnemonic devices to remind the learner of divisions of topics would not be needed after Ramus planted his schematizing of of bipartite division. Ramsus’s trees suited the economy of learning just-in-time. Kismet.

Here’s how it’s characterized at the university today, still in the corporate model:

Knowledge existing outside the knower = professional knowledge as it tends to circulate in the university.

Knowledge as the personal construct = amateur knowledge as it tends to circulate outside the university.

So, while I’m in the middle of passage, this week’s reading list from Critical Literacies arrives by email, including, Shirky: Ontology is Overrated, and Folksonomies – Cooperative Classification and Communication Through Shared Metadata, by Mathes.

Shirky sets what’s coming ([amateur constructed] folksonomy links that remove the need for [professionally constructed] hierarchical file systems) against other knowledge schemes (Dewey), and sees this:

What I think is coming instead are much more organic ways of organizing information than our current categorization schemes allow, based on two units — the link, which can point to anything, and the tag, which is a way of attaching labels to links. The strategy of tagging — free-form labeling, without regard to categorical constraints — seems like a recipe for disaster, but as the Web has shown us, you can extract a surprising amount of value from big messy data sets.

That is to say, we are moving from the filing system


to the file system disappearing to leave the links


images from Shirky

An observation: Constructing links does not eliminate the file tree. It’s still back there. But the links can remove dependence on the tree, and may remove the tree from the privileged position.

This is move from the Ramsian bipartite, where each item has to exist in one branch only, to the rhetorical, situational, probabilistic quantum where a particle can be in two places at once, exist in two states at once Shirky:

We are moving away from binary categorization — books either are or are not entertainment — and into this probabilistic world, where N% of users think books are entertainment. It may well be that within Yahoo, there was a big debate about whether or not books are entertainment. But they either had no way of reflecting that debate or they decided not to expose it to the users. What instead happened was it became an all-or-nothing categorization, “This is entertainment, this is not entertainment.” We’re moving away from that sort of absolute declaration, and towards being able to roll up this kind of value by observing how people handle it in practice.

The connect with critical literacy is pre-socratic, pre-Ramsian rhetoric.

The connect with PLEs might be this: Just as the book, the library, the taxonomy of the library, the taxonomy in the book are the hypericons of university knowledge, so the link, the directional gesture, the link-er, can be a hypericon of the PLE.

re-mediating moleskine

I’m not sure what to make of this: camouflaging an iPad as a Moleskine.  It’s a step towards the wearable computer, the always-on academic. But it’s not really camouflage so much as loading the icons heavily. The Moleskine is a semiotic badge of The Writer; the iPad a badge of The Fanbois. Fuse them and you have pretension so thick it could cause a concussion.

The case is made by DODOCase, a SF California shop. Black with a red interior, and a bamboo frame that holds the iPad securely. It’s well-made, and fairly priced at $50.00. Its build takes me back to bookbinding and woodshop in high school, so there’s built-in nostalgia.

And the DODOCase has a high stealth factor. People don’t see a computer – until you start poking at your notebook. Then you stand out. Call attention to yourself. Like a tosser.

What’s interesting is using an icon of the handwritten journal to play hide and seek with an icon of the the digiterati fanbois. The concealment is only momentary, because people are supposed to notice you poking at your notebook. The case is black with a interior: it’s meant to be seen. Red and black. Lingerie. This is NSFW. Barthes addressed the striptease in Mythologies. This moleskine-iPad remediation is not far away.

Add to this the material aspect of the case: The DODOcase is hand built, unlike Moleskine notebooks. The iPad is 21st century manufacturing at the extreme.

There’s a grad paper in there somewhere.

iPad, serious writing, and kafka

Cam-11.jpgOk, I’ve been slow getting back to the blog for the season, but Joe’s post on the iPad winds me up a little. Sure, he likes it in general, but grudgingly.

I’m sad to report reading online websites, including newsmagazines, is less appealing. This, clearly, is a transitional problem. If you make the font large enough (that’s right, I’m old and nearly blind), you have to use the scroll bar.

Joe: There is no scroll bar on the iPad. You flick. The fact is, at least you can increase the font size, making reading (aka skimming) web pages sweet.


Imagine my surprise, then, to find I could only project from Keynote, Apple’s app for presentations. Apparently it’s also a filter, a way of erasing the Internet in terms of visibility and empowering Keynote. Ugh. And folks say Microsoft is evil?

Response in obligatory bullet list:

  • 1. It shouldn’t have come as a surprise – especially to an Early Adopter – that there would be limitations to VGA out.
  • B. It ain’t true. Loads of apps can route to the projector. You have to find them but that’s part of the exploratory spirit of the Early Adopter.
  • III. It isn’t greed, it’s early development – Ok, it’s greed, too. $10 a pop for Keynote x 2,000,001 will pay a lot of graduate tuition. There are alternatives to Keynote that work with the VGA out port – apps that do more than slides. Like concept mapping. Like plain old text. Drop a few dollars in the App Store.
  • > MS is evil. So is Google. But that’s another story.

Speaking of Keynote, an app that drives users towards the lecture, I’m with Joe all the way on Apple’s difficulty envisioning new teaching models when they address us academics. This sounds too familiar:

The lecture model! Isn’t that amazing? Apple gets some of USF’s best tech folks together and then tells them what they already know, what, as the speaker repeatedly mentioned, could be downloaded from the Internet! Jeez, just pass out 20 iPads, break us into groups and have us brainstorm! What can we learn from each other. This is new stuff. Where are we going, educationwise?

Every Apple-presented event I’ve been at for 20 years has been the same damn lecture. It might be those young Apple presenters getting their own back on faculty who lectured them for four years.

But here’s where I have to depart from Joe the most:

The iPad isn’t a writing device, it’s a reading tool, an injection system. Right now I’m logged into a wiki page and visibility is murky: If you want to do some serious writing, get your laptop.

It’s serious enough for me, Joe. Works with my wikis just fine. Maybe it’s the wiki you’re logged into, Joe. Maybe you need a more modern wiki.


I do get the sense of playfulness Joe’s hinting at. Typing with the on-screen keyboard seemed toy-like at first, and some of the apps on the scene work the real-world desktop metaphor far too hard. Notebooks on the iPad don’t need a leather-bound or a legal pad interface; and journal apps don’t need to use some awful script-like font on just as awful bogus-antique paper background. That’s just silly, and it feels silly. (To be fair, even Apple places these apps in the Lifestyle category rather than the more … er… serious Productivity category.)

In fact, it’s a lot like the early days of the Mac. Back then, in the DOS days of urine-yellow text on black screens, the Mac apps looked like toys. Serious work couldn’t be done in MacWrite or MacPaint. Whizzy-wig? Windows? Black text on white ground? That’s for… amateurs. A lifestyle choice.

But the iPad can be serious. Intimidatingly serous. When students present at finals, I usually take notes with pen and notecards, or, occasionally, at one of the desktop machines in the classroom they present in. A couple of days after I got an iPad, I used it instead. It was nice. I don’t suffer from carpel tunnel syndrome, but my handwriting has gone to hell over the past few years, so being able to take typed notes during presentations is brilliant. And I could move around the room, as I typically do, nod a lot, keep the presenters moving. But a couple of presentations in, I realized that the presenters were becoming more anxious than usual. I asked, and one student said, “That iPad thing is intimidating. It’s like you’re taking notes for Kafka.” I put the iPad down and went back to notecards. getserious.jpg

Spoiled my fun for the day – but I did use the Intimidation Factor at an administrative meeting later in the week. If taking notes on the iPad crooked in my arm, moving around the room and nodding, looks Kafkaesque, I’m going to use that kind of seriousness.

The newness of the device, the novelty of writing with it like a turbo-powered clipboard, might be the intimidating factor. This will pass. But after a while, the toy-like feeling, the novelty, slides to the background. I use a bluetooth keyboard when I’m typing extensively on the iPad, so it feels more like a laptop. But I can also get a lot of serious work done

The big issues for me: File management; it takes too much cognitive overhead to think about getting files on and off the iPad. Don’t like the tethered synching with iTunes. Single-tasking. Interface inconsistencies, as Nielsen mentions. PDF annotation is rough around the edges. Might need to switch to html when editing in WordPress, and wikis on are not worth editing using the iPad: too much code.

But, truth be known, I come to the iPad having learned the interface on the iPhone, so greeting the expanse of the iPad is like finally getting out of the cabin after a long winter snowed in. (Obligatory north woods cabin fever metaphor.)

4489021464_72b3fde27f_m.jpgIn mid-July, I’m presenting with Joe and Matt Barton at the WPA Conference. I’ll be using my iPad to draft my part of the presentation and will no doubt use it when we present. I expect members of the audience to take notes with their iPads, and those with 3G to backchannel with them. Sure, there will be a few taking notes with their clunky old serious laptops, and it will be a pleasure to talk with them. But I want to go to the bar with the iPad users, not the laptoppers. bar photo by jeffwilcox.

weblogs projects started

Projects have started at Weblogs and Wikis.

More students are using Tumbler than I expected, but that speaks to some pretty tightly focused projects like Music Meeja and Red Sox Nation.

Social Commentating 101, which is making use of longer posts, is on WordPress.

And a few are tying two platforms together, either tweeting the highlights of their posts on Tumblr, or interlinking between mini-blogging and long-form blogging, as don’t panic and bizefingers.

Anyway, all good choices in media and integration.  And all taking an experimental attitude towards the project – an attitude that I hope will pay off.

one mil investment for advice


From BBC News – Tories ‘would pay £1m for public policy making website’]

Seems the Tories have discovered crowdsourcing – a little late.  Shadow culture minister Hunt says,

“It is crazy that [policies] have gone wrong when you’ve got lots and lots of, for example, retired health professionals, retired policemen, people in the teaching profession, who have huge knowledge and expertise…

“Is there a way that we can use the internet … to try and avoid some of these howlers so a future Conservative government can not just have good policy ideas but execute policy in a much more considered and thought-through way?”

Of course there’s a way of bringing people into the conversation, Mr Hill, and Lib Dem Jenny Willot (bless) is willing to give the Tories advice for free.  Well, almost free. She gets an obligatory snipe in at the end.

For the Liberal Democrats, Work and Pensions spokesperson Jenny Willott MP said: “This prize is clearly a publicity stunt and a total waste of taxpayers’ money.

“There are already a multitude of ways to communicate with large numbers of people online, from Facebook to discussion groups.

“Maybe the Tories are so out of touch they don’t know what’s out there, but they shouldn’t waste £1m of public money reinventing the wheel.”

Of course, crowdsourcing won’t solve the problem of Getting It Right unless you listen to the sources.  So here’s hoping that a £1m investment means the Tories would value what their sources tell them.