Category Archives: ENGL3372

A Look Back

This has  been an interesting semester for me. The time has flown at a dizzying rate. A busy school schedule, a brutal work schedule, and an always hectic family have all left me with barely enough time to even sleep. Couple all of that with the fact that every medical calamity possible seems to have happened over the last few months and it becomes easy to see why time has been my greatest enemy this semester. It’s been a delicate balance that I have barely been able to maintain.

With all of that said, there has been one saving grace: English 3372. I actually looked forward to going to this class. All around it has been greatly enjoyable. From my fellow students all the way up to the professor, everything in this class made it seem less like something I have to do and more like something I wanted to do. The lessons learned here have been ones that I hope and believe will aid me far in to the future. What are those lessons? Let me expound!

Web 2.0 Technologies

I consider myself to be pretty darned savvy when it come to computers, technology, and the internet. I have to be because it is my job to be. As a computer tech, you must keep your knowledge fresh and current or the world will pass you by before you know it. I must admit that I was lacking in some areas though. I never really did understand what exactly a “Web 2.0” is or how it was supposed to be different from the normal web. I always assumed that it was just some buzz word that was latched on to in order to make the same old stuff sound new and exciting. Apparently I was wrong. Take a screenshot because I don’t admit though often.

I am not going to go over these Web 2.0 tools again. If you want to know my feelings on the tools we used in this class you can look back at my last post on this subject. No, what I want to discuss here is what my experience using these tools was like. Using the Web 2.0 tools provided and discussed in English 3372 started out as more of a hassle than anything else. I didn’t want to use Twitter or blog. This is an English class damn it! Let me write my papers and get the hell out! My attitude in the beginning was completely wrong. <—-Screenshot

Using these tools made collaboration with my fellow students easier than I could imagine. Also, being able to do my homework from any computer or phone made an amazing difference in how easy this class was for me. All I have to do is Tweet a few things for class? Sweet, let me pull out my phone! All I have to do is write a blog post on WordPress? Awesome, got an app on my phone for that and my work computer doesn’t have their site blocked! Dropbox? Pfft, more like easy as pie box, right guys? Okay, maybe that one is a bit much, but you get my point.

Collaboration

As I mentioned in the previous section, collaboration with my fellow students was made much easier using these tools. Everyone has a busy schedule so getting time to meet up and put our heads together was impossible. What we did have though was email, Twitter, and Dropbox. These tools enabled us to put our ideas together and update them on a mostly regular basis.

Just about every college student will tell you that group projects are the worst. It’s just a given that you will have certain people in your group. I will handily list them.

  1. The in charge guy/girl – This is the person who assumes control of the group immediately. Usually this person is also the one person everyone in the group dislikes the most. Strangely enough, people initially bend to their will.
  2. The “what?” person – This person is absolutely clueless. They don’t understand the project or what is needed from them to accomplish it. They need their hand held through the entire process. At least they do the work though.
  3. The absentee person – This person shows up for group meetings, has lots to say, and is usually the same person as the in charge guy/girl. They just aren’t doing their part though. Usually they believe that participating in discussions is enough. The grunt work should be left up to everyone else!
  4. The smart guy/girl – This is true backbone of any group project. 90% of the work is typically done by this person. It happens because he/she lets it happen. You see, it is easier for them to do the work than it is to complain to anyone in charge. Teachers typically don’t care how the job gets done, they just want it done. The smart guy/girl will not let the incompetence of her group members drag his/her grade down.

Obviously you can mix and match these people, but anyone who has ever had a group project will nod their head in agreement with this list. The great part about my group project this semester: none of those people existed in my group! Surely you are thinking that everyone needs a smart guy/girl in their group. Well, that is correct and we had that person in our group. More to the point, my whole group was that person. Everyone doing their part to ensure the success of the project was the theme and goal of our group. It worked. By god, it actually worked!

What Did I Learn?

Honestly, and I am sorry Dr. Hara, but I did not learn any new information in this class. What I did learn though was to appreciate many of the tools we used. Before English 3372, I had absolutely no appreciation for social media. I knew how to use it because I had to stay relevant, but I didn’t care about social media. I assumed that things like Facebook, Twitter, and similar networking sites were simply flash in the pan trends. I was wrong! <—-Screenshot Social media is not just a trend; it is the future. Citizen journalists are becoming more and more prevalent. Social media is being used to usher in revolutions, coordinate civil wars, and to topple corrupt governments. The whole world is getting smaller than we could have ever imagined and this is largely being facilitated by social media.

Again, appreciation was the lesson learned here. Now that I have an appreciation for these tools, I can assure you that I will not forget that. I will incorporate social media in to my life like I have never done before. From making myself more visible to anonymously espousing controversial opinions, social media is now a part of how I do these things. It’s a brave new world for me. All I can do is ride this train and see where it take me.

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Web 2.0 and Me: What the Hell is a Twitter and How Does it Taste?

I have always considered myself to be a fairly savvy denizen of the internet. I still make that claim. Truth be told, I am a computer person in general. You absolutely must have a fairly good working knowledge of the internet if you want to make it in the computer industry. This is indisputable and any disagreements will be dealt with swiftly and harshly!

With my bit o’ bragging out of the way, I must now state that there were some really neat things that I was missing out on. Fortunately for me and the rest of the world Dr. Hara showed me the light. You see, I know how awesome things like Twitter and blogging are thanks to her and her English 3372 class. So that’s great for me. For the rest of the world, it is great because they can now read all the great things I have to say.

Yep, this just about sums it up.

Let’s start with Twitter!

I knew about Twitter well before I started taking this class. I also somehow knew it sucked despite having never used it. Sure, that’s a bit short-sited, but whatever. Don’t judge me. Well, the first day of class we were informed that we had to sign up. How awful was that? The gall of this professor! Didn’t she know how I felt about Twitter?

How I felt!

Apparently I was being irrational. After signing up for Twitter I had a slow start. Other than who I was forced to follow, who else was I supposed to follow? I started looking. I quickly found that a lot of my favorite media personalities are on Twitter. I had some friends and family on there as well. Next thing I know I am actually participating. Willingly. Okay, I can concede now that I may have possibly been wrong about Twitter. It really is pretty neat. I don’t often concede defeat so easily. Next time Dr. Hara, next time!

Delicious

Wow, this site is amazing. It’s simplicity can not be overstated. Basically, you throw up your bookmarks on here and other people can check them out. Sounds like a terrible idea, right? Not so fast! You can tag them, share them, and comment on them. You can search through the many, many available public links as well. Just a random search for “clownsreturns 2299 results. As horrifying as the thought that people are stockpiling clown sites may seem, it just goes to show how useful this site really can be.

On the other hand....

Terrifying yourself in to a sobbing mess isn’t Delicious’s only plus. Think about the countless times you have been at a buddy’s house and could not remember a site or even what you searched for to find it. No problem says Delicious. Save that cool stuff to Delicious and when you are at your friend’s house then you can just log in and pull it up. Sweet!

No, really, please stop saving the clown sites. Please...

WordPress

Hopefully anyone reading this knows what WordPress is. Here is a hint: you are on it right now. WordPress does two things. First, it allows people like me to create blogs for free. All you have to do is sign up and start spouting your opinion like the whole world cares. Second, they have a plugin that almost all major web hosting sites allow you to install on your domain. This enables you to take advantage of their easy to use interface while maintaining your personal site. Do you like the way the WordPress dashboard makes updating your page easy, but don’t like being tied down to xyz.wordpress.com? It can be kind of cumbersome. You know what is not cumbersome? Xyz.com, that’s what. Just purchase your chosen domain name, find a host that supports WordPress, install it, and get busy talking to the world. It really is that easy.

You keep saying it's easy, but I am still looking for that damned "any" key.

Well, there you have it. We those are the three major tools we have used this semester. Sure, there were a few that we talked about, but those were consistent. They were the rocks upon which we raised our buildings of education. They are our addictions and enablers all at the same time. To describe them as the glue that binds would be putting it a little too mildly! If I try to fit one more euphemism in here it will likely be too much for the universe to handle so I will stop now.

Getting a little woozy here James.

As always, comments, criticisms, and suggestions are always welcomed. Jump in and tell me what you think!

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Technology and Literacy? Someone Missed the Mark…Maybe

Cynthia Selfe wrote Technology and Literacy in the 21st Century: The Importance of Paying Attention in 1999. I have not read the book. I probably won’t ever read it, but I did read the first chapter! While outdated, I believe many of the points she made were decent enough.

The main talking point is President Clinton’s Technology Literacy Challenge. President Clinton had proposed a $2 billion fund for increasing technology access, usage, and literacy. The question then becomes, what is computer literacy. Selfe devotes a great deal of time to explaining this. She says that it can be one of two things:

  1. “Computer skills and the ability to use computers and other technology to improve learning, productivity and performance”
  2. Being able to use a computer to read, write, and communicate.

The big question though is this: have we achieved computer literacy? Did all the efforts pay off? Who shot J.R.?

Maybe this isn't relative, but I've been trying to fit it in somewhere!

My best source of information regarding this issue comes from my own personal experience. I am, by trade, a computer technician. That’s just a fancy term for one who fixes computers. If you ask me, I will tell you that people are not becoming more computer literate. No, they are treating computers like they do cars. People just want them to work. They don’t care how. For all most people know it could just be magic.

Pictured: Tech Support

Now, to be fair, my own experience is extremely skewered. It is indeed a fact that the world has become more tech savvy. I hesitate to give credit to a technology challenge though. The thing that has made computers more common is likely due to one very important factor: price. When Selfe wrote Literacy, the average price of a computer was right below $1000. Today the average price is roughly half that, for both laptops and desktops! This price discrepancy has resulted in a boon in personal computer sales. By the end of the year 2000, half of all households in the United States had computers. That’s roughly 54 million households. By the end of this year, it is expected that 364 million PCs will be sold. That’s enough to accommodate ever single man, woman, and child in the United States. Also, that number is not the number of computers used throughout the world. No, that’s just what will have been sold by the end of this year world wide. Back in 2008 there were 1 billion computers in use. That’s one for every six people. Think about that number just for this year and you can see that we are quickly approaching a margin of 2 for every six.

So, while people may not fully understand how computers work or even what they can do with them, the fact remains that most people probably at least know how to function one. When this book came out, most people would likely have had trouble even turning on a computer!

What about communication and literacy though? Don’t they rate? Absolutely! Today, computer writing is the standard. But that’s not the only standard that’s related. Kids use texting more than they talk on phones. Sure, this has created a bane of text speak, but the fact remains that coherent thoughts are still being conveyed over a technological medium that is closely related to personal computers.

Most newspapers are now offered digitally as well as many magazines. More and more technology is forcing literacy upon people. In order to properly use a computer you have to be able to read. In order to get any kind of work you have to be able to use a computer. Even jobs that in the past were considered menial labor require computer usage. Going to work at McDonald’s? Better brush up on your computer skills! Plan on digging ditches? Those machines are controlled by computers. Yeah, they are everywhere. You may as well bow down to your computer overlords now. It can only make things easier on you.

Yes sir, and don't worry, I won't let it happen again.

Okay, that’s my rant on the subject. Any comments, criticisms, or witty remarks are always greatly appreciated!

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Wikipedia

Writing a Wikipedia article is painful. Not exactly the best way to start, I know, but hear me out. First of all, it’s all so arbitrary. What qualifies for more than a “stub”?Who decides what a good reference is or is not?Are the mods time traveling Nazis?These are questions that must be answered!

My task was to either create a new article or at least expand on an existing stub. Sounds easy, right?Yeah, not so much. To start off with, everything has already been written. A million+ articles is more knowledge than anyone place should have! If you can think it, it has been done. I promise you that. Fortunately for me, I found a very small stub on a man that I actually knew a little something about. Did you catch the word “little”?I hope so, because that’s all I could muster. Sure, I expanded it to more than just a cursory paragraph. I added sections and links and what I believe are “real” references, but damn…

Now here’s the real kicker: should I put up a large article that would easily qualify as a doctorate thesis, any yahoo could come along and edit it. Not only that, but, one of the moderators or editors could come along and scrap the whole thing on little more than a whim. Sure, there is a process in place to make your case as to why it should not be deleted, but even then it can be arbitrary.

Don’t get me wrong though. I believe that the processes in place are most likely very important. When you want your body of work to be taken seriously, you can’t allow just anything to be thrown up. I get that. What I am saying is that there is no possible way they have experts on every single subject, person, place, or thing! No way! Think about it. Such a thing would be ridiculously impossible to do. Even major universities can’t do it. Do you think the University of Texas has an expert on rodeo clowns?Well, a major Texas university might, but I promise you most in this country don’t!

Let’s talk about their so-called markup language. Listen, you can’t take everything everyone ever knew about word processing and HTML (you know, hypertext MARKUP language) and just throw it out the window. I really do understand that some changes are probably necessary due to the way links and references are handled, but asking me to forget everything is just ridiculous. Why would I put some crazy dashes to make a level 2 header?Why not just let me use the far more sensible

?I guess that would make too much sense!

I do want to make it clear that I greatly value Wikipedia. I have even donated to help keep it alive. They do a lot of good and help keep the world informed. That can be nothing but good. However, that does not mean that I am cut out for writing for them. Maybe I have difficulty with staying neutral. If it’s not fairly obvious, I have a pretty high opinion of my own opinion. My points need to be made as far as I am concerned! Well, Wikipedia doesn’t want my opinion and that’s okay. I understand the fact that my type of writing is not for them and vice-versa. I did what I was supposed to do though and I hope it’s good enough. Now I just have to hope I have this pecha kucha thing figured out…

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Here Comes Everybody Part 2 (Keep the Booze Hidden!)

Back to Clay Shirky! In chapter 3 of his book, Here Comes Everybody!, Shirky writes about the effects the internet has had on journalism as a profession. He makes the argument that when anyone can be a professional, then no one is. He also calls in to question the validity of online journalists. Are their contributions to our daily intake of news just as important as “real” journalists or are they actually hindering the process?

To be fair, journalists are held to a standard that just doesn’t apply to bloggers. When a blogger makes a mistake, misquotes someone, or just plain lies, he can either correct his writing or not. There is no real accountability. We have seen time and time again seen what happens to professional journalists when they make the same mistakes.

The major question to answer her is how valid is blogging as a journalistic endeavor? I would argue that it is very valid. The most prominent example that jumps to mind is The Drudge Report. Started as just another celebrity tabloid, Matt Drudge gained some attention when he broke the the story of Jack Kemp running with Bob Dole in the 1996 presidential election. It’s easy to write that off as a one-shot deal, but the next big story he broke was not so easy. In 1998, he reported that Newsweek had information on President Clinton’s affair with Monica Lewinsky and that they were sitting on the story. Of course this forced Newsweek to publish the report since someone had already published it for them!

Now, this is where we get in to why I think it is just as valid if not more so to call news bloggers “real” journalist. Newsweek, for whatever reason, was sitting on a story that could show that a sitting president had perjured himself under oath and was having an adulterous affair right in the oval office. I can imagine a lot of powerful people wanting to keep a story like that under wraps. I can also imagine an editor or reporter shelving the story due to promises and/or threats from some those powerful people. Drudge on the other hand could only gain from reporting that same story.

So what’s my point? Well, first, journalists are professionals. They get a paycheck from an editor. They also need access to key political, business, and social people. That access unfortunately comes at a price. Suppose you want an exclusive interview with Senator Y, but he finds out that next week you are going to right an exposé on his dirty dealings. In most cases, what do you think it’s going to take to get that interview? Maybe the journalist in question is honest enough to disagree to the condition of shelving the story. What about his editor though? The editor is going to have even more at stake than the journalist. He can always hire new writers, but if he loses access to his information sources then he can no longer produce.

Now, let’s look at it from the perspective of the blogger. She knows someone who worked directly for Senator Y in his dirty dealings. As someone who is another voice in a sea of voices, she has no chance of ever getting access to the senator. What she can do though is break a major story about political corruption. Suddenly the news is out and the media has no choice but to cover the issue. Now it’s Senator Y who is begging to tell his side of the story. Meanwhile, the blogger has gained a following due to her ability to break news that the news industry was either unable or unwilling to break. Now she has access to sources, politicians, celebrities, etc. She is now making money off her writing and becoming more and more relevant. Isn’t she now a journalist? Even Shirky raised this same question in regards to Xeni Jardin. She was hired by NPR mainly due to her work on Boing Boing.

With reports over the last few years of newspapers filing for bankruptcy left and right, it is obvious that new media is having a major effect on old media. The ad revenue and subscriptions that newspapers depended on aren’t drying up. No, they are moving. The ad revenue has migrated to websites that can boast millions of unique viewers every day. Some produce numbers that most newspapers could only dream of. Blogger.com, Twitter, WordPress, and Tumblr are all sites dedicated to blogging in one form or another. All of them are in the top 50 most visited websites on the internet!

So what does it all mean? I believe it means that in the future, news will be more and more reliant on so-called amateur journalist. It all boils down to one key reason: access. A reporter can not be on scene anytime some major event happens, but some random guy with a phone and a Twitter account may very well be there. Information like that can spread at the speed of the internet! Sure, we may still rely on traditional news media to bring us the views of experts and those directly involved in major stories, but we are bound to see these stories originating in none traditional places. Is that good or bad? I don’t really know. I guess only time will tell (cliche, I know). What’s your take on the issue. Leave me a comment. Let’s discuss it.

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Futurists…Sometimes They Aren’t Crazy

In July of 1945, Dr. Vannevar Bush wrote an article for The Atlantic. At the time Dr. Bush was Director of the Office of Scientific Research and Development. Basically, they were responsible for figuring out ways to kill people effectively and efficiently. So what I am saying is that the man was definitely a mad scientist of sorts.

Artist representation of the average OSRD scientist.

The reason I bring up the mad scientist aspect of Dr. Bush’s job is because the article he wrote, titled As We May Think, was far and away beyond anything possible at the time. In this paper, Dr. Bush is looking to direct scientists towards more noble efforts since the end of World War II was rapidly approaching. At the time, computational power was minimal at best. Most complicated calculations had to be done by hand. Storage medium was practically non-existent. Dr. Bush sought to direct the scientific community in the towards developing this technology. Many of his ideas and solutions in As We May Think are actually in use today. In some ways, even his vision was limited compared to the technology in existence today.

At the time the article was written the closes thing humanity had to a computer looked like this:

This thing definitely would not fit on my desk...

Within 50 years we had this:

This could do the job of thousands of the above "computer".

Today I have more computing power than 10 of the Compaq above in this:

Yeah, that's a phone. Or, is it a computer? There's no real distinction anymore.

As you can see, computers have developed rapidly since the 1940s. It was a slow start, but the minds of people like Dr. Bush is what made it all possible. He was not afraid to think outside of the box. Even better than that, he was not afraid to publish these thoughts and to encourage others to research and develop these wacky ideas.

Again, on many things Dr. Bush misses the mark, but even there he more or less gets things right. For example, he spends a good deal of the beginning of the article describing the technological advances of cameras. In fact, he stops very, very short of describing a modern day digital camera. What he was focusing on was the potential for film, microfilm specifically, to act as a storage and input method in computers. He saw vast potential in microfilm as being able to accumulate and expand upon human knowledge. He also envisioned a way for a user to be able to upload to a computer using some sort of photographic technique. Again, this idea was more prophetic than anything else. Today we do exactly that anytime we use a scanner. While it may not have occurred to most people, a scanner is simply a giant digital camera and all it really does is take a high resolution picture of whatever the user wants to scan in.

I can neither condone nor advise this.

My enjoyment of this article was not so much in the style, wording, or excitement of the writing itself. No, what I found fascinating is that even in 1945, that’s 66 years ago, there were already brilliant people thinking about ways to make real computing available. Not only did they think about ways to make it happen, but they were also able to imagine many ways in which computers of any significant power would benefit humanity. Don’t get me wrong, obviously all great creations have to start somewhere. I really do understand this. Considering how for computing has come in the last 10 years alone, it is amazing that some men had/have the vision to see what is possible.

The icing on the cake for Dr. Bush is that his article, written so many years ago, is available still to this day. Only it’s not just available in print like when it was originally published. Today anyone with a connection to the internet can view his prophecy. They can copy and paste it to so many different storage mediums that they would even make his head spin.

Really, I can not recommend enough that computer and history buffs should check this article out. I loved it and have forwarded it to many people. I would love to discuss it further so comments are most definitely encouraged.

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Rape is Serious When It’s Real!

Way back when the internet was first learning to walk, we didn’t have MMOs like we do today. Our characters were not graphically represented by millions of pixels in full color detail. No, we had to write them in to existence. We had to write their actions in to existence as well. We were doing it all on something called a MUD (Multi-User Dungeon). One particular MUD called LambdaMOO was shaken to its core by a deranged individual known by the not-at-all creepy name of Mr. Bungles.

That was the basis of Julian Dibbell’s A Rape in Cyberspace. What happened was Mr. Bungles used a sort of backdoor program called a “voodoo doll”. This program attributed actions to characters that the owners themselves did not consent to. Obviously by the title these actions were sexual in nature. The community was outraged. Conferences were had and emotions ran wild. People truly felt as if they had been somehow violated. In the end, all they could really do ban the devious Mr. Bungles.

I think this event raised some very genuine issues. Where is the line that separates our online characters from our real life counterparts? Is there even a distinction? For some people, I would argue that their online presence is just as, if not more, important to them. As I stated above, at that time you didn’t just click through a few preset customizations for your character. No, you created them. Often times they were created to represent not necessarily who you are, but who you wanted to be. They could be someones hopes and dreams. They could also be a mirror of how you view yourself.

If that’s the case then a violation of the character could easily be seen as a violation of the self. Perhaps even worse, it could be an attack and a molestation of another persons hopes and their dreams. Something like that could indeed have very serious emotional consequences.

While it would be easy to dismiss these people as investing too much time in to a “fake” character, it is important to put it in to perspective. People become emotionally attached to non-living or entirely made up entities all the time. How many times have you cried at the end of a sad movie or book, been mad at a devious character on a television show, or felt sorrow when a celebrity or popular politician died? I would argue that our attachment to those things is no where near as strong as the users of LambdaMOO had to their characters.

The most important thing I got out of all of this is that the more important our online presences become to us, the better care we need to take when dealing with one another. It’s not an easy issue to deal with. What are your thoughts on the issue?

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