Month: February 2014

Flappy Bird

TheFineBros is a Youtube channel I’ve been following since its creation. Two brothers, Benny and Rafi Fine, have created a series of reaction videos where people of different age groups (kids, teenagers, and elders) watch a viral video and answer questions on what they’ve seen. Youtube users comment to choose what popular video, person, or phenomenon will be used in the next video. 

In their latest video, the brothers had the elderly playing Flappy Bird.

I thought it’d be entertaining to see the elderly attempt to play a game that has much of the younger generation frustrated, but in their discussion I thought they also brought up some pretty interesting things. Don mentioned how powerful social media was in the spread of negative feedback toward the creator of Flappy Bird and it made me think about Facebook and how people share things with each other like it was their job.

If you haven’t tried it yet, here’s Flappy Bird!

Technology Teaching Us

I have recently become a technophile meaning I have just started to find the immense advantages of technology, computer and other such means for our advancing future. However, the technophobia of looking stupid, embarrassing or just down right confused when trying to figure out how something on the internet works continues to cripple me. The internet is not meant to do that. If you are not sure of something there is always a means of looking it up or googling it.

For example, I know many of us in the English 340 class are having immense difficult with not knowing how to work html codes. I know I barely understand how to tie my shoes in the morning yet, I am expected to learn the extremely technical language of .html. Thankfully the internet has become my teacher.

Code Academy is “an education company. But not one in the way you might think.” Their statement is that many schools are planning on bringing computers into the class room (something which many colleges have already done) and expecting students to know about computers. Especially when students get into the workforce, how are they expected to know computer programming when it is not taught in schools?  “Education is broken. Come help us build the education the world deserves.” – A bold statement from a bold company.

So besides their very bold stance and very bold statements, Code Academy is quite helpful and very interactively fun. It is free to register, and you can register through facebook, g-mail or other social media, or give them your e-mail. After you register it allows you to edit your profile, and soon it asks you to choose a project.

There are two major options to get started:
Pick a Real Project:
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 11.41.55 AM

Or Pick a “Language” to learn:
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 11.42.17 AM

Either way you will learn code, in an easy to access way. I personally picked a project – the name color one to be exact.

When you get into the lesson part of the unit, they show you the finished project first:
Screen Shot 2014-02-26 at 11.42.48 AM
and then teach you from scratch step, by step, by step, by step. They have helpful hints, and they reward you with achievements. Different colors for different codes will be used and they tell you by status bar when you’ve gotten the code correct. The text in the black is the code, the text in white is what you are doing to an internet page. Its not the easiest but it makes it fairly simple to understand.  Eventually you will have a project of your own that you can post to a blog, or website or something goofy you want.

For me it was a bit confusing, and it still is. That is why I need to practice. This is why I need to ask questions. I believe in order to true push yourself, it helps to be insatiably curious while also being a little bit stubborn about learning. I blog, and learning this different style of computer language will ultimately be beneficial. Technophilia here I come!

Classical Literature. Original Gangster

Recently there has been a push on YouTube to have more educational videos. However, not all of the videos are written to sound serious. One example of this is Thug Notes. The creator takes a canonical text each week and breaks it down Spark Notes style but with a twist. They even include an analysis that any college professor could look at and agree with.

So while this may not be spoken in the most eloquent of ways, I think it’s important to hear what he says and not just how he says it. As already blogged about, when on the internet we speak in a different way. So Sparky Sweets p.h.D gives the break down you might be put off at first, but he makes some great points. The videos actually give a good view of how to do an analysis as he usually has a direct quote and gives a page number. I think it’s a great way of changing how we view literature. It doesn’t always have to be static and bland to talk about. You can swear if it calls for it and when he speaks it sounds like a conversation.

So my question is, why are we so concerned about alleged uneducated people commenting on educational platforms, if this is a prime example of how talking casually can create some great analysis? I think we should invite everyone into the conversation because you have no idea what anyone has to say and it could be just a profound as a scholar.

Spritz

Yesterday, I stumbled upon a very interesting new platform for digital reading. It is called “Spritz,” and the creators firmly believe that it is going to revolutionize the way people read. While I’m not sure that I totally agree, it is definitely a very intriguing idea. The basic concept behind Spritz is that the part of reading that is the most time consuming is physically moving your eyes from word to word. The people at Spritz have come up with a very simple solution to this.

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This is what “Spritzing” looks like (click on the images to bring up a GIF). A string of text is put on your screen, one word at a time, and each word replacing the last. The rate at which you read is adjustable, ranging from 250 words per minute to 1000 words per minute.

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Spritz is marketing their product to phone and tablet manufacturers, e-book companies and others. They say that their service is useable for email, text messaging, digital books, and closed captioning. They are also hoping to market their product to social media providers like Facebook and Twitter.

The most relevant application of this technology to our class is of course using Spritz for digital books. When reading at 500 words per minute becomes a relatively easy task, how much more could people read with the time that they have? To put this in perspective, at 500 words per minute, one could read Les Miserables (1,488 pages) in around 18 hours.

The makers of Spritz intend to make Spritz useable on phones, tablets, e-book readers, and smart watches. Some preliminary evidence also shows that Spritz may be beneficial to readers with dyslexia.

While there are some definite issues with this system of reading (blinking is the main one that comes to mind), it is no doubt a very interesting and promising platform that may eventually become commonplace.

The link to Spritz’s website is below. Try it out in the “about Spritz” section if you are interested.

http://www.spritzinc.com/

HighBrowse

I thought I’d share one of my more recent discoveries on the internet, but I must warn you, before you continue just know that the page I’m uploading is a huge time-suck. What it is is an internet catalogue of “free published writing from around the web-” to use their own words from the “about us” section. While this concept of collecting information from a heterogenous field of subjects and publishing them periodically and frequently in one place isn’t a new one-i’m looking at you, encylcopedias and periodicals-my usage of them is relatively new, and my fondness, or attention, rather, has spiked greatly since beginning this class.

I’d say that my first encounter with something similar was a year ago or so, and it was when I first picked up a copy of Lapham’s Quarterly magazine. The gist of the magazine is that each issue, and there are only four a year, obviously, is centered around a certain theme, say, laughter, death, art etc. and the founder, Louis Lapham includes a little editors note/introduction or creative piece on the topic, and then the rest of the magazine is a collection of articles and essays and interviews-you name it-from across time and place all selected to highlight the theme of that publication. At first I was skeptical, and to be honest I’m not really sure why. It had something to do with the fact that, oh I don’t know, maybe it was that I felt like this magazine was creating an existence and name for itself by re-printing other peoples work. But once I got over that concept, and accepted it for what it is, which is a collection, an encyclopedia, most of all a map, I was OK with the idea and ultimately the magazine. Actually now I think it’s a great idea, and this digital version I discovered is very similar.

It gathers all the articles and reviews from magazines such as the New York Times Book Review, Z magazine, the LA Times Book Review, and organizes these articles, as published in the physical version, weekly or biweekly, for the most mart, and digitizes them, then allows you to sort through based on genre and reading length in minutes. Pretty cool. I’m a huge fan of this concept of making reading more convenient, and I think projects like these are aware of their environment and audience and do good things for the reader and the world of literature itself-print and digital. Any way, enjoy. Like I said, beware. It’s dangerously addictive.

http://highbrow.se/ Check it out!

Once Upon a Story

I have recently been watching a YouTube adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma. This series modernizes the novel and tells the story through a series of 5 minute YouTube videos. The series focuses on, Emma Woodhouse, a modern day matchmaker. Emma is driven and exudes self-confidence. She truly is the modern day example of the heroine that Jane Austen wrote of almost two centuries ago.

The series is entitled Emma Approved and is the second adaptation of a Jane Austen novel from the same team. The first adaptation was the Lizzie Bennet Diaries and was a surprising success. The videos, which featured Lizzie Bennet talking to a camera in her bedroom, told the story of Pride and Prejudice in an entirely new way. Lizzie, like Emma, is a heroine that Austen would be proud of.

 

I couldn’t help but think about while watching these videos that they are resurrecting story telling in a way that is well received in the digital age. Short YouTube videos uploaded twice a week allow for Jane Austen’s stories to reach a wider audience than she ever imagined. The videos are successful because they tell stories that are universally recognized and loved. The stories focus on character development while driving the plot forward in a way that allows the audience to become invested in the lives of these fictional characters. I believe that these videos are paving the way for a storytelling revolution. This revolution would see more and more adaptations of classic novels in a way that are increasingly accessible. The audience that the videos reach has not necessarily read the novel that is being adapted but might be interested in reading it after watching the videos. In this way, these videos encourage and promote reading as well as storytelling. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved have set the tone for a form of storytelling that will only continue to grow.

Digital Reading

Last week we discussed different methods and media that we use for reading texts, their merits and demerits, and the impact of some examples on our work. Of course, the central rivalry was between printed texts and digital ones–the book versus the computer. This dichotomy, however, comes dangerously close to assuming that for any given work, it is necessary to choose one or the other. You’re either a purist and you check out a printed and bound copy of a book, or you’re a hipster who will pick up reading on your iPhone in the exact place you left off on your iPad Mini Mega Micro Max. But I often find myself asking (in my head) those caught in this debate a question first posed by a little girl whose family was arguing about tacos:

¿Por que no los dos?
¿Por que no los dos?

My primary medium of reading is, to me, as close to a marriage of digital and print as I can get. I do most of my reading (of books) on my iPad through iBooks or the Kindle application. While this technology offers options wholly impossible with paper copies, I find that I try to keep my reading experience as “authentic” as possible. Both applications offer the reader the ability to choose the color of the “paper,” the size and font of the text, the color of highlighting, and where sticky notes will appear.

Personally, I like to set it at “Sepia,” a contrast setting reminiscent of old library book pages, with a standard font in a relatively small size. There’s even a page turning animation with a surprisingly responsive and accurate physics engine. In this, it seems that my aim–and to an extent, the aim of the developers as well–is to make my digital copy of a text mimic a printed copy as closely as I can, thus taking the focus off of the medium itself and returning it to the text. I adjust the medium to be the least noticeable aspect of the text, allowing me to engage directly with the words on the page.

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Yet, the amazing tools that are inherent in digital texts are still literally at my fingertips; they are simply waiting in the background. If there is a word or cultural allusion I don’t understand, I can look it up without ever leaving the text and see its meaning right on the page. I can then make a note that is directly connected to its physical location on the page without ever losing my place. These features, I feel, allow the reader to become not only more deeply involved with a text, but more continuously so, as the need to constantly scan for a word or sentence or reread to pinpoint where you left off is virtually eliminated.

In this, the possibilities I find in applying the digital amenities to a close replica of a “genuine” printed text are innumerable. To me, this combination not only expands the ways in which it is possible to read, but increases the potential to engage with and understand the text to levels I would never have imagined previously.

(Digital) Literacy

This past summer I spent a bit of time volunteering for an organization called Literacy Volunteers of Greater Syracuse. When I came in the office for an interview, the woman running the program was ecstatic that she had an inexperienced, untrained 20-year-old come in to help teach illiterate adults who need to learn to read to find a job. Why?

Because I’m young and, therefore, “naturally understand the internet.”

Being a member of this generation put me in a position of privilege I didn’t know I had and had never really appreciated before. I was placed in a program geared toward digital literacy that works one-on-one with clients in a computer lab. The program is very much tailored to the client’s needs, ability, and interest. What I mean here is that it can range from setting up a facebook account to write to their grandchildren to how to move a mouse and turn a computer on and off.

The client I worked the most with was a 60-year-old man from the city of Syracuse. He told me that he never did well in school (from my short time with him I’d guess he had dyslexia or another type of mild learning disability) and had to drop out after 3rd grade. It wasn’t a problem ~50 years ago though, and he had an easy time finding a job working in an airplane part factory. He said that he never had any incentive to learn how to read, because he knew how to do his job well, and could learn by watching other people. Then, this year, when he was only a few years about from retirement, his company shut down and he was left without a job in a market that was vastly different from the one he knew.

My client vowed he would take 2 years off to learn how to read and get his GED so he could find something else to do for the last few years before retirement. However, he quickly realized that wasn’t going to be enough. Most job applications are online now, and employers want to communicate via email. What’s the point of learning how to read/write in this day and age if you can’t Google search or type? A lot of resources LVGS uses to help people are websites such as USA Learns, which use games, quizzes, videos, etc to supplement their tutoring, and make it more interesting. None of this is accessible to someone who has low literacy AND low digital literacy, and what I found is these often go hand-in-hand. And this just reinforces the idea for me that nowadays reading/writing are inextricably linked to our screens and keyboards.

I guess technology and literacy have always been intertwined. How much good would it have done you 20 years ago to know your numbers if you couldn’t dial a telephone? But in this particular moment it seems especially crucial to be literate not just in a “knowing how to read” sense, but in a “knowing how to read in different contexts” sense. I’ve been thinking this in class as we wade through learning about XML, blogging, online texts, etc. I mean, why isn’t that sort of knowledge part of a well-rounded education, whether at the primary or secondary level? As important as it was for my client to learn how to email hand in hand with learning how to write, it seems important for English majors to learn how to access digital texts while learning how to read critically.

So, my time tutoring was very eye-opening as to the idea of the internet/digital world as a collaborative space. This space is becoming as important to access as a pencil and paper were in the past, for many reasons. I see this future of English classes as emphasizing what is done online, and becoming intertwined with what my high school called “computer class,” because really, what can one be without the other?

Does anyone have any thoughts? 🙂

You Can Be a Cyborg without Being a Techhole

Techholes

I stumbled across an interesting article posted this morning called Don’t be a techhole: A common sense guide to tech courtesy. In this piece, the author highlights a few capital offensives for users of technology that to me, seem like common sense. For example, he advises people to avoid using their iPads as cameras, especially in public settings like concerts where they might block others’ views; he also suggests not using your speakerphone in public (no one wants to hear your conversation amplified), not holding a “hands-free” device while driving, being mindful of the noises your smartphone/computer is making, etc. The author was compelled to write this article – coining technology offenders as “techholes” – after hearing about Google’s recent list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for consumers experimenting with the new Google Glass technology. Apparently, some users of the futuristic devices are being real “glassholes,” causing Google to put its foot down and define what appropriate (and inappropriate) behavior looks like.

Glassholes

If you’re unfamiliar with Google Glass, it’s a wearable computer currently being developed by Google X, the same company pioneering research on self-driving cars and glucose-monitoring contact lenses.

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Google Glass

Glass, which has many similar features as the everyday smartphone, allows users to connect with the Internet using voice commands and to see the results in front of them, hands-free. Considering the extent to which this new technology allows us to become more cyborg-like than ever, I suppose it makes sense that some would need an etiquette guide explaining how to appropriately use this new technology in a variety of situations. For instance, Google recommends users do explore the world around them, take advantage of different Glass features, and become a part of the digital community. However, they suggest to avoid being a glasshole by doing the following: don’t “Glass-out,” don’t “Rock Glass while doing high-impact sports,” don’t “Wear it and expect to be ignored,” and my personal favorite, don’t “Be creepy or rude.”

OD-AW929_TECHET_OZ_20130502165555Still, some people have already experienced issues assimilating this new device in everyday situations, like this guy, who wore his Glass into a movie theater and spent 3 hours being interrogated by FBI officials, accusing him of piracy. Come on now.

All of this comes down to a question of etiquette. Many of the points made by the techholes article and the Glass guide might seem like common sense to those of us who use technology considerately, especially while in public. Nevertheless, this article got me thinking about our discussion of how technology doesn’t become integrated into society without consequence, but that technology is created that then changes who we are as people. With that in mind, maybe it isn’t such a bad idea to consider the idea of explicit etiquette guides for our changing times. If we aren’t mindful of this, maybe manners will fall to the wayside, especially for people who are less inclined to be considerate in the first place.

21st Century Etiquette

IMG_4510 We’ve all had our fair share of laughs at some pretty ridiculous signs promoting etiquette. For example, and I wish I were making this up, I came across this sign in a bathroom stall in Welles. I naturally took a picture of it and sent it to some friends with the text, “Thank God for this. I’ve been wondering what to do with my toilet tissue for years.” I don’t want to know what some ladies were doing that made it necessary to add this lovely decoration to the stall doors, but it happened, and it means that somebody’s manners were lacking. I suppose if people exist who can’t figure out what to do with their toilet paper, maybe they need some help with more advanced 21st century skills, too.

Consider these images I found doing a simple search:

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Small print: “It’s a beautiful world all around you, be a part of it…”

FACEBOOK-STATUS-UPDATE-WARNING-SIGN

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Even Milne Library has signs upstairs warning students that they’re entering a cellphone-free-zone, and every movie you’ve attended in the last 5-10 years likely had some kind of public service announcement warning viewers to turn off their devices. Wikipedia has its own page entitled Etiquette in Technology, and multiple authors have written books on 21st century manners. This one by Emily Post, called Manners for a New World, even includes chapters devoted to technology use, addressing such critical, burning questions as, “When is it okay to unfriend someone on Facebook?”

Draw your own conclusions about what all of this means for our society. Part of me wants to laugh at the fact that we even need to be told what’s socially appropriate, but then I stop laughing when I remember classmates who do nothing but text throughout class, or girls taking weird selfies in public bathrooms. Are we hurting for some Digital Etiquette, 101? What do you think?