Month: April 2014

Hot Spots

In my group, the Networkers, we are working with Professo Doggett on producing a website for his Alumni trip to Ireland this summer. When meeting with Professor Doggett, he was explaining to us how he wanted the people on his trip to be able to be standing in a particular place, for example, in front of the General Post Office in Dublin, and be able to pull up information on their smart phones or tablets about the history of that site, access to writings and poems about that site, old photos and documents pertaining to the site.

We agreed that it would be very beneficial for the people on his trip to have that information so readily available to them in that way while they explored Ireland. However, the problem Professor Doggett is facing is that in order to avoid astronomical phone bills, the people on his trip would have to have access to wireless internet in order to get that information, and wireless internet is not always available. When I was in Europe last summer on a study abroad trip the only time I had access to FREE wireless was when I was in my hotel, and even then it was unpredictable.

However, there are actually devices that you can buy, anywhere from $25 to upwards of $100 that allow you to access a wireless hotspot. It begs the question of how far will people go to make sure they are always “online.” I saw an article that talked about the weirdest places wifi hot spots are found on Earth that include Mount Everest, outer space, the North Pole, beaches, phone booths, and even cemeteries, among other places:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/travel/destinations/northamerica/canada/10795532/The-worlds-weirdest-Wi-Fi-hotspots.html

The cemetery one really threw me, but the article cited that people liked having a hot spot there to be able to research geneaology. And then it kind of made sense. We live in a world where people are constantly “googling” the answers to the most basic questions. I have not been able to watch a movie since getting a smart phone without at some point before, during, or after the movie looking through imdb on my phone to look at information on the cast and interesting facts about the film. We are living in a time where people like and expect to have access to information at the drop of a hat, or rather the click of a button, and these wifi hot spots are incredibly useful for that.

I’ll admit that for the first week I was abroad last summer I was completely lost without my 24/7 access to imessage, facebook, instagram, and email. I even cried one night when the hotel free wireless had been down for a few days and I was feeling very disconnected from home. Technology has become a tool that is hard for us to live without, and I don’t necessarily think that’s such a bad thing. While there are many arguments that we are TOO attached to our devices, I think there are also ways that these devices are improving our lives. Professor Doggett’s idea is a brilliant one that could change the way we look at study abroad, and I think in the near future it will be an idea that many have the resources to pull off, making learning in a foreign place much more efficient.

 

Neil Gaiman: The Author Who Improved Piracy

I wrote before that consumers obtaining free copies of media online can help the success of copyrighted works, so couldn’t this be taken advantage of by an author? Absoluetly.  That’s exactly what writer Neil Gaiman has done with some of his own material, and it paid off.

"Literally!  Like, I made money!"
“Literally! Like, I made money!”
"If you can't beat them, join them."
“If you can’t beat them, join them.”

Gaiman has written a lot of stuff, and you’ve likely heard about his work before, even if his name isn’t ringing a bell.  Gaiman’s written novels, children’s books, young adult fiction, short stories, TV episodes, movie screenplays, comic books, and a video game (just to cover a few things).  And so much of that has been pirated in one way or another.

Gaiman’s been dealing with piracy for many years now, and he’s developed a philosophy that helps him deal with his life as a pirated author, and work to make things better for everyone.  By reviewing data on book sales, Gaiman understood that the piracy may not be as bad as he feared. In the end, Gaiman chose to improve piracy rather than fight it.

Gaiman’s story began when he found encountered a horror that would disturb any author: His work being posted freely on the internet… without his permission!  Despite being an author, didn’t fully understand copyright laws at first.  He was afraid he would lose his copyright.  Overall, he felt that his readers had made him a victim of piracy .

“I’ve been betrayed. I need to be alone…”

But he soon realized that his works were being translated into other languages, and that his books began selling much more in countries where English isn’t the most popular language.  This gave Gaiman a new view of piracy.  To him, piracy is similar to lending material to friends.  Piracy, like lending books, raises awareness of an author.

""Go ahead.  Help yourself."
“Go ahead. Help yourself.”

Gaiman convinced his publisher to release his popular book American Gods online for free for a month.  As Gaiman suspected, he didn’t lose book sales by sharing his own book for free, but gained them.  By taking the time to understand why his readers were pirating his work, Gaiman used that to develop a better business strategy with his publisher.  He now sees piracy in a new way…

“You can’t look on that as a lost sale.  It’s not a lost sale. Nobody who would have bought your book is not buying it because they can find it for free.”

Hear Gaiman’s story from the man himself:

"Deal with it."
“Deal with it.”

I think Gaiman’s story shows us something very important:  The problem with piracy is not necessarily that people are sharing works or that sales are being lost.  The problem is that the author wants to be the one to deliver their work to their audience and meet their audience’s needs.  While many copyright holders respond to piracy by trying to stop the illegal sharing, others try to improve the sharing process by making it legal by making the authors the ones who share some work for free.

Phones in Church?

A quick disclaimer to this post, though it consists of religion as the topic. I am solely focusing on the relationship between this and technology and by no means am pushing any personal viewpoints.

As we know Easter Sunday was a tad over a week ago and the most popular thing to do when celebrating this holiday is to go to Easter Mass. Being the most important church service of the year, besides Christmas, many expectations are paired with this holy day. People are expected to don their bright spring colors and flowing fabrics, have a happy persona and exciting tone, all while having their phone in their palm….“WAIT, WHAT?”

Typically churches prohibit the use of technological devices. Many churchgoers might want to pay attention or this might happen to you…

Phones in Church?

This Easter my attention was veered off towards my left to a swiping hand.  At first I thought “WOW how rude can you be? Getting your Pinterest on while standing and listening to your priest speak? Seriously?” It was a couple seconds later that I realized that the consistent glow of the phone and the swiping of her finger meant she was reading the bible on her
I-phone!!!!

I’m not exactly sure how I feel about this concept. Technology is suppose to be helpful and save time. Reaching for a bible from the back of a pew probably takes just as much time as reaching for your I-phone and opening up the app. Don’t get me wrong, I was really excited to see something nearby that could so easily relate to our discussions in class. Whether I support this however…I would have to say no.

Having a bible app is a fantastic idea for on-the-go prayers throughout the day but standing in mass on Easter Sunday surrounded by bibles and eager neighbors willing to share a page makes this decision hard to support. We don’t have to turn to technology for EVERYTHING. This is one tradition that I believe should stay untouched based on general decency. This is a place of peace for many individuals and a place to escape the hectic world on the exterior of these angled walls. Church should remain free of electronic devices and anything else that might be a distraction.

It happens to everyone
I have however, ran across an aspect of technology connecting itself to religion by translating the bible into video clips for young students to understand. The bible is a very complex read for young individuals and seeing that most people lean on visuals to help with comprehension, this becomes a very suitable device to help students learn. I even found myself being drawn to the clips!!!

Children can witness the events within the bible by watching actions play out.
Children can witness the events within the bible by watching actions play out.
Children can get to know each character more closely and have a visual to go upon rather than just text.
Children can get to know each character more closely and have a visual to go upon rather than just text.

Not only this, but the Superbook Online Kids Bible Website comes in tact with Q and A’s, profiles and text paired with images. All of these additions are visually enticing and encourage students to get excited about embracing their religion.

Superbook Online Kids Bible

Technology is great for assisting in comprehension on aspects that may be too abstract or difficult for young children to understand at their age. Also considering the popularity of video games, taking this tactic and using this as a connection to study is a clever idea!

Instead of being a couch potato in front of the TV, now-a-days students can use their gaming skills and study at the same time!
Instead of being a couch potato in front of the TV, now-a-days children can use their gaming skills and study at the same time!

Next time you decide to visit your local church, think again before grabbing your phone and embrace the holy pages of tradition instead. Then as you leave take out your phone, jump on the superbook website and read up on what it all meant 😀 Or who are we kidding? I know how eager you all are to catch the video instead! 😀

3-D Printers in this Crazy 3-D World

Maybe it’s just me, but did anyone else on this campus know that Geneseo has its own awesome, amazing, fabulous 3-D printer? If so, I promise this blog post will still be a great read! For everyone else whose jaws also just hit the floor let me tell you I had a very similar reaction.

Here are some quick, fun facts I found out today.

Go Us!
                                          Go Us!
  • The 3-D printer is located at the CIT HelpDesk in South Hall.
  • One can send over a digital file or bring in an actual object to print.
  • There are really cool looking lasers that come out of one part of the printer.
  • It can only print in one color at a time.
  • Replicating a tiny figurine could take up to 3 to 5 hours.
  • Right now no one really seems to know what to do with it….

I was sitting near the English Department Office when I first received the text from a friend saying, “Wanna check out the 3-D printer with me?” Before I could even reply my friend then texted, “What do you think I should print??” My first thought was an iPhone (don’t ask me why I’m not sure either). Of course, that doesn’t make a lot of sense, but I honestly had no clue what else anyone would want to print.

When I first got there, the printer was in full on replicating mode. With what looked like a

so cute
so cute

tiny needle, this machine was crafting miniature model of Egbert from World of Warcraft. I bent down to gaze between what was being, “printed” and the original model and just was astounded. The printer was able to include all of the little details the original had without (from what I could tell) any flaws.

This got me wondering about 3-D printers in general. We’ve all heard about them before, but what do we really know about them? Not even a month ago CNN had a great article about the idea of printing real human organs. Right now, these “organs” are only being used to test vaccines and for research purposes. But many scientists are hoping that one day it can solve the problem of people waiting for a transplant. Wouldn’t it be nice to just hop on down to your nearest hospital, and print yourself a new kidney or liver?

But this brings about the many ethnical concerns people have. Pete Basiliere, a Gartner Research Director, says that, “What happens when complex ‘enhanced’ organs involving nonhuman cells are made? Who will control the ability to produce them? Who will ensure the quality of the resulting organs?” That honestly brings up questions that I’m not sure many people are willing, or even want to, answer today.

Then, as I was doing more research about these fancy 3-D printers, I came across this headline, “Giant Chinese 3D printer builds 10 houses in just 1 day.” Watch the video in the article because it is both super cool, but also super creepy. The inventer of the printers, Ma Yihe, says that, “…with the 3D printing, we recycle mine tailings into usable materials. And we can print buildings with any digital design our customers bring us. It’s fast and cheap.” Then,Using this technology means that construction workers can be saved from exposure to hazardous or

dream home?
                               dream home?

dusty working environments.” I also wondered if this would mean fewer jobs for construction workers? I’m not sure. And, can the market even keep up with this? Again, I really don’t know. Yet, imagine having this technology available so easily. No more camping out in a relative’s pad when waiting for your new house to be built. It’s literally snapping your fingers and getting your dream home.

When I called my dad afterwards to gush about Geneseo being so up to date with current technology, he asked if I was able to get my lunch from the printer. Confused, he immediately sent me over this article. Another goal people have is that one day 3-D printers will be able to make us food (or at least help us prepare our food). Again, the pros and cons jump out at me. This could help end hunger around the world! But at the same time is this “food” even healthy? Is it nutritious? I wish I had the answer.

Alas, our handy new 3-D printer cannot give us a new organ, build us a house, or even make us a quick bite when we’re too lazy to go to the dining hall. But the possibilities of 3-D printing seem to be endless, and I cannot wait to see in the next few years where it takes us.

In case you never have the chance to see the Eiffel Tower you can always make your own!
In case you never have the chance to see the Eiffel Tower you can always make your own!

Has Advertising Gone Too Far?

Everywhere we go something or someone is trying to sell us something. Whether it is a product or an idea, we cannot avoid constantly being sold something. It makes me wonder if it’s too much. I can’t watch a 30-minute program on tv without watching at least 10 minutes of commercials. When I’m browsing the Internet, ads are all over the place—on the sides of the page, on the tops and bottoms, and even as popups. Even Super Bowl ads have become a sensation to the point where some people will watch the game just for the ads. With all these advertisements, I think we’ve become distracted from useful information that we might be trying to access. Ads will use various elements to attract attention—colors, flashy titles, or interesting pictures. While I do understand that ads are used to bring revenue, I feel that the excessive use is generally nonconstructive and hinders productivity.

qqXAiFe

I use Chrome as my main browser and have Adblock installed, which is an extension that basically blocks all the ads on any website and allows me to focus on the actual content of the site.

Google Glass: When Technology Crosses the Line

Many of us have heard of Google Glass, Google’s new innovative wearable computer that features a touchpad, camera, voice activation, and LED display, all condensed into a sleek pair of glasses. At first glance, the fascinating gadget appears to have many personal and professional benefits. It’s something that everyone wants to try–futuristic-looking and sleek, the hands-free device is efficient and quicker than a computer or cell phone. It is now possible to take a picture by simply saying a few words and get exact directions that follow the direction of your head. However, the popularity of Google Glass is quickly diminishing regardless of the fact that the device is still in its beta form. It has received an endless amount of negative backlash from society and the media, with various parodies and tweets poking fun at what is already being seen as one of Google’s biggest failures. As a CNET.com article harshly puts it, “Google Glass is suffering currently from an image that’s about as embraceable as that of a fallen, drug-addled teen idol.”

The primary gaping flaw with the technology is that the device raises various privacy concerns. The fact that a Google Glass wearer can take photos and videos virtually anywhere is slightly disturbing, creating controversy regarding security and privacy rights. There is even an app called Winky, in which a Glass user can take a picture with a wink of the eye! In addition, Google Glass’s recording tool can be used to secretly record other’s conversations without their knowing. Just when you thought it couldn’t get any creepier, Google Glass’s facial recognition app enables users to recognize strangers in public. Such privacy concerns have led to the ban of Google Glass in certain facilities around the world.

 

Google Glass Parody

Personally, I believe that Google has taken it too far with this one. A future with Google Glass taking the place of cell phones and computers is not plausible–we already have enough social barriers present in today’s society. A dystopian future in which the phrase of “eyes glued to a computer screen” is taken to a whole different level comes to mind. The idea of a wearable computer appears to be innovative and futuristic at first, but the cons greatly outweigh the pros. Society, as well as myself, has deemed it as a wholly unnecessary device. Perhaps wearable technology can be made more accessible and  a different, plausible in a less obvious form, such as a watch.  The “goggles” aspect of Google Glass might be something that seems cool at first, but when you really think about it, would you really want to be that creepy person walking around with what looks like spy glasses on his/her head? Didn’t think so. Nobody wants to be a glasshole.

Plot Spoilers: Why is “Downton Abbey” different from “Northanger Abbey?

from xkcd

English majors aren’t supposed to talk about plot. If we do, it’s to classify it or to discuss how it works as a device to achieve some other desired effect. This incilination is, in part, because we’ve been told that ‘good’ English majors pay attention to both form and content. We all know from our introductory coursework that a good paper addresses not only about ‘what’ happens in a book, but ‘how’ the book uses that ‘what’ to function as a work of art. We also know, of course, that the form and content are inextricably linked; how the plot unfolds is a function of what happens, and vice-versa. It’s tough to call plot either solely form or solely content, and one cannot exist without the other.

But there is a pervasive sense, even among otherwise disciplined English majors, that plot is a mere medium used to convey more lofty ideas–it is a neglectable, if necessary, evil. Plot, it seems, ranks lower than literature’s other formal apsects. It is this sort of hierarchy that fuels intradisciplinary prejudice against genre fiction, which, as opposed to “literary” fiction, is pejoratively called “plot-driven” (a distinction that novelist Colson Whitehead snubs with his relatively recent zombie novel Zone One). The idea is that popular authors appropriate, reuse, and recycle existing narrative frameworks without adding anything new of artistic value. More radically, plot is considered an ideological force used to control mass-market consumers who, unlike us enlightened English majors, don’t know any better.

Whether or not it is because of some false distinction between “higher” and “lower” forms of art, I find it difficult to read for pleasure anymore. After all, reading is what I do for work now. I instead find myself turning to TV shows for a break–as though they aren’t texts, and I could somehow watch them without evaluating imagery or characterization or scene sequence (Hint: they are, and I can’t).

Approaching my leisure-watching from this academic perspective, I also could not care less about spoilers. Maybe it’s because I’ve been exposed to a ton of texts that make a joke of chronology and stopped caring about watching anything unfold in order: I’m unabashedly, for instance, watching the most recent fourth season of Game of Thrones at the same time that I’m catching up from half-way through the second season. Or maybe it’s because I’ve been behind on the reading for an English class before in my academic career (Oops, was I supposed to keep that quiet? Oh well…the cat’s out of the bag now), and I have come to terms with the fact that class discussion is going to happen whether I am caught up or not.

In any case, I agree with Madeleine Davies of Jezebel when she argues that people need to “Calm the F**k Down about Spoilers”; responding to those who comment complaining about a lack of “SPOILER ALERT” warnings on internet articles dealing with popular culture, Davies portrays the “grief” of “learn[ing] a pivotal plot point before [they’re] ready” as “inevitable,” and therefore ridiculous to complain about. She acknowledges the effects that technology has had on media consumed for leisure and its reception, both the good and the bad: “everyone watches TV online these days,” she says, “so who are we to expect you [whiners] to adhere to a certain schedule?” The cost of this freedom of choice is that one is more likely to come across recaps, responses, and exclamations by excited viewers; Davies recommends “avoid[ing] the internet entirely for a few days” if you don’t want the plot of your favorite show spoiled (not that avoiding the internet would be any protection from my friend’s boyfriend, who, much to the chagrin of our friend group, Googles and resolves a GoT cliff-hanger while we’re still all sitting on the couch).

However spoilers are fated to surface, Davies suggests that “not being caught up on TV is your problem” and–like my own occasional need to catch up on reading–“not anyone else’s.” Her point is that “spoilers don’t have to ruin a TV show for you (and if they do, you probably weren’t appreciating that TV show to begin with)”–a conclusion which surely buys into that idea that there’s ‘more to’ a ‘good’ show/book/whatever than plot. Or perhaps, by contrast, it irons over the distinctions others have made between genre fiction, adaptations of genre fiction, and other more “literary” texts. Not that I expect to see angry spoiler comments on The Reader’s Thoreau any time soon.

What about you?  Do you get upset when your Facebook friends ruin Game of Thrones (a show, by the way, that is an adapatation of a series of genre fiction books) because you were too busy to watch it Sunday night? Is there a reason that most of us don’t complain to our professors about ruining the ending of Northanger Abbey, but still post with idignation when someone on the internet ruins this week’s episode of Downton Abbey? Say so in the comments.

Day 8… Explainer Loneliness is Creeping…

Let me offer some insight into the 2014 explainer contest:

empty-city-street-painted-double-ye

Eight days into the explainer contest, we are desperate for submissions. Just a reminder, the explainer contest is open to anyone in the English major, minor, or concentration. Simply make a small graphic or short video explaining anything English related and send it to explainercontest@gmail.com. There is a $100 prize for the winner, which could very well be you. To be clear: explain a thing, email it to us, win $100.

Defying the Narrator

I was playing a game over the weekend with my friend called the Stanley Parable, and while playing it I discovered an interesting style of storytelling that I had’t encountered very often. The style was a very potent form of narrative dissent, or the character and reader defying the story that the narrator has laid out for the two to follow. The game has multiple endings, depending on the choices you make, and at every turn the narrator has something to say about those decisions.

The most obvious thing that makes this game different from others out there is the complete lack of action. You are an employee in a mysterious corporation who discovers that he is the only person in his entire office left in the building, and after he leaves his desk discovers different reasons for their disappearance, depending on where the player decides to travel within the building. The game is entirely about choice, and when you disobey the narrator, he insults you, and gets very emotional that you’ve ruined his story. Of course you are free to do everything that he tells you to do, but in the end it is entirely your choice. You can even stand in a broom closet if you so choose (I recommend it, it leads to some pretty funny dialogue).

This game demonstrates how video games can offer a different kind of storytelling through player choice. This kind of interaction between the medium and the viewer is only possible through an interactive medium such as video games, and offers a perspective on choice that most books and movies don’t or can’t offer. To be able to decide how you want the story to proceed, regardless of what the narrator tells you to do, and create your own path further validate video games as their own legitimate and creative form of storytelling medium.

Text to Speech Technology

Last semester when I was student teaching at my special education placement I was really amazed at the use of technology to bridge the language gap with students with special needs. For two periods of the day my cooperating teacher and I worked with three students with varying disabilities on math and literacy. One student in particular was nonverbal as a sixth grader so communicating with him was obviously very difficult. In his IEP (individualized education program) he was given technological services to help him communicate with teachers, peers, and all adults. He was given a personal iPod in which he used text to speech software. This was a huge help for all related parties since he would often get very frustrated when he wasn’t having his needs met. For example, he had been suffering from an ear infection for weeks and it wasn’t until he was able to use his iPod to communicate that he finally got help for the infection. Much of the classroom instruction was adapted to accommodate his specific needs and to incorporate the use of his iPod. He was given word cues so that he knew when he was expected to use his iPod. For example when he was expected to read something out loud he would be asked to “insert into his iPod”. If he was expected to read a line from a text he would be prompted with “read’.

What the software looked on his iPod.
What the software looked on his iPod.

 

A big achievement for him while I was there was individually writing sentences in his iPod to express his wishes. Since no one knew how to understand when he wanted a drink or to go to the bathroom, a big achievement was when he was able to write those sentences into his iPod. The assistive technology really helped to reduce his frustration levels while also educating him. To reduce the amount of distractions, his parents would simply put parental controls on the iPod so that he couldn’t go on other applications on the device and could focus on using the text to speech software.

Since this technology worked so well with this particular student the teachers and administration began to incorporate more text to speech software for the other students in the classroom. Another student had difficulties articulating his words and was often difficult to understand. The speech pathologist began to work with this student on using a different type of software that was based on associating pictures with words. He used a machine called a Dynavox. Overall both of these technologies were really beneficial to the students in communication and modifying the lessons to meet their needs.

One of the Dynavox products.
One of the Dynavox products.