Archive for February, 2010

YouTube Doubler

Sunday, February 7th, 2010
YouTube Doubler

Chris Anna, a student from the Digital Storytelling course, just posted about YouTube Doubler, which bills itself as a mashup helper. And it is immediately apparent to me how this could be a useful tool for seeing how two clips match up against one another while thinking through a video mashup. What’s more, I just used it to see how my cuts from a video I made based on a scene from Wes Anderson’s The Royal Tenenbaums match up against the original. By doing this, I immediately got some ideas about how much longer my cuts are, and how efficient the editing in the film by comparison. A very useful tool with several possibilities, I just was thinking why not have students film a favorite scene from a movie of their choice, and then compare their work to the original with this tool and talk about the differences, etc. I could see that being a very effective way for thinking through video editing, which is a series of important choices that one learns through both practice and example—and one needs to learn right away that cutting and editing have become synonymous for a reason—you must cut, cut, and then cut your shots again.

Digital Storytelling: Week 4

Sunday, February 7th, 2010

For Tuesday, 2/2, everyone read and responded to Tim O’Reilly’s seminal essay “What is Web 2.0?” (1995). I figured this would be a nice, concrete frame for much of what we were talking about more abstractly and technically thus far, and I was pleasantly surprised to see most of the responses to O’Reilly’s essay were some of the most thoughtful and engaged yet. I’ll talk about a few of the responses, but one which immediately but their reactions to Web 2.0 in a fascinating frame was Erin Longbottom’s post “Living in Web 2.0 and Beyond” wherein she notes:

The second thing I liked about this article, is not that it explained something I didn’t know, but it documented and legitimized something I already knew, I’d just never discussed it in those terms. The article gave me a title, Web 2.0, for something I simply didn’t know needed a title. While I remember a time before Wikipedia, I remember it only vaguely, simply because I wasn’t using the internet much until about 10 or 11, right about when Web 2.0 was coming to the forefront. That doesn’t mean however that a site like Youtube didn’t seem exciting and fresh to me. I just never really considered that there was ever a division of the web being user driven versus not user driven.

What is wild about this quote is that for the vast majority students in this course, as well as most of the students at UMW and beyond, Web 2.0 is simply the web they have inhabited since they’ve gotten online. There is no Web 1.0 for most of them, and rather than acting as the framing of a new phenomenon on the web, this simply itemized the web they’ve always known in some detail, long with some useful technical background. Our students can’t remember a web that wasn’t user-drive, how about that?

Building on that, Victoria Pacher’s post about Web 2.0 framed the emergence around the idea of community, and I particularly like the way she frames the pwoer of P2P technologies like bitTorrent as premised upon community.

An excellent point brought up by O’Reilly is the shift in P2P services. I don’t know much about P2P architecture, but it seems that in the heyday of services like Kazaa or WinMX, the infrastructure was heavily centralized and inefficient. With the advent of torrenting, as O’Reilly says, “every client is also a server.” This means that the success of a particular torrent is dependent upon not only how many users have it, but how many are willing to share. The more sharers (seeders), the faster you can get what you want. As a measure of good etiquette, each user is encouraged to turn around and share, fostering a sense of community (notice how it keeps coming back to that?).

And when you think about it, bitTorrent remains the single example in O’Reilly’s essay (Skype was not yet on the radar) of a new wave of P2P applications. And what’s remarkable about bitTorrent as a P2P as an architecture (rather than P2P as a meme) is that it is the only technology in that essay that remains criminalized because it is premised on sharing outside of the established venues created for us, like iTunes and the like. BitTorrent is premised upon circumventing the the idea of centralized services (whether Web 2.0 or not) and is premised on the increasingly politicized act of sharing. Which made a link fromthe list of Victoria’s drawbacks of Web 2.0 all the more interesting: “more primary options (especially mobile) mean a more divided internet (read about the Splinternet).” And I would tweak this about to suggest that more proprietary mobile gateway devices and TV-inspired web browsers are subverting open standards and designed and pushed as an antidote and solution to the “dangers of bitTorrent.” The “Splinternet” article she links to is fascinating, but ultimately leads the discussion to an “end of the open web” argument that is irreversible, but I would argue this is exactly where we can both realize and struggle with the emergence of the real “Web 3.0″: a move away from open standards, open platforms, and open access. Which I think reinforces her last drawback of Web 2.0: “If you’re on the internet, you’re on the internet // Continuing debates about Net Neutrality and corporate regulated access, shielded behind the euphemism of community.” What is happening with the iPad, iPhone, Web TV, etc. is a total bane for the corporate regulated web, how many of you fanboys and girls can bitTorrent from your mobile devices? Or even your Verizon’s Fios controlled internet? Fact is, the question of these emerging proprietary devices and the opponents of Net Neutrality are concomitant in their development, and ultimately are changing the logic of the web of the future for the worse. What’s more, is that we are having this argument at the level of the device, iPads are good or bad, rather than at the level of discourse—what exactly does the increasing move towards fragmented standards, closed applications in the service of more draconian copyright laws (read ACTA) mean for our visions of open access to the web more generally? This is a not a discussion about the possibilities of single device, but our current cultural and political climate which is currently eviscerating the idea of an open web.

And that is just two of the almost 30 remarkable posts about O’Relly’s essay that dominated the discussion of Tuesdays class.

On Thursday we looked at some examples of digital storytelling that students found online. I have to say that Brittany Killian’s example of digital storytelling was pretty amazing. If you haven’t seen this video titled “Stop Motion with Wolf and Pig” I strongly recommend it:

Students were also asked to start playing a bit with the craft of digital storytelling, and as an ice breaker, they were asked to create story in five images, much like the “Tell a Story in 5 Frames” group on flickr. I really like the restrictions fo this assignment, and it immediately brought us into the issues of visual iconography, and juxtapositions and choices as a kind of grammar of the visual. Here are a few examples:

I really enjoyed Paul Longerbeam’s first digital story:

Erik Bailey’s five frame story features the fall of Cookie Monster (never knew he free-based Cookie Dough)

I also love that Emily Roberts provided the epilogue to Cookie Monster’s fall:
Image of Cookie Monsters head on a stick

I also liked Olivia Newman’s story about Hunter S. Thompson receiving a bad review:


And then there are the examples people created not from found images, but those of their own making. Check out Caitlin Murphy’s “Death of a Sister”:






Or Damian Allen’s “The Contenders:”






And the list goes on and on, it has been a pretty eventful first four weeks, and these posts really help me put it together in my mind so that we can move forward with the digital storytelling. next week it is Bryan Alexander and Alan Levine talking about their Web 2.0 Storytelling essay (I am planning on capturing this for posterity), and we’ll be raiding the 50 Ways to Tell a Digital Story treasure trove as well for them to start their personal narratives in earnest.


Digital Storytelling: Week 3

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

The third week is where I hit a bit of a wall, riding high on Gardner’s discussion and feeding off the focused energy everyone had while setting up their domains, blogs, twitter accounts, etc. I asked them to read Douglas Engelbart’s “AUGMENTING HUMAN INTELLECT: A Conceptual Framework” as a means to start trying to bring together the power of the personal dynamic media and the early conceptions of the web as symbol, abstraction, and representation. The way Engelbart deals with language in this essay is truly amazing, but at the same time quite dense. Several students blogged how the essay was too technical to fully grasp, which in and of itself I don’t mind if they struggled with the ideas before class and posted about their questions and confusions. But where I think I struggled was in trying to communicate some sense of why we were reading this essay and what Engelbart was trying to conceptualize way back in 1962 with any kind of clarity  and relevance to our own experiment. A failed attempt at teaching Engelbart, I freely admit that, and I’ll have to take another approach to this essay the next time, but all was not lost because Samantha Whay’s post “Algorithms on the brain” about Engelbart blew me away. She’s a Computer Science student studying Artificial Intelligence, and her riff on computers and language was wonderful:

Computers are useful tools that allow us to model these subconscious algorithms of language processing and see just how valid our theories are. Computers don’t have dialects. They don’t have a register that changes depending on the social setting. Computers really don’t make mistakes in their algorithms unless someone else does first–there are no computer slips-of-the-tongue or mathematical errors…. I don’t feel that I’m knowledgeable enough just yet for me to say whether I agree or disagree with the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, but just by knowing its basics I feel that I mostly disagree with the idea that “the world view of a culture is limited by the structure of the language which that culture uses.”

This is pretty intense struggle with some of Eneglbart’s heady notions about language, culture, and the means through which computers could augment human intellect. More than that, it gets at the questions of structure and limitations for a given culture being framed and reinforced by language—something I actually agree with. And for me, the place of a visionary or poet is to reframe that language, or through an acute recognition of patterns, cultural shifts, and language articulate the possibility for extending those limits, and re-imagining the structure.  An poet, not matter what the discipline one is speaking through. But therein lies some really interesting and larger questions to be wrestled with in Engelbart, and now I have a clearer idea of this, and I think it may be something I need to think and write more about before I try and bring it back into the discussion.

The following class on Thursday we talked about themes and plugins. The first digital story they were to tell would be through the very design and experimentation they did with the look and feel of their site. And this process brought us back to some of the basics of web hosting. How the file structure works in their web host. What the public_html folder is, the directories that make up their WordPress blog, etc. They also were to experiment with using FTP, and despite the awesome tutorials Matthew Keaton did for the rest of the class on using FireFTP (he’s a tutorial ringer), the wireless connection at UMW seems to forbid FTP, making this fairly difficult for a number of students.

The other thing I asked them to do after playing with uploading files to their web host, was create a simple index.html file for the root of their domain. This may seem retro given they have a number of powerful open source CMS tools to choose from, but I can’t help but think some basic HTML and CSS skills might reinforce some simple code literacies and reinforce how a web server server handles a simple index.html file.. And what’s more is I gave them very little guidance, I asked them to use Google, and figure out how to write some basic HTML and CSS. I also suggested a good way to start playing with their blog space for anyone familiar with HTML and CSS would be to share any resources or sites they know about or use with the rest of the class. And, sure enough, other students took that suggestion to the bank and posted about the resources they use. It even led Captain Charlie Rocket to post this image, which is priceless:

Image of HTMl tatto

We also started checking out where people were with their blog design, and rather quickly Mr. Charlie Rocket had photoshopped a nice header image, and created a background I want for the bava:

Erin Longbottom graduated her Twitter avatar to a blog theme header, and I’m digging that. She also got us started on the Digital Storyteling examples early pointing us to an early prototype of the picture-a-day phenomenon that is such a popular form of storytelling on the web currently, and Jamie Livingston’s polaroid photo-a-day for almost twenty years, up and until his death is both fascinating and harrowing.

Finally, Sam Rodgers’s theme for his domain really provides an amazing example of just how much a few hacks and a little obsession can tell your readers about you—going a long way towards illustrating the idea behind blog theme as story. Sam happens to be a Lost fanatic, so he hacked his blog to represent his passion for Lost, and I have to say it’s a lot of fun. Moreover, he created a screencast tutorial of what he did and how.  Very cool, the digital stories emerge from a  community of conversation, need, and ideas. So much better than trying to explain story with a textbook.

And, as for plugins, students started playing with the basics, like Akismet, and posting about how they set it up, which is quite a usefulr esource since everyone in the class is expected to setup Akismet, or some other spam filter. I believe this very informal, learning premised form of narrating a process helps all closely consider our process as well share back something we’ve learned, a virtuous cycle that has been absolutely central to my own development in understanding the value of the online space. I mean what will happen when there’s nothing left to figure out for ourselves cause everyone has an iPad? Blogging the process of their experimentation is key to this class being successful, and thinking hard about what this space means is where the discussion and interaction will be key. I have to say I am really happy with their interaction on one another’s sites so far. They’ve all got a Google Reader account, and have subscribed to each others blogs, despite the course site acts like a reader. I figure Google Reader is much more efficient at reminding you what you have and have not read, and pushes the practice of maintaining a series of subscriptions to other blogs and sites as they move forward.

Digital Storytelling: Week 2

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Week two was dedicated to exploring and experimenting with the “Domain of One’s Own” Gardner Campbell had conceptually framed in week 1. They all bought a domain, and what I found interesting is a number of students bought .info domains because they were cheap (.89 cents), I kinda like that. A domain is a domain is a domain—a url to call home, and if it costs next to nothing all the better, and you never know they could be the start of a new trend in domain names. They also had to setup their web hosting account, and while I didn’t limit who they could host with, I wanted to provide a cheap, short-term option for hosting that I could potentially help with in the event of a meltdown.

So, I asked Zach Davis and Lucas Thurston of Cast Iron Coding fame if they would revive the idea behind the hosting-cooperative and get students setup on a standard, shared LAMP web server with CPanel on a monthly basis. Zach and Lucas came through for me, as they always do, and provided a short-term solution that wouldn’t cost students $100 or $130 up front for a year. Rather, 10 bucks a month for 3 or 4 months which is a bit more expensive that Bluehost, but it’s short term and if they go with this option (which most, but not all, did) they can decide what they want to do with their data at the end of class—it will actually be an issue we’ll spend the last week dealing with both technically and conceptually. I figure they have an array of options to consider: moving to a commodity web host full-time, take down their work all together, move it to UMW Blogs,, Blogger, Drupal, whatever—they need to think this through and make a decision, and it will be an excellent way to round out the course.

Week 2 was kinda fun for me, we talked through pointing their domains to the web hosting nameservers, creating subdomains, looking at the file manager in CPanel, what addon domains are, where their databases are, as well as PHPMyAdmin, but most importantly I showed them Fantastico. This made them getting up and going with their own WordPress blog rather easy (and we did go with WordPress at my suggestion for now, but already a few have installed and are playing with Drupal, Geeklog, etc.). I think I want them to have to install a CMS or forum software from scratch, and I might ask them to experiment with this over the next ten weeks–we’ll see. Cause while I like Fantastico well enough, it isn;t great for installing more complex applications like Drupal and Typo3, and I think the experience of installign a web app manually has some value in terms of learning how the pieces work.

I think I enjoyed these two classes so much because I personlly learned so much by playing with the CPanel and figuring out how to manage my own blog/data, and while I can;t guarantee that was the experience for them. It was apparent that many were having fun, and while it is at times confusing and frustrating, there is a sense of pride that goes with rolling your own that quickly becomes apparent. I have to find a way to bring in at least one new element/trick/tip for CPanel and their web hosting every week, to get the full effect of what it is they have control over—any ideas would be more than welcome?

What was also nice about week two is that a few students came out of the blog gate running. Matthew Keaton created a tutorial for the class about installing and tweaking themes for WordPress (a form of digital storytelling near and dear to my heart). And Mr. Charlie Rocket took the time to photoshop a compelling image of his online haunts, inspired by Gardner’s discussion of the nonlinearity of cyber presence.  I love the way he uses the cityscape to suggests varying levels (or heights?) of presence through a particular tool.

Image credit: Mr. Charlie Rocket

Digital Storytelling: Week 1

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

I’ve been meaning to write this post ( and the following three) incrementally over the past month, but time has been tough on me these last few weeks. I’m getting the blogging DTs being away from the bava for so long, but reading and interacting with the blogs the students in Digital Storytelling have set up and gone crazy with has provided a necessary shot of methadone during my dry spell. And I figure what better way to start blogging in earnest again than featuring some of the stuff that’s happening in that space while trying to talk through my ideas for and experiences with the course thus far. So, here it goes…

Week 1:
The first week was setting the table for logic of the class. The first night was basically my attempt to be as honest and upfront as possible about the course. Namely, the nature of the class will require that their work be entirely open, and they will be required to purchase and maintain their own web hosting space and domains for at least four months. I wanted to stress these facts immediately in the event anyone was uncomfortable with the idea of their work being out in the open, or was intimidated by the prospect of managing their own web hosting space. And, to be honest, I’m glad I did, because the class had at least five student drop after that first night, and ten more came in their stead.

So while the second night of class started out similarly with the necessary warnings that the course was going to be a chaotic experiment and I’ll only be able to see as far as the headlights allow at any given time. (Not sure this is the most responsible or even fair approach on my part, but it’s the truth.) Their first assignments for this class were to read Alan Kaye’s and Adele Goldberg’s “Dynamic Personal Media” essay, Gardner Campbell’s “A Personal Cyber Infrastructure”, as well as watching his “Bags of Gold” performance at OpenEd—a necessary complement to the essay (particularly because this presentation had a hard edge that suits Gardner’s passion for this topic).

But the second night of class was really marked by the virtual presence of Gardner, who was kind enough to Skype in and kick off a class he very much inspired. There was no title to our free range discussion that lasted almost an hour—but Michael Reamy’s reflection on the talk actually indirectly suggests a title I like “A Dangerous Misconception, or why technology is not stuff.” Gardner was on fire, and hearing him go on about Alan Kaye, Doug Engelbart, and the poetry of processing is always something special, but the way in which he frames the metamedium of thinking through and about computers as more than stuff is required listening in my opinion. So below is the audio from his talk and thanks again for “being there” Gardner.

Download Gardner Campbell on the “Personal Cyber Infrastructure”

You can get a sense of the wide range of responses to Gardner’s talk by searching his name on the course blog here. But there is not question that Gardner’s quote from Alan Kaye, “A computer is an instrument whose music is ideas,” resonated deeply with everyone there.

The Shining in 6 Frames

Saturday, February 6th, 2010

Riffing off of Tom Woodward’s recent exercise he posted, I experimented with using six film frames to capture the essence of the film’s narrative. It might also be a nice way to think about how the juxtaposition of images make meaning, without worrying about drawing those images. Almost reverse engineering Kubrick’s filmic logic. So, here it is, and I was fortunate enough to find screenshots from Kubrick’s The Shining from this post here. Now to make this an assignment for the Digital Storytelling course to build on the five random images to tell a story, but more on this assignment shortly.

So, which transitions don’t work? I was also thinking about this version: