Tuesday, 26 March 2013

The Mystery of the Disappearing Blog Post: An Overconnected World

So, back in week 8 I wrote a post about the wonders of viral videos, referring to the latest craze of viral dances i.e. the Harlem Shake and Gangham Style. This morning I woke up, and thought to myself, "Maybe I should check to see if anyone's commented on that." I turned on my laptop, loaded up the page, only to discover it was nowhere to be found.

At first I thought maybe the post had just failed to upload, which would be a pain because I'd typed it straight into the blog publisher, and so would have to write it all over again. However, as soon as I went to write a new post, I knew exactly where the post had disappeared to; it had been posted to my old blog that I haven't touched since I was a teenager.

I realise this is partly human error, and largely my fault; I should have checked. However, this for me is becoming one of those everyday annoyances. Too many of my accounts are now synced, which means when I need to access something on what should be separate websites I have to log out and back in again. For example, my Hacking the Book account was set up using my student e-mail address, because it is part of my student life. However, my Youtube account is set up using the e-mail address I have had since I was 8. Because Youtube and Blogger are both owned and connected to Google, it means I have to switch between accounts every time I want to check this blog or watch videos from my subscription feed. Of course the one time I forget to switch would be the time I actually need to do something important.

I also have an issue with my Facebook and Hotmail chat being synced. It's lead me to block every single person on my messenger systems, so that when I log into my Hotmail account I can just check my e-mail and not be stormed by  conversation "bloops". I did try disconnecting these two systems once, only to have my inbox spammed by Hotmail asking me whether I'd like to reconnect them. Everytime I would delete the e-mail, and every time a new one would appear within 48 hours, to the point where I gave in and connected them again, just to get them to stop badgering me.

I suppose though, that my problem is not with websites being synced, but that they are the wrong websites for me. I'm one of those people with multiple e-mail addresses, and I was so pleased when Hotmail introduced the feature allowing me to hook up five accounts and pass quickly between them. However, they have now "upgraded" one of my accounts to Outlook, a programme I have deleted from every laptop and computer I have had since I can remember. Not only is it slow, clunky and prone to glitching my attachments out of existence, but it means I can no longer jump back and forth between accounts on my phone, unless I decide to "upgrade" all my other accounts.

It would also be great if I could sync my deviantArt with my current blog, so that I could show people what I'm up to creatively with out all the messy links.

I guess what I'm arguing for is a world of option, rather than forced connectivity and sparse choices. The internet is a supposed to be a democracy, where people's views and shares have the power to make things popular, but surely we should also be able to choose how we view the material. If you want to check your e-mail in peace, you should be able to, and if there's no need for your Youtube to be connected to Blogger, then you should be able to disconnect them.  

(On a side note: I found it very amusing that the spellcheck on here doesn't know how to spell Google, Blog, or in fact Blogger.)

Friday, 15 March 2013

Word Clouds and ‘How to Not Read a Victorian Novel’

Recently, we had a talk about word clouds and what they were useful for and, if I’m honest, my personal conclusion was ‘not much’. I did, however, enjoy playing with the program by taking the text of novels from the Project Gutenberg1 site and putting it into the generator3 to see if the cloud matched my own ideas about the themes. I tweeted about this (it was a quiet evening) and, after being told off for calling it ‘hipstery rubbish’, was given some extra homework; an article by Paul Fyfe called ‘How to Not Read a Victorian Novel’4.
As well as making a good argument against reading lists for students (all arguments against this are good arguments), the article spoke about an experiment run by a professor in which students were asked to write an essay on a book they had not read. This part of the experiment does not seem all that revolutionary. However, as well as acknowledging that the students were not going to read these long Victorian novels, Fyfe gave the students instructions on how to gather knowledge about their given texts without reading them. The first method was to do exactly as I had been doing: downloading a plain text version of the novel from Project Gutenberg and making a word cloud.
After playing with data and going through various different forms of mucking about with internet tools to see what came up, the students had to stop and think about what they had done. This was the step I had been missing. As it happens, turning the books into ‘data’ to be manipulated in this way gave an entirely different and entirely useful insight into the architecture of the novels, both in terms of prevalent semantic themes and, by dividing up the plain text of the novel into sections, by allowing word choices over time to be compared.
The main thing I took from this was a reminder that academic curiosity can in fact be valuable in an exam culture, and that following your nose and playing with your food are two very valuable habits when it comes to studying literature (or anything else). I’d recommend to anyone to read the article, or at the very least to have a go at making some word clouds from novels.

1 http://www.gutenberg.org/ Projec t Gutenberg is dedicated to uploading books to the internet as soon as the works enter the public domain. They provide the usual ebook formats (mobi, epub) as well as pdf and plain text versions. 2
2 Footnotes like this are better than Harvard. I don’t need to explain why because it’s 2013.
3 The generator I used was Wordle: http://www.wordle.net/
4 This article can be found at: http://t.co/8tlK0RZTBP

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Creative Quality

The Internet is quickly becoming the home of creative projects.  It’s a place where we can publish what we create with the click of a button without having to convince a third party that our work deserves to be seen by the rest of the world.  However, this has caused some debate among the involved industries that this new method of creative enterprise is damaging, that it is encouraging a lack of quality.  While in some cases this is true, there are some projects that just could not be as innovative if they were not online.

One such project is The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, produced by Hank Green (of Vlogbrothers Youtube fame) and Bernie Su.  It’s an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but completely contemporary, as it takes a vlog format on Youtube.  Twice a week Lizzie Bennet regales her viewers with the dramas of her and her sisters Jane and Lydia, her best friend Charlotte Lu, and their romantic entanglements with Bing Lee,  George Wickham, and of course William Darcy.  What’s wonderful about this project is how innovatively it uses social media to involve the audience.  Each character has their own Twitter account so that you can watch the events of the novel, (although slightly twisted for modern times, I don’t think Wickham made a sex tape with Lydia and threatens to put it online in the 1813 version) Jane has a fashion Tumblr blog so you can see what she’s up to when she goes to LA, Lydia starts her own vlog channel by filming on her iPhone.  The world is so completely immersive that some viewers do not even realise that it is an adaptation of one of the world’s most famous novels and think that it is documenting the real events of real people.

The Internet is providing a platform for creativity, and creativity with quality, whether people like it or not.  There’s teenage girls getting hired by Lady Gaga because they have posted fan art online, there’s amateur dramatic musicals getting millions of views for their clips on Youtube.  If you’re creative, whether you’re an actor, an artist, musician, writer … the Internet is where everything is happening.  Creative industries are evolving, and there’s no point in whining and moaning about how the Internet is taking business away because in the end no one can stop it, the only thing they can do is go along for the ride and try to use it the way everyone else is.

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Assessment information

I mentioned last week that it might be possible to move the submission date back to after Easter, to give you more time to focus on the project work. Unfortunately this does not seem to be possible, so the assessment details on WebCT do apply. Jim will put some additional guidance on how to complete the various pieces of assessment on to the syllabus document later today.

Some students have reported issues with the portfolio system (403 errors). I have not yet been able to find out the reason for these errors, but will see that I get that sorted later today. Of course any assessment deadlines will be pushed back accordingly.

In the final seminar session there will not be presentations—instead we are currently planning a big launch event after Easter where we'd like to have presentations from you on how you did the project. More information on that to follow.