Archive for June, 2011

Album Cover

Thursday, June 30th, 2011

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The only thing I don’t like about this is how the word “Aviary” got put there in the corner, eager to advertise where this was made. Seriously, is there any way to get rid of that? It’s kind of distracting, but it happens for everything I make on Aviary.

Anyways, this was for the assignment that involved finding a randomly generated Wikipedia article, quote, and picture and putting them together to make the cover of an album. The band name here, “I, Jonathan”, happens to itself be the name of an album by someone named Jonathan Richman. The full quote was “A man who doesn’t trust himself can never truly trust anyone else”, said by someone named Cardinal de Retz. Taking the last five words makes it seem much more angsty. And the picture is… well, a picture of someone’s dog. Applying a black-and-white, semi-transparent radial gradient made even that look artsy.

Everything is a Remix

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

There’s a classic South Park episode (titled “Simpsons Already Did It”) in which Butters tries to come up with an original plan, only to find that everything he tries has already been done by the Simpsons at some point. At the end of the episode, he has to come to terms with the fact that everything has been done by someone at some point, so there’s no use in trying to be 100% original.

So goes the message of Everything is a Remix, one of the most interesting, thought-provoking videos I’ve seen in a long time. The video not only makes the assertion that every new thing is just a “remix” of not-so-new ideas, but provides example after example to prove this. The automobile, the lightbulb, and the printing press, among other things, are all shown to be, basically, remixes of ideas that already exist.

In fact, it’s enough to put into question the very idea of “invention”, something I’ve wondered about in the past: can you really say that anything is “invented”, coming into existence like a child out of the womb, when each new idea simply builds on the foundation that came before it? It’s a problem I ran into in the past when trying to find out what the first video game ever was. Examples of what might be considered the “first video game” date back to 1942, but do those even count? It’s hard to say, since the concept of a video game didn’t exist until later. It didn’t come into existence all at once – it evolved over time.

And I think “evolved” is a better word for how new things arise than “remixed”, though I understand why the latter was chosen. I suppose not every remix is an evolution; it’s just the ones that are that get famous. But in any case, the fact that copying is such a vital part of innovation has some pretty interesting implications for copyright law. I have to wonder how long the current state of copyright law will last, in an era when copying is often as simple as Ctrl+C, Ctrl+V.

We Are All Artists

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

I’m really falling behind in class, and have nobody to blame for that but myself. This was supposed to be up a couple of days ago; still, better late than never.So here’s my response to Tim Owen’s discussion.

The discussion began with the idea that creativity is not an inherited trait, but something anyone can achieve with practice, and in the right environment. Maybe I’m just a contrarian (I am), but I somewhat disagree with this. Tim Owens uses the argument that creative parents often have creative children as evidence that a creative environment fosters creativity, but I think it’s a good demonstration of what he’s trying to argue against – that creativity IS, to some extent, genetic. That’s a minor issue, though: just because some people will always be better athletes than others doesn’t mean that anyone can’t be fairly good with lots of practice. The same is true with creativity. And anyways, I don’t have any doubts about my ability to be creative, so the idea of using genetics as an excuse doesn’t really apply to me.

Again being a contrarian, I couldn’t fully agree with the idea that being uncomfortable makes one more creative. This goes against personal experience: when I’m uncomfortable, my whole attention wants to be devoted to removing the source of this discomfort, meaning less attention paid to whatever the task at hand is. But this is a really minor issue, because I can see his main point: that being creative makes one uncomfortable. This is especially true thanks to the perfectionist instinct that is brought up later in the discussion, and that runs very strong within me. I’m always terrified to submit something that isn’t the absolute best it can possibly be. That’s a strong reason I’m not so great about meeting deadlines; it’s something I have to put aside and get over, especially in this class.

The remainder of the talk I don’t have as much to say about, but I really liked it nonetheless. Much of it basically followed a simple pattern: “take X, make it Y”. This fits neatly with the “Everything is a Remix” video that I’ll post about later. Both discussions demonstrate that the essence of creativity is taking and old idea (or a collection of old ideas) and putting your own, unique spin on it.

Portal Troll Attack

Monday, June 27th, 2011

In case you couldn’t tell from these last three posts, I’m really starting to crank up the nerdiness level here.

I chose the “Triple Troll Attack” (or “Troll Quotes”) assignment because, well, it’s easy to put together. Technically I bent the rules by having everything here from the same series, but it was just subtle enough that I couldn’t resist. Nobody actually says “The cake is a lie” in Portal – it’s inscribed on the wall in some hidden areas. That didn’t stop it from being by far the most popular line in the game, though, to the point where the very mention of cake anywhere on the internet will probably incite someone to quote it. And for the record, that picture isn’t of GLaDOS, but of Wheatley from Portal 2.

Harry Potter in 4 Icons

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

These can work for pretty much any Harry Potter book/movie, really.

The wand and scar were drawn from scratch, but I “cheated” and used clip-art for the owl and broomstick. Sadly, I am not an artist. All of it was done on pixlr, like the one in my last post.

The Mushroom Kingdom Awaits

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Making a “minimalist” poster with 8-bit NES sprites is tricky, since the sprites are already pretty minimalist to begin with. Solution: make everything black (sans one question mark). Also add some clouds in there for good measure. The blocks are in there to make it clear that this is from a Mario game; otherwise it would be hard to tell that those big black things are giant mushrooms.

I took a graphic art class back in high school, and I really wish I remembered anything from it. To be fair, we mostly used non-free programs like Photoshop, and I made the above picture with pixlr (I only have Photoshop on my old, slow computer), but many of the tools are the same. Maybe this would take even longer to learn without that class? This wasn’t too hard to make, for the most part, but I hadn’t realized it would be that small. Oh well. (EDIT: apparently that’s just for this page – click on the image and you get a full-sized one. Huh.)

Anyways, the Mushroom Kingdom seems like it might be a fun place to visit, if you can get past all the killer turtles.

My Boring, Effortless Poster

Friday, June 24th, 2011

Dr. Oblivion is missing

This is such embarrassingly sloppy work that I’d almost rather have posted nothing at all. I was “learning” how to use Aviary while making this, and when I say “learning” I mean trying to figure out how to do stuff and, upon realizing that I didn’t know enough about the site to do anything creative, I just said to hell with it and used the few tools I could figure out. Hopefully, before the next project is done I’ll either get better acquainted with Aviary, or somehow find a better, easier image editing site.

I feel completely lost right now. Even things that should be easy – like adding plug-ins to WordPress – are to me extremely frustrating and confusing. I can’t even use the excuse that this is a new world to me, since I already spent 90% of my free time on the internet before taking this class. How could have spent so much time on the internet without ever learning these basic things about using it?

On Michael Wesch

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

This will seem kind of short compared to my last post, but I guess I just don’t have as much to say. I watched Michael Wesch’s speech (here and here), and though it was long, it was definitely worth my time. Every minute was fascinating, thought-provoking, and spot-on. He brings up an excellent point about modern education: it’s aimed to make people knowledgeable, but that’s no longer what really matters. Knowledge – that is, information – is everywhere now, and what’s important is not obtaining it, but learning how to filter it. Wesch brings up some excellent points about the implications this has for today’s learning environment.

The problem, of course, is that professors used to be the ultimate authority over knowledge, and obviously that’s how they would want this to stay; they don’t want to admit that information is everywhere. Plenty of people in academia loathe tools like Wikipedia, despite the fact that I’ve probably learned more there than I have in any of my classes, and possibly in all of my classes combined. So progress will probably be slow in changing the goal of education, but I have faith that eventually the right thing will be done, especially once the online generation starts taking control of the universities.

One minor point I think is odd is how much time students were said to waste in their classes going online. I have yet to attend a class where the professor allowed the use of laptops during lectures. Maybe it’s different at other colleges. Or maybe I just have yet to be in those classes.

On Gardner Campbell

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

Our first assignment involved listening to the words of two different people, but I want to dedicate a full post to the article and speech by Gardner Campbell. Ironically, I ended up agreeing with most of his points, but I still disagreed with his main argument – the most important point.

Actually, when I read the article he wrote (“A Personal Cyberinfrastructure”), I felt like I disagreed with pretty much all of it. Campbell’s argument, if I read correctly, is basically that all University courses should be like the ds106 class that I’m writing this for, with each student getting their own web domain, online identity, etc. It’s not that I think this is a bad idea, I just don’t see what good it would do. True, it would teach students the kind of digital skills that would come greatly in handy later in life, but that’s exactly what I’m taking this class for. Asking all classes to do the same would be kind of like a math teacher asking every class of every subject to include statistical analysis, or a science teacher asking all classes to have labs. Some skills have applications that reach to a variety of subjects, but that doesn’t mean they must be taught outside of their respective classes.

Campbell’s argument goes beyond that, though: he insists that the current setup, wherein students use Learning Management Systems (LMSs) like Blackboard.com is not only an inferior option, but actually detrimental; according to him, they discourage “the freedom to explore and create” among students. I find this argument outright ridiculous. They’re not discouraging anything, merely making things simpler for students, who still are totally free to learn about online tools and such on their own time, or whenever the need arises. It’s no different for bemoaning the invention of calculators for making math simpler, and thus removing the need to practice doing it by hand. It’s a fallacy as old as humanity itself. I couldn’t help but think of the printing press, which was considered heresy when it was invented because writing things by hand was just the right way of doing things. You can’t blame those monks, really – they’d spent their entire lives painstakingly writing each book one by one, and now this Gutenberg guy comes along and makes pretty much anyone able to print thousands of copies at once. They must’ve felt cheated. No doubt that when the wheel was invented, some cavemen thought of it as a cheap way to avoid exercise. The difference in Campbell’s case is that the technologies being dealt with are so new, he can frame it as wanting to take a step forward and further integrate classwork with the Internet, even though in reality it’s going backward and making things unnecessarily complicated.

Those were my thoughts after reading the essay. So imagine my surprise when, in his speech (“No Digital Facelifts”), he uses the same Gutenberg example that popped in my mind… in his favor. Actually, I warmed up to his argument a lot more thanks to his speech, even if in the end I still didn’t agree with it. I especially sympathized with his reference to LittleBigPlanet custom levels, and use of one of my favorite sayings, Sturgeon’s Law: “90% of everything is crap”. I completely agree with Campbell that the more potential innovators there are, the greater that other 10% will be. That’s why I began agreeing with his idea of a more personalized, customizable online experience… for teachers. Students are a different matter.

I also agreed with Campbell when he quoted Clay Shirky in calling the newspaper industry’s move online a “digital facelift”. However, comparing that to University classes is comparing apples to oranges. With newspapers, the very existence of the Internet itself is a subversion of the authority they once held; it allows information to be distributed by almost anyone, not just those few who control the media outlets. The newspaper industry is doomed to die out, and journalism is bound to undergo a revolution, no matter what the newspaper companies do.

The same can’t be said of education at all. In a University class, the Professor makes the rules. The Internet can’t, and won’t, change this. Students can’t innovate the experience because they have no control over it. Sure, they can help each other, and there are more online tools by students, for students than I can even begin to list. I understand the argument to give professors more freedom in how they craft their class using the web (although sadly, too many professors are too uninterested in the web as of right now for it to matter much), but students aren’t going to craft the class even if given the tools to do so.

Again, I may have interpreted Campbell’s words wrong – he does use some jargon I’m not really familiar with. But it seems to me like he has a lot of good ideas, which he then interpreted in the wrong way. All of this brings me to my most important point: what kind of a first name is “Gardner”, anyway?

We’re Back, Baby

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Or rather, “We’re online, baby.”

That image is from “Bender’s Big Score”, obtained from a trailer of it on Youtube. Sadly, I did not use the Bender Converter – that would have been nice and ironic – but it turned out I didn’t need it: the newer version of MPEG Streamclip can take videos directly from Youtube. From there it was a simple matter to complete the GIF on GIMP. The only hard part was realizing, at the last moment, that I had to get Winzip.

This is the first post for my online class, ds106, or Digital Storytelling. Because if I’m going to be an internet-addicted recluse, I might as well learn how to be good at it.