Stella, dear…

A retweet from AK brought this article from McKelvey, Tiessen & Simcoe to my attention the other day:

SMwe-hear-the-sound-of-machinesThe abstract suggests that the internet, with social media, big data and analytics, “can together be understood as a vast simulation machine that mediates and modulates everyday life to refashion what was once the ‘real world’ in its own image.” It reminds me of Gibson’s idea of everting cyberspace, which I’ve touched on before – the idea that the distinction between the virtual and the real has disappeared. It’s an idea from science fiction, and the article invokes a book I’ve never read which eerily parallels our current situation of government and corporate surveillance. Of course, the internet wasn’t constructed to do this. It grew more organically, as a product of us into a product using us. Or maybe it’s even more – not just using us, but making us. As Quinn Norton put it:

Your internet experience isn’t the main result of algorithms built on surveillance data; you are.

SMtaken-for-a-rideMcKelvey & co. said the web is “designed to narrowly calibrate human desire and activity” and that it “decipher[s] and shape[s] knowledge and information.” It does this based on our inputs, so in a sense it is a web of our making, but the control lies with the gatekeeper, not the user. This is seen as a benevolent power. They quote the philosopher Mengue: “control implies a positive mechanism that aims to protect life, increase its dynamism.” I think we’ve heard this before:

This is from “I, Mudd,” an episode of Star Trek where the intrepid explorers find themselves held captive on a planet where androids will cater to their every need, except their need for freedom. And like Kirk and friends, McKelvey & co. suggest that we fall back on an insanity defense:

what is to be done to subvert the data-mining machines other than to stop making sense?

Stop Making Sense was the title of a Talking Heads album and concert film. It comes from the lyrics of their 1983 song “Girlfriend is Better,” which I don’t pretend to understand. It is interesting though to read the words in the context of the web/Simulacron/panopticon – “It’s always showtime,” “Evr’ything’s under control,” “everything’s free / I don’t care how impossible it seems” – they take on unintended meanings. And if we look at them in the context of Star Trek, can we say the Harry Mudd has a girlfriend that’s better than that?


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Making a MOOC-ery

Cogdog recorded a MOOC song, so I thought I’d try to play along. I probably didn’t do the song any favors. Maybe there’s a reason why The Doors didn’t have a bass player…

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Opening thoughts

Yesterday I managed to find time for the Webinar on Open Pedagogy with BCCampus. This was part of the Teaching with WordPress open course that I really should join officially.

The idea (or attitude) of Open fascinates me. OERs get a lot of attention, at least in some circles, which is a good thing, but there’s more to Open than that. Open courses have gotten a lot of press, good and bad, but there’s more to it than that. Open pedagogy, as far as I know, is much less discussed, but deserves the attention.

In the webinar chat someone suggested that Open Learning might be a better term than Open Pedagogy. Maybe pedagogy doesn’t seem learner-centric enough. Grant Potter brought up Open Learning Design, which is a term I like:

I remember being in a webinar on MOOCs and Instructional Design or something like that, where I questioned whether ID made sense in a MOOC. One of the IDers told me the principles still apply. Maybe that’s true, if one takes an instructivist approach, but by its very nature that seems less than Open to me. One of the #twp15 linked resources is Stephen Downes’ presentation on Design Elements in a Personal Learning Environment, which includes a slide on Design Principles:

open design principlesAutonomy, openness, diversity and interactivity are the four cornerstones of any good MOOC. Autonomy fundamentally changes pedagogy, I think, because it changes the goals from what the teacher (or institution) prescribes to what the learner wants to achieve. And that necessitates open activities, open assessment, and open outcomes in order to support the diverse goals of a community of learners. Having defined outcomes and objectives is a kind of closedness. When the closedness is taken away, I’m not sure instructional design can work. It’s no longer about getting certain content across. It’s about the knowledge that emerges from communication and cooperation among the community. So the design has to be not so much instructional as environmental, putting together a situation that facilitates diversity, interactivity, autonomy and openness. Those four principles demand a lot of learners though. That’s something I need to flesh out in more detail.

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The Resignationer

It feels like life imitating art to see my #learninghero Jim resign at the beginning of Prisoner106. So I thought I’d try a bit of art imitating life imitating art in response. I thought about doing a Groom-art GIF of that bit at the end of The Prisoner where the bars slam shut in McGoohan’s face. I went looking for a clip of the closing credits on Youtube, but they didn’t have that part. I did however find a clip of the closing credits without the text overlay, so I grabbed that and wondered what I could do with it. I also grabbed the opening episode and clipped out the part I needed. I saw Andy Rush’s video on Adding a Picture-in-Picture Effect in iMovie a few days ago, so I wondered if I could do this in iMovie. I couldn’t see how to superimpose a face and have it zoom in the right way, so I monkeyed around in Photoshop and exported it as a video instead of a GIF. I also reversed the frames so the bars open. Then I grabbed a bunch of Twitter responses to Jim’s announcement, deleted the white background and used them where the credits would have been. I probably should have figured out a better way to do that, since they came out fuzzy in the end product. That’s probably more to do with Youtube’s processing though, since it isn’t nearly as bad in iMovie:

I have to congratulate Jim for going on to bigger and better things, #Reclaiming #4life, where I’m sure he will continue to inspire us all.

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Shuttered village

prisoner-shattered visage_8a prisoner-shattered visage_4I found my copy of The Prisoner: Shattered Visage graphic novel and read through the first chapter. It was originally published as four comics in 1988-89, about twenty years after the TV show aired, and the story takes place in the same time differential. We know the time frame is twenty years later because of a plot point about Number Two being released from prison after a two decade sentence. We see a character who works for the same agency that Number 6 quit. The visual clues that make that connection for us are kind of anachronistic – the same car, which seemed out of place even in the 60s, and the hall of records, which was probably futuristic in its day, but here looks quaint. What I find more interesting is the architecture in the lead character’s apartment. The round interior doorway and the exit door both come straight from Number 6’s place in The Village. Is this just borrowing some visuals to connect the story to the show, or is there a deeper meaning? We also see a type of venetian blind effect, like we saw in Noir106, which suggests prison in a different way. By the end of the chapter, the protagonist has crashed her sailboat on the shore of The Village, so perhaps these visual clues were foreshadowing.

prisoner-shattered visage_7 prisoner-shattered visage_5 prisoner-shattered visage_6

Given the visual nature of the story, I’m interested to hear how this was adapted for audio. I have scheduled the four podcast episodes to run this coming week at the beginning of the Noir106 time slot on ds106radio for anyone who cares to listen in

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Trapped in a world he never made…

prisoner060lgNow that Jim mentioned it, I vaguely remember hearing about Jack Kirby adapting The Prisoner back in the day. The project never saw the light of day, but Kirby apparently finished drawing the first issue. There’s an interesting translation issue at work here, as the story changes from the language of film to the language of comics. Kirby adds narration and thought bubbles, where the only words the show gave us were dialogue and the occasional sign. This emphasizes the atmosphere of oppression and paranoia, in a rather heavy-handed way, but it takes something away from the story as well. The reader loses the freedom to fill in the blanks. There’s less room for an individual interpretation. I guess that’s in keeping with the show’s theme, in a way.

Charles Hatfield wrote an in-depth reading of the issue and how it fits in with Kirby’s work in the 70s. I’m most interested by Hatfield’s speculation at a parallel between The Prisoner and Kirby’s own situation at the time. He had just resigned his position at DC out of frustration, only to find himself in the Marvel Village under much the same restraints.

There was another Prisoner comic book in the 80s, The Prisoner: Shattered Visage. It was a sequel rather than adaptation. I have it somewhere, so maybe it’s due for a re-read. As the Wikipedia page notes, this was adapted for audio as a podcast series. Who knows? Perhaps this will find its way onto ds106radio

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No6@Prisoner106 has proposed a Prisoner themed summer ds106 experience. I’m trying to think of how it might go. There are so many potential angles…

The basic story, as I recall, is about a secret agent who resigns, angrily, and is then kidnapped and taken to an odd little village. He’s pressured in various ways to explain why he resigned, but will not say. He doesn’t know if he’s a captive of his own people or an enemy power. Everyone has numbers instead of names. Number 2 is the visible person in charge, but he gets replaced just about every week because he always fails to get answers out of Number 6. There’s someone else, who is never seen, calling the shots. That power setup sounds a bit like Noir106 – maybe we need another Jack.

Could we have a new No. 2 every week? Take turns being nominally in charge? It seems possible. Summer ds106es are often open playgrounds, but there should be room for an ineffectual authority figure.

Then there’s the central question: Why did you resign? I’m not quite sure how to play with that. Everyone could take on a persona, like they did in Noir106, with some deep dark secret, as if we’re all 6es, but maybe we’d want to avoid creating an adversarial environment. The other big questions – Who is Number 1? Whose side are you on? – also make me think of Noir106, the Jack story and the Russians. Playing with them might require more management than an open playground could handle though.

I was just reading the Wikipedia article on The Prisoner. It seems that in its original conception, Number 6 was really Number 1, and The Village was the realization of a proposal he made back when he was Danger Man. (Aside: Danger Man once had an adventure with Barbara Steele of Black Sunday fame.) Due to the inevitable creative differences, that storyline was abandoned and all the questions went unanswered. Maybe it’s better that way.

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Noir-view mirror

chess_knight_lI’m not sure where the knight fits into D’Angelo’s worldview, but that’s the part I’m going to play as I attempt to sidestep my recent lack of blogging and jump forward a couple steps.

ds106 is always an adventure, and it’s a different adventure every time. From my perspective as a teacher, all courses are like that, because the students make the classes and there’s a different group of personalities every time. From the outside looking in, that’s not always the case.

used-rear-view-mirrorsIt is in ds106 though, because the students’ work is predominant, no matter what those of us nominally in charge do. We started this semester with a story framework about a shadowy agency with some sort of internal tension and a mysterious Jack character who was hinted at here and there. But we also had students create their own noir characters, whatever that may be, and build on them throughout the semester. And almost to a person, the students really took to that, creating amazing work along the way, from T-Wow’s rap to Spencer’s animation.

We had a plan of sorts to draw the class into our storyline over the first ten weeks and have them figure out where it should go from there. That worked out better than I could have hoped. One of the students gave us a gift which prompted us to make him part of our story. The radio shows were a transformative experience in the course. The students brought their characters together into their own narratives, and over nine nights of broadcast, we were consistently blown away by the quality and creativity of the productions. The final show, produced by a global group of open online participants, was a masterpiece. We had live tweeting sessions for the radio shows, as we had during the earlier audio week. These group and synchronous activities helped bring the class together into a community, and we encouraged them to carry through with their groups. Some did, some didn’t. For the final projects, we gave them cases to solve, making them all a part of our agency. The cases were prompts for them to create their own transmedia stories, and students were free to take them in their own directions.

I’ve been thinking about what direction to take ds106 next time. We already have our Tales from ds106 idea, and have had some discussion about fleshing that out. One thing I’ve been thinking about is the tradition of the host – Tales from the Crypt had the Crypt-Keeper, Twilight Zone and Night Gallery has Rod Serling, Peter Lorre hosted the Suspense radio show, the Hitch-Hiker in the 80s, the Whistler in the 40s – Could we work with that? Have teams of students host each week? Maybe they could introduce the weekly theme, or maybe they could showcase work from the previous week.

transformerI spent the past few days at the VCU ALTfest, where Jim and I talked about some of the work we’ve done together, and I got to hear about some of the great things other people are doing. On the last day I heard Transformer-in-Residence Amy Nelson talk about her Soviet History course, where the students curated the class blog posts into a weekly edition. They have a students’ choice post-of-the-week and a slider featuring the top five. I’m thinking about how to adapt this and graft it onto my host idea. There are many benefits to it, particularly that it gets students involved in the conduct of the course and it pushes them to consider each other’s work. It would help if we had some mechanism for nominating and voting on best work. I’m sure there’s a way. It would also give the students a way to inject personalities into the course, similar to what they did with their characters in Noir106.


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Caution: Crawford

The Black Widow Agency has identified a connection between NoirCat and noir icon Joan Crawford.

Caution is advised. No wonder NoirCat is in hiding.

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The Night Driving Killers


When I saw a screen shot of Night Driver it immediately made me think of the driving scene in The Killers that Jim giffed a while back. I started thinking about how to combine the two. You could use the silhouette of the car interior and the two figures as a mask, and have the game run in the windshield, but you’d have to approximate the upper outline because it’s in the shadows. I let the idea slide because it seemed like it would be better as a concept than a product.

Isabelle “Red” McIntosh of the illustrious Noir Illusions Agency captured a video of some of the gameplay, which made me rethink the idea.

I took Jim’s gif and cut it down to 9 frames. I took the Night Driver video and made a gif of it, which I then edited down to 16 frames. I resized he gif to match the pixel height of the Killers gif, then adjusted the canvas size to match. That cropped the image a bit, but that was okay. In my Night Driver gif, I inserted a new layer above each existing layer, so I had 16 layers of Night driver interspersed with 16 blank layers. I copied each layer of The Killers and pasted them in order in the Night Driver. Since that had double the number of layers, I repeated the process. I set the blending mode of each Killers layer to darken, so the game play would come through in the light parts of the image. I set the opacity of each layer of Night Driver to 70% so the image wasn’t near-totally black. Then I merged each Killers layer down with the corresponding Night Driver layer below. I won’t go into the amount of trial and error that went into figuring the process out.

Was the end product worth the effort? Maybe, maybe not – I didn’t get enough of the game to come through to make it actually look like a game. But the process was a learning one, and that’s worth it.

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