Of summaries and Cmaps

We’re putting a lot of work up front in this class, but it’s distributed to be manageable, and the load will lessen for a few weeks afterwards. This evening the class will brainstorm how we plan on approaching the main topics of The Internet Course:

how it works
how it has evolved
creation/consumption
intellectual property/fair use
privacy/openness
digital identity
social/economic/cultural impacts
where it’s going

Each student will be assigned two of the topics, and will be responsible for finding and summarizing three readings on each one. The results of the brainstorming session will help in finding information. Everyone will have to find different readings. To help avoid duplication, everyone will have to enter information about their readings in the Readings Form on the course site. The form feeds a spreadsheet, also visible on the page, so everyone can see what has already been taken. The instructors will vet the list. Anything deemed unacceptable will be highlighted in red, and that person will have to find something else. Readings can be research articles, reports, books, book chapters, or videos.

Each reading will have to be summarized in a blog post. The summary should give the reader a clear idea of what the article is about, what argument it makes, the major points it brings up, and the conclusions it reaches. The summary is not meant to be a review or a reaction. It is meant to save the rest of the class the time of reading the article.

Each summary needs to be tagged. In WordPress there is a box in the right-hand column for tags. The tags we will use are:

how it works
evolution
creation/consumption
IP/fair use
privacy/openness
digital identity
impacts
future

It is very important to enter the tags exactly as written above. Some readings may be appropriate for more than one category, so feel free to use more than one tag.

As a result of this process, each student will have six summary posts, three for each assigned topic. Everyone should read each others’ summaries. As a class, we will have digested a large body of knowledge, which will form the basis of our discussions over the next several weeks.

Each student will also create two concept maps. Each concept map will break down the three articles a student has summarized and draw out connections between them. We will be using Cmap Tools for this process, and we will talk more about it on Tuesday. I’m putting it out there now because the mapping process will go a lot easier if it is taken into consideration while summarizing. I will be writing more on Cmaps before Tuesday.

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Notes on episode 8

01epigraphThis episode features Omar’s haunting whistle again. I like the effect better this time – the slight echo, the dark, empty street – and the episode’s epigraph is delivered at the end

Daniels explains to his wife the problem inherent in following the money. “What everybody knows but nobody says” Freamon repeats this at another point in the series.

We saw String sitting in his Economics class. Here he shares the lesson of product elasticity with the workers in his print shop. It’s kind of a comical moment, but there’s a message there too – String wants to leave the street behind. We’ll see more about this in later seasons.

The sartorial splendor of Bunk

02bunk 14bunk

I like the way the color of the shirt Bunk wears at the beginning of the episode is matched by the color of the robe he’s wearing at the end.

12Laura LippmanHere is a transition shot of Bunk reading a novel by Laura Lippman just before the dialogue starts. I thought there might be some significance to it, so I looked it up. She’s a Baltimore author of detective fiction and former writer for the Baltimore Sun newspaper. Her novels are set in the city, just like the series. She’s also married to former Sun reporter David Simon. That name sounds familiar.

Frame within a frame

05reflection frame in a frame 07reflection frame in a frame

10stringWe see many of these “frame within a frame” compositions throughout the series. Here are two of McNulty on surveillance detail – we see him in the mirror, then again framed in the mirror as we look out on the street framed by the car window. Another example is the shot of Stringer framed by the window on the classroom door.

 

13composition

 

Here is another example of a symmetrical composition. The two sides mirror each other in a general sense, both in the office layout and the character poses, but details make the difference that keeps the composition from being overpowering.

 

04linesThis shot is an example of line and visual texture. The wire in the fencing makes a linear texture that projects onto Sydnor. Line and texture are design elements, like color and composition, worth paying attention to.

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Parallels in episode 7

01code 02epigraph

Episode 7 starts out with another parallel. The opening scene discusses the coded message from the wiretap, then the epigraph at the end of the credit sequence reads, “A man must have a code.” Bunk says the line in an entirely different context, but it shows something about how the pieces relate. It could be read as a pun, but that doesn’t seem in character with what the show is doing.

handshake1sm handshake2sm

shake-snapThat fist bump/handshake that Herc and Carver do is repeated later by D’Angelo and Orlando. Does this signify something? It may just be a regional mannerism that the characters share. But that shake/snap thing that Daniels and Day-Day do is interesting. I haven’t noticed it elsewhere in the series. It appears to take some coordination between the two parties, so it shows a shared understanding. Maybe it’s saying that neither of the two really belong in the crowd at the party, and they both recognize it.

08backwardsglance 11bird

Daniels leaves that encounter with a backwards glance side-eye look that’s kind of striking. A lot of the acting in the series is in the eyes and expressions. In the shot of Bird as he’s handcuffed to the table you can see him boiling over with hostility. Even though he’s half in the shadows, we can see he’s ready to explode, fist first.

06barexterior 07partyexterior

09barinteriorThere’s another parallel between Daniels and the fundraising party and Bunk and McNulty at the dive bar. The scenes appear to be going on simultaneously, and they show a tremendous contrast between their respective social circles. The party is in a large mansion, probably with valet parking and lots of acreage. The bar is wedged between other establishments on a street full of cars at parking meters. Inside, the party is brightly lit, crowded and upscale. Inside the bar is a dark, dank den of iniquity, the red light on the wall giving it a hellish appearance.

Here’s a bit of the sound from the party, in which Deputy Burrell points out another parallel:

Just after he links politicians to criminals, we hear a distinctive laugh. That’s a voice which will play a larger role in seasons to come.

I liked the sounds in the scene where Bird got busted. It’s mostly a wide-angle scene, shot from a distance, so we hear all the sounds of the city, the voices bubbling up through the ambient noise. The sound paints as much of a picture as the camera, perhaps even more so.

This next track is of the police expressing their displeasure with Bird in the interrogation room. All we see is the door. What happens behind it is told through sound and visualized through our imaginations. The show is playing us in a way, making us part of the story by forcing us to fill in the blanks. That’s a powerful technique.

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Subliminal messages

01brandon 10brandon

Episode 6 opens with Brandon’s tortured corpse sprawled across the hood of a car, for everyone in the projects to see. His death is the central point to the episode. It closes with a repeat of the image, in the form of a photograph on Lt. Daniels’ desk. There’s a kind of symmetry in that.

03televisionThere’s an interesting scene early on of D’Angelo at home, getting ready for the day. The camera sweeps by a television showing an old black and white film, with police running up to a dead body in the street. The way the body is laying there matches the way Brandon was positioned. It suggests to me that D’Angelo has removed himself from the reality of the killing – life goes on, it’s in the past.

04insides hanging outIn contrast, Wallace is haunted, tormented by what he saw of what was done to Brandon. Here he is, sitting on the couch telling D about how he saw the body, “cut open with his insides hanging out.” And there’s some visual poetry in the couch, with that large vertical gash in the upholstery, with the stuffing coming out. Wallace isn’t removed from it at all – he’s sitting right on top of it.

02wireThe beginning of the episode shows another stark contrast between D’Angelo and Wallace. Wallace lives in a vacant building, getting electricity from a string of extension cords running through a broken window to an adjacent building. He shares a set of rooms with other children and acts as their guardian. They all sleep in their clothes. The next scene is D’Angelo’s home, where we see him spend time going through his large wardrobe of brand-new clothes, cutting off tags and trying on different outfits. The economics of The Game do not favor the pawns.

08chess

 

Chess shows up again, in the foreground of this shot. Members of the squad are discussing strategy in the background, wondering if they can play Daniels against Rawls to keep the game going. There’s a subliminal quality to all these messages.

 

Hey man, nice shot

05courtroom

 

I love this courtroom shot – the use of line, perspective and symmetry. There’s an emptiness to it too, which may say something about the juvenile justice system.

 

 

06reflection

 

Another one is this shot from the conversation between Daniels and Augie. We see Augie’s reflection in the glass behind Daniels. His reflection lingers and comes more into focus after the conversation is over, as he thinks about whether or not he wants to stay with the squad.

 

Just missed it

missed-itSimon violates his rule about unsourced music in this episode, during the scene where Avon, String and Stink slow-walk through the courtyard making the payoffs. It’s a potentially pivotal moment because Barksdale is seen doing business out in the open, but the guy who should be watching had to see a man about a horse instead. Here’s the tail end of the scene.

What’s up? What you need?

I like the scene where D confronts Cass over skimming from the stash. The street sounds are great, but the sound of the eggs breaking doesn’t work quite so well without the visual. But what I really like is Cass’ response when she sees D: “What’s up? What you need?” It’s the exact same thing that String said when D paged him in the last episode. I know this because it’s part of the repeating sound loop on the DVD menu.

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Reflections on episode 5

01reflection 02reflection
I wrote a little about the use of mirrors last time around. We see some more in episode 5. The opening scene shows Avon Barksdale in the apartment of one of his girlfriends. We see him and his reflection divided among three mirror panes. Later in the scene he is peering through the blinds to check the street outside, and we see his reflection in another mirror. The message here is that he’s always watching himself. That circumspect caution is what kept him safe from rivals and law enforcement as he built up his business. That message is explicit in the dialogue and implicit in the mirrors.

06reflection

 

Later on there’s a shot of Brandon looking in the mirror as he tries on a necklace picked up in a robbery. In the image, he appears to be looking into darkness rather than at himself. This could be interpreted as a subtle foreshadowing.

 

08cemetery

This shot shows a wide angle view of the meeting between the cops and robbers. The cemetery setting is a not-very-subtle reference to the amount of death the show deals with. Notice how the statues are all looking away from from the meet, turning a blind eye to what’s going on.

 

03pager

 

Here’s a shot of the namesake of the show – the wire. The squad has gone through all the effort to get legal permission to run a wiretap on D’Angelo’s pager, then they set it down and stare at it intently, waiting for it to buzz. It’s another bit of foreshadowing – they’re job is mostly watching and waiting.

 

09backlight 10backlight
These two shots come from a discussion between Freamon and Daniels. I love the dramatic lighting, of course, but the composition also tells the story. Even though each image only shows one character, the way they’re facing indicates conversation. It’s an obvious thing, but I thought I’d highlight it anyway.

12phone 13contrast

I like these two phonebox shots – that glowing, and the color contrast – showing the phones’ importance in the storyline.

14phoneThen there’s this last one, at the closing scene. Look at all the grimy detail. There’s a message on the phone too: “it’s your choice.” The kids involved in the phone conversations know what the outcome will be, but with Poot and Wallace it’s more of an abstract thing, I think. D’Angelo knows what it is, having had some first-hand experience, and we see the weight and seriousness of it in his body language. Maybe we’d like to think they have a choice in the matter, but being in the game, as pawns no less, do they really? If D’Angelo didn’t pass along the word that Brandon had been spotted, there would have been repercussions.

The Farmer in the Dell

This episode features the scene George Veletsianos tweeted about a while ago. Peter Honig wrote a brilliant meditation on this scene a couple years ago, so there’s not much I can add. That enigmatic whistling reminds me of Ennio Morricone and some of his spaghetti western scores. Omar, the whistler, is essentially a cowboy character, although I ddin’t actually recognize that until it came up in one of the commentaries. The tune is “The Farmer in the Dell.” We know this because he says the closing line, “the cheese stands alone.” The line, and the tune, are open to some interpretation. The melody is the same as “A-Hunting We Will Go“, which fits Omar’s character well. It also fits the futility of the Game on the police end:

We’ll catch a fox and put him in a box
And then we’ll let him go

This has happened a few times already in the series, and it will again. “A-Hunting We Will Go” comes from The Beggar’s Opera, and 18th century drama which, to quote Wikipedia, “satirised politics, poverty and injustice, focusing on the theme of corruption at all levels of society.” Another fascinating parallel.

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Notes on episode 4

04ghost towersIn the commentary for the first episode of The Wire, David Simon said they used CGI special effects to put the towers in behind the low-rises, because they had been torn down a few years earlier. I thought of that when I saw this shot. There’s something about the towers in the background that seems ghostly – the lighting isn’t quite right and the edge is blurred. Maybe they just ran into the limits of the technology at that time.

05orange

 

I brought up the recurring color issue last time around. We see it here again. Notice the orange that the two characters are wearing. It matches the orange of the couch in the low-rises, and the orange of the poster that Freamon found with Barksdale’s photo. And the orange of the jumpsuits prisoners wear in court.

03alleyway 10bar

Some of the coloring and lighting in the photography strikes me as Bava-esque. That alleyway shot could come right out of Kill, Baby … Kill.

parallel1 parallel2

Another thing I picked up from the Bavafest was the concept of visual rhyming in shot transitions. The one is a kind of pun, as the shot switches from the janitor’s bucket to the coffee cup. The other shows an interesting contrast between McNulty’s kids at play in the bright sunlight and the other kids playing at night in the mouth of a dark alleyway.

06puzzle

 

Here’s another example of photographic foreshadowing. Presbo is hard at work goofing off with a word search puzzle. It says something about his character, much like Freamon’s hobby said something about his. Presbo’s talent for solving puzzles will soon play a key role in the storyline.

golf

 

 

Deputy Burrell’s golf game is another picture that tells a story, always missing his shot.

 

02perspective

 

 

This shot I like for the composition – the repetition of the cubicle walls and the perspective of the shot.

 

reflections

 

Another visual theme I’ve been seeing repeatedly is reflection. It’s related to surveillance, as we’re sometimes watching people. Sometimes we see scenes unfold through mirrors. Here we see the city go by reflected in the car window.

 

Sounds

In the scene where the police are searching the house for Bodie, the camera mainly stays on Bodie’s grandmother folding laundry in her living room. Most of the story is told through sound – the police at the door, the sounds of the street when the door is opened, the muffled sounds of the police looking through the rooms upstairs

The bar scene where Freamon explains how he got on the pawn detail is another with some noir-ish jazz in the background. The music creates atmosphere organically because it’s coming from the setting and not layered over it. The story ends up being pivotal in the plot of the series.

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Switch the soundtrack

There was this one scene is episode 3 of The Wire where the camera pans across Rawls foot up on his desk. I saw that and thought of Dean Wormer from Animal House and his famous speech about putting his foot down (YT). Maybe it would be funny to put the two together. Or maybe it would be stupid. Either way, it’s done and it’s a new assignment.

Doing this was pretty simple, and I’m a bit of an iMovie novice. I used MPEG Streamclip to get the scene, and found a video on Youtube that had the audio and downloaded it. I imported the audio from the video into Audacity and cut it down to the quote I wanted. Then I imported my clip from The Wire and the audio into iMovie. I used the Detach Audio function to take out the sound from the clip, and realized afterwards that I probably could have used that instead of the Audacity trick. I ran into a problem in that my audio was about a second longer than my video, but I was able to squeeze in each end of the audio until it matched the length of the video. It’s not up the the level of the Toy Story + The Wire mashup, but what is?

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Episode 3 sights and sounds

Recurring themes

05 surveillance

 

We’ve seen several shots of surveillance so far. Here’s one of the monitor in the office in Orlando’s. It’s only visible for a few frames as D’Angelo walks by, but it caught my attention as an example of surveillance by the surveilled. I suppose the kids doing lookout and yelling “5-0!” are another.

02 stairwell

 

Staircases are a visual metaphor that shows up throughout the series. Going up or down signifies things, like when the squad was sent down to the basement. Here Freamon is about to go up the stairs to a boxing gym. It’s the moment where he goes back to doing real police work, moving up from paper-shuffling.

Color

03 green light 04 green light

There are numerous examples of subtle color use in the episodes so far. Similar colors show up from scene to scene, which creates a kind of visual harmony. The green cast from the overhead light in the squad room is mirrored by the light on Stringer’s desk.

06 orange poster

 

Color is used for contrast as well. The orange of the poster with Barksdale’s picture stands out against the greenish-blue tint of the rest of the shot.

 

Shadows and light

01 shadows 07 silhouette

I love the line patterns made by the light coming through the bars in this shot. It’s not a scene of any particular significance, but it ups the aesthetic ante. The silhouette shot from the robbery scenes does as well.

backlighting

 

The backlighting effect in the argument between Daniels and McNulty has a nice melodrama to it – very visually striking.

 

Focus

08 shallow focus

 

Here is an example of the shallow focus effect that we sometimes see in night time scenes. The face in close-up is in focus, and the background is blurred to the point where all we see are abstract circles.

 

 

Sounds

I’m interested in the way sounds tell the story too. The background noise, although it’s sometimes hard to hear without headphones, adds character and atmosphere. In the robbery scene we can hear praise singing from a nearby church. You can hear it in the background in the outdoor shot, but if you listen closely it’s present, though muffled, throughout. It suggests that there are other sides to life in the hood, that there’s more than just the Game.

There’s a scene in the squad room where you can hear some jazzy music coming from a radio. To me at least, it creates a kind of noir atmosphere. Listen to the sound of the door closing – it’s like a jail cell door slamming shut.

This is a scene on the street, as Freamon gets out of his car and walks across the sidewalk to the door to the gym. Listen to all the activity on the street. Except for the one person who accosts the detective, it’s not shown in pictures, just sounds.

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Every picture tells a story

Composition

1 symmetry 12 symmetry

The first thing I notice in the second episode is symmetry. Gant’s body is in the center. The camera moves, but mostly maintains an imperfect bilateral symmetry. The imperfections and imbalances are important, because otherwise the composition would appear obvious and artificial, and lose its impact. The episode closes with a symmetrical composition as well, with Daniels’ face in the center of the screen. That mirroring of the opening and closing compositions is a kind of symmetry too.
Coincidentally, I was reading about symmetrical composition in the film journal p.o.v.. The article points out the obvious, that symmetry gives a certain power and importance to scenes and characters, but also says that symmetry is associated with scenes of death, which I did not know. Perhaps that’s why it was used in the morgue.

Color

4 surveillance

 

We’ve seen a few shots, like this one, that come from surveillance cameras. You can tell because they’re in black and white. I find this slightly jarring, and not up to the level of subtlety at work in the series. Maybe it’s supposed to highlight the outdated technology.

6 hat

 
 

We also see color at work in Bubbles’ hat trick. The red hat jumps out of the shots, acting like a spotlight on whoever he puts it on.

 
 

8 D'AngeloUsually the use of color is more subtle. In the interrogation scene with D’Angelo, everything has a muted, neutral tone, mostly grays plus some skin tones. A few accents of yellow show up – the chair, and I think there’s a post-it in there somewhere – which telegraph the yellow legal pad. And that pad is what the scene is all about: getting him to write something.

Every picture tells a story

5 office

 

The scene in Perlman’s office shows cramped space, piles of boxes and files and papers. It’s a portrait of overwork.

 

 

 

 10 McNulty's home 11 Daniels' home

There’s a short scene in McNulty’s apartment. The place is practically empty. There’s a narrative reason for that – he’s separated from his wife – but it also says something about his character. There’s nothing in his life but the job. Shortly afterward there’s a scene of dinner at the Daniels’ house, which is a stark contrast to McNulty’s place.

9 attention to detail

I like this shot of Freamon at work on his doll house toys. It shows a close attention to fine details. That says a lot about his character, which becomes more apparent as the series goes on.

 

 

surveillance-2

Here’s another picture of surveillance. As we said before, it’s a constant theme in The Wire, but what this shot shows is that the camera is on but no one’s paying attention – the person is doing a crossword puzzle.

 

 

 

in-the-holeA series of shots tells a story too. This is just a little scene with no particular significance, but it shows us the nice marble hallway in the police building, then the dark stairwell going down into the basement, then the dark, dungeon-like cellar hall leading to the room where the squad works. It tells us volumes about their status in the department.

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We’re not like the others. We’re your friends.

Our “Welcome to the Internet!” email went out a while ago to all those registered for The Internet Course. It was meant to be intimidating, but hopefully not too intimidating. More like the scene above than Ben Hur (YT). We’re not like the others. We’re your friends. Except we’d put the hitch-hiker up front in the driver’s seat. We give the class a lot of responsibility, which can translate into a lot of work, but so far the classes have reported enjoying it and getting a lot out of it. We don’t run this like the classes most people are used to, so it might seem unsettling. That’s a good thing though.

We’re planning on building off the same basic skeleton we used in the Spring, with some minor tweaks. But where it ends up going will be determined largely by the students. That’s pretty exciting. Through the past two iterations, students have taken things in directions that I would not have expected, like an in-depth look at ARPANET, and directions that I never would have thought of, like a Google map of the internet’s impacts.

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