So it goes


cc2010 Robert, from

One of the many nice things about The Internet Course is that you never know where it will go. The course description gives it broad guidance as to what it covers, but the students determine how to approach the various topics. Now we’re in the final project phase, which is entirely student driven. This has produced a number of interesting projects in the past, and this semester looks to match the standard of creativity that has been set.

One group is taking a Buzzfeed-style listicle approach to the impacts of the internet – 10 reasons why the internet ruins everything. The plan is to take both serious and sarcastic approaches to items on the list. Tuesday’s class brainstormed ideas, some of which were:

lists (nothing like starting off meta)
childhood innocence
f2f communication
attention span
hope for humanity
music industry

What fascinates me about this is how easy it is to make arguments from both sides – the internet’s impacts can be seen as both positive and negative. Take music for example. That the internet has destroyed the industry is a common refrain. although I would contend that the industry had been shooting itself in the foot long before Napster came around. The traditional recording industry and music retail outlets have taken a hit, to be sure. But there are new players in the field, and at least two of them, Apple and Google, are profiting quite nicely. The flip side to the doom and gloom that the RIAA spouts was articulated by Steve Albini recently. There has never been a better time to be a fan of music. We’re no longer at the mercy of radio and retail gatekeepers. And neither are musicians – they can take control of their careers, rather than putting them and their profits in the hands of managers and labels and producers and promoters.

Tuesday’s other group is expanding on the creation/consumption topic by doing a survey on how people contribute original content to the web. That leads to some interesting questions about what constitutes original content and the nature of creativity. Is the Pentametron’s content original? Creative? I would say yes, but I am sure some would debate me. The idea of curation as a creative act seems to be born out of the internet. The survey avoids this potential minefield by providing a definition. The survey also asks about the nature and impact of original content, and charts the responses. I would be interested to see a breakdown of types of content – text, image, audio, video, code, etc – but that may be outside the scope of their study.

Both of these projects are different, both in topic and form, from what we’ve seen in previous iterations of the course. It goes where it goes and where it ends, no one knows.

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Morning in Baltimore – notes on episode 11


The title of this episode is “A New Day.” In the script, it specifically refers to the new mayoral administration and to the New Day Co-op that Prop Joe runs with the other drug kingpins. The epigraph is “You play in dirt, you get dirty,” which is what McNulty says about Officer Walker. “Dirt” is referenced a few other times in the script – when the kids are plotting payback on Officer Walker, when Bunk presses Prez for help with getting Randy to talk, and in the discussion of city finances: “Finance, of course, doesn’t deal with the dirt under the nails tangibles, unless you consider the money itself to be dirty.”

“A new day” could also refer to the major crimes unit getting back to business. Daniels calls it “morning in Baltimore.” Lester goes back to the unit’s office and turns on the lights, symbolic of a new day/morning, and starts digging in the dirt and reviewing case files. There’s some eloquent visual storytelling going on in the scene. We see a box labeled “subpoena returns,” so we know we’re looking at the trail of dirty money. We see Freamon pull a folder for Ed Bowers, and the scene cuts to a fundraising gathering where the new mayor is hobnobbing with the city’s elite and gets introduced to Ed Bowers. We go back to Freamon looking at a subpoena for Maurice Webber, then cut back to Carcetti in conversation with another person. His name tag reveals him to be Maurice Webber. We can expect the new mayor to quickly find dirt under his fingernails.

06reopening01 06reopening02 06reopening03 06reopening04 06reopening05 06reopening06

By intercutting those two scenes, and juxtaposing just the right shots and just the right dialogue, we get all that information in a fraction of a minute – another example of masterful editing.

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Acting Commissioner Burrell

faison1Earlier in his career, before he acted as Commissioner of the Baltimore Police, Ervin Burrell had a number of other jobs, including truck driver and apartment building superintendent. He also worked for the New Orleans PD. Here we see him in Cat People, the 1982 remake of the Jacques Tourneur classic of the same name.


The top picture makes him look like a saint while the lower one makes him look like Shaft. My wife questions my choice of movies. But Cat Videos approves!


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Busted on Wire106

Lamar: What happened to all them towers?
Brother Mouzone: Slow train comin’. Reform, Lamar. Reform.

(from The Wire Episode Scripts)

On Friday, Jim, Desa and I had a good conversation about episode 10 of season 3 of The Wire. We looked at the opening sequence (YT) and Colvin’s speech about the war on drugs (YT) and discussed reformation and militarization. We were struck by that metaphor of a “slow train coming.” I knew it from the Bob Dylan song (YT), but assumed it had older roots. However, a cursory Google search didn’t find any. After looking at the lyrics, I think it might be an interesting exercise to see how many connections we could find between the song and the series.

We listened to a bit of the song during the discussion. Shortly after we finished, Youtube sent me a content claim referencing the song, and later put one in for the clip as well. They muted the video, so it’s only of use to the three of us who were there.


It’s kinda sad that these algorithms inhibit our ability to discuss and learn from our culture. They muted the whole thing, not just the parts in dispute, making the video unuseable.

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Wire106 – ep08 Moral Midgetry


I see Fredericksburg is in on the action.


Colvin is getting ready to retire, to hang up the gloves. On the other hand, Cutty is getting ready to start a boxing gym. The Deacon, in the foreground, is connected to both. Considering what happens later on in the series, this feels like foreshadowing.


We’ve been seeing Greggs turn into McNulty. This shot is set up so she’s staring into the bottle – not a bright future


Omar when he was little


Clay Davis walks String through the golden doors. It looks impressive, but we all know it’s not real gold, just a front.

I like the layering of sounds here. You can hear the footsteps in the background as Devonne walks across the street, Chris up close readying his weapon, the changing point of view as the vehicle moves. The explosion of glass that coincides with the gunshot doesn’t sound quite right to me, like the shards are too big for auto glass. But then we hear the alarms, the dog barking, all the people shouting. They sound more angry than fearful.

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Ien Harris’ ds106 emergency alert

This was posted right around the beginning of the semester. It was an omen of things to come. I think it captures an intuitive understanding of the ds106 ethos.

Melinda Albrycht’s poem “The Wire”

Melinda’s poem is a great meditation on the themes of The Wire. While it is an example of excellent writing, what I found really inspiring was the reading of it, and the rhythm of it. That inspired me to remix it with the opening theme music.

dkernohan’s Daily Create: Text from the cover of a mid-price DVD re-issue of seasons 1-7 of “Jimmy McNulty and the Barksdale Gang”

I just love the idea of The Wire re-envisioned as a Saturday morning cartoon – Hong Kong Phooey meets Scooby Doo. I guess I’m not the only one, since this image is out there:


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Digital ID

This week in The Internet Course we will focus on digital identity. The panel of experts has pulled together an impressive array of research, some of which is below:

I’m interested to see where the discussion will go. There is overlap with last week’s topic of privacy and openness, especially where topics of hacking and identity theft are concerned.

I don’t want to rehash trodden ground, but I was intrigued by Alec Couros’ troubles with Facebook and identity misappropriation. He’s had problems with people borrowing his image or name or both for scammy purposes, but recently Facebook decided that he himself was not authentic, in spite of the volume of data he had provided them over the years. There are services that use things like Facebook, Twitter or Google+ for login identification. In essence, Facebook becomes a virtual ID card. What are the implications of outsourcing ID verification to commercial entities? Especially in light of the terms and conditions of our relationships with them? In real life we use government, which we supposedly control, for ID cards. What can happen when we turn to commercial providers for that?

As I was looking for an image to go with this post, I found this info graphic by Fred Cavazza on Flickr:


It might be a little outdated (2006), but maybe that says something about the shifting nature of digital identity. It’s an interesting way of breaking the topic down, and of showing its breadth.

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There’s never been a paper bag…

Inspired by the WaffleStomper, I thought I’d try remixing a song and some speech. Keeping with The Wire theme, I was also inspired by the speech that Major Colvin gave about the history of the paper bag. I decided to mix that with Blake Leyh’s closing theme, The Fall (YT). I used MPEG Streamclip to get the audio for both. When I put them together in Audacity, I saw that the speech was about twice as long as the music:


So I had to do some editing. I went at it on both fronts – shortening the speech and lengthening the music. If you look at the speech, you see a lot of flatline segments, the pauses between his words. Taking them out entirely would make it sound unnatural, but they can be edited aggressively. Every place I saw a length of silence, represented by the flat line in the waveform, I removed a large part of it.


This shortened the speech significantly, but it was still longer than the music. Editing that was trickier. I selected three passages and looped them by copying and pasting. The trick was to listen to the pattern in the music and figure out where it repeats. That way I could duplicate the sections without disturbing the flow of the music. I don’t think I did a really good job with getting the splices right – if you focus on the music you can hear where I edited it. On the positive side, it’s only jarring in a couple spots. I used the Amplify function to boost the voice and the mixer slider to bring down the volume of the music.

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Little Melvin

08deaconA minor character who makes his debut in this week’s episodes is the Deacon. I’m not sure if he has a name beyond that. He’s played by Melvin Williams, a former Baltimore drug kingpin who served as a partial template for Avon Barksdale. Simon wrote a series of articles about him for the Baltimore Sun. I couldn’t find them online, but did find a blog post discussing them. Many of the characters in The Wire are built from real people that Simon and his co-authors have encountered, or have been for that matter. The series takes that a step further by weaving real people into the story. Detective Ed Norris is played by Ed Norris, former Baltimore police chief. The character Omar was inspired by Donnie Andrews, who has a bit part in some episodes. Jay Landsman is based on Jay Landsman, who plays Colvin’s second-in-command. Felicia “Snoop” Pearson is portrayed by Felicia “Snoop” Pearson, who was a product of the environment seen in the series. Simon talks about the city of Baltimore as a character in the series, which we see in the photography and authentic settings, but I think the blurring of real and fictional characters also contributes to that.

UC Berkeley professor Linda Williams wrote (PDF) about these connections in studying the ethnography of The Wire. I’ll have to read that more closely.

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Set your poems to music

Melinda’s Wire poem is just awesome, both in the writing and the reading. The rhythm in the reading is so good that I thought I’d try to add a music track to it. Here’s what I came up with:

I recorded Melinda’s track using Audacity and Soundflower so I could have something to work with. I have the season 1 theme by The Blind Boys of Alabama(YT) in my iTunes (Spirit of the Century is a great album all the way through), so I imported that into Audacity. I edited out the verse sections, which was kind of tricky. When doing something like that, you want the beat to flow evenly through the edits. At first, I had a little stutter where the sections cam together, But I could see the spike in the waveform where the beat was, so I was able to trim it so the beats lined up. It was sheer luck that the instrumental sections that I kept more or less matched the length of the poem. There is a little overlap between the end of the poem and the part where the song’s vocals come back in, but I think that’s okay. It was also a happy coincidence that the rhythm of Melinda’s reading lined up with the beat of the music so well. I tweaked that in two or three places, either shortening or lengthening pauses to make the waveform spikes between the two tracks align.


I had to adjust the volume balance between the tracks too. I used the sliders on the left to boost the reading a little bit. It was okay over the intro music because there was not much instrumentation, but when the solos came in they started to compete. So I selected that portion, from the start of the lead break until the end of the reading, and used the Filter->Amplify function to reduce the volume of the music. I had to do it twice because the first attempt still left it too loud. You can see below where the waveform is squeezed.


It was important to adjust the music to her voice rather than the other way around, because i wanted to keep the quality of the reading.

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