They were watching, out there past men’s knowing, where stars are drowning and whales ferry their vast souls through the black and seamless sea.
― Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian, or the Evening Redness in the West
I was testing out Youtube Live the other week, looking to see what had changed from the Hangouts on Air that we used to use to record video chats for ds106. I noticed something surprising in my video list: the Blood Meridian discussion Jim and I did had been viewed over 800 times.
This was shocking because almost all of my viewership is in the single digits, unless it’s something for ds106 where I might get two dozen views. Jim blogged about the discussion which certainly raised the visibility of it, but still, it seems a crazy number of views.
My guess is that people google for information on the book for lit classes, and our video comes up. It’s a top ten result when I look up “blood meridian discussion,” which I find hard to accept. Maybe students were trying to get around reading it, or maybe they wanted help in understanding it. Maybe they’re looking for ideas for essays and discussions of their own. Maybe, hopefully, my meager attempts as being open helped a few people out. I hope no one got an F because of us.
So here’s a video in which I prattle on about copyright and fair use. I thought about opening with a mashup of No Expectations chords and Houses of the Holy lyrics, but I realized that a) I can’t sing and play at the same time, and b) I can’t sing. So much for that idea.
Coincidentally, I ran a copyright workshop for faculty Friday afternoon, using The Copyright Card Game. A few of us have been working on adapting the UK version, from Chris Morrison and Jane Secker of UK Copyright Literacy, for the US audience. We can do this because they were nice enough to release their game under a Creative Commons license. I’m interested in any input on the adaptation I can get. If anyone wants to help us work out how to incorporate the TEACH Act into it, I especially welcome the help. If anyone wants to make use of what we’ve done, that’s what it’s there for.
In @jennymackness post on Copyright, the Public Domain, and the Commons, she brings up issues of sharing and the so-called sharing economy. Some creative professionals are taken aback by sharing, not that anyone suggests that they have to share. The term sharing economy is often just a smiley face slapped on the exploitation of people in need. I am certainly not a great example of a sharer, certainly not as good as I ought to be. But I make things and write things in the course of doing my job, and maybe other people are able to make use of these things. I get paid to do my job, so it’s no loss to me to share things I’ve made in the course of my work. Maybe there is some way to monetize those things, but that would be more work, and more importantly, work I don’t want to do. There are many like me in education, who produce artifacts in the course of their paid work which may be useful to others. If we share our work, and others are able to make use of it, we gain recognition in our communities. We may gain a sense of satisfaction that we’ve done something important and valuable for our communities. For those intangibles to meaningful, however, we need to have stable jobs that pay living wages. It’s a sharing economy that rises not from desperation, but a lack thereof.
I’ve been pretty consistently blown away by the reflections on the readings in this season of ds106. This week brings us design thoughts, something that’s usually a bit of a struggle. Too often people confuse decoration or templates with design, when both of those miss the fundamental principle of purpose. Design is not to look pretty, it’s to accomplish something. But everyone so far is picking up on Vignelli, the Italian maestro, and Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou and his infectious enthusiasm. One of the things I really like about Hassan is the attention to detail and depth of analysis that he gives. Like Tony Zhou does with film, Hassan shows us another way of looking at sequential art, not just to get the story, but to get how the story is being told, by exposing the underlying language and how it works. That can give us both a deeper appreciation for the art, and an understanding of how to make our own art.
In ds106, there is nothing that I can do that some of the students can’t do better. It may not be good to admit to that, because they probably want to have confidence in me. Or maybe there is an advantage to being a low bar, in that it’s less likely to intimidate anyone creatively. I don’t know. But within the framework of the course, I try to challenge people to push themselves, and to share what they’re doing and how they’re doing it and what they’re learning from it, so that we can all learn from each other. Open has risks, but there are also rewards.
But as Martin Weller pointed out, some of us are in better positions to take risks. I can afford to embarrass myself here in OpenEdMOOC, or in ds106, because I’ll still have my day job. I’ll still be in an affluent and relatively safe society, and one that looks favorably upon people who look like me. If I learn from my mistakes in public, I’ll probably be okay. I may even be rewarded for taking a risk and showing my growth. I don’t think we give everyone that same benefit. Does open exacerbate inequality? Perhaps. I don’t know if there is any way around that though.
So I had this idea to use design to turn movie scenes into comic book pages. Not exactly reverse engineering storyboards, but rather using the language of sequential art, panels and layout, as part of the storytelling. This is challenging on a number of levels. The first is a matter of selection. How much can you get on a page? How can you edit it so that there is a beginning and an end, and an end which makes you want to turn the page, so to speak? What do you need to show, and what can you leave out? That goes for dialogue as well as visuals.
The language of sequential art is a challenge in itself, because most of us probably read it rarely if ever, and use it never. So we have no idea how to make an action scene move fast, or how to build tension visually and sequentially. Done well, this could be a true five-star assignment. Or someone could be lame and just arrange six screenshots uniformly in two columns and three rows, without even trying to work with the internal dynamics among the images. That might be worth two stars, if edited effectively.
I took this scene from the 80s TV movie, The Incredible Hulk Returns, because I thought it was funny. Unfortunately the humor is tied up in what comes before and after, as Thor reacts and adapts to the 20th century, so it mostly gets lost. Nevertheless, it makes for a dramatic moment that can stand by itself as a page.
I used a Firefox plugin to grab the video, and used MPEG Streamclip to pull frames from it. I eliminated a lot of dialogue, particularly from the investigative reporter. The essence of the scene is Thor intimidating the reporter, who has been tracking Dr. Banner/The Hulk for an entire series before this movie, into going away. Thor claiming to be Banner makes a good end point, because there has to be a reaction, so it would lead to the next page. But again, that gets lost without the context of what came before.
I made a Photoshop image 850 x 1100 pixels, to get normal page proportions, and copied and pasted my screen grabs into it. I found some speech balloons online, and used one of them to contain the conversation fragments that I wanted to use. I had to do some fiddling with the size and placement, and really should do some more so that it flows properly. I made Thor’s speech in bold type, to suggest his dominance in the scene. I could have used color or different typefaces to add further character to the voices, but hindsight is 20/20.
I made duplicates of all the images and merged them (that’s Ctrl-E, for those who like shortcuts) onto one layer, which I then ran through the High-Pass filter and then used the Threshold image adjustment. that made it into a black and white outline image layer. On the layer below it, I boosted the saturation and used the Posterize image adjustment, and then set the blending mode on the outline layer to Darken. The idea was to make it look like illustration more than photography, so it might look more like a comic. I need to work on that technique to make it more effective. Maybe it would have been better to leave the images as they were.
Duplicating the images was important because it left me free to experiment on them without permanently ruining anything. Merging them onto a single layer allowed me to apply effects uniformly to all the shots, and to do them all at once.
We will be doing a more-or-less weekly best of ds106, This Week in ds106, this semester. We’ve done something like this in the past, but now I’m trying out some new things. I’m using the PressForward WordPress plugin to manage it. This has a syndication function, so I’m pulling in all the feeds from both the UMW and KSU contingents. With the plugin, editors on the site can nominate, comment on, and discuss posts from the group. There’s also a bookmarklet for nominating posts, which is what I used this week as I was going through everyone’s summaries. The way I envision this working going forward is that the members of the group of the week, like the writing group for example, will be made editors for the week. They will monitor what people do and nominate work to highlight. Over the weekend after their week, they will publish their selected posts along with a commentary or editorial post on the week, and all of this will show up on This Week in ds106. Seems simple enough to me. All it requires is a little online interaction, and the group deciding how they will produce their commentary post.
I’m doing it myself this week. I picked out four posts to highlight. The first is Ashleigh’s Oreo O’s commercial. I’m known to some as a cookie monster, and I have a thing for Oreos, so for my own good I really shouldn’t know about Oreo breakfast cereal. But Ashleigh went all out, writing a commercial, enlisting others to add their voices, and editing everything together with background music. The next is Ashley’s Eyemation – another example of extraordinary effort yielding extraordinary results. I especially like the way it combines the physical and the virtual into a hand-drawn GIF. Another piece of GIF work comes from Megan, with her To-Do List. The GIF is cool in itself, but the post is what makes this one. She goes through the different things she tried, what worked and what didn’t work so well, and what she learned from it. And that means the rest of us can learn from it too – which is what this is all about. The last one I picked was Kelsey’s rock n roll Triple Troll. I love this particular assignment. I think I’ve done variations of it a few times. This is an inspired take on it. I feel like I could picture Johnny Cash doing something like this.
So that’s my This Week in ds106. No one needs follow my format though. Put your own stamp on it. It’s your course too.
If you were a superhero, what would your powers be?
I posted that to Facebook, just to see what people would say. Some responses were unsurprising: speed, agility, flight. One person said skepticism and another wanted the Lasso of Truth – not quite the same, but both represent a power over BS.
My brother-in-law said, “Telepathy is also intriguing, but I fear that would cause too many moral dilemmas.” That makes me think of Fawaz: a superhero combines powers with “as ethical responsibility to use one’s powers in service to a wider community.” Supervillains use superpowers for personal gain. There are exceptions though. Batman does what he does for his own purposes. Jessica Jones sometimes seems on the fence about social responsibility, like she’d rather not have to deal with the world’s BS.
I put the same question to Twitter. Todd Conaway claims the power of speed, but his true power is that he’s #ds106 #4life. Ronald_2008, another member of the #4life crew, wants flight and flames. Our own Katelyn would like to read minds – no fear of moral dilemmas here. Laura Seward wants the power of influence, although as a teacher and a mom she probably has it already. And Rachel B wants to be the G.O.A.T.
Spider Goat: scaling walls and butting heads with my Super Goat Friends. And I would need super hearing like Daredevil.
I always wanted the power of mind control, because it seemed like fun. Then I heard about Dr. Bees (YT) and wanted the power of bee control. It occurs to me, however, that these are the powers of villains rather than heroes. Maybe I need to keep a low profile around the superheroes.
“How would you make an emophoto?” my wife asked.
“Emo Phillips?” I responded, not knowing what we were talking about.
“How about an emu? That would be fun.”
“What would an emo emu look like?”
That breakfast table conversation at the Bond house. I did an image search for an emu, and in order to model good behavior I used Tools->Usage rights->Labeled for Reuse and found a good one, then did a similar search for emo hair and found a Pixabay PNG file that I could plop right on top of the emu in Photoshop. And then I looked at the Daily Create and saw that I didn’t really follow any of the directions. But that’s okay. The point is to make something, try to be creative, and not obsess over it
I made a logo, so I figured I’d make a trailer of sorts. I had seen the Dr. Bees video (YT) recently. It uses the “It’s a bird! It’s a plane!” tagline from various Superman shows, and since my logo was a parody of Supe’s, it seemed like a natural fit. “It’s a frog!” comes from Underdog, which was one of my favorite shows when I was 5. And since I’m in parody mode, I had to do something with “Faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive…” so I pulled in the Wonder Woman and Hulk GIFs. I really should’ve done something for “Able to leap tall buildings in a single GIF,” but so it goes. I have no idea who’s responsible for the dancing Avengers GIF, but I just had to use it. Then I needed some soundtrack music. I went to Soundcloud and looked for something heroic with a Creative Commons license, but wasn’t happy with anything I found. So I used Tomoyasu Hotei’s Battle Without Honor or Humanity, which people may know from Tarantino. I had to play with it a little to get the music to line up the way I wanted. I don’t know if it embodies the anything goes, anyone can do it aesthetic of ds106 as well as I’d like, but it’s close enough for punk.