How not to choose a design assignment

So I told myself: I’ll do a design assignment. I’ll click the random button and do whichever on it gives me. So what do I get? The Spreadsheet Invasion. What the heck should I do with that? And how the heck do I do it? I though of that Mr. X image I used with this week’s assignments, the skyline reflected in his glasses, and how the geometricness of it lended itself to a spreadsheet grid. OK, I could even call that an 80s tie-in. Then it occurred to me to try to animate a sunrise. I built the skyline in Excel by filling cells with black. Once I had that done I realized I could animate it by making new worksheets and copying the previous one in, sort of like flip animation. Now I had a plan and felt like I knew what I was doing. I made the gradation in the sky using the standards colors. Looking back, I should have looked into customizing the color palette. I’ve never done that with Excel. I’m assuming it’s possible, but you never know with Microsoft. I copied my first scene and made a new worksheet and pasted it in. Then I made adjustments – bring the sun up, move the gradation up, repeat. I made 8 worksheets. Now how do I animate it? I thought about doing a screen grab (Cmd+Shift+4) for each worksheet, but then I’d have to try to make them all the same size, and fail and then try to cover for it. I didn’t see an option in Excel to export a worksheet as an image. So I used Quicktime to do a screen recording and flipped through the worksheets. I’d still have to do some cleanup though, so I took another look for an export option. I highlighted all the cells on the screen and copied. Then I went into Photoshop to create a new image.

The preset size said Clipboard, so I knew I could just paste my selection as an image. I went back and copied the cells from each worksheet in the same manner, and pasted each selection into my image, which by default made a new layer each time.

This is what needed to animate it as a GIF.

I created a frame animation on the timeline, and used the Make Frames from Layers option. I set the frame timing to .5 seconds and used the Save for Web option to make it a GIF.


As far as animations go, it’s kinda lame, but then if we wanted something of quality we wouldn’t be using Excel. I think it’s not so much a design challenge as a problem-solving one. And on that level it succeeds. Looking back, there are a lot of things I could have done differently to make it better. I could have made the cells more square, so they look more like pixels. Then I could have had lights in the windows, and had them turn off as the sun rose. I also could have Googled Excel animation and not have to invent a process on the fly, but I suppose that would have been less of a learning experience. What can I do with my newly developed skill? Damned if I know.

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Sounding off on the radio

We came up with many great radio show ideas this past week. You can see them all at the link, at least the ones that were tagged properly. A number of people mentioned fashion as a topic. This poses a challenge in that fashion is very visual, whereas we will only have sound and dialogue to work with. And we wouldn’t want the show to just be people talking about clothes. We would need to find a way to use sound to make it compelling. I can imagine the sounds of a fashion show – the murmur of the crowd, the cameras clicking and winding, the music, footsteps on the catwalk. The way voices sound in a large room or hall. A show might take the form of a news broadcast, with theme music transitioning between segments and some sort of storyline running through it. Or it could be a murder mystery at a fashion show, just creating a simple plot to draw the listener in to a discussion of fashion. Here are some other thoughts from the past week:

I’ve thought about possibly creating an investigative show as they are done in podcasts, create a new 80s movie reviews, talk about money, or talk about book reviews.

The book review idea is novel and has great potential. I could imagine taking 80s books that have been made into video, like Handmaids Tale, Jason Bourne, Stephen King, Tom Clancy, and weaving dialogue clips together with analysis of themes to create a story. The key is to find ways to use sounds to drive the story. Another idea that has come up is politics of the 80s, although people tend to think it doesn’t fit the pop culture aspect. But pop culture can both reflect and drive politics, so it could work. Audio clips from speeches, newscasts and interviews could be woven in to make the show sonically compelling.

And speaking of weaving sounds:

This is s simple write-up, but it clearly shows what was used and how it was put together. The power of Audacity, like the power of Photoshop, is in the layers. You can see it at work here.

Video Games in the 80s:

The Internet Archive has an Internet Arcade full of games from the 80s. I have no idea how to make a story out of it, but then I’m not a gamer. Maybe we could imagine being caught inside games, and work the game sounds into the story. Games, like fashion, are very visual, but they have their sounds too, as do arcades.

found it amazing that someone’s sounds and descriptions could paint such a vivid picture in my mind and didn’t make me think like oh I should just be watching a movie instead

I think we take sound for granted, and rarely if ever think about how it functions in media. We’ve done experiments in the past where we listened to videos on ds106radio for our live tweeting sessions. It’s interesting to see just how much of the story you can get just from the sound – much more than you would in the reverse, from watching the video with no sound. Obviously dialogue plays a huge role in that difference, but the background sounds give so much information about the setting and the action. For example, I heard a sound editor talk about how to make scenes quiet. You can’t turn the sound off, because that would make it seem like it was broken, a technical problem. The way to do it is to add sounds in, to amplify those little sounds you wouldn’t hear outside of a quiet situation. If it’s supposed to be so quiet you could hear a pin drop, amplify the sound of the pin.

As I said following the broadcasts, I hope people got some ideas on how they might use sound to drive stories from the listening and analyzing exercises. We’ll be creating our own audio productions soon, so we can use these ideas to think about how we can use sound to tell our stories.

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Inverted synesthesia

For today’s Daily Create, I did a most obvious thing and typed ds106 in the synesthesia generator. Being most oblivious, I failed to notice that @NomadWarMachine did that in the assignment prompt. I didn’t like the color combination though, so I thought about how I could play with it. My first thought there was to invert the colors in Photoshop, which basically swaps colors for whatever is on the opposite side of the color wheel. Then I thought about superimposing ds106 in some big blocky typeface, since the colors were presented in squares. I went to DaFont and looked for an 80s typeface, and found something suitable. I put ds106 in the preview box and set the size to Large. Then I screenshotted the color strip and the type preview, brought both into Photoshop and sized to fit. The next step was to duplicate the color strip and use Adjustments=>Invert to change the colors. I used the magic lasso to select the background of the type layer, then switched to the invert layer with the selection still active, and pressed Delete. That gave me something usable so I flattened the image and saved it. It’s still kinda plain. I could have played with it some more and possibly come up with a more interesting visual. In the spirit of synesthesia, here’s what it sounds like through Audacity:

That last part was inspired by

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The Sounds of Science

We’ve had three great evenings of live tweeting ds106radio. The point of this was to analyze, together, how sounds can paint pictures and drive stories. My favorite thing about this exercise is that the idea for it came from a class a few years ago. The students suggested it, and it was brilliant. This week, we’ve been listening to ESC: Sonic Adventure in the Anthropocene. We heard episodes 3, 4 and 6 so far.

What the author does is remix several stories to tell a larger one. It also analyzes sound at the same time as it uses sound, underscoring the point I hope to get across. Friend of ds106 @scottlo, a radio master himself, brought the show to my attention. Another example of how the community creates the course.

By listening together and sharing our insights, we can pick up on things we might otherwise not notice, or not recognize. We all know that music impacts the mood of drama, but we may not all be aware of how it does that. So it helps when people bring their expertise to bear. It can be harder to make connection and have conversation in an online class. The opportunities are there, but it takes extra effort and initiative to take advantage of them. So I appreciate everyone who has joined in so far, and hope to see more tomorrow

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Red Dawn Reimagined

I found Red Dawn on Netflix the other week. I had actually never seen it before, so, given our theme, I thought I’d check it out. The idea of Soviet proxy forces attacking a high school in the middle of nowhere, USA, is about as ludicrous as the thought that the couple from Dirty Dancing would lead the resistance, but that’s Cold War paranoia for you. I thought it might make a good sound effects story though. In my version, Godzilla shows up to save the day, after a fashion. He was hibernating through most of the 80s, but if WWIII woke him up, he’d be on our side.

Most of this came from Freesound:
School bell.wav https://freesound.org/people/13FPanska_Stranska_Michaela/sounds/378394/
Chalk on chalkboard.wav https://freesound.org/people/Liefdier101/sounds/366615/
Kids in classroom https://freesound.org/people/laserlife/sounds/361400/
helicopterPassage_28sec.wav https://freesound.org/people/lorenzosu/sounds/49481/
War sounds https://freesound.org/people/Dragout/sounds/150305/
Crowd in panic https://freesound.org/people/ienba/sounds/491405/
EarthQuake.mp3 https://freesound.org/people/Radical_Larry/sounds/450204/

I found the Godzilla screech on Youtube. I brought him into the story mainly because he has such an iconic sound. To put this together, I needed school sounds and combat sounds, hence the bell, voices, chalkboard, helicopter and gunfire. I thought I should have some sort of building collapsing sound to go with Godzilla. I couldn’t find one I liked so I settled on the earthquake. After downloading everything, I imported all of them into Audacity. I went through each track and renamed them so it would be easier for me to edit. Then I arranged them vertically, from first sound to last, again for ease of editing. The import left them all starting at the beginning, so I had to move sounds horizontally on the timeline. I changed the View to Zoom->Normal (ease of editing again), and to move a sound, I highlighted it, cut it and pasted it in later in the timelime. I clipped some sound effects shorter and added some fade in and fade out effects to others. Level-wise, they sounded balanced enough on playback. I noticed the chalkboard sounds lasted longer then the rest. They were drowned out by all the commotion, and up by the top of the stack so I didn’t see it. So I ended up with the copters and gunfire and screaming and screeching and when it all died down, there was still someone calmly writing on the chalkboard. It was good for a laugh, but not what I was going for so I cut it shorter. Here’s what my Audacity screen looked like:

From there I exported to mp3 and uploaded to Soundcloud. Audacity automatically mixed it down to two tracks.

It was fun to do and I think it came out well. As I wrote this up, I was quite aware that the reason it went so smoothly had a lot to do with familiarity with the program. All those little things I did for ease of editing saved time and frustration, but that came from previous struggles.

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“We’ve got fun and games…”

Some musings on this past week in ds106:

I’m glad someone did the timeline assignment.  There are many more assignments than I can keep track of. If I knew about this one ahead of time, I might have made it recommended or required, if I had thought of taking this approach to it. There are an infinite number of ways we could choose to connect to the 80s theme. We can see some themes emerging from the timeline: advancing technology, political tensions, environmental concerns. All of these are relevant to us today. It would have been interesting to see the similarities and contrasts between different people’s views.

I think this week I really challenged myself, and I have to say I’m proud of all the work that I’ve done.

This is pretty much the best thing I can hear in ds106. It’s not so much about what we make, or doing anything perfectly, but rather looking for ways to grow creatively and expressively, and recognizing the value in our accomplishments. That’s not likely to look the same for any two of us.

One thing that people find particularly challenging with writing assignments is blogging the process. It’s usually not meaningful to talk about the technical aspects of using a keyboard or a word processing program in the same way as we might discuss creating a GIF with Photoshop. But in both cases, there are decision-making processes taking place. This post gives a good example of reflecting on the writing process. It’s not the only way to do it of course. There are many ways to open a window upon our thoughts and efforts.

I didn’t really like the daily creates this week. I’m hoping next week there will be more that include photoshop and stuff like that

The Daily Create is really about developing a regular habit of creativity. There is no “right” way to do it. Friend of ds106 @dogtrax often uses a comic strip creator to respond to prompts.

And I used Photoshop last week for a poem prompt. We all have permission to creatively reinterpret prompts and assignments. But we need to beware of putting ourselves in a rut too, so we shouldn’t make everything a Photoshop project.

The CIA would like to formally declare that more dancing would be a huge positive to modern life, and would like to make a motion to require more dancing in daily human lives.

I am in no way a dancer, but I move to nominate Agent Burke for Director of the CIA.

I also wanted to muse on the banner for this blog. Of course ds106 wants to have fun. We’ve got fun and games. But the pairing of Cyndi Lauper’s hit with Guns n Roses also reflects two competing moods of 80s culture. On one hand, there was the upbeat, happy components, like Girls Just Want to Have Fun or Back to the Future or the numerous comedies of the decade. On the other hand, there was a dark side, represented by the horror of Stephen King and the numerous slasher films. And tech-noir, which along with cyberpunk came into its own in the 80s, looking at the way things were and forecasting dark times ahead. They Live, which has been mentioned elsewhere in ds106, was an example of the genre. I’ve thought about using tech-noir as a theme for ds106 in the past, but I felt it might be too specific and limited, not to mention a bit dark for some people’s tastes. Generalizing out to 80s pop culture as a whole gives more leeway for everyone to find their own angles on the theme, so we can all make of it what we will.

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Your fly is down

I thought I’d look at the 1986 version of The Fly and try a story shape analysis. Something that occurred to me when watching Vonnegut talk about the shapes of stories is that he’s talking about one character’s story. Cinderella’s story takes a different shape from that of the prince or the wicked stepmother.

The Fly makes a good example because there are basically only three characters of any consequence: the scientist, the journalist and the editor. I see all their stories as downhill slides. The editor starts off on the negative side because he’s been dumped by the journalist. He gets a boost when he thinks he can play the knight in shining armor and save the day, but then he gets crippled by the fly. So he starts down and it only gets worse. The journalist’s fortunes go up early as she finds a good story and a new relationship, but the relationship goes bad. You could say her story takes an upturn towards the end since she comes out alive. The scientist’s story follows a similar path, as he gets his experiments start to be successful and he finds himself in a new relationship. But he also is infected with the fly genome and loses himself to it. I suppose we could count the fly as a fourth character. If we don’t count its story as ending in the teleporter, then it goes up as its persona takes over the scientist, then takes a nosedive at the end. It’s a tragedy for all involved.

There is a lot of potential in looking at stories from the points of view of different characters – not exactly a Rashomon effect, but perhaps something analogous. What does the story of The Breakfast Club, for example, look like from the point of view of the janitor or the assistant principal? What is a significant event to the kids might be just another day to them, or a minor annoyance. But it shows that a story can have more than one shape, depending on your angle of view.

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Looking back at Week Two

What I learned this week: Many things are not what they seem. I can be a hero. It is easy to forget about what is ‘invisible’. And like the aliens in They Live, digital images and arts are all around me: I just can’t see them.

I love these insights. Talking to people today about media is almost like talking to fish about water. One of my hopes is that by producing and analyzing media, we will grow more conscious of its role in our lives and society. Grow is a key term here, because we are never done. They Live presents that consciousness as a binary – put on the glasses and you will see. The reality is that that awareness has complexity and many layers of depth.

Perfectionism isn’t always the answer.

Perfectionism is the enemy. Nothing is ever perfect and everything can always be improved. Our creative activities are done when we stop tinkering and say, Good enough, or, Good enough for now. At some point we need to stop and take stock of what we have learned. Even if we try something and it fails, we can still learn from it. If that happens with an assignment, it doesn’t need to be lost time. We could still write it up, say what we were trying to do, how we tried, where we think it went wrong, what we could have done differently, and evaluate what we learned for our efforts. And then it’s not a failure, but rather an investment of time and effort with a documented payoff. It could very well be worth an A.

This one was tricky for me to connect to the course theme because the rules of the assignment asked to include a gif of your favorite sports play of the year.

The assignments in this course are creative challenges, not tests. Being creative is important, following rules is not. So there’s never anything wrong with taking a novel approach or reinterpreting guidelines, as long as we exercise creativity, challenge ourselves, and show what we learned from it.

Also heard this week:
There was a comment about having to do 4 Daily Creates in 5 days. Since the weeks run Friday to Friday, there are technically 8 Daily Create opportunities each week, although one probably shouldn’t double-dip on Friday. The point of the Daily Create is to make something. Regularly. It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to feel like work. There is no way to get it wrong, other than to not do it.

Several people expressed interest in learning more about Photoshop. I learned a lot through books, and just trying stuff. The UMW Libraries have many ebooks on Photoshop, like these:
Teach yourself visually Photoshop CS6

Photoshop CS5 Bible

Or if you don’t have access to Photoshop, there’s the Gimp:
GIMP 2.6 cookbook over 50 recipes to produce amazing graphics with the GIMP

There will be differences in menus and functionality in different versions of Photoshop, but structurally and conceptually it’s pretty consistent. Some of the books are very thorough and extensive. My Photoshop Bible has over 800 pages. It is probably easier just to google for tutorials on whatever you want to do. You will usually have many options and various formats. One of the things people usually get out of this course is more confidence that they can find out how to figure anything out. It’s just  matter of taking advantage of the information available.

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on Black Flags and bar codes

Today’s Daily Create asked us to “Compose a cutup poem from the words that debuted in your birth year.” This was inspired by a tweet from Amy Burvall which I liked so much that I made it a ds106 assignment, which I eventually need to do. But the first thing that caught my eye when I looked at the list for 1963 was the juxtaposition of black flag and bar code. Black Flag was an 80s hardcore band. I never listened to them back then, but I was aware of them from their distinctive album covers and logo. The four black bars of the logo are distantly analogous to the black stripes of a barcode, a kind of visual rhyme, so putting the two together was rather obvious.

The process was fairly straightforward. An image search found the logo and a barcode, and I brought them both into Photoshop. I used the Image=>Canvas Size function to make the logo image a wide rectangle, then I pasted the barcode in as a new layer. The barcode was way too big so I used Edit=>Transform=>Scale to make it fit. I had it right next to the logo, then thought it would be better to have it overlap a little. I cropped out the Black Flag text and the numbers under the code.

The challenge in the Daily Create was to make a poem. Using it as an inspiration to make a visual is not wrong per se, but it is a bit of a cop-out because for me, working with images is far less challenging than working with words. But I have plans to do more with the list so it’s OK by me. I could have experimented with putting the images together differently, like in the GIF to the right, but I view the Daily Create as more of a quickie and less of a tinkering project. But the more I think about the first image, the more I like it. The logo was supposed to represent anarchy, and Black Flag is supposed to be the opposite of the white flag of surrender. I also see a vitality in the up-and-down rhythm of the black bars of the logo, which flatlines into the bar code. You could read something about the impact of commercialism on art in the image. Maybe it’s more poetic than I thought.

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Thoughts on thoughts

I enjoyed reading through everyone’s thoughts on the 80s theme. Some people are enthusiastic about it, others don’t know what to make of it but seem up to trying. Most of us only know it vicariously, through parents, re-runs and old movies.

“The 80’s is a decade I don’t give too much credit…but I should.” 

I think a lot of the way things are now was forged in the 80s, or foreseen in various ways. It interests me to look back with that perspective. But it also interests me to see other perspectives. Yesterday an article from Consequence of Sound came across my radar. It reads to me like a 40-something waxing nostalgic and wishing things could be like they were. Would people today want gatekeepers like that? Don’t they have their own filters? I think there is a value in having a common cultural vocabulary. Broadcast media used to give some stability to that, where individually curated media streams do not.

“why were the TV and movies produce the way that they were and was it because they were all just try to distract themselves from what was going on in the world.” 

“We couch all discussion in jokes about the horrible fashion and silly hairdos, not ever truly touching on the origins and issues that made the 80’s Like That.” 

These are questions worth exploring. In some ways culture provides distraction. But it can also focus attention, and reflect attitudes and realities, in both explicit and allegorical ways. I also wonder why certain images of the decade persist. If we look at what was popular on TV in the 80s, how much of it means anything today? People know about fashion and style. No one remembers Hill Street Blues. I forgot about it myself.

“I feel this class should teach us to step out of our comfort zones and try new and fun things we have been afraid or doubting to try, as these stars were known to break boundaries (and history).” 

This is a beautiful attitude. I think a lot of us have already stepped out of our comfort zones just in the first week. Can we break boundaries, in a good way, and make history, even if only in our small ways, with what we do in this class? I think it’s possible. I think it’s worth a try.

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