Thursday, August 31, 2006

Insomniac ravings #1

Okay, so it's four in the morning and I've been tossing and turning since my eyes popped open at 2:30. I finally decide to just get up and do something semi-productive, like blog. It's only my second insomniac night in a row, but already it's getting old.

I've been down this path before, but it's been a while...back to when my Dad was still alive and I was worrying about him...back when my Mom was still living at home and we all worried about dealing with her descent into Alzheimer's. Usually, after an hour or so of rolling around in bed, I'd get up and have a cup of tea and read for a while. Then I could usually get back to sleep. We'll see if blogging has the same effect.

Sometimes, in the wee hours of the morning, the hooting of the neighborhood owls would keep me company. Not tonight...I checked.

Not sure what's got my brain in a spin cycle, but I decide I might need a night owl pic to accompany this post. I Google-search "night owl" and come up with a lot of pictures of night goggles and monoculars...not quite what I had in mind...but wait, there's more (in fact, pages more).

I like this one, an album cover from some classical music company in the U.K. The blurb promises: "At the end of a long day, and on into the night, this lovely album of relaxing music will help banish those cares and worries and promote a calm and tranquil atmosphere."

Hmm, sounds good...soothing even...but then my
restless brain notices another offering, "Gentle Classics for an Indulgent Moment." Oh yeah, that should soothe the fevered brow.

But on I scroll, relentlessly, to the "Music for a Great Cook" collection, which bills itself as both "Baroque" and "cheerful music to cook by." Is such a thing even possible? This one offers "twenty-one tasty tracks (to) let the inspiration fall upon you as you chop and grind, boil and fry!" (I kid you not...could I make stuff like this up? I'm not that creative, especially not at this hour of the morning...though, on the other hand, there does seem to be something about the dark stillness of the early morning hours that allows unfettered brain farts to emerge without the censorship that usually accompanies broad daylight...and sometimes, it seems, the result is creative.)

Onward. I notice a section called "Music for Gardeners." Hey, I'm a gardener! Gotta look. The headliner? It's "Music for a Lady Gardener," which offers a collection of "timeless musical souvenirs (that) will delight the lady gardener, and perhaps her husband too!" (And what century is this?)

And then, my favorite: "Music for a Great Garden." It's billed as "an album of fragrant songs and instrumental pieces" whose titles include 'Greensleeves,' 'Summer is acumen in' and 'Where the Bee sucks.'

Oh my.

And on that note, dear reader, I think I must leave you and try to get back to sleep. Good night.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Brush up on your Shakespeare

If you want to improve your writing, here's some good advice: Read. Read a lot. Read good books.

To guide you on the righteous reading path and find out what to look for along the way, you might want to start with the aptly named Francine Prose's book, Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and Those Who Want to Write Them, which was reviewed in this Sunday's New York Times Book Review .

Prose notes that one difficulty faced by writing teachers like me is the lack of interest many students show in reading. I agree. I think one of the best ways to improve your writing is to read...and pay attention to what you read...what works, what doesn't, how they do it.

Prose points out that writers have always learned from their predecessors: “They studied meter with Ovid, plot construction with Homer, comedy with Aristophanes.” In other words, says reviewer Emily Barton, it helps to read the masters: “You can assume that if a writer’s work has survived for centuries, there are reasons why this is so, explanations that have nothing to do with a conspiracy of academics plotting to resuscitate a zombie army of dead white males.”

Reading Shakespeare and other "dead white males" is certainly a worthwhile endeavor, but there are plenty of good modern writers out there too. Click on my profile to see some of my favorite authors.

Happy reading!

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Category of Duh!

A News Flash from today's New York Times:
"Americans increasingly see the war in Iraq as distinct from the fight against terrorism, and nearly half believe President Bush has focused too much on Iraq to the exclusion of other threats, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.

"The poll found that 51 percent of those surveyed saw no link between the war in Iraq and the broader antiterror effort, a jump of 10 percentage points since June. That increase comes despite the regular insistence of Mr. Bush and Congressional Republicans that the two are intertwined and should be seen as complementary elements of a strategy to prevent domestic terrorism."
Maybe you really can't fool all the people all the time. I was beginning to wonder.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Lessig, Warhol and the Web

I've been thinking about Stanford professor Lawrence Lessig's keynote presentation at the recent AEJMC conference, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to say about it (except that it was great) until I saw the Andy Warhol Dream America exhibit at the San Diego Museum of Art last week.

That's when it hit me -- if Andy Warhol was alive today, he would be taking images and video clips off the Web and transforming them into little snippets of art and commentary...and probably getting threatened with copyright infringement lawsuits.

Without strong exceptions for fair use in our copyright laws, we would have missed out on some of the most iconic images of our times...Marilyn, Mao, Mick, and the electric chair series.

Honestly, I've never been much of a Warhol fan...the Campbell's Soup thing never struck me as particularly interesting or inspired, and viewing just one of the Marilyn silkscreens left me lukewarm. But it is different seeing the images in person.

When you see several Marilyn or Mao silkscreens together, and see how the colors change from one silkscreen to the next, but certain facial features remain constant -- with Marilyn, her lips, eyes and eyebrows...with Mao, his lips, eyes and nose -- it is much more evocative and interesting.

And Warhol's images of Mick Jagger, with their swathes of collage and color and hand-drawn lines that override parts of the silkscreened photograph...well, I found those images quite compelling...and I'm not even a Rolling Stones fan.

The original Jagger photographs were Warhol's own, but many of the images he used for his silkscreens were simply lifted from the public sphere and reworked. He culled stills from films and took photos from newspapers, magazines and press kits to use as the basis of his artwork. Today, if he copied those same images online, it would be called theft and he'd be fighting copyright infringement lawsuits instead of creating art.

For example, how is "The Grey Album" really that different from Warhol's Marilyn and Mao series? DJ Danger Mouse's 2004 album, which mixed raps from Jay-Z's "The Black Album" with iconic rifs from The Beatles' "White Album," was ranked as best album of the year by Entertainment Weekly. In both cases, the artists took existing materials and transformed them into something new. But Danger Mouse was called a bootlegger and hit with "cease and desist" orders, while (to my knowledge) Warhol was not.

In his AEJMC keynote, "Is Writing Allowed?", Lessig spoke of the flowering of digital and online creativity...of how the Web and digital media are fostering creativity among regular folks, not just artists and movie directors with Hollywood budgets. He spoke of the Web as a disruptive technology, one that's undermining the existing "Read Only" (RO) media and entertainment industry.

The Web and digital media promise to let the control of our culture pass from the tight fists of government and industries into the open hands of the rest of us. It promises to turn our world into a "Read/Write" (R/W) culture, Lessig said, where we can all create, share and consume media products.

One of Lessig's more entertaining examples: the Bush-Blair Love Song, an inspired bit of video commentary that mixes news clips and pop music.

Blogs, on the other hand, draw upon an older tradition: text. In blogs, he noted, the remix of text is free -- no permission is required. It's unregulated, and it's flourishing.

While some people say that most blogs are crap, Lessig said the real value of blogs is that millions of people regularly sit down and their ideas into their own words...and onto the net.

"I believe in copyright," Lessig said, but we forget that the original purpose of copyright law was to provide incentives to create and "permit artists to be independent of patrons." It was not to provide perpetual income for heirs and corporations.

But industry-sponsored "net neutrality" and "broadcast treaty" legislation, along with draconian enforcement of the Digital Millennium Copyright law (with almost no allowances for "fair use"), are threatening to blight that budding digital creativity.

If we continue to let our representatives legislate the Internet to death, and lacerate fair usage, we will end up making the Web safe for commercial speech and little else. And that would be a sad end for such a promising new medium.

Monday, August 21, 2006

New class - Journalism 163

Steve Sloan and I visited this afternoon about Journalism 163, a revised JMC class that will focus on using Web 2.0 technologies and multimedia in journalism and media-related fields. This hands-on class will meet Tuesdays at 6 p.m. in DBH 226 (I was told we may have to meet in DBH 224 for the first session, but it's next door so we'll be easy to find).

Steve recorded our discussion and posted it as a podcast at his SJSU Tech on a Mission blog. Here's the direct link to his podcast:

Steve has also set up a class blog for J163 on Wordpress (we thought we'd branch out and try some new blog software). You can find it at:

Although Steve is the official instructor for this class, I'm tagging along as team-teacher because I think it looks like a lot of fun...and because I'd like teach this class next semester when JMC begins offering multiple sections of it. So if you can't fit it into your schedule this fall, sign up for the spring semester.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Just for fun...headline mania

A friend e-mailed these to me, with the question: "Doesn't anyone proofread anymore???" (Good question. I sometimes wonder that myself.) I don't know if these headlines are real, but they made me laugh so I'm passing them on.


Something Went Wrong in Jet Crash, Expert Says
[No, really?]

Police Begin Campaign to Run Down Jaywalkers
[That'll stop 'em. ]

Panda Mating Fails; Veterinarian Takes Over
[What a guy!]

Miners Refuse to Work after Death
[Good-for-nothing lazy so-and-sos!]

Juvenile Court to Try Shooting Defendant
[See if that works any better than a fair trial!]

War Dims Hope for Peace
[I can see where it might have that effect!]

If Strike Isn't Settled Quickly, It May Last Awhile
[You think?]

Enfield (London) Couple Slain; Police Suspect Homicide
[They may be on to something!]

Red Tape Holds Up New Bridges!
[You mean there's something stronger than duct tape?]

New Study of Obesity Looks for Larger Test Group
[Weren't they fat enough?!]

Kids Make Nutritious Snacks
[Taste like chicken?]

Local High School Dropouts Cut In Half
[Chainsaw Massacre all over again!]

Hospitals are Sued by 7 Foot Doctors
[Boy, are they tall!]

...And the winner is:
Typhoon Rips Through Cemetery; Hundreds Dead

Fun at ZeroOne artfest

I had fun wandering around downtown San Jose with a friend yesterday, looking at some of the ZeroOne ArtFest exhibits. Some of my favorites included...

...the synchronized dancing forks at the "picnic in the park" (a.k.a. the LiveForm:Telekinetics) exhibit.

...the infrared monolith (a.k.a. the Screens Exposing Employed Narratives exhibit, at right), where San Jose residents' responses to the question "what is the fruit of your labor?" could only be seen through a digital camera or other "digital capture device."

...the ankle-high patterns of motion and color created by the "400 radio networked, solar powered, self sustainable intelligent analogue pixels" of Ping Genius Loci.

...the digital memories chamber (a.k.a the 'Mission Eternity' exhibit, at left), where you are surrounded by walls of digital images so enlarged and pixelated that they're almost past seeing (a digital camera helps bring these back into focus too).

...and, finally, the images projected onto the facade of the city hall rotunda were just fabulous. This exhibit is titled "Digital Kakejiku," which we are told can be translated as "a moving digital-hanging scroll." Mostly, it was just interplay of slowing changing colors and patterns on the glass and metal framing of the dome. It was amazing to see dozens of people hanging around the city hall courtyard so late at night just to watch the watching fireworks, without the noise.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

The one where I get interviewed at BlogHer

While I was at the BlogHer conference last week, dangling my feet in the hotel pool after hobnobbing during the welcome reception, I was approached by a man with a video camera.

It was Brian Shields, online news manager at KRON4, who was covering the conference and interviewing some of the women of BlogHer...including me!

On a web page titled "The People of BlogHer 2006," he's posted links to interviews with about a dozen BlogHer attendees as well as other stories on the conference. Scroll down the section labeled "Meet the Bloggers Part 1" and you'll find his interview with's just a little ways below his interview with Arianna Huffington. How cool is that!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006


An article by David Hazinski in the August issue of the Convergence Newsletter, published by the University of South Carolina, suggests we should "Emerge, Don’t Converge."

Hazinski, who teaches broadcast news at Grady College, University of Georgia, points out that "while both print and broadcast gain advantages from Web-based expansion, broadcasters really get little out of a marriage with it is basically a one-way street, not a partnership."

While a broadcast story can easily be made into a print, Web or radio story, he notes the reverse doesn't hold true for Web and print stories. He continues:
The issue isn’t “print and broadcast and the Web,” the issue is the Web or, more specifically, Internet-based distribution. Print and broadcast are both rapidly losing audience to online journalism. Dozens of studies say this isn’t just about distribution but a migration to a different kind of journalism, one that addresses smaller, more discreet rather than mass audiences. Convergence doesn’t address that trend.
It's hard for us old-schoolers to let go of what we know, but new mediums require new approaches...and the web is a new medium. What the web is not is a combination of all our existing mediums, wrapped into one neat little package. In fact, if there's one thing the web is not, it's a neat little package. The web is the world.