Friday, February 27, 2009

Media Practices: Reading Response for 2/27/09

When I was younger my father used to buy the family sets of radio dramas on cassette tape. I think a lot of these programs had just fallen into public domain and you could find nearly complete collections at your local bookstore. (This is to say nothing of archive.org, but that's another story) The Shadow, Suspense, Sherlock Holmes, I was introduced to all these radio dramas at a young age. My family would gather around the fireplace and pop them in the stereo or listen to them on long car trips. The Arnheim essay immediately reminded me of this time in my life. As someone who had grown up with an overabundance of television and radio simply as a means to listen to the Top 40, talk radio or baseball games, it was both frustrating and intriguing when I encountered tales constructed solely for the ear.

Arnheim raises the point that when we listen to the live broadcast of a real life event we often feel left out. There is a “happier audience” somewhere out there that isn't us. That we feel we are being led through the events as if by a seeing-eye dog. It's funny that I've never really thought about how true this is. But as a child when I was more or less forced into a situation where I was exposed to radio dramas, I slowly came to understand what made them so unique and special. I think I was most compelled by the series Suspense with it's Twilight Zone-esque mysterious story of the week. I never failed to be drawn in completely to the story with their expert crafting of sound and dialogue. This is the type of show that Arnheim says needs to visual accompaniment, because it drops you right in the middle of a world it has expertly constructed for you.

The things Arnheim says about news and music are also quite interesting. As for the news, he draws a line in the sand between say, talk radio and programming like This American Life. The talk radio show is done for hours at a time on a daily basis and probably for that reason has an “off the cuff” feel to it. You hear multiple announcers and you imagine the room they're sitting in. You can hear their chairs and their body movements. These are all things Arnheim says should be avoided. However with a well-produced radio-journalism show like This American Life you get a much more accomplished stab at the form. Pieces are expertly recorded so that you experience just the voice of the narrator or other important sounds.

So I would have to say I agree for the most part with Arnheim's characterization of “good” wireless broadcasting. It should be timeless, deliberate, and executed with a certain amount of clarity in order to paint a special picture which can only be enjoyed by the ear.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

I Halped

Ben has been teaching me how to drive yourself crazy how to animate. I did some very basic scanning and photoshopping on the most recent Ronin Dojo cartoon:



It was a lot of fun and only a little bit frustrating. But then again, I only did a very small amount of the actual work. What I don't understand is why Ben and Matt aren't in the nuthouse.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Media & Architecture: Reading Response for 2/25/09

This week we read the book Make Room for TV by Lynn Spigel. This discussion of the relationship between television and the family was pretty interesting. The author begins by talking about middle-class ideas of family from Victorian times to the postwar era. Then she discusses the invention and spread of TV and its impact on those previously stated ideas of family (as well as gender roles, labor, etc). She discusses in-depth the impact of TV on the lives of women, as well as the other way around. She then discusses the meeting of the public and private that the TV achieved in the home. Lastly she discusses sitcoms and their varied depictions of family ideals.

As far as our class is concerned I found most of the relevant information to come from the discussion of the family's relationship to their domestic space and how that relationship was affected by the introduction of TV. One of the major themes from the early portion of the book was that the Victorian home promoted isolation while the postwar suburban home was supposed to promote more family unity. The TV was instrumental in the tension between these two extremes. Spigel shows that while watching the TV promoted a kind of "togetherness" it was obvious that different members of the family were interested in different kinds of programming. While the TV room was designed to bring families together, "this spatial proximity did not necessarily translate into better family relations."

It is also interesting to highlight the fact that while postwar suburban homes were initially based on Victorian ideals and separation/segregation of space, they developed architecturally to include a space specifically designed for public gathering for the consumption of television. Spigel demonstrates that because there was a room specified as public in the home it therefore allowed other rooms and spaces to be that much more private.

I also found it interesting that appliance and furniture sets were marketed strongly after the introduction of television as a way for housewives to organize their days around doing their chores and labors in an efficient manor while still being able to consume TV. I guess it should be no surprise to anyone that the goal of television from its outset was to train viewers to be better consumers, but it is interesting to see how this effects architecture and design even through the modern day.

Otaku, Triumphant

This is why nerds always win (always):

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

/b/-tards can track down a cat abuser based on the color of his blinds...

And our fucking government can't even find Osama Bin Laden.

I'm speaking of course of this item. The TL;DR version is a dude posted videos of himself abusing a cat on YouTube and 4chan's /b/ decided to bring him to justice for the lulz. The kid is being charged with whatever you get charged with for being a total fuckwit, and the cat is safe in a shelter with a couple thousand basement-dwelling parents-to-be beating down the door to adopt him.

Why is this significant? Well I bet it's something my father could comment on, and it is something Bisceglie and I jawed about while enjoying one too many brewskis the other night. That something is the beauty of open-source. Be it intelligence or code or whatever really...open exchange of information is always superior to proprietary need-to-know data hoarding.

The members of /b/ were successful in their attempt to track down good old Kenny Glenn because they literally posted new info every 5 seconds until the kid was outed and apprehended. It was like a manhunt conducted by a hivemind...and believe me...you cannot outrun that.


Of course I have my crazy conspiracy notions that our government could find Bin Laden if they wanted to, but I prefer to let the thought that they are simply incompetent trump that indication the majority of the time.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Media Practices: Reading Response for 2/13/09

Those of you at home can read along this week because the piece was online.

From the readings this week I think I was most intrigued by the blog post by Errol Morris of the New York Times. In trying to reconstruct the story of the two photos of the Crimean War by Roger Fenton he made some interesting discoveries about the nature of photography in general. The meat of the article was about the forensic reconstruction of the photos and of the events which led to the photos, with the intent of placing which one came first. Beginning with people who were making assumptions about the photographer's intentions, he quickly shifted to a more quantifiable way of explaining the time line. This obviously appeals to me as my scientific sensibilities are often at odds with explanations that seem to come from the gut.

When I studied physical anthropology in my undergraduate education I was often a little dismayed by the amount of assumption that goes in to identifying remains and objects of ancient origin. It seems that every scientist wants to have their own significant discovery, to put their name on the map. In pursuit of this I used to get the feeling that they would bend reality a bit to achieve their preconceived goal. How can you establish a new species based on some minute skull fragments? As we can see from the Morris blog post, even a veritable army of experts working on the same problem will come up with a variety of intriguing answers.

However Morris states that the beauty of photography is that it records data "not because of our intentions, but often in spite of them." In the case of Fenton's photos it was eventually possible to come to an almost airtight explanation through observation of the placements of certain rocks and the general laws of physics. Even light and shadow were unreliable...time was an illusion because of the nature of the equipment Fenton had used. But as he ends the piece saying, if a third picture were ever discovered it could throw the explanation into doubt once more. I also have to wonder that as technology improves will we reach a point where photographs can no longer be considered evidence because of the sophistication and availability of high-powered photo editing software?

Obligatory Darwin Post (A Few Minutes Late)

I've been reading a lot of crap out there...but I feel like I really have to say: There is no ongoing debate about the theory of evolution. There may possibly be a "debate" about its finer points amongst people who still accept its basic tenets to be true, but that doesn't mean that it isn't the best explanation we've got for species diversity on this planet. Anyone who claims that there is a debate to whether or not the overall theory is sound is out of their goddamn mind.

End of story.

TL;DR

The Flintstones wasn't a documentary. Your silly book isn't true. Deal with it.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Fake Michael Bay

At Alex's recommendation I started following the "fake" Michael Bay on Twitter. It's a guy who posts fake tweets, I suppose in a style he imagines Michael Bay would tweet were he one for such nonsense. (Seriously, the man is busy blowing things up and wrestling with his pet tiger.)

Well...throughout the day there has been a bit of drama as Twitter removed the picture of the real Michael Bay that was being used in the fake MB's profile. As well they appended "fake" to his twitter ID, "michael_bay." You can read about it here.

Funny. Interesting. But also a good example of how a company can handle a situation without losing the fucking plot over it. They didn't lock out fake MB and block the user from submitting posts, they simply removed all the legally-questionable ties to the real Michael Bay (whose lawyers apparently filed a very real legal complaint). I think big websites could learn something from this...the virtue of moderation. Not every action on the web requires an unequal and disproportionate reaction.

Media Practices: Reading Response for 2/6/09

We read Susan Sontag In Plato's Cave:

In the very beginning of the Sontag piece she introduces the idea that we see in "an anthology of images," brought on by the relative ease of photography to capture images and the varied and infinite subject matter that has been captured on photograph to date. She stresses that photographic images are "cheap to produce, easy to carry about, accumulate, store." It's staggering then to think of her words in context of the digital photograph or digital image. Infinitely easy to store and collect in a space which is negligible compared to the trunks and boxes of photos older generations stuffed away in attics and basements, in the present day we have to ability to not only collect the photos we have taken, or those gifted to us, but we have an infinite resource in the internet to research and hunt down photos, claiming them as our own. They go into folders on hard drives titled "lolcats" and "miley cyrus."

In fact it is easy to think of the internet and the prime way we interact with it, the browser, as simply an "anthology of images." Sure there is plenty of useful written media on the internet, and in recent years audio and video, but the base unit of media on the internet would still have to be the image, if not the digital photograph. Sontag brings up the fact that "photographs furnish evidence," and this immediately makes me think of the old imageboard proverb, "Pics or it didn't happen." We rely on digital images in our news, blogs, feeds, etc to ensure for us in a sense that things are actually happening outside our computer. This idea can be extremely dangerous based on the fact that digital image manipulation has never been more sophisticated or malevolent. Swimmer Michael Phelps has recently admitted to using marijuana based on a picture that was circulated on the internet. However, had this been a relatively good photoshop that showed the same thing would he have any case to dispute it? "Pics or it didn't happen..." or "If it didn't happen...why is there a picture?"

Sontag also touches on the democratizing nature of the camera...that it went from a relatively complicated apparatus requiring a lot of technical knowhow to the point and shoot variety that nearly any person can opperate. This ubiquity has never been more clear than now, when nearly every teenager in America owns not only a digital camera, but a cell phone which also contains a digital camera. Sontag says it "has become one of the principal devices for experiencing something..." Although such as in the case of Mr. Phelps, or teenagers who are sending nude pics over their cell phones, it seems that not everything is ready to be experienced through the lens of the camera. In fact the popularization of digital photography and displaying said images in a public forum like the internet has seen such rapid growth that we are scarcely able to catch up and attach meaning or levy restrictions against these experiences. Photos are taken and go live on Facebook in a matter of moments. As Sontag concludes this is the "aesthetic consumerism to which everyone is now addicted," a compulsive need to collect and catalog images, or experiences.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Media & Architecture: Reading Response for 2/4/09

Jumping back into an academic mindset after several years of relative inactivity can be difficult...

With that said, up first this week is Umberto Eco's Function and Sign: The Semiotics of Architecture. As I saw it Eco was trying to break the assumption that architectural objects cannot communicate. With cute examples like the first half-monkey to think to take shelter in a cave, he sets about achieving his goal with relative ease. How can we not agree that architectural objects not only communicate to us their primary purpose, but any number of secondary purposes and meanings as well? Next he explains that over time both the primary and secondary functions of architecture may change. He then describes how architecture fits the mold as a means of mass communication ending on the conclusion that in the future the architect "should be designing for variable primary functions and open secondary functions."

I think the part that struck me most was his statement that "there are no 'mysterious' expressive values deriving simply from the nature of forms themselves..." This was in reference to the way fantastic gothic-styled churches in New York City are dwarfed by skyscrapers on all sides, yet they haven't lost their inherent meaning, it has simply been altered. It particularly made me think after reading Walter Benjamin's explanation that architecture is engaged with "by a collectivity in a state of distraction." Benjamin argued that architecture, as perhaps the oldest consistently practiced art-form, "has never been idle." I suppose it is this fluidity and longevity of architecture as a medium that makes it so interesting as a subject for a media studies course.

So these thoughts were in my head when I began reading the book Learning From Las Vegas. Venturi, Brown and Izenour use the example of 1960s Las Vegas to illustrate that "an architecture of inclusion" is superior to "too great an occupation with tastefulness and total design." They use examples such as speedy drivers on a highway encountering signage in comparison to more historical forms of interacting with architecture, like shoppers on Main Street or in the market square. They explain that it's good advertising to illustrate the differences in two products, which is why the varied and many styles of the Las Vegas casinos (as well as the restaurants and gas stations) simply work. There was some more specific discussion of finer architectural points which distracted me more than anything else, but I enjoyed the overarching concept...and hey, the book also had wonderful pictures!

The final reading was a piece from an essay by Stan Allen called Dazed and Confused. Perhaps I shouldn't have saved this for last, but it left me in a state not unlike the title. While I could identify with Allen calling back to Benjamin's discussion of distraction, citing many of the points which had also jumped out at me, the second half of the essay began to lose me. I want to say he was arguing against the inclusiveness that was so championed in Las Vegas, but after several re-readings I find myself unable to decipher his conclusion completely. Although this does leave me with questions for class.

2/3/09