Final thoughts on CPSC 106 (*edit)

April 27th, 2010

Above all else, I had a lot of fun in this class. I have already recommended it to others. It’s unlike any class I have taken before, on a variety of levels.

It is the most realistic experience I’ve ever had dealing with technology in a classroom setting, considering I am not a CS major. There was a time early in my college career when I took a lot of tech classes, particularly revolving around web site development, but I was continually frustrated with the lack of relevancy. It felt like a Microsoft-sponsored fear campaign — all I learned were outdated coding methods and why MS platforms were actually superior even though they’re more vulnerable to glitches and viruses. Tech culture was never explored, and even discouraged. The cultural aspect was equated to hacking, and hacking was equated to the people who send you spam and want you to open file attachments. Internet functionality in the classroom revolved around Blackboard, and for some reason still does. File sharing was a mystical taboo that took food off the table of poor studio execs. Granted, my classroom experience was mostly during the simple, olden days of pre-Web 2.0, but some of these college classes were as late as 2006, so there’s really no excuse.

Enter Jim Groom and his whole edupunk manifesto. It’s an unconventional approach that, for once, tries to make this crap fun and usable, whether you’re an IT person or not. This class makes you use tools available to you in the present under the assumption it is preparing you for your future. And not in an “I need to learn Microsoft Office because it is the standard” kind of way. It’s almost like an anthropological approach to technology. You won’t learn specifics in higher level techniques, but you are learning how to integrate basic methods into your everyday life — and the culture behind it. In DS106, you have to buy your own webspace, make it usable, and generate good content. You have to understand the relationship between your computer and the server on which on you put your material. You have to map a domain. You have to see what happens when you break your site. Simple stuff to the techies, but some people have never had any decent exposure to it — and why should this information be reserved for IT majors?

At the beginning of the semester, it felt like we were being put through the gauntlet. Very long readings were assigned, some more interesting than others. Each article had a thematic relevance to the topic of the week, but at times were a bit redundant. This was probably unpredictable, though, from a class-planning perspective. For example, there were two articles dealing Web 2.0. One was about its origins, and the other dealt with digital storytelling specifically. The latter article garnered a lot of negative response, including from me, because we felt we had discussed Web 2.0 into the ground. On the surface, we only had two Web 2.0 readings, but you have to factor in that we had been talking about it for almost a month. The second article was very different from the first, but in the big picture, offered us nothing new. It could probably be nixed in the future, or at least offered as an optional reading. The Doug Engelbart reading was the hardest, but I would recommend keeping it, contingent upon providing more background info on him. It will make it easier for people to associate his essay with something familiar and tangible. It would also be a good idea to link to his video conferencing samples. It’s cool to see how his ideas in 1962 played out in 1968, and how 1968 laid the groundwork for today. Also, give the class a heads up about the length. There’s no real way to discern its equivalence in page numbers, so it’d be nice to let them know it’ll take a while to get through.

The projects were mostly positive overall. I would recommend keeping in mind what we talked about earlier in the semester, though — some of these assignments take a long time, even if they’re simple, and the grade is basically participation credit. It makes you feel a little empty inside when you spent all weekend doing something for practically nothing. Some of the websites we used for assignments weren’t discussed at all in class, but rather linked to afterwards. Instead, use class time to get everyone signed up for an account and get started. Then, link to interesting videos for everyone to watch at home.

The html coding was probably the hardest for the class as a whole. We didn’t need to do anything complex, but I definitely sympathized for the people who had no experience doing it. It’s intimidating. Basic html coding can be simple, but if you don’t understand how the language works, you can’t learn from it. Also, you need to understand the relationship to CSS, which we never really hit on. Since this class isn’t for majors, I don’t think we should have to spend much time learning html (there are other classes for that) — so maybe nix this part? Or at least provide a template for people to use — that way they can see how raw code works, but they don’t have to generate it. Just show them where to edit in their information. The problem with the html assignment overall is that if you’re going to bite into this, it should be done well. Otherwise it’s just creating bad habits like the other classes I rant about. This semester I saw quite a few people using poor practices, and frankly, I’m sure I was one of them. The html aspect was definitely the weak link this semester for me.

Timing of assignments should be better. A full syllabus should be posted first thing next time. Also, let students know beforehand that they need to budget the money for server space and a domain in lieu of buying a textbook. It’s a great alternative, but that kind of expense doesn’t come out of a financial aid voucher at the bookstore. Some of us are dirt poor and the monthly payment is automatic, it doesn’t wait for us to cash our paychecks.

My last suggestion is to start a class FAQ wiki. Since students-helping-students is encouraged, a single go-to place for people to post questions and answers would be good.

As for my own digital story, I think I kept up with it pretty well. I ended up writing less entries than I anticipated, but those entries were in depth about the topic at hand. Some weeks a full review wasn’t possible, so I had stockpiled a few ideas. One week I linked to some favorite movie sites, one week I did haikus. I realized doing full reviews wasn’t really possible each week, which is why I mostly used the Top List format. I was shooting for weekly posts, but ended up being more biweekly on average (some weeks I had a lot of posts, some weeks nothing). I also threw in a few posts about Net Neutrality. In retrospect, I would have blogged about that officially.

Now, all that being said, this is by far one of the best classes I’ve taken. Digital storytelling should absolutely be kept in the Gen. Ed. system here at UMW so other schools can follow the example. This class proves that creativity and pragmatism can go hand in hand. The concepts we learned in DS106 should be common knowledge in the same way students have to take survey courses in the humanities, English, math, and science. If colleges want to pump out graduates who are ready to take on the real world, they need to know about the cultural mark they leave online.

A peek at the internet without net neutrality (*updated*)

April 22nd, 2010

As you can see from the graphic below, internet accessibility is limited to cable tv-type packages. Would you want to pay an extra $5 a month to access Facebook? Then another $5 for Google? And an additional $5 to play WoW (plus additional hidden fees for usable bandwidth)? What they’ll probably do is allow you to add on these “extras,” or give you the option to purchase some “all-included” package with somewhat appropriate bandwidth and access to everywhere you want to go online. This will definitely be a premium package, costing significantly more than you already pay. For the exact same thing.

The shite thing is this is already happening. This is why we need net neutrality. Some ISP’s, particularly where there may be no competition (rural areas, small towns), are charging ridiculous rates for limited bandwidth. This is absolute bollocks because there are tons of things you can do legally that requires a lot of bandwidth, but if you max out your bandwidth allowance, it’ll start costing by the MB. Unfair.

And one more thing, you should understand the basic definition of bandwidth. “Bandwidth” is used two ways: 1) to refer to your connection speed, and 2) to refer to your maximum transfer allowance. Without net neutrality, you’re getting screwed on both.

1) In regards to speed, they’ll slow down your connection to sites they don’t want you to visit. This could mean standard p2p sites, as well as any sites with which they’re not contracted. (Refer to my previous post for an example.) That’s like saying you’re paying for a cable internet connection, but they intentionally slow you down to 28.8k at their leisure — but only to competing sites. Of course, I know that is a simplification, but it’s the main idea.

2) In regards to transfers, you’ll likely be much more limited in how much data you upload/download. Think of 3G cell phone plans. Even “unlimited” data plans have some kind of cap, usually. You can only download so much stuff before you get a nice letter in the mail telling you to stop. Most internet providers already monitor your bandwidth usage, and if it seems like you’re downloading/uploading too much, they’ll notify you. But in theory, you’re still *allowed* to do this. There’s no cap. It just has to be legal.

Without net neutrality, your internet provider may put a cap on your bandwidth usage, period. If you max it out, they’ll start charging by the MB, like cell phone plans. Or they’ll slow you down significantly. Then, they’ll encourage you to buy a more expensive “premium” or “corporate” package with “unlimited” bandwidth. And peering websites will be a no-no regardless — nevermind that p2p can be used perfectly legally.

Here’s what the very near future could look like:

Updates

April 20th, 2010

All material has been archived, new theme picked out, and various holes mended. The only real problem was re-embedding some YouTube videos. I am also still working out a way to re-post the Jing video elsewhere, but that is the only thing I can think of right now. What is a good .swf converter?

Reviews in haiku

April 18th, 2010

TechCrunch blogger MG Siegler does movie reviews in haiku as a side blog. Brilliant! I am shamelessly stealing the idea and trying some on my own.

Sherlock Holmes

Disappointing film
Political black magic
It gives good trailer

Avatar

Military bad
Connection with nature good
Still in theaters

The Informant!

Crooked price fixing
Mark Whitacre wears a wire
And he is greedy

500 Days of Summer

He falls for the girl
It’s not what he expected
But life lesson learned

Lars and the Real Girl

Sucks to be alone
But I have a great idea
I will make a friend

The Hangover

Like Dude Where’s My Car
Aimed at the same audience
But ten years later

Drag Me to Hell

I want the new job
But instead I got a curse
Now I’m kind of screwed

Shoot ‘Em Up

What is going on
He screws her in a gunfight
Odd and action packed

Speed Racer

Visual and bright
I like this movie a lot
But no one else does

All the Real Girls

He is a big jerk
She makes him a good person
Until she screws up

Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist

Cute and sweet at first
But then it gets annoying
Dumb high school drama

American Psycho

Really good satire
Directed by a woman!
Screw you feminists

City of Ember

Really god awful
Good premise but done poorly
I didn’t finish

Beowulf

#%^@!$^&#@%$
&@%^$*#*&$!#%@*^#
Dragon is his son?!

Slow news day

April 17th, 2010

Not a lot goes in my hometown. Digging for stories for the local paper must be a tough job. Most of our headlines remind me of The Onion.

Seeing Eye Dog to Go to Nursing Home
Students Commemorate Favorite Historical Spots With Water Color
Judge Warns Jury
Building Could Get New Use
Scientist to Talk About Genetics
City a Little Cleaner With Volunteer Help
Police Searching for Jewelry Thief
Expansion to House Fertilizer
Postcard Historian to Speak
Hot Dogs a Surprise Element in Egg Salad

Net Neutrality

April 16th, 2010

Net neutrality had a set back last week, but all is not lost, I hope. It does confirm that now is the time to start caring. Your precious internetz may be turned into something nasty and expensive.

The following example is adapted from the video clip below (it’s a pretty simplified scenario, but should give you an idea of the concept at hand):

Let’s say you use Verizon for internet and your preferred search engine is Google. If we have net neutrality regulations in place, there is nothing to stop you from using Google, or changing your preference to any other search engine you choose. Now, let’s imagine that Verizon has an exclusive contract with Yahoo and thus all its subsidiaries. Verizon wants you to use Yahoo, not Google, so they will slow your connection to Google (and Google-owned companies like YouTube) so much that it’s practically unusable. Or, they may block content altogether. Either way, you will be forced to find an equivalent service within the companies with which Verizon contracts. It is the ugly side of competition, a side in which the consumer does not win.

The argument against Net Neutrality is mostly comprised of umbrella statements and political speak. “Government regulation, private property, company rights, consumer rights, blah blah blah.” The bottom line, however, is that regulation is indeed necessary in this instance. Internet access has gone beyond a household privilege to becoming a common utility used by all people, such as electricity and water. These utilities are regulated because the spirit of competition cannot thrive: we simply can’t have tons of competing waterways and power lines put out by different companies. Can you imagine if there were five competing water works in your town? They’d each have to build a separate waterway. It’s simply not possible. So regulation comes into play: there can be no competition, but the prices are required to stay consistent and access granted to all who are willing to pay.

The same concept should be true for the internet, but the catch is that the service lines were laid by the companies themselves, not public works. That is why there was a defeat last week. Should the government be able to regulate something in which they did not invest? The cable companies say no. They used their hard earned dollars to build their infrastructures, and by god America loves its private rights. Without being any kind of expert on intellectual property and media regulation, I would say that the next viable option is to go for some kind of greater good, theoretical argument for net neutrality. The FCC couldn’t prove it had jurisdiction over the lines, but it can still prove it is protecting the best interest of the people through this version of utility regulation. We need a level playing field, and the FCC should be allowed to oversee it.

Don’t be fooled by the people who emphasize the word “regulation” in regards to the FCC. That does not mean your content will be regulated. Just the opposite! It’s the Comcasts and Verizons of the world who want to regulate what you do…or perhaps a better word would be “control,” “discriminate,” and “censor.”

Check out a few of these videos and resources, which will explain the cause better than I can. You may also find it interesting that our own senator and former governor, Sen. Mark Warner, has heavily campaigned for a free and open internet.

Links
Save The Internet
Wiki
Journalists Call On FCC To Continue Working For ‘Net Neutrality’

Videos

Basic breakdown of net neutrality concept. Short and sweet, easy to follow.

Sen. Mark Warner’s message:

Video Game Movies

April 15th, 2010

You would think video game movies would be every nerd’s dream — I love video games, and I love movies. Why shouldn’t the combination of the two be the epitome of awesome? Sadly, there is an unofficial law stating all video game movies must be heaping piles.

House of the Dead (2003)
Directed by: Uwe Boll
Cast: I would tell you, but the only one worth mentioning is Ron Howard’s brother

Despite being considered the second-worst filmmaker of all time, Uwe Boll refuses to give up what he loves, which is making a string of second-worst films of all time. Perhaps his most endearing example is House of the Dead, adapted from the 90’s era Sega rail shooter where you kill zombie-like creatures and defeat the evil madman. I’ve played this game several times at the arcade. It’s pretty fun if you’re into that kind of thing.

In Uwe Boll’s version, a group of college kids decide to go to a rave on an island. A rave on an island. They arrive, find the place deserted, and camp out for the night. As it turns out, all those hip young ravers are now zombies and on the attack. The group flees and fights, getting picked off one by one until they ultimately battle the final boss: a crazy Spaniard who inoculated himself with an immortality serum long ago. Sword fights ensue. Baddie destroyed. Dying girl given immortality serum. It pains me to even write these words, because that means I sat through the movie at some point during my lifetime.

Despite being the brains behind some of the most wince-inducing movies you could ever experience, Uwe Boll is completely in love with his own work. It’s rather disheartening to those of us who are still waiting on a decent gaming movie to come out, considering he owns the rights to so many. He gives the genre a bad artistic rap, but if you ever meet him in person, be sure to compliment his work. He isn’t afraid to box you if you say otherwise.

Super Mario Brothers (1993)
Directed by: four f’n people
Cast: Bob Hoskins, John Leguizamo, Dennis Hopper, Samantha Mathis

It’s the early 90’s. The Mario franchise has been a huge success for over ten years across several platforms, beginning with Donkey Kong (when Mario was a carpenter known as “Jumpman” and DK was his pet ape). All the kids love him, he’s the face of gaming itself. A movie naturally seems like the next step toward utter pop culture domination. You know, for the kids.

The studio execs must have been eating some magic toadstools to give this script the green light. Otherwise, they actually thought it would be a good idea to make Mario and Luigi womanizing Brooklyn plumbers who save the world from a post-apocalyptic alternate reality of humanoid lizard people that descended from dinosaurs after the meteor crashed into earth 65 million years ago. Daisy’s father was the king of this parallel dimension, but was overthrown by Koopa, causing her mother to drop her off in the real world as a baby, where she was raised in an orphanage unaware of her lineage. Koopa has a machine that will devolve any person into their evolutionary origins. Koopa’s is a tyrannosaurus rex. Daisy’s is fungus slime.

SIKE! This movie rules.

Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within (2001)
Voiced by: Alec Baldwin, Ming-Na, James Woods, Steve Buscemi, Ving Rhames, Donald Sutherland

I actually liked this movie when it came out. Good animation for 2001, silly sci-fi storyline. No big complaints really. Except that it has nothing to do with Final Fantasy.

Anyone looking for a good Final Fantasy movie should check out Advent Children instead. It’s a direct sequel to FFVII and it is gorgeous. Get the Blu-Ray, tell them Tori sent you.

Silent Hill (2006)
Directed by: Christophe Gans
Cast: Radha Mitchell, Sean Bean, no one else you’ve heard of

Sample trailer for Game 2:

Sample trailer for movie:

As a fan of the Silent Hill series, I was cautiously stoked for the movie adaptation. Unlike previous gaming films, Christophe Gans seemed to take the story seriously. The cast was solid, production stills looked promising, makeup and costume design was spot on.

In short, Silent Hill is a mysterious town that was once a trademark of Americana, but has now become an evil place full of monstery things. There is no strict canon as to its origins, because each game features a different version of Silent Hill. Most people accept that it symbolizes hell, death, baddies, global warming, awkward family reunions…well maybe not those last things.

What I liked about this film versus other adaptations is that it tried to be faithful to the spirit of the games, if you will. The aesthetics were spot-on, and the music came straight from the game’s soundtrack. Story is a little draggy but I wasn’t completely infuriated at any particular point. It’s not perfect, but is a decent step in the right direction.

Street Fighter (1994)
Cast: JCVD

No review needed. It speaks for itself.

Drool, steampunk kids

April 15th, 2010

Ornate steampunk computer desk that really works. Bruce Rosenbaum is crazy.

Tough day for net neutrality

April 6th, 2010

From Yahoo! Finance:

FCC loses key ruling on Internet ‘neutrality’

A federal court threw the future of Internet regulations into doubt Tuesday with a far-reaching decision that went against the Federal Communications Commission and could even hamper the government’s plans to expand broadband access in the United States.

Read the rest of the article here.

Worst Movie of All Time: The Room

April 6th, 2010

Last week we talked in class about some candidates for the worst film of all time.

I would like to humbly nominate The Room for this distinct honor.


Photo via Wikipedia

The Room came out in 2003 as the pet project of Tommy Wiseau — an enigmatic, unintelligible man with an accent that can’t quite be placed. He sounds kind of German/French, but he claims he grew up in Louisiana and should be referred to as American. Who knows.

Production
Tommy Wiseau had no studio funding, but managed to put forth the $7 million budget independently. Most of the casting ended up being first time actors and friends. Scenes were filmed on a rented sound stage, with some location footage shot in San Francisco.

Plot
The plot of the movie revolves around a love triangle between the three main characters: Johnny, his fiancee Lisa, and best friend Mark. Johnny is well respected in his community, where he is a successful banker. He has also taken a young, seemingly retarded college-aged creeper named Denny under his wing. He is fiercely devoted to Lisa and Mark, but unbeknownst to him, they start an affair behind his back. How will Johnny ever come to terms with this betrayal?

Why this is the worst movie ever
Where to start? Aside from the boring, overdone premise, there are oodles of things wrong with this movie. Tommy Wiseau served as producer, writer, and director of the film after receiving no studio backing. This kind of thing usually only works if you’re George Lucas.

Dialogue
The script is unspeakable. Most people attribute this to the fact that English is Wiseau’s second language, combined with his naturally lame writing skills. The dialogue is flat, base, and wholly unrealistic. Wiseau’s strange accent doesn’t help.

Subplots
Multiple subplots are brought up and immediately forgotten. The biggies include Lisa’s mother having breast cancer, some sort of real estate inheritance, Denny’s run in with drug dealers, and friends having sex in Johnny’s house.

ADR
The film is inexplicably ADR’d throughout. Poorly. Overdubs never match mouth movements, and exacerbate the shite dialogue.

Unnecessary repetition of scenes, conversation, and themes
The movie is 99 minutes long, but could have been much shorter had Wiseau omitted several unnecessary, repetitive scenes. For example, Johnny frequently seeks advice on his relationship troubles from the same group of friends, but nothing ever comes of it. Fifteen minutes later we’re subjected to the same scene again. And for some reason, they’re always throwing a football. I assume the football is a form of filmmaking contrapposto, to make the characters seem more natural while they’re talking. It doesn’t work.

Long, unnecessary, awkward sex scenes
This film is basically a soft core porn.

Reception
The Room has become a cult classic à la Ed Wood or Uwe Boll. It has multiple screenings each year in major cities in both the US and Europe. Adult Swim played it last year on April 1 as their annual joke, and Tommy Wiseau has been featured a few times on the Adult Swim sketch show “Tim and Eric.”

Tommy has said that this movie was intended to be a black comedy, but I think we all know that he was trying to pull some serious acting chops here. Fortunately, he can take the criticism with some humor and supports all the C-movie publicity it gets. He even shows up for screenings and Q&A’s whenever he can.

Video clip: “I definitely have breast cancer.” The subplot points in this conversation are never revisited. Never.

Video clip: “You’re my favorite customer.” Johnny buys some flowers for Lisa at the shop. ADR galore and some choice quotable lines.

Video clip: Randomly throwing a football a few feet in a circle. Why is this scene here? What are they talking about? Why does this same scene seem to occur ten times (once with tuxedos)?

Video clip: “Oh hi Mark.” Johnny confides in Mark. Notice that they’re not throwing a football in this scene, but Mark is holding one anyway.