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Online Schedule– Social Media and the Workplace, Almost

December 13th, 2009 No comments

This past week, I returned to work at Applebee’s, after a near five-month layoff. I was met with many changes, most of which were welcome, such as staggered schedules, which cuts down on down time at work, and less side work. But most welcome of the changes were the online scheduling system. After giving the manager our work availability, they send us an email. Once we sign up for the service, which is called “StaffLinQ,” our schedule will appear on screen.

In the past, when the new schedule was posted, we needed to go in to work to see the schedule, or hassle someone who was already working .

stafflinqschedule

We can exchange shifts or pick up new shifts, and all of these changes are monitored by the service. Also, if we try to exchange a shift, it can be approved or disapproved by a manager. Just having the schedule online isn’t a big deal, but this is what the interface looks like. I’ll have shifts next week.

manageprofile

But now, shifts must be exchanged online. When someone wants to give up a shift, he/she will alert everyone through this service. When this happens, we now have the option of receiving a notice via email or text. Or, we can opt not to receive these notices, in which case we will not know there is a shift to be gained.This is good for the people who want to pick up shifts, and also good for the restaurant.

While this isn’t necessarily about literacy per se, it does illustrate the fact that technology is beginning to pervade industries that at first may appear to not need to bother with technology. But an apparatus like this makes it difficult for people to ignore technology. Doing so will affect these people’s ability to pick up extra shifts and make extra money.

I thought about whether this development requires users to develop any new literacy. I’m not sure. I haven’t had the ability to use the service yet, so it may show itself to be more robust than it appears. The most interesting aspect of this is, to me, that communication technologies are being leveraged in a way I never imagined in such a technology-adverse industry.

A Second look at Jenkins

December 9th, 2009 No comments

In earlier Writing for Electronic Communities class we discussed changes that need to be made to our collaborative essay.  I have been assigned the section on Remix culture and Youtube.  Prior to this essay, I had every little experience with the art of composing remix. I needed to do quite a bit of research to be able to discuss the components and issues of remixing existing works to create something new and unique.   I looked to scholars such as Henry Jenkins, Chuck Tyron, Siva Vaidhyanathan, Lawrence Lessig, Eduardo Navas, Nick Diakopoulos, and others.  I explored relevant intellectual property laws at the U.S. Copyright Office and World Intellectual Property Organization.

Jenkin’s Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture, which I recently (re)explored in light of the this essay, provides an insightful look at remix and sampling. Jenkins, like many others seems, to feel that remixing should be encouraged and embraced.  This is particularly important in the education system where students can learn to analyze remixes and discuss what must be understood to compose a remix such as various materials and relevant copyright law.  Similarly, he discusses how “students learn by taking culture apart and putting it back together again” (p. 55).

Jenkins spent some time explaining the concept of influent and how this is similar to remixing in many ways.  He states, “the digital remixing of media content makes visible the degree to which all cultural expression builds on what has come before it” (p. 55). He discusses the artistic process and explains that artists do not create uninfluenced by other works.  Instead, they “build on, are inspired by, appropriate and transform other artist’s work…by tapping into a cultural tradition or by deploying the conventions of a particular genre” (p. 55). Jenkins points readers to Homer’s The Iliad and The Odyssey as a remix of Greek mythology and the painted ceiling of the Sistine Chapel as a “mash up of stories and images from across the entire biblical tradition” (p. 56).

He explains the complex nature of remixing and its many components which may not be well understood by those who have not worked in this area.  Jenkins explains that successful sampling from “the existing cultural reservoir requires a close analysis of the existing structures and uses of this material; remixing requires an appreciation of emerging structures and latent potential meanings” (p. 58). This process may also include making relevant connections between sources that are not usually thought of as related.  Jenkins and the other before mentioned authors have given me much to consider when composing this section of the project.

Procedural Literacy– “Reading” Games

December 7th, 2009 No comments

Since I was introduced to the concept in the Summer of 2007, I have been smitten with the idea that games can make arguments.  After all, this was a seeming justification for a medium which I always believed was superior to film for entertainment purposes, but lacked the depth that writing enjoyed for more intellectual pursuits. Since then, I have learned to not think of which medium is better or worse, and instead have learned to think of what medium’s affordances can be leveraged best for a particular purpose. Our class has focused on how new media, broadly conceived, sheds new light on literacy or otherwise makes obsolete previous notions of literacy. Previous notions of literacy, based on an understanding of alphabetic text alone, do not account for visual mediums, such as videogames, which can certainly convey information.

Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames, presents a coherent approach to “reading” and interpreting games, based on his notion of procedural rhetoric. Ian Bogost argues, first, that games can be and are expressive human artifacts. He states that previous notions of rhetorical traditions, such as visual rhetoric, can only shed so much light on games’ rhetorical value; the notion of procedural rhetoric must be employed to explain rhetoric in games more fully. Procedural rhetoric, to the author, describes the computer’s (and in turn, the game’s) ability to simulate a rule system, which can be imbued with an ideology. When taken this way, the “games as container” metaphor can take on a new shape. Games are not simply a site for education, but a medium with real cultural currency, an abstraction of a real-life system that can be filled with any message the designer intends.
One book that discusses the rhetorical capacity for games is Ian Bogost’s Persuasive Games: The Expressive Power of Videogames. The book presents a coherent approach to “reading” and interpreting games, based on his notion of procedural rhetoric. The author argues, first, that games can be and are expressive human artifacts. He states that previous notions of rhetorical traditions, such as visual rhetoric, can only shed so much light on games’ rhetorical value; the notion of procedural rhetoric must be employed to explain rhetoric in games more fully. Procedural rhetoric, to the author, describes the computer’s (and in turn, the game’s) ability to simulate a rule system, which can be imbued with an ideology. When taken this way, the “games as container” metaphor can take on a new shape. Games are not simply a site for education, but a medium with real cultural currency, an abstraction of a real-life system that can be filled with any message the designer intends.
This sounds really abstract, so I played one of the games produced by Bogost’s company, Persuasive Games. His games have appeared on the New York Times website and various government agencies. The game I played, Windfall, discusses some of the challenges energy companies face.

This screenshot shows the game’s interface, which is present all the time. The icons on the left represent the various actions the player can perform. The information on the right shows the player’s funds, popularity, and the amount of energy being generated.
Because games are different from prior media forms, a new means of interpreting and critiquing them must be devised. Ian Bogost performed such a work in Persuasive Games. He argues that, “videogames open a new domain for persuasion, thanks to their core mode of representational mode, procedurality” (p. ix). This new rhetorical approach, procedural rhetoric, is defined as, “the art of persuasion through rule-based representations and interactions rather than the spoken word, writing, images, or moving pictures” (p.ix). Bogost explains that “procedural rhetoric is a technique for making arguments with computational systems and for unpacking computational arguments that others have created” (p. 3). It is this trait of computers, procedurality, that “fundamentally separates computers from other media” (p.4). Thus, if we take this assertion seriously, we cannot ignore this element of videogames that make them unlike other media. It is a “form of symbolic expression that uses process instead of language” (p. 9). This lengthy summary is in place to flesh out this novel idea that may at first sound foreign to those with humanities backgrounds. It may be helpful here to discuss a particular game that represents these ideas, Windfall, a  “A strategy game about building wind farms to create clean energy profitably,” according to Bogost’s company’s website, Persuasive Games.

In this game, the player is charged with building windmills for particular geographic location. The view is top-down, like other strategy games such as Civilization. The player uses the mouse to pick and action, on the right of the sceen, to “Research”, build a windmill, build a power line, or “recycle.” The game’s recycle feature allows a player to buy back a windmill or power line that he or she bought for half of the original price. On the right of the screen are icons, which indicate the various actions the player can perform. There is an optional tutorial in which the game teaches the mechanics of the game. Normally, there is clock that runs for “three years” in the game’s time. During this time, the goal of the game is to reach a certain energy output. But, there are a few rules to keep in mind. First, that a windmill must be connected to a powerline, which must be connected to the transformer. Also, there are some places where windmills cannot be placed, such as on hills, sidewalks, touching bodies of water, or on other buildings. And there are suggested rules, such as, “Be careful. Nobody likes large windmills in their neighborhoods.” The player can, in fact build large windmills in neighbords, even next to houses. But, when that happens, people will protest, which will affect your company’s popularity. If your popularity decreases because the people are unhappy with your actions, namely, where you are putting windmills and power lines, they will protest, which will actually cost you money in the game. Popularity is tracked with an icon the right side of the screen. Under the icon, the player’s popularity (or lack thereof) will be translated into a loss in dollars if the when the player’s popularity dips below 100%.

Players can choose to make small, medium, or large windmills. The larger the windmill, the more it costs, but it will generate more energy. People, however, resent the larger windmills more, forcing your company to incur political costs, calculated in real dollars.

This shot shows how the “research” function works. Players can pay a small fee to conduct research on a certain piece of the grid. The “windier” the location, the more efficient a windmill placed in the location will be.

The player can perform “research” on a particular block, as the game is laid out in a grid-like structure. For a price, this research will reveal information about the earth, such as how much wind the area garners. Making this small investment is worthwile to player, which ranges between $100 and $200 dollars. By putting the windmills in the most advantageous places, the player will acrue the most revenue. The player essentially has to balance multiple interests. He or she wants to first, make money by building windmills. But there are times when the player must decide whether he or she will opt to build near neighborhoods if the land is particularly desireable or it he or she is better off keeping the people happy. When the people are unhappy to the extent where it is no longer politically expedient to keep a windmill and its adjecent power line in the same location, the player can recycle the item. This will provide the player with half the value of the item, and will raise his or her popularity in the game. The game makes a claim about the complexities of the energy business. Businesses have a job to do, and sometimes this upsets people. Those who run businesses must decide where his or her priorities are. However, when businesses realize that they are upseting people, they can compromise, to make the make the people happy, and improve the bottom line, even if this entails taking a momentary hit to the bottom line. Instead of being an overtly political game, this game, through the abstraction of a simulation, evokes the spirit of the real-world system, while keeping it simple enough that one can learn how to play the game very quickly.

A bibliophile nears a compromise with technology

November 26th, 2009 No comments

I have books all over my house – some are in large designated bookcases, some are tucked away in inconspicuous places out of sight. I have collectible books that are first printings of first editions (well defined in a paper written for another class – not all books that say first edition on the inside are true first editions). Most are books I have read and loved, some are books that I found interesting and plan to read. This scenario probably fits the description of many households of other bibliophiles.

This morning I clicked on a link in a tweet by Debbie Ridpath Ohi that took me to an enlightening article about ebook readers on Joe Wikert’s Publishing 2020:

Joe Wikert's Publishing 2020

The article contains a fairly detailed discussion about ebook readers, starting with the Kindle. I took a trip on a link provided in the article to see the Barnes & Noble version of their ebook reader, the Nook.

Barnes & Noble Nook

I read a comparison of the features of the Nook vs. the Kindle on Barnes & Noble’s site that showed the features – of course in the Barnes & Noble comparison, Nook came out on top. However, the comparison does show indisputable proof that the Nook is a probably a better product than the Kindle.

So all of this set me to thinking, should I get rid of my books and get and use an ebook reading device? Well, yes and no. It’s easier to address the yes answer first: it would free up a massive amount of space in my house and lighten the load of overburdened bookcases. Also, carrying an ebook reader would allow me to have the availability of a book to read at any time of day, anywhere, without carrying a book that may be less portable. Now to the no answer: would I get rid of all my books? No. There will always be a place in my home for well loved books that I have read multiple times, as well as the collectible books that I would never part with. Another issue is cost. What if you download a book that you discover you don’t like? The money you’ve spent on the download is wasted money in this scenario. I wondered, does the yes outweigh the no? After all, you can borrow a book from the library or look at a book at Barnes & Noble and confidently decide if a book is worth reading before making a purchase of the ebook. Another discovery: the Barnes & Noble site gives links to download the ereader to an iphone, blackberry, or to your computer. More to think about …

So, I feel I am nearing a compromise. Perhaps it would be worth considering an ebook reader instead of maintaining my massive book collection. Still, it is hard for a person like me to let go of the feel of a book in my hands. This is a subject that clearly requires more research…

Older people go out to the movies less? Or, do we just lack patience?

November 21st, 2009 No comments

It was interesting to discuss Chuck Tryon’s Reinventing Cinema. Of particular interest: Tryon’s assertion that as people get older they don’t go to the movies as often. I agree with that. However, the reasons are less related to age, than with the fact that movie DVDs come out shortly after a movie closes in the theater, DVD prices are low, and the high definition televisions and DVD players are more common.

Or, is it because as we get older we become less patient?

 

The video is funny, but also full of such truth. Then again, cells phones in theaters are a galactic nuisance:

 And then of course there is always the delight of movie theater food:

 

Facebook and the Influence of Social Networks

November 7th, 2009 No comments

Recently I read an article about how we are influenced by our digital social networks. I assume that most of us are familiar with the proverbial phrase “you are who your friends are”. This same idea may also be applicable to your digital friends and your friends digital friends and your friends friends digital friends. And if you are active in one or more social networking cites than that is probably a whole lot of individual many of whom you have probably never meet either face to face or digitally.    The article, Obesity, STDs flow in social networks by Elizabeth Landau, reiterates the idea that we are impressionable creatures and that those impressions may just as easily be made digitally as in person.  “New research shows that in a social network, happiness spreads among people up to three degrees removed from one another. That means when you feel happy, a friend of a friend of a friend has a slightly higher likelihood of feeling happy too,” states Elizabeth Landau in the article  Happiness is contagious in social networks and the video The Power of Social Networks . The same may be true for your eating habits, voting preferences, etc. However Landau explains “at the fourth degree the influence substantially weakens.” Dr. Nicholas Christakis the author of “Connected,” and Dr. James Fowler an associate professor at the University of California, have expanded on this new theory to explore the trends in cigarette smoking and obesity. An article by Fowler and Christakis in New England Journal of Medicine stated that when an individual quits smoking than their friends’ likelihood of quitting smoking was 36 percent. Moreover, clusters of people who may not know one another gave up smoking around the same time”.

These theories are still in their initial stages and somewhat experimental.  But, it will be interesting to see how their might affect other areas such as marketing and advertisement placing.  Already Facebook advertisers target their ads to individuals based on their personal information, tastes, hobbies, opinions, etc. so that their ads will be more appealing and you are more inclined to make purchases.  It will be interesting to see if knowledge of your friends and social spheres will increase that.

However, some people are unnerved by this influence or find that the lines between different aspects of their lives have become too blurred.  Christopher Butcher is an employee of The Beguiling a comic book store and has a Facebook group for the Toronto Comics Arts Festival. Butcher explains that when Facebook was just for college students it “provided a inbuilt system of boundaries” but when everyone was able to join, Facebook “lost the aspect where what network you’re in defines the information you get.”

Similarly Fowler and Christakis have proposed that even though individuals may call hundreds of people on Facebook and other social networks their “friend”, or an equivalent term that points to some sort of connection or interest in an individual, the number of close friends that a person has did not necessarily change.  Christakis and Fowler found that people had approximately “between six and seven close friends on Facebook, which is not far from sociologists’ estimate that most people have four to six close friends in real life”.  They believe that a better measure of friendship is found though pictures.  If individuals tag each other in posted photos than they are more likely to have a close relationship not just the person you sat three rows behind one semester in class but never talked to.  Overall Fowler states that social networks like Facebook and Myspace are “just yet another way through which humans exert their inherent natural tendency to try to connect to other people that they care about.” With this knowledge it will be interesting to see how social networks evolve in the years to come.

Textbook cost and author royalties

October 25th, 2009 3 comments

A classmate claimed that the reason that textbooks are so expensive is because of the royalties paid to authors. That classmate further stated that maybe if there was no copyright and authors weren’t being paid royalties, that textbook prices would be much lower. I knew immediately that this was faulty reasoning. So, I left class planning to do some research on the subject. Here is some of what I found:

According to Cyndi Allison in her article Sticker Shock, “Texts today include color, illustrations, photos, and other reference materials such as page tabs, which make textbooks more expensive to produce than straight words on paper.” She also states that “Manufacturing costs top out as the biggest portion of your text receipt at around 30 percent with marketing running second at over 15 percent.” That is 45 percent total – that does not include the cost of shipping the heavy textbooks or the cut by the store that sells the book.

In Where Your Money Goes by Ryne Dittmer of Iowa State, the author breaks down the percentages of the total book cost of and who gets what. Dittmer says the highest percentage, 39.2 percent, goes to Publishers and their cost of production where only 7 percent of the total serves as income for the publisher. Dittmer further points out the author’s income – likely split among several authors – at just 11.7 percent.

Still not convinced? Here is a graphic by the NACS Foundation that appeared on the BYU website in a section titled Why Are Textbooks So Expensive – it shows a clear breakdown of where all the money goes:

Note: this graphic can only be found on the BYU site, the original on NCAS can only be accessed by registered members

Note: this graphic can only be found on the BYU site, the original on NACS web site can only be accessed by registered members

…. and here is a sometimes humorous discourse on textbook prices found on YouTube  – it has some good, solid insight from a textbook author as well

 

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Where do you draw the line?

October 25th, 2009 No comments

Still pondering Siva Vaidhyanathan’s points in Copyrights and Copywrongs

Consider the following statement by Vaidhyanathan, “… copyrights used to expire on definite dates, thus constantly enriching the public domain with new material.” (p. 125)  I am quite honestly a little perplexed here. Is Vaidhyanathan saying that only items that are no longer protected by copyright are in the public domain? Having read the entire book, this quote may be a bit out of context. It also brings up another question: What if copyright periods were shorter?

Where exactly do you draw the line?

Isn’t it true that each new creation enriches the public domain regardless of copyright? The creation of Copyrights and Copywrongs certainly enriched the public domain. I am able to read the work and quote passages of it in my own writing, as long as I credit Vaidhyanathan words. Vaidhyanathan drew information from the work of others – works available in the public domain – and he credits those works in the Notes section that begins on page 191.

So, if copyrights expired in, just for theoretical discussion, five years. After five years passed, would an academic writer no longer credit the originator of a work and present the words and ideas as his or her own? Any worthy academic writer would never consider such a thing.

So perhaps we should look at this from the standpoint of  a fiction writer or musician. If the copyright on a work of fiction or music expired in five years – there would be pirated copies of both fiction and musical works everywhere. Note Vaidhyanathan’s statement, “American printers … pirate[d] others’ works … American authors had less incentive to produce original works …” (pg 43) Do we want to return to a time like that? I think not. Not only would works be pirated, but other authors would claim the work as their own creation. There would be no reason, other than moral clarity, to stop a person from pirating work. Creation on either end would decrease just as it did in Colonial times. Recall specifically Vaidhyanathan’s quote regarding the U.S. Constitution: “Article 1, section 8 of the Constitution … power to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to the respective Writings and Discoveries.” (pg 44-45) The fact that the creators of our Constitution felt it was necessary to insert copyright protection is evidence of the decline of creativity due to pirated works. Also, given the short life span of people in colonial times, the original 14 years noted in Viadhyanathan’s book may have covered the majority of an author’s adult life.

So, where would you draw the line?

This is not a flower

October 20th, 2009 No comments

So the discussion about “This Is Not a Pipe” was intriguing, so much so that I thought about all the objects in images that are not what they appear to be. Here is a my take on the issue

When is a bunch of flowers, not flowers

When is a bunch of flowers, not a bunch of flowers?

... when it is a tissue box. Then, when is a tissue box not a tissue box?

... when it is a tissue box. Then, when is a tissue box not a tissue box?

... when it is jsut one item on a cluttered desk

... when it is just one item on a cluttered desk

... all inside a building

... all inside a building

Nothing is as it appears, it is really just a series of pictures

Making Math and Science Fun

October 16th, 2009 1 comment

As a society we seem to be moving toward the desire to participate with our various forms of technology.  We place higher value on websites that have some level of user interaction.  Blogs allow citizens to become journalists and participate with and create their own news.  Video games allow us to control the movements on the screen.  And now we can do the same with roller coasters. These DIY virtual rides have taken their cues from the video game industry.  The designers realized that people want to interact with and produce the rides instead of merely consuming other people’s ideas.  Eric Goodmen says, “This is really the next generation — where there’s a lot more personalization involved.” One of the reasons for this shift from having riders experience the ride to actually creating their own experience is address by Shawn McCoy, the vice-president of marketing and business development at Jack Rouse Associates.  He states “There is a definite need to compete with video games or the gaming industry. Where [players] have control over all of the elements, from the environment to the players’ movement.”

So far there are only a few of these rides open including; “Toy Story Mania” a ride that allows riders to shoot at targets as they roll down the track and to shape their experience. “CyberSpace Mountain” lets riders customize their experience from a menu of drops, loops and other features. “Hollywood Rip Ride Rockit” which has riders create a personal musical soundtrack for the ride. The newest is The “Sum of All Thrills” ride that lets kids use computer tablets to design either a virtual roller coaster, bobsled track or plane ride. Then they can climb into a robotic carriage that uses virtual-reality technology and actually experience the ride they’ve created. When designing the ride kids use touch-screen computers, a digital ruler, and pre-selected track options.  If they try to build something physically impossible then they’re asked to retool their ideas. The “Sum of All Thrills” designers think that the ride will help kids learn that “math and science can be fun.” Goodman says, “I think it’s really empowering for the kids to realize that the math doesn’t control them. They get to control the math.”A CNN article by John D. Sutter sights “The Raytheon Company, a maker of weapons and defense systems, as saying that they sponsored the exhibit as a way to get middle-school aged kids more interested in careers in math and engineering.” William Swanson, chairman and chief executive officer of Waltham, Mass.-based Raytheon said, “What we need to do is help young children to understand how they can use math. If we can get young kids excited, we can build the pipeline… For us, it’s a long-term strategy.”I find myself wondering if it will work and if it does than what does that mean?  How could we incorporate that into other areas? Maybe in the future similar trends can be used to get kids thinking more favorably about history and literature for example.  McCoy mentioned that museums and zoos are beginning to incorporate similar technologies.  So who knows?