Steve Jobs Rocks

What rocks more than Jobs' 90 minute talk? This great 60 second remix of his 90 minute talk.

I love how the entire world seems willing and able to accommodate my growing attention deficit disorder.


Video Games, Narrative, and Hollywood

So, although I really don't have time to write this, I have to react to the recent article in the LA Times warning movie executives to stay away from video games. I found the discussion over at Joystiq. Here's a selection (link to LA Times article, you can get a password here):

Hollywood can’t win at video games. Because 13-year-old boys spend hours zapping asteroids or stealing virtual cars, movies based on video games would seem to be the logical follow-up to the comic- book-to-movie frenzy. Screenwriter Josh Olson, who was rewriting the “Halo” script (Peter Jackson was to direct) before the movie fell apart, says video games “have aimless cycles. You go to A, shoot some monsters, then go to B, then start over and do it again.” Iraq doesn’t sell. Though Hollywood did its high-minded darnedest to enlighten us with Middle East political treatises such as “Lions for Lambs,” “Redacted,” “Rendition,” “In the Valley of Elah” and “The Kingdom,” the masses have spoken and the verdict is: We’ll take “Spider-Man,” thank you.

RULE #1 | Step away from the video games. Transforming this medium’s weak narratives to film hasn’t been as successful as with comic books


First, what does Halo and shooting have to do with Iraq? Bad paragraph, bad paragraph! It will serve as an example for my teaching presentation at Western Illinois next week on logical development.

More to the heart of the matter, video games really don't make good movies. But its because their narratives are different from those of films. They are longer and more subtle [think: Final Fantasy VII or X]. Like books, you cannot always translate the internal monologue and character development to the big screen [think: Silent Hill 2, Metal Gear Solid 2]. They are interactive-much of their catharsis depends on the players implication with their avatar [think: Silent Hill 3, Shadow of the Colossus]. Of course, there's plenty of flat, meaningless games that do follow aimless uninspired story lines with 2 dimensional characters [though I don't think Halo is one of them- try anything put out by Nintendo whose found a way to put out another "but our princess is in another castle" storyline]. And there were plenty of shitty movies before people tried converting every superhero, whether analogue or digital, into a big screen success. There are plenty of books that don't make it to the silver screen, and don't make it into any book clubs, either [I'm talking to you, Susan Warner's Wide, Wide World].

Video games are their own medium. And no, I don't think that they will necessarily translate well into other mediums. Why should they? To offer a different perspective, video games are outselling the movie and the music industry combined. 21st century attention is going in different directions. Soon, I imagine games will increasingly look back to movies and books for inspiration. We'll have to wait and see if these older narratives can lend themselves to making compelling games.


(Quick n Dirty) Search Tools

To friends- yeah, I haven't posted in awhile. I'll try to get something up here soon. This post is for my research methods class, I'm hiding it from them to see how they search the net on their own.


Blogging as Composition

Since I'm another of the mad scientists who birthed this approach, I'll throw in some quick reflections. For those who don't know, three colleagues and I piloted a new approach to introductory composition this past fall. 80 students were divided into 18 groups based on student interests. A full list of topics is available here. Students used pseudonyms to protect their identities. Now were interested in publishing something on this, so let the inventive process begin.

  1. Quantity, not quality. This might sound like blasphemy coming from someone who is earning a Ph.D in rhetoric and composition, but I think revision is a waste of time with first-year writers. Or, at least, the way revision is currently taught. While upper-division writers might benefit from refining an idea for scholarly or professional presentation, introductory writers need more experience with the generative, inventive process and with structuring an idea [including incorporating and contextualizing sources]. Certainly, there is a need to revise during the composing process, but requiring complete rough drafts that go through a revision process is (in my opinion) a waste at that level. I also believe rough drafts are counter-productive to teaching writing as a way of learning: students generate The Draft and are then hesitant to explore opposing positions, tangents, or to reconsider the structural arrangement of their writing. Essentially, this blogging course required students to produce three short rough drafts a week. The experience they gained outlining and structuring an idea showed marked improvements to their writing over the course of the semester.
  2. Workshopping Works. I've never been a big fan of peer review with introductory composition- mostly because the comments students receive then to focus on grammar or are ambiguous and less-than-helpful [i.e., "this needs to flow better" How does that help anyone?]. With this course, every Thursday worked as a workshop day- I brought in posts and we read and critiqued them as a class. I provided students with specific tasks--underline the best sentence, circle the least effective sentence--and we discussed them as a class. I asked students if they thought this was an effective use of class time; they consistently responded "Yes" because, while they might not have learned what to do, they certainly felt they learned what not to do. This reminds me of an argument for peer review Donald Murray made way back in the 70's- students benefit from exposure to prose similar to their skill level. At some point, after reviewing 20 papers or posts, students internalize what doesn't work. And then they don't do that anymore. Brilliant.
  3. Make Sure There's a Community, Make Sure There's Real Interest, Make Sure There's Something To Do. By far, the more successful students were those who entered a community in which they were already invested. And a community which aims to DO something- posts became a kind of reflection on activity. Cooking, skateboarding, sampling, watching horror movies. A simple word for these activities: hobbies. A better word? Passions (in the best case scenarios). These groups regularly produced engaging writing. What to avoid? The next time I teach this I will absolutely disallow "Being a College Student." Why? First, it doesn't have a cohesive online community- different schools offer blogs on college life, but these posts leaned toward being repetitive and predictable. My students in these groups were strong writers, but it was difficult to come up with topics for posts. If I did soften my stance and allow this one, it would have to be more like a journalist role: reporting upcoming events on campus etc. The other thing to avoid? Something general like "humor." While this might be a great topic for upper-division students, asking first year writers to compose 1000 words a week on a theoretical topic [what is humor?] is quite difficult. It is much better to ground them in something they do, something that a bunch of other people do, something upon which they can write reflectively.
  4. It Fucking Works. To echo my colleague, the marked improvement to student writing was at times staggering. This quantitative, student-centered approach to instruction made my students better writers. I'd link to a bunch of posts from the beginning of the semester and a bunch of posts from the end of the semester, but since a few of my former students read my blog that doesn't seem right. For now, you'll just have to take my word on it. But I know that after teaching this class, I don't think I could ever teach freshman composition any other way. It just fucking works.


Sane Intellectual Property Laws, Take 237

Here's a follow-up to my rant over at Mxrk the other day (which followed up a rant during an MLA interview), my first intellectual property rant of 2008. Chances are it shouldn't be the last- though daughter and dissertations will probably mean otherwise.

Marc Fisher over at the Washington Post recently reported that the RIAA is now targeting users who have copied files from legally purchased CDs onto their personal computers or MP3 players. Let me highlight the keywords: legally purchased, personal computers or MP3 players. According to the RIAA, any copy -repeat: ANY COPY- of a song is illegal. From the article:

At the Thomas trial in Minnesota, Sony BMG's chief of litigation, Jennifer Pariser, testified that "when an individual makes a copy of a song for himself, I suppose we can say he stole a song." Copying a song you bought is "a nice way of saying 'steals just one copy,' " she said.

Sigh. Mother-f@#king sigh. Why shouldn't the RIAA take this position? I mean, I'm surprised they didn't stumble upon this sooner. When one stops to imagine the untold millions billions the RIAA has made thanks to the changes from vinyl to analogue cassette and then from those cassettes to compact disc, it makes perfect sense that they would push for this. Think of the billions of dollars they would stand to make if we had to repurchase entire CD collections as MP3s. [On a side note, my wife got me my first iPod for Christmas-- I've spent the last two weeks burning CDs. Perhaps I should expect a letter from the RIAA?]

Normally I wouldn't be concerned about such nonsense. Except in this case the nonsense has made it all the way to the supreme court. Nevermind the Sony ruling [the pillar of contemporary intellectual property law] or the common sense understanding that purchasing media affords the buyer the right to listen to that media at her convenience. This is what happens when we allow politicians with little knowledge of or experience with digital technologies to make laws. This is what happens when we use legislation designed to protect the public performance of sheet music to govern the distribution of digital files. Ruling the personal remediation of legally purchased files illegal would make the Digital Millennium Copywrong Act seem rational. Anyone who has talked to me on this subject for more than three seconds realizes how pathetic the last statement is.

So here's my solution. In 2008, I'm a solution-oriented kind of person. No more rants, now I'm making plans. Here's the plan, you are going to love it. Here is the list of everyone in the Senate who voted in favor of the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.


Brilliant. The plan has more than one stage. Here's stage two:

VOTE OBAMA</plan>.