cjcoughlin

Category: DIG3153

MDW #7

Article #1

Effective summaries can make or break an article.

Journalists should be mindful of the power of a successful summary. Readers, now more than ever, are pressed for time and depend on an authors brevity and discretion when finding news and topics that are relevant to them and a good summary can be the sharpest tool in their toolbox.

In his treatise on writing effective summaries, Jim Stovall gives a good rundown of the essential traits a summary should have: it should either inform, educate or entice. An informational summary provides the reader with an overview of the story, giving them an easily digestible sampling of the meat of the article.

The analytical summary presents the reader with the “why”; why did the local team lose, how was the accident caused, etc. The author gives the reader a more refined glimpse into the story by providing more details, but with a brief delivery.

Finally, the author may try the approach of a provocative summary. A strong, somewhat mysterious lead-in can give readers a sense of anticipation that makes them want to discover what a story is about. This seems to be the de-facto tactic today for journalists looking to attract attention to a story. When used appropriately these three summary techniques are sure to deliver results, no matter what the story is.

 

Article #2

Brevity is the essence of successful web writing.

Some of the most successful writers in history have relied upon making their points using an economy of words. Conveying your message in a concise format is essential to effective communication online.

When writing, there’s a natural inclination to illustrate your point with a good deal of words. No one wants to be misunderstood and some authors believe that more words equals better reader comprehension. History has proven, however, that some of the most powerful and memorable documents, speeches and articles have relied upon a sense of brevity. Choosing the right words is half the battle.

 

Article #3

http://www.wired.com/2014/04/free-iphone-5s-deal-proves-apple-isnt-so-special/

Apple’s plan to maintain their grip on the market with phones at different price points seems to have backfired.

With the release of the iPhone models 5c and 5s Apple finally addressed consumer concerns by providing an “entry level” phone to those not prepared to spend the money for the latest and greatest. The unintended consequence is buyers are hesitant to put down their cash for a phone that will be outdated within a year.

Retailers noticed this hesitation and have pounced, offering trade-in deals for the newer and more powerful model, the 5s. When it was introduced the 5s was seen as the “premium” phone in comparison to the bargain priced 5c; the 5s boasted a faster processor and screen while the 5c was a slightly upgraded 5 with a colorful shell. This seemed to be popular with buyers at first but in just a short time the 5s has become the de facto model thanks to Apple’s release schedule and retailer deals. It seems not everything with an Apple logo will sell.

 

Article #4

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/04/17/netflix-comcast-phishing-_n_5161680.html?utm_hp_ref=technology&ir=Technology

A new phishing scam is targeting Netflix users by drawing them to fake websites via sponsored ads.

Just weeks after Netflix users were warned of a phishing attempt perpetrated by crooks posing as customer service representatives, a new con has emerged: scammers are purchasing advertisements with fake support phone numbers through legitimate companies and pushing those ads to the top of search results.

This is particularly troublesome because these ads look official and are set to fool a lot of people.  When a customer calls one of the crooked numbers, a scammer may ask for login info or account specifics; an old phishing trick but the brazenness of the enterprise should have people worried. Consumers should be wary when searching for support and only trust links that refer back to a service or company’s official site.

 

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MDW #11

My research paper will detail the rise of online learning and the impact it has made on traditional learning methods. I will approach the subject as both a student and an administrator of a learning management system. Here are a few sources I will cite in my examination of the modern LMS.

Understanding the Implications of Online Learning for Educational Productivity

http://ucaft.org/content/being-present-critique-online-education-bob-samuels

This report from the US Department of Education gives a high-level overview of distance learning. There are many facets to an online education that do not exist for face to face classes and this is an effective primer for anyone unfamiliar with the concept. This report is comprised of a great deal of research from many different sources to provide the “official” word on distance learning.

Being Present – A Critique of Online Education

http://ucaft.org/content/being-present-critique-online-education-bob-samuels

As big of a believer in the idea of online learning as I am, I believe it is important to include criticisms of it in my paper as well. In this article Bob Samuels makes his case for the value of a face to face education, free from the distractions of outside influence. Samuels makes valid points, although I don’t necessarily agree with him in regards to classroom experiences, especially in regards to the elimination of digital distractions to the students.

Is Your LMS Social Enough?

http://www.learningsolutionsmag.com/articles/1204/elearning-guild-research-is-your-lms-social-enough

Major companies such as Blackboard and Canvas have placed more and more emphasis on social media integration and functionality within their LMS’s. It seems it is not enough to just pass information back and forth between applications like Facebook and Twitter, the LMS itself should contain a sharing and social collaboration within the system itself. I would like to explore if this is just a distraction or if it could serve a greater purpose towards connection students.

MDW #10

A brief piece of visual storytelling detailing the struggle of coming up with the right words.

https://storify.com/cjcoughlin/writer-s-block

MDW #9

“Wikipedia is the best thing ever. Anyone, in the world, can write anything they want about any subject. So you know you are getting the best possible information.” – Michael Scott, The Office

I often catch myself contemplating how information-spoiled teenagers and young adults are in this era of instant digital gratification. Any question, any desire to hear a particular song or need to find out what a friend is doing at that particular moment is a few finger swipes or keyboard clicks away. I am just old enough to remember having to dig through an encyclopedia or periodical for ansers to mundane questions, and if I couldn’t find the answer myself I had to call someone who might know. Remembering these experiences made me realize that the internet is just a much bigger variant of the “old days”; you can get the info quicker but sometimes you’re still at the mercy of spotty resources and questionable credentials. Younger people may be at a disadvantage when it comes to finding the right sources, however, due to their classification as “digital natives”.

“Growing up digital”… means that more and more of the information that drives children’s daily lives is provided, assembled, filtered, and presented by sources that are largely unknown to them, or known to them in nontraditional ways.”

Folk and Apostel’s “Online Credibility and Digital Ethos” raises a few good points about the methods younger people use to find information, such as the quote above. Kids don’t remember a time before the prevalence of the internet, so they might be quick to believe any article or page that is “published”; if it’s online it must be true, right? Previous generations are a bit savvier when it comes to filtering out signal to noise info-wise, only because we are more familiar with reputable sources of information: The New York Times, Encyclopedia Britannica and CNN are examples of what we might look for when searching for credible news or answers. These institutions have the benefit of being “pre-web”, which is to say they are established entities whose online presences gain the benefit of the doubt due to their longevity in the realm of information. When Googling “What is the tomb of the unknown soldier?”, we are more apt to click on the result from The Washington Times or the official site of Arlington Cemetery itself than a random WordPress blog. While the WordPress blog may contain valuable personal anecdotes about the tomb, the Times is more likely to give an “official” answer that has been vetted and fact checked to a certain standard.

Digital natives may have the sum of human knowledge at their fingertips but it takes experience to filter out the wheat from the chaff. It seems there can be such a thing as too much information; we’re bombarded with visual stimulation almost every second of the day and learning to take what you need and leave what is unessential behind comes with time. The kids will get there, even if the internet is determined to distract them.

MDW #6

After spending a third of my life in the field of Information Technology, I’ve come to realize I’m very jealous of the people that can effortlessly occupy spaces of both computer science and design. I’ve met many programmers, user interface engineers, database admins and graphic designers; all  have been talented in their respective disciplines but I always envied those who could both design and program efficiently, often at the same time. Unfortunately, I never became much of a serious programmer because math was never a strong subject for me. Needless to say, this assignment about type theory was a tough one to wrap my head around, even with that bit of programming background. I’ll begin with a short explanation of who invented it and what it means in regards to how applications work.

405px-Honourable_Bertrand_Russell

Type theory is a mathematical and logical system put forth by the philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell, pictured above. Russell was a highly esteemed intellectual and prolific author and is considered one of the pioneers of early computer science. He was a quintessential jack-of-all-trades, dabbling in various fields and becoming renowned for his insights into the building blocks of nature and civilization through math and logic. In addition to his pursuits in mathematics and philosophy, Russell was also a historian and conscientious objector, eventually spending time in prison for his public displays of pacifism during the first World War. His contributions to logic include Russell’s paradox, which helped give way to his introduction of type theory:

Russell’s paradox is based on examples like this: Consider a group of barbers who shave only those men who do not shave themselves. Suppose there is a barber in this collection who does not shave himself; then by the definition of the collection, he must shave himself. But no barber in the collection can shave himself. (If so, he would be a man who does shave men who shave themselves.)

Russell’s type theory consists of “any of a class of formal systems, some of which can serve as alternatives to set theory as a foundation for all mathematics.” Since computational language could be described on a very basic level as a series of math problems involving words and numbers, Russell helped set the stage for how future machines would process information and maybe most importantly, catch any errors present at runtime. Eliminating these errors allows the machine to run efficiently and return valid data; after all, what good is a computational machine if it isn’t correct? One of the most intensive and time consuming parts of writing code is making sure it works the way it should. Nothing is more frustrating than spending hours working a component for a website or program, only to run it and immediately see errors and have the app crash. Type theory helped streamline the error checking process to make it easier for some programming languages to check as it goes, which drastically cuts down on development time and makes life easier for programmers.

As I said, this is a simple way to look at what turned out to be a complex idea but I think most computer users can appreciate the structure behind what we now take for granted when we run an application or play a game. Russell and his peers helped shape logic problems into manageable solutions decades before the rise of personal computing, which is incredible in and of itself. Type theory may make my brain hurt, but I am definitely happy it exists.

MDW #5

Linguistics is a complex endeavor that seeks to explain a very fundamental part of being human: the way we communicate. Suffice to say, the field of linguistics is dense and some extremely intelligent people have devoted their lives to studying centuries worth of information to provide the groundwork for how language is used. One of these linguists, Hans Kamp, is a renowned author and professor who participated in a podcast produced by the University of Chicago to explain a few basic tenets of English linguistics. What follows is a brief summary of these terms and the way we relate to them.

Formal Semantics can be approached from a mathematical perspective; sentences are constructed like equations and can be processed by the human brain in much the same way as a math problem. For example, we see words in a sequence and our minds fill in the gaps through connectors such as “and” or “not”. 

Matt Teichman provides a succinct and approachable view of formal semantic theory:

“Give me some definitions of individual words, tell me the order in which they were combined, and by means of a mechanical algorithm, my theory will predict what the resulting sentence means.”

Formal semantic theory takes a granular view of what we say, grabbing the little bits of information that make up a sentence and grouping them into a larger whole. That whole is what we interpret the sentence or statement or question to mean.

If FST resembles a math problem then Kamp’s Discourse Representation Theory appeared to me as something of a construction site. DRT builds on FST (apologies for the acronyms) by providing an explanation for how the words we use connect and interact with one another. DRT is something of an evolving construction site, however, because it deals with the changes ideas experience as they are expounded upon by any following sentences.

DRT also approaches the problems inherent in computational linguistics by examining anaphora such as the “Donkey Pronoun”, which is a sentence usually constructed as such: “Every farmer who owns a donkey beats it.” Humans interpret the sentence correctly while computers get hung up on syntax; they don’t get the semantics and we do.

syntax

Computational linguistics is the emerging breakthrough that is just around the corner, and it is exciting to see the progress made by programmers and linguists towards creating an artificial intelligence that can communicate clearly and understand both syntax and semantics. There is still a long ways to go, however, as evidenced by IBM’s supercomputer Watson.  Watson is able to process vast amounts of data and language, but when IBM matched Watson against Jeopardy! champions, it was clear that the computer was having a difficult time with the foibles of language, such as puns and semantics. Watson pulled off some impressive victories, but the age of true artificial intelligence is still some time away.

MDW #4

projector

How The Super Bowl Turned The NYC Macy’s Into A Massive Screen

I’ll start with an embarrassing admission as an IT professional: I cannot for the life of me set up a projector with any measure of accuracy. It is something I dread doing, and it rarely turns out how I want it and there is endless fiddling and tweaking and fussing that needs to be done to attain a picture that is just right. Imagine my amazement and jealousy when I saw a high definition video projection displayed on a modern architectural landmark in the middle of the busiest metropolis in the world.

Moment Factory, a technology studio that specializes in multimedia installations, turned New York City’s Macy’s into a giant display to broadcast football to anyone caught underneath its flashing facade that demands they get hyped for the Super Bowl.

“…the installation plays an overwhelming eight-minute barrage of swirling images: Cubist footballs, crazy confetti, and, confoundingly, licks of flame that melt down the side of the building like oozy Velveeta cheese.”

The Super Bowl is the biggest sporting in event in America. It would be extremely difficult to find someone over the age of five that could not detail just what the Super Bowl is and what it’s about. That doesn’t stop the NFL from buying untold amounts of advertising to drill home the fact that this is a big deal and everyone should be watching. The upside to this is that the biggest game gets the coolest technology to advertise the product.

Moment Factory had numerous challenges to overcome, from nearby light and noise pollution from Times Square to the logistics of projecting a clear image on a building known for its architectural intricacy.

“…if you want to use real footage of real human beings doing things, you need a flat surface—which gets screwed up by the Macy’s building’s huge recessed windows.

The solution was to drop huge draped screens over each of the windows to make the surface a flat canvas.”

A project like this is a ridiculously complicated undertaking, but Moment Factory pulled it off and it looks amazing. Their approach to the problem was inspiring, and the result was more than worth it.

Social Justice

High profile court cases have become staples of daytime television and prime time news programs. Viewers demand unrestricted access to the court room, hang on to every detail that trickles out from behind chamber doors and flood the internet with their opinions and armchair legal analysis. This glut of information, however, is threatening to deplete an already shrinking and essential resource: an impartial jury pool.

The sixth amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees that a defendant is due a speedy and public trial and an impartial jury of their peers. The term “public trail” has evolved significantly in the Digital Age; if a case warranted a back page article in the nineteen-sixties, today it would get an hour-long special on Headline News. How can the legal system navigate a hyper connected populace that is willing and able to share their beliefs and opinions through social media and consume endless details about a case?

A Wayne State University blog post by K. Brooke Moynihan illustrates some of the hurdles that both prosecutors and defendants must overcome in order to keep the gears of justice turning:

 “The problem with these types of incidents is that when jurors communicate about or research issues presented to them in a trial, they jeopardize a defendant’s 6th Amendment Constitutional right to a trial by an impartial jury.”

Water cooler talk has evolved to Facebook wall posts seen by hundreds of people at a time. A potential juror must be unbiased and unprejudiced to the particulars of an upcoming case. A juror that does not watch the news or read the papers is a rare event; even rarer is someone that does not actively engage in social media. It’s possible to not be swayed by an impersonal article by a stranger that details the facts of a case but much harder to ignore opinions posted by friends and family members, people whose opinions are valued and held dear. Is the impartial juror a relic of a bygone era?

Information Policy for Everyday Decisions. (2012, November 3). The Impact of Social Media on Juries [Blog post]. Retrieved from http://blogs.wayne.edu/informationpolicy/2012/11/03/the-impact-of-social-media-on-juries-2/

MDW #3

As I was reading Zappen’s take on rhetoric, the first idea that popped into my head was my interpretation of written or verbal communication: this is an idea or belief I have, and here is how I express it. As a participant in this dialogue people are expected to ingest this information and question or confirm these beliefs. The passage below distills the relationship between two participants of a conversation and how they are expected to interact with one another:

“Dialogue is not simply a way of persuading others to accept our ideas, but a way of holding ourselves, and others, accountable for all of our thoughts, words, and actions. . . . Bakhtin’s dialogical rhetoric is not restricted to oral discourse, but is possible in any medium, including written, graphic, and digital.” – James Zappen

To examine how this view of dialogue and rhetoric applies to digital content, I chose to analyze an entertainment blog: Grantland.

Grantland_Home

Grantland is primarily a sports blog created by Bill Simmons, a writer for ESPN. Where the site differs from other sports blogs, however, is the approach of intertwining articles about sports with pop culture pieces, ranging from movie reviews to retrospectives of classic albums and interviews with entertainers.

In Chapter One of “Letting Go of the Words”, Janice Redish provides a summation of why we go to entertaining , non-informational or news related web sites in the first place:

We read social media messages, blog articles, news that interests us. We read to do. We read to learn. We read for fun.

This passage is what made me think of Grantland when brainstorming for a site to focus on. Grantland is what I would consider a “fun” website with a clear view of its content and audience.

I usually enjoy about half of new content on Grantland, but what I do fully appreciate is their approach to providing what I call “stacking” content in their articles. Due to Grantland being a relatively modestly staffed blog in the scheme of things, there is a cohesiveness to the writing that allows callbacks and asides to current and previously published articles that gives readers a good deal of information on a topic.

I chose to spotlight Grantland because this information “overload” is an example of what I consider effective writing and dialogue for the web, especially in the form of the footnotes they employ.  There is plenty of content, but you can grab only what you want and go.

Grantland_footnote

Before Grantland came about, I couldn’t name a site I last encountered that used footnotes in any meaningful way, but here they supplement the content without being essential reading. Also highlighted in the above screenshot is a link to a previous article by the author that provides background to the topic. By giving an additional stream of dialogue, the author can engage the reader past the superficial.

In Chapter Two, Redish reinforces the importance of the dialogue between creator and participant:

Your site = you = one side of the conversation. You have to know what you want that conversation to accomplish.

Your site visitor = the other side of the conversation. To have successful conversations with your site visitors, you must understand them and what they need and want.

Steering users towards information they need (or might not know they need) has gotten progressively easier using links. Links are plentiful on the site, most with the added benefit of accompanying images that allow readers to associate the information with visual stimulation as seen on the landing page above. Grantland takes advantage of a true multimedia blog format, leading users to targeted content that provides entertainment (and ad revenue). Writing for the web has evolved in such a way that linking to content both internal and external is natural and follows along a trail of information that leads readers to desired outcomes.

Many blogs today are effective at both written and non-written dialogue between author and reader, especially those that dispense news or educational content. Entertainment blogs are different because they are much more passive in their approach to how they present “useful” information or dialogue threads. Grantland was a slightly difficult example to analyze because of this, but I feel it illustrates a strong connection between author and reader. They present their side of the story and as a reader you have the power to agree or disagree; vote with your continued readership or find a new source of info. Dialogue has evolved along with the web and our forums for discussion are plentiful.

MDW #2

google-76517_150

I consider myself a “reader”, but I’ve been having a bit of a crisis lately when it comes to the act of reading itself. I finish a chapter, or even an entire book, and as I set it aside I ask myself “What did I just read?” I sometimes couldn’t explain what I just read. There’s a breakdown between what I see and what my brain is processing, so when I started reading Nicholas Carr’s article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?”, I felt a sense of relief. Now I know I’m not the only one.

I was initially struck by the irony of an author bemoaning his inability to process lengthy reads in a multi-page article that spanned around thirty-six paragraphs, but as I read on, I realized it’s not the act of reading that we’re relying on: it’s the medium. I agree with Scott Karp, a colleague  of Carr, who pontificated on our altered thought patterns:

“What if I do all my reading on the web not so much because the way I read has changed, i.e. I’m just seeking convenience, but because the way I THINK has changed?”

books-114467_640

Carr argues that we’re just skimming content because our brains aren’t equipped to work at the speed of search engines, which are the underpinnings of the Internet.

In opposition to Carr’s article, Carl Knerr, in “No, Google, is not Making us Stupid”, claims that our brains haven’t rewired themselves. We’re simply finding the info using different methods and in turn, processing that info in new ways:

“Google, as the face of the Internet, is not looking to grow profit by changing the way you think. Instead, they charge a utilization fee (in the form of advertising) for plugging into their grid of knowledge.”

I’m not sure who I agree with more; I’m leaning towards Carr because the phenomenon he’s experiencing is something I’ve found myself grappling with while trying to process print media. I’m far from a technophobe, but it is a bit disconcerting to think about how information is processed by our brains, especially among younger people. Books aren’t dying, but popular culture’s interest in them sure is.

Reading the recommended articles and watching the videos for this assignment was a bit refreshing, as these are ideas and problems I’ve recently encountered. Eli Pariser’s TED talk about the danger of online “filter bubbles” brings to light an important distraction when viewing news:

“Yahoo News, the biggest news site on the Internet, is now personalized — different people get different things. Huffington Post, the Washington Post, the New York Times — all flirting with personalization in various ways. And this moves us very quickly toward a world in which the Internet is showing us what it thinks we want to see, but not necessarily what we need to see.”

Web culture has evolved to provide a myopic view of the world, centered around convenience and a desire to get granular amounts of information. The articles referenced above present ideas about how to digest that information and if it is affecting our ability process what we’re presented with, or in the case of Pariser, what we choose to present ourselves with. Taking these ideas into account, I can’t say for sure why we might be feeling dumber, but it might not be Google’s fault.