Author Archives: wayne518

Home-schooling infographic

home-schooling

Here is my final infographic on home-schooling. I hope you enjoy it!

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Infographic blog 2

Rather than strictly throw numbers in the reader’s face, I wanted to create visuals to demonstrate the information I wanted to convey because Edward Tufte writes, “The similar treatment of text, diagrams, and images suggests to readers that images are as relevant and credible as words and diagrams (109).”. So, for my demographics panel, I made a cluster of white students juxtaposed with a smaller number of minority students to represent the disparity in racial representation of home-schooled students. Rather than write out a sentence or chart, I used stick figure graphics to show the difference to make a point about privilege and home-schooling because Tufte writes that we should use the object itself in our evidence presentations, rather than just their names (Tufte 121).

Originally, along with my projection screen backgrounds for two of my slides, I also had boxes to contain my snippets of data. After consulting Beautiful Evidence, I realized what a horrible mistake this was. So, I removed the boxes and the occasional cartoony arrow because “Omitting boxes increases explanatory resolution (Tufte 79).” Rather than clutter the design of the infographic with unnecessary frames, I focused on my message because “If every name is highlighted, no name is (79).”

To add a bit of “pop” to my header, I included an enlarged capital (versal) in “home-schooling (Lupton 125).” The house forms the x-height of the the “h,” and the chimney forms the ascender. Writing the header in this way also uses Tufte’s “using the thing to demonstrate the thing” principle. I used a few different fonts to try to convey the sense of a learning environment: The background of my infographic is green, and it’s filled with opaque equations scrawled all over, like a chalkboard. The header is a typeface called “eraser,” and it looks like magic marker written on a whiteboard or chalk on a blackboard. The body of the text uses the “JennaSue” typeface, which resembles the handwritten cursive a student might use to jot down his or her notes in class. Plus, the JennaSue typeface is in white, so it creates a suitable visual metaphor of chalk on a chalkboard. Finally, there’s a bit-like computer font used on a projection screen about certification for home-schooling parents.

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Infographic blog 1

I sat at a red light one day on my way home from work. I noticed the bumper sticker on the car in front of me, which said, “Proud parent of a homeschooled student,” or something to that effect. I wondered what it must be like to homeschooled, for your parents to be your teachers. Did homeschooled students have better test scores than public school students? Are they socially inept bookworms, or are they just as sociable as any traditionally schooled student? What makes parents want to teach their children themselves? Dissatisfaction with public education? Out of curiosity, I decided to make homeschooling the topic of my infographic.

The results were eye-opening. Home-schooled students are more likely to graduate college than public or private schools students, and they transfer more than twice as many AP credits going into their freshman year of college than public and private school students. With my infographic, I wanted to not only create awareness for this small subset of the student population in the United States, but also to show that they are performing better than traditionally schooled students across the board (which I’m sure not many people realize). My second panel supports my point, showing that the number of home-schooled students in America doubled in just four years from 2003 to 2007. The shift is gaining traction since parents can see the benefits to their children. And, interestingly enough, even though home-schooled students generally perform better on standardized tests and in college than public and private school students, they are, in fact, just as, if not more so, involved in the community.

I would have liked to have made graphics that showed a greater amount of contrast between home-schooled students and traditionally schooled students. Also, I would have liked to emphasize the community involvement panel a bit more, but the icons and images in Piktochart are limited. How can one show that home-schooled students go on field trips just like other students, or that home-schoolers are more likely to volunteer than traditionally schooled students? Overall, I feel I made a visually appropriate and eye-pleasing infographic that gives a solid overview of the many facets of home-schooling and home-schooling culture.

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Generative Poem reflections

1. The making of Tomahawk Girl

I began work on my generative poem by considering the restraints of the title: a “t” word followed by a “g” word. To maintain the integrity of the original poem structure, I sought to craft a title with a three-syllable “t” word and a single-syllable “g” word. I wrote down a couple of each under two columns and matched the ones I thought would work together best. “Tomahawk” was more evocative and interesting than “telephone” or “tapestry,” and, when coupled with “girl,” I knew I’d inadvertently created a superheroine.

I don’t normally compose poetry, but I enjoyed this level of experimentation. Accounting for the changes in the syntax of my words required me to think about what story I wanted to tell and how. Tomahawk Girl is the heroine, and the Hatchet Guys are the villains … or are they? When I entered those words into the code to appear at the beginning or the end of the lines, the idea seemed ambiguous. I originally envisioned a battle between the two in a good vs. evil sense, but the code proved the story could be so much more.

The random text generation proved for some truly satisfying lines. “Shed the red” and “embrace the dark cold veins” sound like they came right out of a comic book superhero story. Tomahawks clashing with shields, blades spilling sinew and spikes cutting bone — all good stuff. The poem retained the gory, epic nature I had originally intended, but by leaving myself to the mercy of the code, the words acquired a whole new dimension of meaning. Being willing to relinquish some of the authorship to the code allowed for the poem to turn out the way it did; I never would have created something I could be so happy with if I had tried to micromanage the text.

2. On Ergodic literature

Though seemingly disparate forms of literature, print poems and ergodic poems share common central elements. Both forms of literature ask the reader to construct meaning from words, interpreting the author’s message or crafting a message of his or her own. Though print text is static, its meaning can change over time for a reader. Just like how a text’s meaning can change for a reader over the course of his or her life, ergodic literature’s meaning can change at a much faster rate, thanks to text generation programs. Both can also place restrictions on the author in terms of form. For example, sonnet writers must work within the space of 14 lines allotted to them, and haiku writers must meet a strict syllable length. Ergodic poetry, too, can demand the writer frame his or her work inside a set of rules. The defining difference between traditional and ergodic literature, according to Espen J. Aarseth, is that ergodic literature requires a higher degree of participation from the reader than traditional text does.

With generative poems like Tomahawk Girl, the story unfolds in a nonlinear fashion, throwing new meanings and perspectives at the reader with each new line. One might be inclined to think that the sentences formed by the code are jumbled, empty phrases slapped together, without the attention to detail seen in poetry composed by a human mind. One must adopt an attitude of giving “nontrivial effort” to consuming the information in the text, as Aarseth puts it, which we as readers tend to struggle with. We have been framing electronic literature and ergodic literature in the same context of print literature, quick to point to the former as “wrong” because it breaks tradition. We need to communicate with ergodic literature on its own terms, as John Slatin writes, because it a new medium, a separate beast from print media. Elit demands that we think associatively, a more natural way of thinking, Slatin writes, rather than sequentially, which print books have conditioned us to do. So, criticizing Tomahawk Girl for changing the story from one reading to the next because “that’s not what literature is supposed to do” does not carry any weight. The heroine or the villain may emerge victorious, based on which words the code generates, but the differing storylines lend to the crux of the plot I want to deliver: Who, really, is the villain?

 

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Information Architecture and Computer Technology

“The summation of human experience is being expanded at a prodigious rate, and the means we use for threading through the consequent maze to the momentarily important item is the same as was used in the days of square-rigged ships.”

These words, written by Vannevar Bush in “As We May Think,“ echo a similar sentiment I have when I see my parents searching for a phone number through a phone book. It’s 2013, and there’s no reason to flip through an archaic volume of phone numbers. We have computers now.

Only Bush wasn’t writing in 2013. He was writing in 1945, before anyone had any conception of electronic databases. But, still, he recognized the need for one. So, he proposes a device he calls “memex,” which looks similar to a modern-day computer. It has monitors, a keyboard and tape that files images and information. The ability to store the sheer volume of information available wasn’t the crux of the memex. Bush imagined a machine that could be used for “associative indexing” — connecting multiple separate texts together to create a more efficient way of retrieving information.

But what do computers have to do with information architecture? Perhaps, in 2013, we take the idea of instantly locating our desired queries for granted. But in the mid-20th century, the world had to scour through pages of books to find what they were looking for. The only sequence of information available was the one that the book allowed. With a memex, a user could create their own sequence of information, thus conceptualizing information in new ways.

The only problem was, the technology just wasn’t available at the time. Think of all the problems we face today with technology and all the solutions we’ve conceived but yet to master. Take, for example, cell phone battery life. How can we prevent cell phone batteries from draining when we’re on the go? Can we make a screen that converts sunlight to energy? Can we create wireless chargers? Or can we make a perpetual battery? The inventors of the first electronic computers faced similar hurdles.

But, as time progressed, we get innovations like the hyperlink, folders and the World Wide Web. In Douglas Engelbart’s “Augmenting Human Intellect,” he describes how human thinking is limited in the way it is presented to us in books. The human thought process is “sequential but not serial,” meaning it is like a map linking ideas together, but not necessarily in a linear fashion. Thoughts are related, but perhaps not in a hierarchy. He advocates for computers like the memex, in which we can reorient ideas around a space so we can “trim, extend, insert and rearrange so freely and rapidly.”

All of these ideas continue to build on one another. Theodor H. Nelson’s 1965 “A File Structure for the Complex, the Changing and the Indeterminate,” he draws up early images of word processors in saving multiple variations of the same text on a computer, which he dubs “dynamic outlining.” He also introduces the word hypertext, and he uses it in the same way we use it today: typed words that lead to another work when engaged by the user, be it another article or a definition or annotation. He hoped to use it to “integrate, for human understanding, bodies of material so diversely connected that they could not be untangled by the unaided mind.”

Flash forward to the 21st century, and computers become more affordable, Internet use more widespread. With so many people adopting computers and becoming computer literate, communities begin to develop their own forms of searching, labeling and collecting information. Adam Mathes calls these new terms “folksonomies.” He uses tags on Flickr and Delicious as his primary examples. He states that tags are more about “categorization” than “classification,” suggesting users make connections between tags based on broad generalities and less on distinctions. Though he notes an advantage to using tags in this manner provides users with a low barrier to entry in sharing information space, he observes a quirk in tag culture. The blanketing tags make browsing through concepts and ideas simple enough, but finding specific data proves much more difficult. Where are we heading in the future? How much accuracy in sorting through information do we sacrifice for expediency? Which is more important?

 

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Home-schooling infographic

infographic    Here is my infographic rough draft on home-schooling. It is far from complete. I am still researching for relevant and interesting information, and Piktochart infuriates me to no end. I look forward to viewing all of yours, which will undoubtedly be better than mine.

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How Quake Quiz uses metaphor to prepare us for earthquakes

When we think of intuitive and gripping web design, we often think of simplicity, utility and pretty pictures. Upon closer examination, an intuitive website is really just one that conveys metaphor effectively. Jason posted a neat little website on Twitter called Quake Quiz that uses graphics and text to inform San Francisco residents what to do in the event of an earthquake.

When loading Quake Quiz, you’re greeted by a dancing hipster. This character reveals information about the site’s target audience, and perhaps even the designers themselves. The user is then presented with six different locations represented as images. So, clicking on the house graphic will prompt the site to load the guidelines for safely handling an earthquake in the home.

Before we even begin to absorb the information the website wants to transmit to us, we are already subconsciously thinking of their message in terms of metaphor. For example, the home depicted in the graphic is a home as one would conceive a home in San Francisco to look like, not like a home in New Jersey. The sloped street and the thinness of the house indicate a house in a city setting, not one in a suburban setting. Just as how the scenario of “bring some chairs to our meeting” (bean bag chairs? Rocking chairs?) is raised in Metaphors We Live By, we are viewing the idea of home in the context of the situation.

When we click on the house, the house gets frontally dissected, creating the sense of putting us inside the house so we can see all its rooms. Even though we normally experience being inside a house from a different perspective (feeling the floor beneath our feet, being constrained by four walls) we understand the animation to mean that because we can see inside of the house, we must be inside of it.

Because a computer cannot actually cause an earthquake for us to experience, it simulates one by shaking the screen violently while the man in the house yells “Earthquake!” Again, the site operates on the assumption that we are constantly interpreting its meaning through their formation of language. Then, the site allows you to click on various objects in the house. Because we are viewing these metaphors as objects, we can draw conclusions about what they are meant to mean to us. Clicking the telephone, for example, doesn’t allow you to make a phone call the way an actual phone does. Instead, the phone is a metaphor for communication (as in communication is vital to surviving an emergency).

Metaphors like these continue throughout the website. The artists depict a man in a wheelchair in the “at work” section of Quake Quiz, but, before we click on him to read the information associated with him, we’re already thinking, “What do handicapped persons do when they’re caught in an earthquake at work?” These subtleties streamline the Quake Quiz experience, and, combined with its visual style, make the site and information contained within memorable.

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Metaphors are as meta as they come

In the movie “Planes, Trains and Automobiles”, the rotund chatterbox Del Griffith (played by John Candy) meets the business stiff Neal Page (Steve Martin) on an airplane and immediately (though obliviously) gets on Page’s nerves. Their relationship begins with Griffith removing his shoes and socks. Upon experiencing his relief from freeing his feet from the confines of his footwear, Griffith says matter-of-factly, “I’m tellin’ ya, my dogs are barking today!

Though Page views the context of this statement as awkward, and probably a little disgusting, the audience may interpret the statement as a metaphor. In the book “Metaphors We Live By” by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, metaphor is described as “understanding and experiencing one kind of thing in terms of another (Lakoff et al. 5)” Thus, to convey to Page just how severely his feet are throbbing, Griffith likens them to a pair of dogs causing a ruckus with their barking.

Metaphors such as this abound in the English language, and in different forms. For example, there are orientational metaphors, as in, “I’m feeling under the weather,” which equates sickness with the negative implications of down—ness in our culture. There are also ontological metaphors, which use physical objects to describe abstract concepts, as in “I’m on the clock” means “I’m working” (the speaker is not actually positioned on top of a clock). This form of metaphor is just as prevalent as any other, and we often use it in more ways than we realize.

So, if we can describe basically anything in terms of anything else, what is a thing? Put another way, what is true? What “thing,” physical or ethereal, is constant? Well, the authors assert that there is no absolute truth in language: “There is no such thing as meaning of a sentence in itself, independent of any people (184).” Rather, a person must project meaning onto a metaphor using the only tools available to him or her — their own experiences. Based on context and prior interactions, one constructs truth in the language presented to them.

Therefore, truth differs not just from one person to another, but also across cultures. For example, in western society, we believe in absolute truths; a court of law would rule a bank robber guilty because our society condemns theft. In Japan, however, a judge may consider extenuating circumstances in the thief’s case. Perhaps he stole because it was the only way he could afford to feed his children. This subjective view of truth focuses more on the “why” than the “what,” or the result American culture focuses on.

We discussed the significance of using metaphor in Western culture, using the example of “the war on drugs.” If lawmakers are on one side of the issue, who are they fighting against? The drugs themselves? Those who use drugs? The distributors?

Upon thinking on this level of language further, I realized how similar this give-and-take is to our society’s embattlement in the interpretation of the second amendment of the Constitution: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Though the Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the second amendment protects the right of individual citizens to own a gun, the debate about the language of the amendment still rages on. Just who were the framers referring to when they used the metonymy of the phrase “people?” Did they intend for the militia exclusively to maintain the right to bear arms, or does “people” refer to all American citizens? The complexity of metaphor demonstrates how vital it is for not just writers, but all those involved in communication, to choose their words carefully to convey their words’ intended meaning.

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