Category Archives: CommLab

Pictures vs. words

A word is also a picture of a word

Remember how on March 5th I was supposed to give a presentation in 1′, 2′, 10′, but it got bumped? And then the following week’s class was canceled, and then we had spring break. So it wasn’t until three weeks later, March 26, that I finally got to take my turn squirming at the front of the room. Three extra weeks! So, naturally, I used all that time working on my project, right?

Oh, no, that wouldn’t have been fair. I did revise my slides, but I left it until the last fucking minute, as usual, so as not to have an undue advantage over my classmates. Right. That’s totally why.

What I did do in the interim, however, was stumble across this fab webcast by Nancy Duarte about how to give better presentations:

After hearing her talk, I bought and started reading her book, Slide:ology, which is a more detailed presentation of the same suggestions.

(Here’s another Nancy Duarte webcast, which I haven’t watched yet: Creating Powerful Presentations.)

So between that and taking copious notes on my classmates’ midterm presentations, especially in Wearables, I got a lot of ideas about how I should redo my slides, as well as my overall presentation style. The result is a deck that does not make any sense unless I’m standing there with a remote, explaining it to you (PDF, 1.1 MB)—and using a remote is, I decided after watching a lot of in-class presentations, a good thing to do. I got my Mac remote to turn pages in Acrobat using a program called iRed Lite. I can’t really recommend it, since it stumped me for quite a while the first time I used it, and the next time I tried, a few weeks later, I positively could not figure out how I had ever made it work in the first place. There’s something about the UI that confuses the hell out of me. But it can, theoretically, do the job, and it’s free.

Some other things I learned from watching classmates’ presentations:

  • Proofread, proofread, proofread.
  • Stand while you present, even if you don’t have a remote. Think of someone you know who’s poised and relaxed speaking in front of a group, and then try to channel that person for five minutes. Breathe between sentences. Make eye contact.
  • I really don’t care about the technical side of your project. Don’t tell me what hardware and libraries and so forth are used in it; describe it to me as though I were a normal human being who doesn’t have four Arduini in her apartment right now. Just because I have them doesn’t mean I know how to use them.
  • Those very corporate-looking system diagrams showing how information will flow through your application? They’re completely unintelligible. Skip them.
  • You don’t have to make all your graphics all slick, in Illustrator or Photoshop. Hand-drawn diagrams or sketches can be much more engaging.
  • As early as possible in the presentation, show me some kind of image of what your project will be—or, better yet, the prototype you’re working on—so that I can hold that in my mind as you go into all the background and process and detail. If I don’t know what your project is yet, I probably won’t find the rest of that information interesting. This was true even though I knew perfectly well what my classmates’ projects were. When I watched their presentations, if they didn’t show and describe what they were making early on, I was unable to hold my attention on whatever else they were saying instead. Context.
  • Don’t put a lot of text on the screen. If you’re talking and there’s a whole paragraph on the screen behind you, my attention’s going to be split. And if it turns out that you’re just repeating what that paragraph says, almost word for word, I’ll feel exasperated. People should be listening to you for the words in your presentation, not reading them off the slides.
  • If you don’t have anything sexy to put on a slide for a given portion of your talk, it’s fine to
    1. repeat a previous slide, or
    2. show a slide that contains just one word representing that moment’s topic—“research,” for instance, or “inspiration.” Treat that text as a graphic element—make it big, pay attention to how it looks.
  • Typography!
  • If you have a relevant quotation to share, don’t bury it in a whole long paragraph; give it a slide by itself.
  • Don’t try to cover too much. It’s better to give people a thoughtful, measured thumbnail-presentation of the project and stop talking early enough that there’s time for people to ask questions about the parts that actually interest them than it is to brain-dump every piece of information you have, leaving time for only a few dazed comments from your audience at the end.
  • Videos of a thing working are helpful, but you have to explain what’s going on while it’s playing. This may be a good time to unload some of those boring technical details, while there’s a moving image to spice them up.
  • Proofread, proofread, proofread. If I had a dime for every typo I saw during midterm presentations . . . I offered my services as a proofreader in the Webgrrls-style need/give session we had in 1′ 2′ 10′, but nobody seemed to think they needed such a thing. They are wrong.
  • If you’re going to read some text that appears on a slide, do it slowly, with feeling; don’t just rush through it breathlessly, making it impossible for people to either read the text for themselves or follow what you’re saying. Make it clear that you’re reading what’s on the screen so people don’t have to struggle to figure it out. If you’re not able to introduce the text with something like “I’d just like to read you this quote, which really inspired me . . .” you probably shouldn’t be giving it a slide.

So, here again are the slides I ended up using (PDF, 1.1 MB) for my midterm presentation. I suppose some day maybe I’ll write captions more or less like what I said in front of the class, but in the meantime you can read the old slides if you want to know the gist.

Photo: A WORD IS ALSO A PICTURE OF A WORD by gwalton1; some rights reserved.

Baby steps

grid of 61 colored squares

This is the second smidgen of the code for our final project. It pulls RGB values and color names from a tab-delimited text file (which is, itself, based on the actual Krylon color options) and outputs this grid of swatches. The swatches don’t do anything yet—just drawing them took me, like, two days, thank you very much, and that was with some very helpful help from Shawn. Partly this is because I apparently can’t keep in my head for more than thirty seconds how arrays and objects work, and partly it’s because I just. can’t. focus. And partly it’s because I apparently have no idea what the fuck I’m doing.

I’m beginning to really like Diego’s Plan B, as proposed over the weekend:

Fake our own deaths.

Continue reading Baby steps

Hear No Evil

"Hear No Evil" storyboard, p. 1

I’m working with Dimitri(o)s, Diego, and Jason on the video project du jour, and this week we had to draw storyboards for our piece. The guys wrote a script on Thursday, while I had a prior engagement. Today we split the script up into four chunks, and each of us drew the panels for one section. My first four panels are above. The whole storyboard is in this PDF that Diego made. As a bonus, doing this assignment also got me off the hook for missing a few days of DrawMo!

The gist of the story is that this guy (ML, aka Male Lead) discovers that his headphones allow him to hear other people’s thoughts—but only negative ones.

Next week, we’re somehow going to try to shoot this thing, in the subway. Fortunately, it looks like videotaping in the subway, even with a tripod, is not illegal, as long as you don’t block access or passage. Basically, as long as we don’t act like those film crew assholes who’re always redirecting me around my own fucking office building, we should be fine. Cops often have interesting misconceptions about the laws they’re supposedly enforcing, though, so I’ll try to remember to print out a copy of the rules before we go.

P.S. We used a cleaner version of the storyboard form, which I made because the one Spencer supplied filled me with sorrow.


Still from the movie 'Taking Off'

I think Marshall McLuhan makes a lot more sense if you add the direct address “Dude,” followed by a comma, to the beginning of each paragraph or pithy sentence. As in,

Dude, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace,


Dude, the essence of automation technology is integral and decentralist in depth, just as the machine was fragmentary, centralist, and superficial in its patterning of human relationships.


Dude, the past mechanical time was hot, and we of the TV age are cool.


Dude, we are suddenly eager to have things and people declare their beings totally.

Yeah, like, totally, dude. But please, sir, do not bogart that joint.

McLuhan’s writing is more comprehensible than the Walter Benjamin piece, which still deflects every attempt at comprehension, but this is likely because it’s easier to dismiss as simply incoherent nonsense. As with the Benjamin, I feel like we are entering the discussion in medias res.

Today, after more than a century of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself in a global embrace, abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.

What in the Sam Hill is he talking about? Is there an antecedent missing somewhere? How does electricity extend “our” central nervous system? And who you calling “we,” white man? Apparently it doesn’t include me, because two pages later there’s

It is this implosive factor that alters the position of the Negro, the teen-ager, and some other groups. They can no longer be contained, in the political sense of limited association. They are now involved in our lives, as we in theirs, thanks to the electric media.

I’m sorry, but “the Negro” has always been involved in my life, thank you very much.

I know, I know, he was writing in a different era. But still, presumably we are being asked to read this because it has something relevant to say to our current studies. Okay, what could that be?

It’s got to be something more profound than the simple “Wow! It’s like he wrote this yesterday!” section on page 30, where we learn that (a) violent movies and video games engender real-world violence, and (b) living in Orange Alert all the time is completely meaningless. It’s also got to be something more germane than the assertion that

A tribal and feudal hierarchy of traditional kind collapses quickly when it meets and hot medium of the mechanical, uniform, and repetitive kind. . . . Similarly, a very much greater speed-up, such as occurs with electricity, may serve to restore a tribal pattern of intense involvement such as took place with the introduction of radio in Europe, and is now tencing to happen as a result of TV in America.

which is expressed more clearly and concretely in Here Comes Everybody.

Is it the litany of hot and cold items, which is exactly as useful as (though significantly less amusing than) the game of dividing everything and everyone into “punk” or “goth”?

Hot Punk Cold Goth
waltz courtly and choral dance styles
radio telephone
movies TV
photographs cartoons
ballet speech
phonetic alphabet hieroglyphs
paper stone tablets
lecture seminar
book dialogue
steel axes stone axes


How does any of this relate to what we are doing? Is this a connection that’s obvious to everyone else in the program—are they all, like, Dude, that’s so profound? Am I alone in having a block against finding anything useful in this kind of free-floating jive? Is it simply meant to be provoking? If so, then it’s not working—every week, we seem to have less and less discussion about the reading.

I read steadily, if slowly. Mostly nonfiction, and novels from the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. I don’t think I’m a lazy reader; the kind of book I like best is one that helps you see things from a different perspective. But this kind of writing makes me want to pitch the book across the room. Every article we’ve had to read for this class is of the sort that causes my brain to completely shut down. These readings bring out in me what one of my friends calls “Republican moments”: they make me want to start hollering about those elitist, arugula-eating people who always have to go and use those ten-cent words.

It is, as I said weeks ago, precisely the kind of writing that made me decide, after suffering through plenty of it in college, not to apply to graduate school in English. Yet here I find myself, again. Is this merely the result of sleep deprivation?

In any case, since you asked, here’s my response: This is bullshit.

The one thing I did get out of this reading is a list of other—and, I hope, better—books to read that may be more illuminating. These include,

  • John Betjeman, Slick But Not Steamlined
  • Kenneth Boulding, The Image
  • J.C. Carothers, The African Mind in Health and Disease
  • Douglas Cater, The Forth Branch of Government
  • Alexis de Toqueville, Exploring Democracy in America
  • Leonard Doob, Communication in Africa
  • E.M. Forster, A Passage to India
  • Edward Gibbon, Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  • E.H. Gombrich, Art and Illusion
  • Bernard Lam, The Art of Speaking
  • Wyndham Lewis, The Childermass
  • A.J. Liebling, The Press
  • Lewis Mumford, The City in History
  • J.U. Nef, War and Human Progress
  • Constance Rourke, American Humor
  • A.L. Rowse, Appeasement
  • G.B. Sansom, Japan
  • Wilbur Schramm, Television in the Lives of Our Children
  • J.M. Synge, Playboy of the Western World
  • Robert Theobald, The Rich and the Poor

Rice Dance

So, . . .

I didn’t have a partner because apparently everybody else was already working with someone. This meant I could work on the video at home. BUT I don’t have a tripod or copy stand at home, I couldn’t find the data cable for either of my cameras, and I didn’t feel like blowing $50 on an iStopMotion license. So I shot each frame by hand, aligned them in Photoshop, tweened more frames in between some of them, and strung them together in both the demo of iStopMotion (which leaves a watermark—hence the slight letterboxing) and iMovie HD. The last chunk of frames are not aligned—it’s amazingly laborious to do so—which is why they wobble all over the place.

In a word, it sucks.

But, hey! I learned so much.

Walter Benjamin

Walter Benjamin: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Somewhere I have some notes on this mind-numbing article, but I can’t find them. It’s probably because I carried this thing around with me for almost two weeks, as I slowly, slowly forced myself to read it. When I finally got to the blessed end, my response was . . . nothing? I have next to nothing to say about this article. It has next to nothing to say to me.

First of all, the political angle seems utterly forced. If you lop off the preface and epilogue, the essay seems less absurd, more grounded in reality. Instead of contextualizing Benjamin’s arguments, the comments about Marxism and Fascism push the discussion out of context, from the matter-of-fact, yeah-duh realm of “films are different from paintings” to the what-the-fuck-are-you-talking-about realm of “everything can be explained by Marxist theory, including your sandwich.” I’ll have the roast Capitalist Pig with frisée on ciabatta, please. Thank you. Sentences like,

However, theses about the art of the proletariat after its assumption of power or about the art of a classless society would have less bearing on these demands than theses about the developmental tendencies of art under present conditions of production.

make my brain shut right off. I must have restarted reading this piece four times; finally, the only way I got past the first page was to just turn it over. Skipped it. Gave up on trying to make sense of it. Moved on.

This kind of thing makes me feel like I’m growing senile. Help! I’m turning into my mother!

It also makes me wonder if it’s just a translation issue. “Aura”? Are you kidding me? Surely there was a better word available—a word that means something, a word that does not automatically invoke the sensation of being bullshitted. If we’re supposed to take this “aura” concept seriously, the translator needs to find a word that’s not loaded down with the weight of all that is woo-woo.

Probably another reason why I found this essay mind-numbing is that I just. don’t. care. about. film. I watch, like, four movies a year, and those are all on Netflix. I can’t remember what was the last movie I saw in a theater—Art School Confidential, maybe? To which I was dragged. Before that, I think it was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Honest. Not a movie person. Even when I was TA’ing a film class in college, I don’t think I ever watched more than half of the movies that were under discussion. It wasn’t necessary to see the films in order to mark up students’ papers: if the paper’s good, you don’t need to have seen the film.

Similarly, if the essay’s good, you don’t have to be already up to your neck in Marxist art theory to find it relevant.

The essay is not good.

The question my mind kept coming back to, as I drifted in and out of sleep while trying to read this thing, was, What does this have to do with our class? The best I could come up with was that bit about how at a play, the audience identifies with the actors, while at a film, they identify with the camera. So . . . something about interactivity, and what’s interactive versus what’s mock-interactive . . . ?

The other thing I kept coming back to was, He’s piling an awful lot of cultural significance on top of traditional art. Not just the aura nonsense, but also the stuff about cult and ritual. Maybe this is my perspective only because I’m from an era that has radio and TV and movies and computers, or maybe it’s because I grew up in an artist’s family, but I don’t find art important. Not in and of itself. Individual works, or parts of works, might be moving or thought-provoking, but art by itself? A lot of it is shite. The idea of it having any cult significance? Unless Benjamin is talking about religious icons, I don’t see it. And if he’s talking about something else, he fails to explain what that something else is.

One of my favorite lines in the whole string:

An analysis of art in the age of mechanical reproduction must do justice to these relationships, for they lead us to an all-important insight: for the first time in world history, mechanical reproduction emancipates the work of art from its parasitical dependence on ritual.

Those are strong words, Walter. And completely meaningless ones. Awesome.

Another fave: “Artistic production begins with ceremonial objects designed to serve in a cult.”

This, I’m certain, is just an instance of awkward translation. The verb tense is confusing. Why present tense? Why not “Artistic production began”? Because that’s what he goes on to mean. So, here, the translator is just making him sound like an ass.

Much as in the aura argument, Benjamin’s invoking, in §xiii, of Freud as some kind of master of scientific investigation, undermines whatever it is he’s trying to say. So, as the film reveals to us visual details that normally go unnoticed, so psychoanalysis supposedly reveals psychological details that we otherwise don’t perceive.

Yes, we don’t perceive them because they’re not there. It’s amazing to me that people still talk about psychoanalysis, when to me, it’s always seemed that Freud might just as well have been talking about astrology or cloudbusters. I mean, he just fucking made stuff up about his patients. He generated ideas about how people behave in his head and then managed to convince himself—and thousands of other suckers—that his ideas could be seen in living, breathing action.

I don’t know. I’m trying to make it sound here like I have some kind of overall response to what Benjamin is saying. But, really, I don’t have a response to his argument because I can’t find his argument. He says a bunch of stuff, a few words on each page may spark a glimmer of recognition in my brain, but otherwise he might as well be talking about 1930s German politics, for all that I can relate to it. Oh, wait—he is talking aboit 1930s German politics, at least in part. Right.