Monday, September 30, 2013

Don Yer Blubber, Land Lubber!

Today, I want to talk about blubber. In class, we discussed the idea of varying degrees of symbolic and/or narrative usefulness within certain sections of Melville's Moby Dick. One particular topic that came up over the course of the discussion was blubber, and I think we were maybe too quick in asserting that there is nothing to be learned from whale fat.
Creative Commons License, by Jenny Spadafora

In Ch. 68, Melville, discussing blubber, writes:
[H]erein we see the rare virtue of a strong individual vitality, and the rare virtue of thick walls, and the rare virtue of interior spaciousness. Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, remain warm among ice. Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it.
This principle of maintaining a so-called "interior spaciousness"--a personal identity or "room of one's own"--proves particularly important within the context of the modern age. A study presented by Katie Davis in "Young People’s Digital Lives: The Impact of Interpersonal Relationships and Digital Media Use on Adolescents’ Sense of Identity" suggest that identity exploration and use of social media have both direct and indirect negative effects on adolescents' "self-concept clarity." The distillation of that is that as they use digital media exploratively, adolescents (and I would guess this could be extended at least marginally to adults as well) lose a sense of personal identity or rather lose clarity in their understanding of the concept of self.

Long Tails, and Machines, and Algorithms, Oh My!

Today’s discussion coupled with last week’s discussion about long tails got me thinking about the algorithms that are used in digital technology, particularly things like Google’s predictive search feature. The machine can anticipate what we want. Eerie.


(This was an awesome video I found about becoming an “Autocompleter” for Google. I think this was how they did it before they used algorithms. Haha!)

This was an interesting article from PC World about using the predictive algorithms. It touches on topics like Facebook friends, Pandora music, online dating, and Netflix movies.  The most fascinating thing to me, however, is that it points out that Google is changing the way we think because it is thinking for us. Because of this, we are not remembering as much as we used to because we rely on the internet to remember, in a way, for us.


So what do you think? Do you think we rely too much on these algorithms to tell us what we should think, or is it another nifty way to sort through all of the material that is online to find the information we are looking for?

Moby Addicted: Is it All Ahab's Fault?

Now that we've finished going through Moby Dick together in our Digital Culture class, I'd like to look at the end, and what specifically led to it and caused it. We talked in class a bit about how Ahab becomes a kind of anti-Christ in the final three chapters. In three days, he descends further and further into his madness, and ultimately causes the death of himself and his whole crew. Compare this to the story of Christ, who in three days died and reascended to save himself and everyone. In a similar vein, Greg wrote a post about Ahab representing Satan.

It's pretty clear that Ahab caused the tragic ending of his own life, his crew, and even the Pequod, but is it really all his fault? On the one hand, Melville certainly seems to think so, as Starbuck says to him in the final chapter, "See! Moby Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!" But as we were looking at this passage today in class, our group found and interesting correlation to another passage just a few pages before it at the end of chapter 132. Ahab remembers his wife and child and almost orders the crew to turn around and take them home, but as soon as Starbuck suggests they just go, Ahab looks away and refuses to give the order. Then he says the following in soliloquy:
"Is Ahab, Ahab? Is it I, God, or who, that lifts this arm? But if the great sun move not of himself; but is as an errand-boy in heaven; nor one single star can revolve, but by some invisible power; how then can this one small heart beat; this one small brain think thoughts; unless God does that beating, does that thinking, does that living, and not I." 
Notice the very similar construction between this passage and Starbuck's question later. Perhaps Starbuck heard Ahab's speech earlier and tried to mirror his construction as a rhetorical move in his final plea, or perhaps Melville wrote these two passages with similar construction to invite comparison of their quite opposite ideas (or, you know, perhaps it's a complete coincidence, but I doubt it).

As we looked at these two opposing passages, I tried to put myself in Ahab's shoes and see his logic. Then I realized what his lines actually sounded like to me: addiction. Read this definition of addiction from the American Society of Addiction Medicine and consider Ahab's behavior:
Addiction is characterized by inability to consistently abstain, impairment in behavioral control, craving, diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a dysfunctional emotional response.
Now, addiction as an idea has exploded into our cultural mindset over the past 50 years, and we're much more aware of it as a disorder than Melville would have been in his time. But even so, it's clear Melville meant for us to understand that Ahab was more than just obsessive.

If he is addicted, then, or suffers from some form of mental disorder, can we blame him for what happened? And if not, what is Melville saying about power structures? It's clear the rest of his crew didn't want to continue pursuing the white whale--Ahab has to remind them of oaths they took and ignores several pleas--but the tragedy still happens because Ahab is the sole commander and no one else has any control. Melville seems to be asking questions about power and leadership, and what happens when leaders go astray or prove themselves incapable. Ahab may not be to blame--but no one had the power to stop him, either.

This may be another reason why Moby Dick rose to prominence in the 20th century. The questions Melville asked here proved to be frighteningly relevant as the world headed to total war twice in one century thanks to leaders with more power than sense. It's almost scary how this book seemed to be most relevant nearly 100 years after it's publication.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Does a Company's Presence Online (or Lack thereof) Affect their Credibility?

Jobs that are related to technology and the humanities have been on the rise. That’s not really news. But sometimes it surprises me just how important things like social media and programming skills have become to companies. Just today, I went to the LDS Publications meeting where they were recruiting interns, and two of those internships are heavily involved with digital media.

Here is a screen shot of the job description. (Sorry if it's a little small. There needs to be an option between large and extra-large sizes for photos on Blogger.)



There’s also a job board called mediabistro online that has an entire section dedicated to posting tech jobs that are related in some way to the media. Again, see the screenshot.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Devil in the Man: A 'Hell-Bent' Captain

Well here's a find if ever I saw one. Some of you know that I am currently in classes studying, respectively, Moby Dick and Paradise Lost, and I've been working at expanding my research base a little bit. Well, in searching for scholarly sources to go with some of the ideas that I presented in my last post, "God in the Whale," I came across a work that draws a really fascinating connection between Milton's Satan and Melville's Ahab. In Leslie Sheldon points draws on the research of other scholars to provide a stunning comparison of the two characters:
[I]n Guttmann's view [ . . . ] "Milton's fable is used to supplement Melville's own." (2) The drawing of Miltonic connections in the criticism is, furthermore, often associated with the contention that Melville interpreted the epic in a primarily "Romantic" and "Satanic School" way, attributing to Milton (as did Blake), (3) an unconscious "sympathy for the Devil," a view apparently given some support by the recently discovered marginalia in Melville's personal copy of Milton's poetry. (4) Fifty years ago, Henry A. Murray claimed that "Melville's Satan is the spitting image of Milton's hero ... the stricken, passionate, indignant, and often eloquent rebel angel of Paradise Lost, whose role is played by Ahab" (5) And as recently as 1998, Paul Giles similarly noted that Ahab's "desire for revenge on the white whale is as anguished as Satan's quest in Milton's poem for vengeance against God."

Fast-Fish and Loose-Fish 2: Digital Fish Edition

On Monday, I talked about Chapter 89 of Moby Dick and the concept of Fast-fish and Loose-fish and how it ultimately serves as a foundation for the creation of meaning within the novel. Today, I want to extend on ideas I started there by applying the concept of Fast-fish and Loose-fish to a wider view of our entire digital age.

To review, I basically argued that all meaning in life--both in art and outside of it--is the product of connection. (Indeed, the more I think about it, I can't really tell a difference between connection and meaning, and it seems the two are almost interchangeable.) If this is all true, then, ultimately, this idea is another key to how the digital age changes everything. New technologies give us different powers of connection, and thus the powers to alter the meaning of nearly everything in our lives.

As digital media gives fans more chances to connect with fictional universes,
it makes these universes more meaningful for them.
Digital communication changes the meaning of our lives because it changes the connections in our lives. That sounds big and daunting and somewhat terrible, but it's true in both superficial and profound ways, and isn't necessarily a bad thing. For one, the internet has given rise to millions of meaningful and valuable relationships that wouldn't have ever been possible before. Perhaps where this is most easily seen is the rise of fandoms, or more specifically what I'll just call "Comic Con culture." As Kylee pointed out in her post on the subject, Comic Con is a physical gathering of enormous numbers of fans of several similar but quite distinct fictional universes. Ironically, such conventions have grown as internet technology has become more ubiquitous and powerful. You'd think with more possible digital connection, you wouldn't need to physically gather in one place, but I would argue that Comic Con culture is on the rise because these people spend so much time reading/discussing/watching/playing online with each other that they create real relationships around these fictions, and those relationships climax in a confidence and understanding that can only come with community, leading to more and more people identifying with the community enough to physically attend a convention.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Accepting New Technology as Tradition

After today’s lecture from Dr. Wickman, I got thinking about how traditions are often reasons why some people are not as willing to be as explorative as others.

In chapter 69 on page 278, it describes what happens to the whale after its carcass is let go in the ocean: "When the distance obscuring the swarming fowls, never the less still shows the whit mass floating in the sun, and the white spray heaving high against it; straightway the whale’s unharming corpse, with trembling fingers is set down in the log—shoals, rocks, and breakers hereabouts: beware! And for years afterwards, perhaps, ships shun the place; leaping over it as silly sheep leap over a vacuum, because their leader originally leaped there when a stick was held. There’s your law of precedents; there’s your utility of traditions; there’s the story of your obstinate survival of old beliefs never bottomed on the earth, and now not ever hovering in the air! There’s orthodoxy."

As Dr. Wickman pointed out in class, this relates to religion. But I would like to postulate that this idea of blind following that is being suggested is not only pertinent to religion but to technology as well.
People don’t like there to be a lot of changes in their lives. Throwing changes into a normal and structured life, at least for people like me, can give a “you-threw-off-my-groove” kind of vibe, and it takes time to accept the change. We are creatures of habit.

Courtesy of  Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com, flickr.com

God in the Whale

A classmate of mine, Shelly, wrote "I believe that Moby Dick does in fact represent God and Ahab's search for him is not for religion or mercy, but to avenge his misfortune - the bad things that have happened to him, such as losing his leg." This is an astute observation, I think, and warrants further investigation. As I've been reading through what at first seemed to be unrelated passages about the physiology and anatomy of whales, I've been thinking about how it all ties into a broader, more general idea, and I've come to the same conclusion as Shelly: that the whale is, in many ways, meant to represent God.

By EIMJ from deviantART
This point becomes clearer, I think, with each chapter. In Ch. 68, he is described as "the mystic-marked whale" (276) covered in "undecipherable" hieroglyphs (lit. holy writings), and in Ch. 71, Gabriel, the crazed 'prophet' declares the White Whale to be "the Shaker God incarnated" (284). In Ch. 80, Ishmael comments that sperm whales cause one to "feel the Deity and the dread powers more forcibly than in beholding any other object in living nature, and Ch. 82 paints the whale as an alternate incarnation of the Hindu god Vishnu. These are just a few of the many references that place the whale within a context of deity.

Fast-fish and Loose-Fish

Chapter 89 of Moby Dick ends with these words:

"What is the great globe itself but a Loose-Fish? And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?"

Nothing better summarizes Melville's game (and, ultimately, our whole digital culture, but that will be my other post this week) than these words. Dr. Wickman's lecture on the non-narrative chapters today focused  a lot on how Melville took boring subjects in these "extra" chapters and linked them to universal ideas. As I listened, I became more and more certain that in any aspect of humanity, meaning comes from connection. Whether it be personal relationships, literature, work, or anything else, the meaning--in both the sense of definition and of significance--comes from the connection established.

This is the key to Moby Dick, and the principle upon which Melville based his whole art.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

QR Codes for Headstones

When we talked about the members of the Church and crowdsourcing, I thought about something I read a few months ago regarding family history work. There is a new thing that is being placed on headstones—QR codes. This way, if someone is looking at a headstone and wants to know more about who that person was, he or she can scan the QR code with their smartphone and lookup the information on that person. See this article for more information.

Courtesy of benchilada from flickr.com

This code that is placed on these headstones can aid family history work. By scanning the code, the users can have a link to the deceased person’s information, such as date of birth, date of death, and family trees.

This could mean big things for family history work. I have a grandpa who is really into family history work, and he would love it if something like this were on every headstone. When he is doing research on our family, he will go to the cemeteries, and take pictures of the headstone, and take them to the library to see if he can find any more information about who that person was. With this system, he won’t need to go to the library any more to look up that information; he can look up who that person was right there on the spot, saving lots of time.


Would we be able to put one of these on every headstone in the world, though? Not likely. But it’s interesting to think about. These are becoming more common now, and may become a standard part of the headstone. 

Bionic Us

Paul Bills recently made a great post that talked about some ways that crowdsourced video games are helping to solve complex medical problems, and that got me thinking a bit about this week's  class discussion, wherein we talked a little bit about how modern advances in medical technology are creating new opportunities for people with disabilities. We watched above video, which shows a woman hearing her first sound ever, thanks to a cochlear implant. If you haven't seen the video, take the chance now to do so, because if you're anything like me, it'll probably make you pretty grateful just to be able to see and hear and feel and live out an ordinary life. 

Crowdsourcing Games: The Fun Way to Change the World

Dr. Burton talked to us in class yesterday about crowdsourcing and creativity and how the digital age provides us ways to create things together like never before. Today, I'm going to talk about a few crowdsourcing projects that have been packaged as a game to inspire more effort, creativity, and time out of participants.

Foldit

Folder Madde's top scoring solution to the Mason pfizer monkey virus
(image credit: Fold.it)
We talked about one such game in class, called Foldit. Foldit is a game about protein folding that invites players to find patterns in complex proteins and play around with them and try and fold them into the best possible shape so it has the function biologists want it to have. Proteins can fold into almost an infinite amount of shapes, with each shape causing the protein to function differently. Because of this, predicting what shape the protein needs to be in to function properly (to cure a disease, for example) is very difficult and very expensive, even with advanced supercomputers. The game, then, finds a way to leverage the creative and pattern-recognition powers of the human brain, and makes it fun to solve an extremely complex problem. Foldit has already helped with research on HIV, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease.

Perhaps the most surprising and wonderful result of Foldit is that even Ph.D. biologists aren't necessarily the best players. Players come from all backgrounds and many of the best players are neither biologists nor tech experts. It's true crowdsourcing--a project that becomes more than the sum of its parts.

But Foldit isn't the only crowdsourcing game out there. Several others have been very successful in solving all kinds of world problems, from oil to malaria, government spending and more.

The Guardian's "MPs' Expenses" Project

Screen capture of progress bar for the Guardian's "MPs' Expenses" project. Just a slight gaming element aided the productivity of the project greatly. (Image source: Niemanlab.org)
Perhaps my favorite crowdsource success is the (London) Guardian's "MPs' Expenses" project. In 2009, the Guardian acquired nearly half a million documents of British Members of Parliament (MPs) expenses. This was a priceless acquisition for the newspaper, with the potential to expose millions of dollars of misused tax dollars. But one big problem remained--how could they go through it all and find the juicy stuff? The only answer was crowdsourcing. They set up a simple interface online to let anyone come in and read a document and flag anything suspicious for the reporters to look at. To inspire more participation, they added a very light gaming element: progress bars that told users how many pages they had collectively scanned and how many were left, and leader boards showing the most productive users. They also programmed a the site to show a picture of the MP they were researching to come up with each document, making users' efforts seem more personal and real. With this slight competitive drive added to a relevant, pressing cause, users blew through the entire set of documents within a few weeks users. The result was the discovery of over $150 million dollars in unnecessary spending, leading to several disciplinary actions and even some resignations, and an average of 5% decrease in spending across all parties the next year.


World Without Oil

Screenshot of the Week 18 status report from World Without Oil
(Image Source: worldwithoutoil.org)
World Without Oil was a very simple game that existed more in concept than actual code. Quite simply, the game invited people to simulate the first 32 weeks of a global oil crisis through blogs, forums, and wikis, and other online interactions. People from all over the world explored how their lives would change and how they would get by, with everyone offering creative solutions that other people could use. One Brazilian man, for instance, suggested that all those quarter-operated bubble-gum machines could be converted to be seed distribution centers so people could easily access seeds to star their own garden after produce stopped showing up in stores. The game concluded on June 1, 2007 and collected 1,500 personal chronicles posted across the web, reaching 68,000 viewers--and over 110,000 by the end of the year. Due to all the effort put in by the players, thousands of people adopted real-world solutions they had learned by playing, and many viewers and players alike made real lifestyle changes to reduce their oil consumption.

MalariaSpot

A game of MalariaSpot--simple but powerful
(Image Source: MalariaSpot.org)
So far, the only reliable way to diagnose malaria is by looking at blood smears under a microscope and counting the number of parasites. This is time consuming, which is especially frustrating for doctors and experts who have so much else they can do to help people and don't want to spend all their time counting dots in a microscope. MalariaSpot.org is a game meant to solve the problem by letting non-experts look at uploaded microscope photos and spot the parasites themselves. In one study, combining the efforts of just 13 players trained for just one minute each could yield results of over 99% accuracy. Even if the players had no prior training, combining results from 22 players would yield the same results. Rounds of MalariaSpot only last one minute each, so it's extremely low-cost to the players and extremely beneficial to the doctors. So far, over 380,000 parasites have been properly identified by players of MalariaSpot.

And more...

The best part is that crowdsourcing games (and other games built to cause good in the real world) are a growing trend, with real-world results increasing every day. For more information, look around the Games for Change website, an organization dedicated to collecting, promoting, and creating games that make a real-world difference.

Crowdsourcing is an extremely effective tool to solve big problems and achieve big dreams with wide participation done quickly and cheaply. Adding a gaming element to this crowdsourcing inspires even more participation, and rewards participants with fun and satisfaction. Crowdsource gaming (and gaming elements within more traditional crowdsourcing platforms) will only continue to rise as we learn how better to leverage the wisdom of the crowd and better provide satisfactory gameplay experiences around serious issues.

So, what are you still doing here? Go play some games and save the world!

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Modern Gam = Skype

I found the idea of the gam interesting in Moby Dick. For those who don’t remember, here is a refresher from the novel. “Gam—noun—A social meeting of two (or more) whale-ships, generally on a cruising-ground; when after exchanging hails, they exchange visits by boats’ crews: the two captains remaining, for the time, on board of one ship, and the two chief mates on the other” (216). During this exchange, the captains and the rest of the crew tell each other the whaling news, but they would “have an agreeable chat” (214). They were able to do this as long as they shared a common language. “For not only would they meet with all the sympathies of sailors, but likewise with all the peculiar congenialities arising from a common pursuit and mutually shared privations and perils.”

I got thinking that this is like chatting or Skyping today in digital culture. There are two (or more) people that come from different paths of life. One person may be starting a new journey; one may just be finishing a journey. Yet there is common ground that is found between these people at one point and this is where they catch up on the goings on of each others’ lives. This is what we use Skype or chat for—the only difference is the common ground is virtual, not physical.

Pardon the inaccuracies, but this was too good not to share. 

We like to share what’s happening in our lives; it’s been around for a while. It’s just been changing mediums of communication. It’s quite amazing that we can connect to anyone we want in the world as long as they have an internet or data connection—or in other words, a common “technical” language—and speak to them, face-to-face, at least artificially.

Monday, September 16, 2013

Give Us Ahab: An Open Letter to Ubisoft

Dear Ubisoft,

You have recently announced that in your upcoming game, Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, a way to gain materials and money for character and ship upgrades will be through harpooning whales, sharks, and other large sea creatures. Let me start by congratulating you on the careful consideration that appears to have been taken on this relatively small mechanic within a much larger game, as evidenced in this video. However, I wish to present you with an extraordinary opportunity for such a mechanic which you may have overlooked. (Due to the nature of secrecy surrounding large video game releases, I realize you may already have considered the option that I am about to present to you, but I'd like to present this proposal before the game releases so that you might consider it before the game is in it's final form.)

As you probably gathered from the title of this post, my proposal is simply this: put Captain Ahab and Moby Dick in AC4. I believe this could provide a great gameplay experience, visual spectacle, and satisfactory narrative, as well as fit in quite nicely with the aesthetic and philosophy of both Black Flag and the Assassin's Creed series in general. In addition, it could open an interesting and satisfying inquiry into the relationship between Herman Melville's classic and modern video games as a vehicle for artistic expression.

Image from lazygamer.net
Captain Ahab and the story of Moby Dick fit perfectly into the Assassin's Creed universe. Not only is he an important figure in literary history, he has a violent and mysterious past, a missing leg, and an inhuman drive for revenge. The AC universe prides itself on making "history our playground," and has already included several important historical figures from Leonardo Da Vinci to Benjamin Franklin. While Ahab is a fictional historical figure, the character is still quite important historically. Also, adding fictional historical characters might help keep the franchise fresh, which is a well-documented concern for the series in general.

The whaling aspect of the game is exciting because it's dangerous, tense, and the animals you face are large and powerful. Your developer videos already lead players to imagine hunting even larger animals like blue whales and great white sharks (see video below starting at 7:45):


With danger, tension, and ever-larger animals already being a focus, what better climax to this experience could there be than facing the single most infamous sea creature of all time: the white whale himself, Moby Dick?

The Pequod could be a ship just like the hundreds of others already floating around the open Caribbean world of AC4. When the Jackdaw approaches Ahab's ship, his call could be heard coming over the wind: "Ship ahoy! Have ye seen the White Whale?" The player could choose to stoop and converse with Ahab or ignore him (or attack him, I suppose). If the player does talk with him, it unlocks an open-world side mission to be on the lookout for the White Whale, which can only be unlocked to be discovered after a certain percentage of the main story is completed. When the White Whale is unlocked, the player can happen upon Ahab again if they go to the right spot on the map and catch the crew in the very act of chasing down the great Moby Dick. Again, the player could choose: ignore Ahab, help out, (or attack, but really, that would be quite diabolical at this point). Depending on how well-prepared and sure-handed the player is, perhaps he/she could change the course of literary history and save the Pequod. Or, alternatively, if you ignore Ahab at this moment, when you come back you can find the wreck of the Pequod and try and take on the whale on your own (no easy feat, to be sure).

Not only does Moby Dick fit in with the tone and setting of AC4, one of it's largest themes could be interestingly explored through an open-world game like Black Flag; namely, the cost of monomaniacal purpose. For many players, the pursuit of the white whale could become such a high priority that a major drive of their gameplay for 20+ hours could be dedicated to preparing for and seeking out the whale. Most likely, on the first attempt, the player will die--rendering all of that work a failure (for the brief moment a loading screen allows). In that brief moment, the player could feel everything Ahab felt in his final moments to some degree. Questions of meaning, time, satisfaction, power, failure, and futility would naturally rise in the player, forcing an easy identification with Ahab himself. Ahab could even give several side missions to the player before the hunt ever unlocks, taking Edward and his crew all over the map looking for this or that in preparation for the big day. Video games are perhaps better suited to transfer a taste for how truly driven Ahab was to get the whale, as a player has to perform actions and develop skills to get through the plot, but a reader has only to keep flipping the pages (which, with this book in particular, might not be so easy, really, but the point still stands).

I realize the side-story which I have outlined here might be impossible to completely implement by release, but I can wait for DLC. If you do nothing to include Moby Dick in Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag, I believe you will have missed a huge opportunity to create an awesome climax of the whaling aspect of the game, as well as an exciting and driving supplemental narrative, great gameplay, awesome visual spectacle, and the chance to "play with history" like never before in any Assassin's Creed game--or, indeed, any game ever made.

In short, give us Ahab, and let us do what he never could. Let's change the course of literary history. Let's kill that beast.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Avatars and Anonymity: Who are We?

In my digital culture class, we talked a few days ago about the idea of online avatars, and that got me thinking about my personal online presence--who I am, where I've been, and how I seek to portray myself. As you may know, avatars (not to be confused with an excellent series on Nickelodeon that enjoyed the premier of its second season this last Friday) are basically personae that we use to represent ourselves on the internet: usernames, profile pictures, blog layouts, "likes" and +1's--they all reflect who we are, or at least whom we wish to be seen as.

When I was sixteen or so, I got my start into the digital world through a web community based around a popular computer game called Warcraft III. This handsome fellow on the right was me from 2006-2009 (I bet you didn't know I was a night elf, right?) Now, you can hold your laughs and everything, because honestly, this community was one of the best things that happened to me in high school, it being the primary motivator for my creative and academic pursuits at the time. It was on this web community that I developed my first real interest in 2D and 3D art; here I made my first forays into programming, learning a C++ derivative and creating my own game and a number of AI engines; here I discussed philosophy, religion, politics, and ethics in ways that I had never done with anyone except for my best friend, Jordan. It truly was a haven for me, a place where I could escape to interact in meaningful ways with creators and thinkers from around the globe. And really, those people were some pretty close friends. I remember getting back from my mission and feeling a little bit like Marius form Les Mis when I went back to check on old friends--realizing that these people with whom I had once been so close had dissolved into the ether of the Internet.


Thursday, September 12, 2013

E-books or Printed Books?

The future of publishing is in e-books, at least that’s what I keep reading. However, my professors in editing and publishing hesitate to make that same claim. And, after doing a bit of research, I can see why. Yes, publishing electronic content has become very huge; people can download this content onto their smartphones or tablets and take it with them anywhere.  

Most of the users who read e-books will still buy physical copies of books as well. I, too, am one of those people. I have a Kindle Fire, and I love that I can purchase books without needing to go to a bookstore, which is great because the nearest Barnes and Noble is thirty minutes away from my house. That being said, I don’t buy a lot of books on my Kindle. I get the public domain books because they are free, and I will occasionally buy a bargain book when the price is right. However, when it comes to a book that I know I will want to read again or lend to friends or family members, I will buy the printed book. I know some people that will only buy the physical copies of books. And, despite the convenience of e-books, they will never consider letting go of their physical books or trying a device such as an e-reader.


This article from the Wallstreet Journal reported at the beginning of the year that brought up a good point: e-books are just another format. They serve a different purpose from the physical copies of books. So, just because there is a large, growing market for e-books, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the market for printed books will shrink and disappear for good. 

The Democratization of Information Case Study: Reddit

reddit alien mascot thing (Image credit: AJC1)
We've been talking about the effects the new digital media have had/are having on our culture a lot in this first week of class, and so for my first digital culture post I'd like to kill two birds with one stone (or harpoon two whales with one spear, as it were). First, I'm going to talk about how the idea of democracy has influenced the development of the internet, and at the same time, I'm going to teach you all about reddit, an undervalued and awesome tool to discover, research, and read amazing content on the internet.

Are you ready? Here we go!

Possibly one of the greatest cultural shifts in human history happened in ancient Greece when the Athenians became the first group of human beings to govern themselves by communal vote rather than being ruled by a single monarch or family. While this system of government didn't last very long, relatively speaking, it inspired thinkers over a millennium later in the 18th century during the Enlightenment period. Thanks to their help and other social and political changes, democracy regained strength, climaxing in the creation of the United States of America.

As you know, the USA became the greatest power on Earth over the course of the next two and a half centuries. And everywhere America's long and powerful arm stretched, democracy went with it. Because America was founded on such passionate (and even violent) terms around the idea of democracy, it became the most deep-rooted value of our culture, with almost everything built up to promote and maintain it.So naturally, when new forms of communication developed in a world where America sat in both the political and cultural spotlight, democracy was built in their DNA.

A screenshot of a reddit front page. Stories are put on the front page based on how many upvotes they have received, how quickly, and how recently.
You can see democracy all over the internet--in the nearly ubiquitous comments sections, in the rise of crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter, and in free sharing sites like YouTube--but perhaps one of the places where democracy is most directly implemented on the internet is reddit (not a typo, they specifically ask to have it stylized with no caps). On reddit, users can post links or text for others to view. Other users can then "upvote" or "downvote" them so they get more or less visibility on the site. reddit is internally divided into "subreddits," communities based around a single topic. There are subreddits for just about everything imaginable, from gifs to physics to flight simulators to onions. Users can subscribe to any combination and number of subreddits to provide personalized content much like a feed reader or news aggregator.

The end result of all of this is a dynamic collection of content that changes rapidly throughout the day and is constantly up to the very second with the newest information. Because of that, reddit has become a source for many major news sites, and often has information long before any other site as people on-site when big stories happen can post images and information and other users can send it to the top of the site (also called the "front page") so that it gets out to everyone faster. Also, anyone who creates quality content on the internet can post it for review on reddit (within a fit subreddit), and quickly receive wide exposure as individual users upvote the content and it gets spread to more users interested in the topic the subreddit is based around. Therefore, reddit becomes empowering in two ways: it lets otherwise powerless people get their voice heard, and it lets the people decide what is the best and most important content to be viewed.

So, reddit helps make the internet more democratic, and we can see the internet is fundamentally influenced by democratic ideals. This observation begs the question, then: what would the internet be like if America and democracy hadn't risen in prominence in the world in recent history? Would we even have the internet at all? It's weird to think wars fought 200 years ago determine how you find funny cat videos today, but these are exactly the kinds of connections the digital humanities are here to find.


Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Digital Text, Plato, and Dynamic Expression: A Vlog

Some of my classmates have posted some great info on XML code and the potentialities of digital text on our respective group blogs. Here's a post that explains the basics of XML, and you can access all the blogs through http://mobydigital.blogspot.com. Okay, now watch the video  :)

video

Here's the link to Wesch's video! https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=NLlGopyXT_g#t=192
And here's Dr. Burton's original blog post: http://mobydigital.blogspot.com/2013/09/michael-weschs-machine-is-using-us.html

[Transcript below]

Monday, September 9, 2013

The Sea and Solitude

In the introductory notes to the Oxford World Classics edition of Moby Dick, we read of the idea of a "lost origin," (xiv) of "paternity unknown" and the quest for belonging, for the archetypical or symbolic "mythic womb." While these ideas are a bit abstract and perhaps unapproachable for the common man, Melville did, in fact, see mankind in a state of insularity or isolation--a state wherein individuals, though surrounded by other people, were endlessly and needlessly alone. For Melville, learning to overcome this isolation was one of the primary aims of life and literature (see Introduction, xv).

The beginning of Moby Dick is full of disconnected, discontented strangers. Really, the only real references to union or companionship include:

  •  the couples huddled in the Whalemen's Chapel 
  • Captains Peleg and Bildad
  • Queequog and Ishmael. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Thoughts about How Moby Dick Fits into Digital Culture

I think the introduction in Moby Dick had some very important points regarding the link to today’s digital culture. Here are a few quotes from the intro that I would like to expound upon a little bit.

“‘[Moby Dick] is the world of mind; wherein the wanderer may gaze around…’ In Moby Dick Melville gazes and roves—and hunts and plays—in that world even to its furthest reaches” (vii). In the novel, Melville has laid out a world that very few people have known. However, by means of this novel, and the digital culture of today, people are able to experience a world other than their own. Someone who searches the internet is able to go virtually anywhere and virtually do anything.

“Melville wants the whole world in—particularly the human world; hence the slightly improbable spectrum of the crew of the Pequod” (ix).  This quote, like the previous one, is speculating the wideness of the world, but it is also commenting on the variety of its cultures and people. In the introduction, it continues by listing the races of the crew.  Melville brought the crew together with a common element, the Pequod. Online networks do similar things; they give people from all over the world a shared interest or problem, thereby creating a community online.

“Melville himself certainly believed that all men are united by the bond of reciprocal dependence, by a community of function and responsibility” (xv). By creating or joining a community, a person takes on a responsibility to be regularly involved with the work that takes place. In Moby Dick the crew has an obligation to the ship as well as other members of the crew, and therefore they work toward a common goal; there is a strong sense of comradery or loyalty to the crew. It works with online communities as well. For example, when you are a member of a forum you are expected to give any advice or opinions with knowledge you have, and in return, others will help you with the knowledge that they have. For the most part, it is a symbiotic relationship.

I See Why English Professors Love This

I've never read Moby Dick before, but, much like Dr. Wickman pointed out, it's always been on my radar because it's just one of those books everyone knows about. I'm actually really glad I've never picked it up before now, though, but I already see so much that I just would not have been able to appreciate before simply because being an English major for a year and a half has taught me so much about how to read and how to understand great literature. Thanks to my education, lines like "Ignorance is the parent of fear" (p. 19) and extended descriptions and musings on topics like whether our shadow is our true self and the body just a vehicle are so much more rich and intriguing simply because I have learned how to think literature as well as just read it.

Queequeg, and more, his relationship with Ishmael, fascinates me. It's so interesting how they can be such good friends, and still Ishmael off-handedly judges him at time for being a "pagan" and just dismisses his intelligence and/or his behavior as inferior. At the same time, though, I don't think Ishmael could or would become as fast of friends with anyone from his same religious/cultural background. So, ironically, the very thing that keep he and Queequeg forever at a kind of distance--their cultural and religious differences--is the very thing that excuses such a fast friendship. And this is all the more intriguing because this is often how it happens in our own lives. I remember making very fast and very strong friends on my mission for the LDS church in Argentina, yet always feeling a kind of insurmountable distance simply because of cultural differences. Melville plays with this phenomenon very precisely and it keeps me reading (despite the obvious and grueling lack of any plot whatsoever in these early pages).

I'm Paul Bills

Hello, Team Ahab!

Me and my wife, Maddie
I'm sorry I haven't posted earlier, it's been quite a crazy weekend for me because my birthday actually happens to be tomorrow and so I've been busy with family and all such things.

I'm Paul Bills. I'm from Salt Lake, and I've been married for just over a year now to a girl I've known since Jr. High but never even thought about dating until I saw her for the first time after my mission here at BYU. You just never know what can happen, I guess.

I'm a senior English major hoping to graduate in June, and I'm looking forward to getting a Master's Degree in Video Game Production from the U of U as they were recently ranked number one in the nation for their program. I actually just very recently made that decision, in part thanks to Dr. Gideon Burton himself. I was in his Shakespeare class last semester and he encouraged us to do our final paper on something that we really cared about and to make it publishable. So I did, and I found out games are way more important and intriguing to me than I have ever given them credit for, and that they are doing more than they ever have. The paper I ended up writing, "'Such Stuff As Dreams are Made On': Shakespeare and the Cultural Legitimacy of Video Games" got accepted into the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association conference, which I will be presenting at in October alongside professors from all over the country. At first I thought I was going to become an English professor focusing on New Media applying literary theory to video games, but the more I studied the more I learned the kind of games I want to study are just barely starting to get made, and I wanted to have a hand in that. So that's my plan. Since I made that plan I have been designing a game concept every day as a challenge to myself inspired my Ray Bradbury's writing method of writing a short story every day from the time he was twelve until a stroke took away his ability to write decades later.

Screenshot from The Last of Us, an amazing game that ends in Salt Lake City (image credit Kotaku.com)

Besides video games, I'm also a huge fan of board and card games, which are going through a renaissance of their own at the moment. I design my own games for fun, and play games like Dominion, 7 Wonders, and BANG! whenever I get the chance. I also follow a ton of tech blogs and sites and have written and queried a first fantasy novel in a series of four that I've been outlining since I was nine years old. I've also been very serious about writing poetry for a long time, though time constraints and competing interests have suppressed that a bit lately.

I'm excited to get to know you all and excited for the class!

To the Pequod!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Things to Know about Aleesha

I've never been great at making up titles. I'm Aleesha. English major, editing minor (There seems to be a few of us in this class). Currently, I am working at the BYU Religious Studies Center as a student editor. One day, I hope to be involved in book publishing. I'm from the faraway land of Lehi, UT.

I don't have very many recent pictures of me, sorry.
My sister (left) and me (right)
To help you learn more about who I am, I have decided to share five interesting facts about me.


Thursday, September 5, 2013

Pleasta Meecha!

 Well, hey there everyone. This is, I suppose, my introduction post. I am not a big guy on taking photos of myself, so any time I want to post one for a profile or whatever, I have to take one on the spot, so I've included an obligatory photo. I feel like when introducing themselves, most often people emphasize the same five or so things and then finish it all off with "something interesting" which invariably becomes nothing more than an extension of one of the first five things, so this time, I'm going to take a little bit of a different approach and share some things that not everyone might know. I hope you can get to know the everyday stuff about me from just regular interactions, here and in real life.


I am a technology enthusiast with reservations. I follow all sorts of cool new technologies, from transparent solar cells to 3D printers that can be used to print viable human tissue (to quote the oracle from Hercules, "...it's gonna be big"). I'm interested (though shamefully inexperienced) in lots of different forms of digital expression, from 2D art to filmmaking, and I'm really interested in reinterpretations of older forms, like spoken word poetry and the work of young and aspiring Youtube artists like Lindsey Stirling. It's secretly a dream to make a successful vlog or Youtube channel someday. I remain adamant, however, in my opinion that just because you're phone is an egghead, mine doesn't have to be a "dumb phone" even though it's from 2005. I like a lot of the features of modern phones and stuff, but I know myself well enough to know that if I had a so-called "smart" phone, I would probably quickly get sucked into all the cool apps and other stuff. So, I stick with my museum-worthy RAZR. 

See, MSPaint isn't thaaaat bad...
Ever since I was 15 or so, I've wanted to develop a low-cost method of water purification for application in low-income areas. That's pretty much what made me want to study chemistry originally (that, and the prospect of going into food sciences and developing calorie-free Goldfish crackers so I could not feel bad about being practically addicted to them). I worked at a nature preserve for a summer and actually served on a municipal water council to raise awareness of water-born illness and to encourage "green" building techniques. Yep... closet hippie. Eventually, though, English called my name, so I can still be a hippie, just in different ways.