Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Communicating our Values; Valuing our Communication

In his essay "Communication Scholars Need to Communicate," Ernest J. Wilson III, dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, evaluates our field according to the standards of coherency, relevance, and rigor - and awards us a C-. Among his observations, one is particularly salient: "Comparing scholarly citations across fields, communication is a net importer of new, generative ideas; it rarely exports them to other fields." Wilson is correct in this assertion; we can do more to articulate the value of our scholarship and productivity. Yet the author's broader claims that we should seek a "commonly accepted core of methods" is less convincing.

The core of the problem lies in Wilson's inability to define communication in a useful way. In one of his five proposed competencies, he claims (paraphrasing here) that communication researchers study how meanings are communicated, augmenting this circular definition with an appeal to functionalism, stating that we own the "distinctions and relations" between "sender, receiver, message, channel and context." We are also, Wilson writes, respectful of multiple audiences, interested in varied domains, and capable of connecting otherwise distinct disciplines. These are reasonable, if unsurprising claims. Yet his definition of communication as a site of analysis and creativity remains (to use his words) a "black box."

His argument falters, not because Wilson fails to open that black box but rather because he seems determined to box us in. He is correct that students, teachers, theorists, and practitioners (and their many hybrids) should be able to explain what we contribute to the world. We should indeed offer specific and meaningful answers to contemporary questions. But our ability to meet that challenge will not be found by hewing to overly functional or overly broad notions of communication. Rather than chasing down some chimeric definition of "communication," we should be prepared to define what we can do from a communication standpoint. Our answers will be unique, just as unique as every problem we encounter.

I should add that as a demonstration of rhetorical skill Wilson's essay does little service to his argument, at least when evaluating his surfeit of hackneyed phrasing ("communication is a two-way street" and "The field suffers from a kind of academic log-rolling behavior which feeds the reification of silos in the field"), and his excessive tendency to trade repetition for proof. Read it for yourself (wading through the author-bona fides and USC-Annenberg boosterism throughout), and you'll see what I mean. As you do, be wary of Wilson's admittedly pithy but ultimately specious conclusion that, "now is the time for communication to act more like economics."

If the current state of the U.S. economy is any measure, our field's problem isn't its failure to count dollars and cents. Our problem is the need to reshape the sense of what counts.

Read the essay: Communication Scholars Need to Communicate

Monday, July 29, 2013

More Photoshop Phollies

Among several summer projects I'm trying to improve my Photoshop-fu. These experiments demonstrate how far I have yet to go. But they're a start...

Hamburg, Germany Fountain 1
Hamburg, Germany Fountain 2
Hamburg, Germany Fountain 3
Hamburg, Germany "Miniatur Wunderland"
Cat-Lion Hybrid
Globe-Coconut Hybrid
Dog-Bird Hybrid
Turtle-Teddy Bear Hybrid (by special request)

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Cinemagraphs [Second Drafts]

More cinemagraph fun!

Chiang Mai, Thailand
Hamburg, Germany "Miniatur Wunderland"
Innsbruck, Austria
Salzburg, Austria
Bangkok, Thailand

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ariadne and the Robot

Recently my pal Anne Marie returned from Japan, bearing the gift of a "Piperoid" paper pipe toy. For a few days my gift lay near my easy chair, unopened. Then one afternoon I took about an hour to cut, fold, and assemble his tiny colorful tubes, following directions to form a clever little robot. Ariadne, our feline prima donna, watched from a distance, her eyes narrowed into angry squints. Ari generally doesn't like visitors, and she's especially unimpressed with a robot interloper to her domain. Can they ever get along?

Apparently not. For the past few evenings, Jenny and I have awoken to find Ariadne whining and complaining and stretching out her little paw, pointing at the robot in a sort of "J'accuse" motion. Tipped water bowls, trashed chew toys, pilfered cat nip: always his fault, she complains. And sure enough whenever there's a commotion in our home, I'll always see the robot standing near the kitty. His nonchalant expression suggests that Ari is trying to frame our new houseguest.

But pictures don't lie.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Cinemagraphs [First Drafts]

I'm experimenting with Cinemagraphs, those clever animated gifs that combine elements of still and moving imagery.

Albuquerque, NM
Albuquerque, NM
Denver, CO
Castle Urquhart, Scotland
Castle Urquhart, Scotland (another view)
Salzburg, Austria 
Spanish Pavilion, 2010 Shanghai World's Fair
So far my workflow doesn't allow for precise frame-by-frame control (lengthening some frames, shifting their order, etc.), but I've found some tutorials to help me work those problems. More to come!

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Rory's Return

Here's a repost from a FB update I shared earlier this week.

This is Rory, one of our two foster kitties. He's the most skittish cat we've cared for. He jumps at almost any noise, he shies away from being pet, and his wide eyes seem to perpetually convey panic. At night, though, he calms down a bit. He even likes to sleep in our bed. That's when Rory wants to cuddle.

A couple days ago our little guy bolted from the garage. We'd left it open a little too long and he was gone. It took no time for me to fear the worst. He's a big cat, but I worried that he's too gentle and too scared to take proper care of himself. Perhaps he'd gotten lost. I found it difficult to sleep, wondering about Rory's fate.

Then last night we heard him meowing from under our backyard deck. Though he was hungry, Rory kept his distance from our outstretched hands. He was sticking close to the house at least. Still, he seemed determined to avoid us.

That's when Jenny proposed that we leave the garage door open again, just a crack. 'There's no way he'll return to us that way,' I thought. But what else could we do? We don't have a pet-safe trap, and he won't be lured by food. So we opened the door and tried to sleep. I listening for his plaintive meows and wondered what would happen.

This morning we awoke to find Rory back in our bed!

Apparently he's decided that he can trust us, at least enough to crawl out from under the deck, hop the fence, wind his way around the house, come in through the garage, and climb the stairs to our room. And there he was, purring his little heart out on our comforter. Now he's lounging in the afternoon sun, relieved to be somewhere safe.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Peter Ackroyd's History of England Vol. 1

Notes from Peter Ackroyd's FoundationHistory of England, Vol. 1 
(punctuation and spelling from UK style original)

Description of the Saxons: "This band of warriors, under war chieftain, worshipped the sun and the moon. They adored Woden, god of war, and Thor, god of thunder. They practised human sacrifice. They drank from the skulls of their enemies. The fronts of their heads were shaved, the hair grown long at the back, so that their faces might seem larger in battle. 'The Saxon', a Roman chronicler of the fifth century wrote, 'surpasses all others in brutality. He attacks unforeseen, and when foreseen he slips away. If he pursues, he captures; if he flees, he escapes'." (p. 46)

Three English institutions: "The shire was originally a military district, but it also served royal purposes as a centre of taxation and a source of justice. Each shire had a court, and a burgh or major town; it could muster its own army, and was ruled on behalf of the king by a shire-reeve whose name became sheriff. The shire was then divided into 'hundreds'; each hundred was supposed in theory to support one hundred households or to supply one hundred fighting men in times of war. The hundreds were further subdivided into 'tithings' made up of ten households. The administration of the entire country could be devolved upon small groups of individuals who led the 'hue and cry' against thieves and who were responsible for each other's conduct. It was the essential basis of local government in England for at least the next thousand years." (pp. 71-72, emphasis in original)

English constancy: "There is no village still in existence (except for those formed during the Industrial Revolution) that was not established by the twelfth century. If you dig deep into the village soil, you will find its ancient roots. Some of them, not the majority, have been in existence for thousands of years. Bur they are absent from certain territories. Down the middle of England, from Northumberland to Wiltshire, numerous villages are to be found; beyond that great expanse, in the north and in the west, the Iron Age landscape of scattered farms and hamlets survived." (p. 73)

Centralization: "If there is one signal reminder of William's reign, it is that document originally called 'The King's Book' but more popularly known as Domesday Book because its evidence could no more be evaded than the day of doom. It was a survey of the resources of the realm, unique in Europe but not unusual in England where various national and regional accounts had already been compiled. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle William had 'deep speech' with the men of his council and sent officials into every shire to find out 'what or how much each landholder had in land and livestock, and what it was worth'. The subsequent work was in fact so copious and so detailed, in single columns and double columns of Latin, that it must have made use of earlier records. It comprises two books, one of 475 pages and the other of 413 pages, with some of the capital letters touched with red ink. It describes over 13,000 locations, the vast majority of which survive still. The authors of the Chronicle state that there was not 'an ox nor a cow nor a pig that was overlooked and not included in the record'." (p. 104, emphasis in original)

Executions: "Sir Thomas Blount, was hanged at Smithfield for a minute or so before being cut down; he was then ordered to sit in front of a great fire while the executioner came to him with a razor in his hand. After begging the prisoner's pardon he knelt down, opened up his stomach with his razor, and took out the bowels. Blount was asked if he would like a drink. 'No,' he replied, 'for I do not know where I should put it.' The executioner tied the bowels with a string so that, in the words of a contemporary, 'the wind of the heart should not escape'; then he threw them into the fire. One of the bystanders shouted out in derision, 'Go seek a master that can save you'. Blount cried that 'I shall die in the service of my sovereign lord, the noble king Richard!' The executioner cut off his head." (pp. 309-310)

Town/Gown Struggles: "Violent struggles also rook place between the students and the townspeople. A skirmish at Swyndlestock Tavern, in the centre of Oxford, led to a bloody affray in 1354. The landlord's friends rang the bell of the church of St Martin, the signal to alert the people of the town. A crowd gathered and assaulted the scholars with various weapons, whereupon the chancellor of the university rang the rival bell of the university church of St Mary. The scholars, alerted, seized their bows and arrows; a pitched battle between the two factions lasted until night fell. On the following day the townspeople sent eighty armed men into the parish of St Giles, where many of the scholars lodged; they shot and killed some of them, when once again the university bell was rung and a large assembly of Oxford pupils set upon the townspeople with their bows and arrows. Bur they were outnumbered. 2,000 people of the town advanced behind a black flag, crying out 'Slay! Slay!' or 'Havoc! Havoc!' or 'Smite hard, give good knocks!' These were the war cries of the medieval period. A general carnage ensued, with many deaths. All the scholars of Oxford seem to have fled, leaving the university empty for a while." (p. 374)

Class Distinction: "It was said that the rich were hanged by their purses and the poor were hanged by their necks" (p. 399)

The Nature of History: "Everything grows out of the soil of contingent circumstance. Convenience, rather than the shibboleth of progress or evolution, is the agent of change. Error and misjudgment therefore play a large part in what we are pleased to call the 'development' of institutions. A body of uses and misuses then takes on the carapace of custom and becomes part of a tradition. It should be noticed, in a similar spirt, that most of the battles fought in medieval England were covered by chance - a surprise charge, or a sudden storm, might decisively change the outcome. This should come as no surprise. Turmoil and accident and coincidence are the stuff of all human lives. They are also the abiding themes of fiction, of poetry and of drama." (pp. 442-443).

Read More

Simon Hattenstone's interview (The Guardian, August 10, 2003): "Close your eyes, I say, and think of something else that gives you pleasure. He closes his eyes. "Annotating my notes. It's the point where you amass all the references to one specific thing, so you'll have 50 books on, say, the stretch of road here and where it led. It's the point where it all comes alive." He's licking his lips and speaking faster. "That's when you discover revelations in the interpretation of all the evidence put together." He talks about the life of Shakespeare he's working on. "I have about 20 files, that big, and hundreds of books and I'll number the files and I'll give the books an alphabetic identification, A,B,C etc, then it will say 'John Shakespeare's will' A9, G14 etc. And that's the bit I like. It's like a new creation, a rabbit out of a hat, the creation of new knowledge."

Walter Olson's Sunday Book Review (New York Times, January 18, 2013): "Asked by an interviewer from the BBC what he found time to do aside from write his many books, Ackroyd replied, “I drink. . . . That’s about it.” To paraphrase Lincoln on General Grant, some other writers could use a barrel of whatever Ackroyd is drinking."

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Marcus Aurelius Meditations

Image from Pierre-Salim
From time to time I will revise and expand this entry, a collection of excerpts from Marcus Aurelius' Meditations, a set of personal notes that the Roman emperor wrote near the end of his life.

These quotations demonstrate Aurelius' commitment to stoicism, a school of philosophy that guided his efforts to lead while maintaining his integrity and humility. These Meditations contributed to Marcus Aurelius' reputation as a philosopher-king (b. 121, reign: 161-180).

While I am currently limited to the Dover Thrift Edition, which is based on the 1862 George Long translation, I plan to bolster these excerpts with the 2002 Gregory Hays translation later this summer. Thereafter I might augment this post with traces from Anthony R. Birley's biography.


"Nothing is evil that is according to nature." (II:17)

"The universe is transformation; life is opinion." (IV:3)

"For the stone that has been thrown up it is no evil to come down, nor indeed any good to have been carried up." (IX:17)

"If there is a god, all is well; and if chance rules, do not also be governed by it." (IX:28)

"Time is like a river made up of the events that happen, and a violent stream; for as soon as a thing has been seen, it is carried away, and another comes in its place, and this will be carried away too." (IX:43) [See also V:23, VI:15, VII:19, and IX:29]


"The same man can be both most resolute and yielding." (I:8)

"Do what is necessary... A man should take away not only unnecessary arts, but also unnecessary thoughts so that superfluous acts will not follow after." (IV:24)

"Good fortune is good disposition of the soul, good emotions, good actions." (V:36)

"Consider yourself to be dead, and to have completed your life up to the present time; and to live, according to nature, the remainder that is allowed you." (VII:56)

"He who pursues pleasure as good and avoids pain as evil is guilty of impiety." (IX:1)

"Wipe out imagination: check desire: extinguish appetite: keep the ruling faculty in its own power." (IX:7) [but also see V:26]

"The universal cause is like a winter torrent: it carries everything along with it. But how worthless are all these poor people who are engaged in matters political, and, as they suppose, are playing the philosopher! All drivelers. Well then, man: do what nature now requires. Set yourself in motion, if it is in your power, and do not look about you to see if any one will observe it; nor yet expect Plato’s Republic: but be content if the smallest thing goes on well, and consider such an event to be no small matter. For who can change men’s opinions? And without a change of opinions what else is there than the slavery of men who groan while they pretend to obey? Come now and tell me of Alexander and Philip and Demetrius and Phalerum. They themselves shall judge whether they discovered what the common nature required, and trained themselves accordingly. But if they acted like tragic heroes, no one has condemned me to imitate them. The work of philosophy is simple and modest. Do not draw me aside into pomposity." (IX:29)

"The spherical form of the soul maintains its figure, when it is neither extended towards any object, nor contracted inwards, nor dispersed nor sinks down, but is illuminated by light, by which it sees the truth, the truth of all things and the truth that is in itself." (XI:12)

"Make yourself like Empedocles' sphere, 'All round, and in its joyous rest reposing.' And if you shalt strive to live only what is really your life, that is, the present, then you will be able to pass that portion of life that remains for you up to the time of your death, free from perturbations, nobly, and obedient to your own daemon [to the god that is within you]." (XII:3)


"I did not fall into the hands of any sophist, and I did not waste my time on writers of histories, or in the resolution of syllogisms." (I:17)

"Let us try to persuade men. But act even against their will when the principles of justice lead that way." (VI:50)

"Speak both in the senate and to every man, whoever he may be, appropriately, without affectation: use plain discourse." (VIII:30)

"No longer talk at all about the kind of man that a good man ought to be, but be such." (X:16)

"Remember that this which pulls the strings is the thing that is hidden within: this is the power of persuasion." (X:38)

"You are a slave: free speech is not for you.'" (XI:30) [This is a quotation cited by Aurelius.]


"Do the external things that fall upon you distract you? Give yourself time to learn something new and good, and cease to be whirled around." (II:7)

"Take away the complaint, 'I have been harmed,' and the harm is taken away." (IV:7) [see also VIII:47]

"Nothing happens to any man that he is not formed by nature to bear." (V:18)

"In one respect man is the nearest thing to me, so far as I must do good to men and endure them. But so far as some men make themselves obstacles to my proper acts, man becomes to me one of the things that are indifferent, no less than the sun or wind or a wild beast. Now it is true that these may impede my action, but they are no impediments to my affects and disposition, which have the power of acting conditionally and changing: for the mind converts and changes every hindrance to its activity into an aid; and so that which is a hindrance is made a furtherance to an act; and that which is an obstacle on the road helps us along this road." (V:20)

"The best way of avenging yourself is not to become like the wrongdoer." (VI:6)

"'A cucumber is bitter.' Throw it away. 'There are briars in the road.' Turn aside from them. This is enough. Do not add, 'And why were such things made in the world?'" (VIII:50)

"One man prays thus: How might I sleep with that woman? Do you pray: How shall I not desire to sleep with her? Another prays thus: How shall I be released from this? Another prays: How shall I not desire to be released?" (IX:40)


"The intelligence of the universe is social. Accordingly it has made the inferior things for the sake of the superior, and it has fitted the superior to one another. You see how it has subordinated, co-ordinated, and assigned to everything its proper portion and has brought together into concord with one another the things that are the best." (V:30)

"We are all working together to one end, some with knowledge and design, and others without knowing what they do, like sleeping men, who are, according to Heraclitus, laborers and cooperators in the things that take place in the universe." (VI:42)

"That which is not good for the swarm is not good for the bee either." (VI:54)

"All things are mutually intertwined, and the bond is holy; and there is hardly anything unconnected with any other thing. For things have been coordinated, and they combine to form one universal order." (VII:9) [See also IV:45]


"If the intellectual is common to all men, so is reason, in respect of which we are rational beings: if this is so, common also is the reason that commands us what to do, and what not to do; if this is so, there is a common law also; if this is so, we are fellow-citizens; if this is so, we are members of some political community; if this is so, the world is in a manner a state." (IV:4) [See also X:15, XII:26, and XII:36]

"My city and country, so far as I am Antoninus, is Rome; but so far as I am a man, it is the world." (VI:44)

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Again with the tilt-shift!

Here's my latest crop of tilt-shift photos!

South Beach (Miami)

Monday, July 8, 2013

Public Forums in Turkey

While the Erdoğan regime has largely shut down the protests that rocked Turkey last month, Sebnem Arsu describes a promising turn for those who continue to hope for a deepening of democratic processes in that country. Activists are now meeting in public places, sometimes by the hundreds, to discuss and debate strategies to challenge the current government without meeting authoritarianism with violence:
"The forums, an unprecedented exercise in grass-roots democracy in a country with no tradition of public assembly, are not affiliated with any political party. Organically evolving, and with no leadership, they aim not to form a new political party but to structure a new political system. At the very least, participants say, they are a way to keep up the pressure on Mr. Erdogan’s administration."
To clamp down on the noise that would might attract heavy-handed response, participants are using nonverbal communication convey their reactions to speakers. They wave their hands to demonstrate affirmation, cross their arms to show disagreement, and rotate their arms to speed up speakers who take too long.

Young folks and the elderly, radicals and people who have never attended a protest before: these folks don't agree on everything. But they demonstrate the power to disagree without being disagreeable. Jenny and I were there for the tear gas. I wish we could be there for this more hopeful next step.

Read the article: After Protests, Forums Sprout in Turkey’s Parks

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Google Glass: See For Yourself

Image from dvice: Google Glass will make dating super creepy (and awesome)
Thanks to Jenny I checked out Charles Arthur's Guardian review of Google Glass, and I'm reminded of some of the early critiques of the iPod and iPhone (not to mention my own preliminary pan of the iPad). Somewhat predictably Arthur emphasizes the first-generation glitches of this augmented reality device: buggy interface, wifi hassles, low-res pix. The price of being bleeding-edge cool.

He also notes the risk of surreptitious snapshots -- and the even greater risk of looking like a tool while wearing these things. Yes, these things may be a creeper's favorite new toy. And I've yet to see pictures of someone wearing these Google Glasses without flashing back to images of Geordi La Forge. Google Glass may be useful for specialized tasks, but most folks may see little more than a gimmick.

Arthur may be right; he may be wrong, but his review is worth a read if only for its conclusion, which rightly points out a deeper concern arising from our potential willingness to outsource our sight: "Google Glass feels like something that would make you see the world less, and replace it with a world seen through a giant corporation's interests, funnelled through a tiny screen suspended above one eye." The electronic panopticon is getting an upgrade.

Read the entire article: Google Glass – hands-on review