Medium 1: Television: The Indecency of Indecency Complaints
This news has been out for about a week but I somehow missed it, until today. It turns out over 99% of that famed “surge in indecency complaints” to the FCC are the work of a single activist group. The original report was in MediaWeek, though it’s now all over the web. Once again, this is an example of why I think PR is even more of a problem for political discourse than media concentration. For months, the press and conservatives have been going on about how there’s a sea-change in public opinion regarding TV content — and using the rise in complaints to the FCC as their evidence — when in fact it a giant lie orchestrated by people who know they are in the minority and choose to deceive the press into reporting otherwise because they cannot legitimately persuade people of their positions. Whew. OK.
Incidentally, I don’t know if I’ve mentioned him before, but the Globe and Mail‘s TV critic John Doyle is awesome. His column was my original source on this, and he marvelously skewers the latest FCC investigation into whether — get this — the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games were indecent. Honestly, I think it’s all a smokescreen so that people don’t start asking questions about what the FCC did not regulate.
Medium 2: Computers: Early Mousing
Steven Rubio posted a link to this set of videos at Stanford in his blog, and it is one of the coolest things I’ve seen on the web. It at http://sloan.stanford.edu/mousesite/1968Demo.html but for some reason my link doesn’t work. You can paste the link into your browser, though. It’s a 1968 demonstration by Stanford Computer Scientist Doug Englebart of a computer and interface setup that had been in use since 1962. The technology they are demonstrating? Cut-and-Paste word processing, mousing around the screen, and hyperlinking. Yeah, it’s not all prettied up like modern interfaces, but the essential characteristics are all there. AND, on his left hand, there’s a cool keyboard thingy, though in the end, the function keys on our modern keyboards do just as well. The videos are pretty dry, but pretty wild.
Medium 3: The Web: WebCT vs. Plone
WebCT is one brand of giant software program designed to manage and standardize online components of college/university courses. The design task is nearly impossible: on one end, the designers must make the interface easy enough for professors who have no web or programming experience but who might want to put aspects of their courses online. In the design lingo, it has to be “idiot proof” while still maintaining some flexibility. Then there’s me, on the other end of the spectrum. At my last job, I simply designed the websites for my courses from the ground up. I used a little bit of Blackboard (one of WebCT’s competitors) in my Media&Music course at Pitt, but otherwise did the truly massive MassComm website via Dreamweaver (started on PageMill in 1999) and sometimes by hand.
WebCT looks like a piece of software designed sometime in the 1990s. Its interface allows for little flexibility in areas where it could easily allow more. There’s actually a lot of guesswork built into the interface. Actions that plausibly might be repeated require several steps (like uploading files to the server if you want to code some of them yourself, as I do). Obvious, c ommon features are missing — for instance, it is impossible for even the course designer (me) to edit posts in the discussion board. Other pages, like the homepage, have “wizards” but surprised me by actually requiring some .html knowledge to get the text formatted correctly. Not a problem on my end, but doesn’t that kind of defeat the whole point of a “wizard” for the uninitiated?
McGill provides WebCT training, which I skipped. When I called tech support a couple days ago to ask questions, the support person was skeptical when I told her that. But once she heard my questions, she understood — every one required her to call the programmers, and all but one returned an answer of “no, you can’t do that.” And I was asking about stuff like editing discussion board messages or controlling the number of chatrooms on my course site.
The other thing I don’t like about the private aspect of course websites is that they restrict access. I can’t even show the course to my friends or colleague without giveng them special access. Which is absurd. Again, my old courses are up on the web for all to see.
I chose to develop my undergrad course on WebCT instead of on Sterneworks for two reasons: a) because it is theoretically more convenient for students to use; b) because I am contractually obligated to use WebCT for one of my courses in exchange for a free laptop. I also hear an update is coming sometime this summer, which may resolve some of these issues. If not, I may start to look for my own alternatives in the future.
That rant was so long that I won’t even get into my experience with ‘Plone for the Bad Subjects site. Suffice it to say that ‘Plone is infinitely more flexible, and seems to allow for all sorts of modifications. To be fair — it is beyond my current level of expertise, but that’s just because I haven’t learned the new protocols of xhtml (or rss, or the code to get rid of the casinos) yet.