Media Blog

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 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.

More on Drugs and Athletes

So I’ve been following the whole Barry Bonds steroid thing. I like Bonds because he is an amazing player and because he’s not as likeable as the other major sluggers of our time. Bonds is unafraid to make an issue of race where it is an issue, where other players will simply pretend like it doesn’t exist in order to make white fans and — more importantly — commentators comfortable.

I was reading the sports section of the Sunday New York Times over dinner tonight and was struck by their coverage of drug use in major league baseball. The argument was, in a nutshell, that drugs had become more of an issue now than in the 1980s (when a bunch of ballplayers who were using coke got busted) because they were “performance enhancers” rather than pleasure drugs. One source was quoted to the effect of saying that the commissioner should do something before he has a widow in his office asking him why he didn’t do anything.

That’s very interesting reasoning that major league sports take a major toll on professional athletes bodies over the course of a professional career. Even baseball, which is theoretically less damaging than football (where it seems like they invent new injuries every year), has a legion of retirees nursing a variety of chronic conditions (many painful) and a variety of addictions. Moreover, the entire sports world is designed for “performance enhancement” — from diet to special machinery to regimens of conditioning to the growing phenomenon of stars’ children exceeding their own achievements — Bonds and Peyton Manning are prime examples. All this is to say that the whole schtick about purity doesn’t cut it. Sure, as a baseball fan, I’m concerned that players not take steroids because eventually that would mean everyone would have to take them to compete, and that would suck given the obvious impact they have on players’ bodies. On other other hand, let’s not be ridiculous and claim that it’s somehow tainting an otherwise untained game. Major league sports is not that different from Hollywood — its professionals and stars live in a world all their own, a world defined and judged by standards of artifice. I’m not against artifice. I love it. But let’s not pretend it’s something else.

Snow Removal

here is an absolute spectacle. One large plow and two small ones come to clear the road and sidewalk, and then this giant vaccuum thing comes and sucks up the snow. It’s wild. Before it all starts a siren sounds and people move their cars, or they get towed around the corner. . . .

“You Need a Headset”

Like everyone else I get songs in my head and can’t get them out. But they sound different these days. I am not making this up. A couple weeks ago, the music in my head started to sound different — more detailed, with a wider stereo “soundstage” (that’s such a silly sounding term). I thought maybe someone had slipped me something good in my diet coke or something. When I told Carrie on Thursday, she thought it was probably because so much of my music listening has been on headphones this fall. Between the commutes to and from campus with the iPod, and the headphones at my desk (since Carrie’s in the same room and may not want to listen to music while she’s writing), I have spent a lot more time on headphones.

Quiet Time

on the blog, but not in my life.

I have been silent here while working away on a number of tasks. This week has featured a goodly number of meetings (all day M, about half of T), syllabus prep, housecleaning, and a potluck for my (and Carrie’s) grad students.

The meetings were productive, as meetings will be.

The History of Communication syllabus is almost done. the course has colonized my consciousness for the past two weeks. I’m still messing with methods of evaluation and a couple readings, but it is going to be a really good class. The only unfortunate thing is that because of a space crunch and the fact that tutorials were not booked ahead of time, (whoever is in charge of space at) McGill cannot provide me with rooms that have moveable desks for the TA-led tutorial sections (for readers at other schools: tutorial=recitation=discussion section=confernce section=?). This is unfortunate as it makes small group exercises more difficult, at least if I want the students to face one another. Since students are known to dislike group work maybe they’ll think it’s a good thing. But I don’t. Anyway, we’ll put in for such rooms for next year and see if we do better.

After spending most of the day at school Thursday, we shopped that evening and Friday we cleaned for an end-of-semester potluck for the grad students enrolled in our courses who were still in town. The cleaning sucked, but after we were all done the place looked awesome and was soon populated by grad students and their partners. The whole thing was a ton of fun, lots of great food was brought, and I enjoyed it so much that we will be having a proper party sometime this winter or spring, as I believe we have an outstanding layout for such an event. Party hosting secret: real wine glasses, real silverware, everything else disposable or recyclable. Cleanup took about 30 minutes, with a little help from the last stragglers. Next time I’ll hopefully have a camera and take pictures.

The theremin was a hit — at least with the gearheads — and the cats even made brief appearances.

In fantasy football news, I fear that our team is doomed. Two starters had season ending injuries, and with last week’s loss, we’re one game out of the playoffs. It’s still mathematically possible, but if only we knew that Carson Palmer was going to have an awesome game against the Ravens.

This coming week should see more blogging, I hope. In that spirit, onto the next entry.

Questions of the Evening

1. Why do I believe that I should not be tired even though I’ve had way more than an 8-hour day and got up early, to boot?

2. Should I organize my history of communication course chronologically or thematically?

3. Will the students actually be ready to plow through all the weird history I want to give them?

4. If I actually decide to do the 30-day free trial of the slightly bizarre-yet-imtriguing “life balance” time-management software, how much of it should I blog? Will it be funny or pathetic? Will it work? Or be interesting?

5. Does our fantasy football team stand a chance with Priest Holmes out for the season? Is there any chance Darrell Jackson will score two touchdowns between now and the end of the game, thereby scoring for us an amazing comeback win?