Tuesday, April 04, 2006

Meet Jeff Gralnick, Digital Media Expert

If there were one person who could fill the title of Digital Media Expert, MSNBC's Jeff Gralnick just might be it. Gralnick has worked in broadcast news for 47 years and is currently Special Consultant to NBC news for internet and new technology matters.

Gralnick is no rookie in the world of journalism. He has worked for three major news networks: CBS, ABC and NBC, holding such high positions as Executive Producer of the NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw, and Vice President of the development of ABCNews.com.

Gralnick now focuses his work on digital media, especially the creation of websites by broadcast television and radio stations. In an article Gralnick wrote, "In Search of Eyeballs and Eardrums," he discusses what makes for a good online news site. In a world where everyone is competing to be the best, a plain, mediocre news website is not going to cut it. Gralnick insists that for local news sites to survive, they must provide things that their audience cannot get anywhere else; things like up to the minute weather reports, local traffic reports and a little something extra such a streaming video of current traffic jams or live local weather pictures.

In another one of his articles, "Touching You Back," Gralnick praises internet media for having the possibility for interactivity. Gralnick believes that the interactivity on the web opens the doors to more information. Viewers now not only receive news, but can also contribute news. He notes that many news sites encourage readers to send in their own pictures and video of newsworthy events. The internet allows readers to become reporters and helps provide information that the actual reporters and photographers may not have gotten.

Jeff Gralnick is a veteran of broadcast media who, because of technology, has been thrown into this world of new online media. What are his thoughts on the usefulness of online media over traditional forms? He praises it in the article mentioned above, but is he actually a convert and does he think there is still a use for traditional media? Also, does he think that print and broadcast media will eventually disappear in the wake of online news?

Monday, April 03, 2006

More New Technology

First came websites, then came blogs... what's next? How about wikis?? Seems like a pretty silly name, but don't laugh, they can be very useful tools.

In my quest to find out what exactly a wiki is, my first stop was, SHOCKING!, a wiki! I found a long and in depth definition of a wiki on Wikipedia, a wiki encyclopedia! A wiki is a website where users can add, edit and delete content as they wish. Many wikis do not require registration, so anyone can contribute to the site. Wikipedia is a great example of a wiki... it is an encyclopedia written and edited by web users. If something is left out, someone else can fill it in. And if something is incorrect, someone else can fix the information.

Wikis were invented by the Portland Pattern Repository and soon became very popular because of their usefulness. The word wiki comes from the Hawaiian word wikiwiki meaning quick.

I found an interesting wiki page called Wikiquote. This page is filled with famous quotes and saying from anyone and anywhere you could possibly imagine. Since it's a wiki, anyone can go in and add quotes that they think should be there. On the other hand, people who are serious about the site can go in a delete a stupid saying by Joe Shmoe. I found this page interesting because I often try to Google quotes that I've heard and like, and find several different versions or none at all. This site makes it easy to get the correct ones because so many people can put their input into it.

Many sites have "sandboxes" where you can go to practice editing a wiki without actually editing any real or important information. I tried to go to the WikiWikiSandbox, but it would not work for me. Instead I went to the Weblog Kitchen Wiki Sandbox, and added and deleted some of the info there to practice my wiki skills.

Right now a wiki may seem like just a crazy technological term, but soon enough wikis will be as popular as websites and blogs have become.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Photoshop, Round 2

After playing around with Photoshop, and editing lots of my pictures, I decided I wanted to go back and learn some more, so I went to RCADE's Intermediate Photoshop class.

This time, the class was not full and there seemed to be a lot less adults there. They must have all been intimidated by the first class! They were probably smart to stay home, as the stuff the teacher went over in this class was quite a bit more confusing than the beginner material.

Instead of focusing on editing photos, this class went more into creating graphics from scratch. We learned how to use different brush tools, cloning tools, cut and paste tools. A lot of it was way over my head, but I did attempt to make a graphic from scratch myself. I cut and pasted from a couple other photos and used some different stamp and brush tools...

This is what I came up with:

Wow, I am such an artiste! Homemade Christmas cards here I come...!

Monday, March 06, 2006

That Which We Call a Blog...

While blogs are becoming more and more abundant in the online world, they are still not nearly as popular as more traditional mainstream media websites. In his New York Times article "That Which We Call a Blog...," Dan Mitchell examines why that is.

There are tons and tons of news blogs out there, many of which are written by professional journalists. Yet, as Mitchell reports, only four blogs show up in the top 33 sites.

One main reason for this is probably based on trustworthiness. People know that if they go to the New York Times on the web or CNN.com, they are going to get real, true news (at least for the most part). They are also going to see all the headline news, everything that they think they should know, and they know that no big news story is going to be forgotten.

With blogs, people are a little more skeptical. Even if a professional journalist is writing the blog, people don't seem to trust the news unless it has a big commercial name like CNN on it. If the New York Times' website was changed into a blog format, certainly people would still read that over a lesser known blog.

Readers are missing out by not reading news blogs. News blogs can cover stories that mainstream media does not, and can research stories that mainstream media gives two paragraphs to more in depth. Readers need to expand their sources for news so that they can get a variety of different information.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

A blogger on a mission

Though blogs may often be seen as just a way to keep a diary or to let your friends know what you've been up to, they can a
ctually do a whole lot more including keeping people informed about important issues that may get lost by the media.

When hurricane Katrina hit, newspapers and television news acted as if the rest of the world was put on hold, and put all their efforts into covering the storm. The public was bombarded with images of the wreckage and person accounts of those who had lost everything. Everyone was so focussed on Katrina that no one seemed to notice anything else going on in the world.

No one except Radley Balko that is. Balko found the trial of a Mississippi man, Cory Maye, put on death row for killing a police offer, a trial which had gotten overshadowed in traditional media by Katrina. Balko, feeling that this man had been wrongly accused, decided to research and report on this case in his blog The Agitator.

Balko's reports sparked much discussion about the case in the blogosphere. The majority of his readers seemed to feel overwhelmingly that Maye had been wrongly accused. If only this case had had better press in traditional media, perhaps public disputes would have been made against the jury and courts.

Blogs are becomming an important form of news media because in their abundance they are able to report on a much greater span of news. People are motivated to research things that personally interest them, and we get a greater sense of everything that is going on in the world as a whole.

Balko's reporting on the Maye case created so much discussion and dispute, and perhaps some day blogs will be strong enough and reliant enough to start great social change.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

A fun new way to procrastinate

Ever wonder what celebrities you might be related to? Or atleast who you might be able to pass as next Halloween? Now you can find out! MyHeritage.com, offers free face recognition software to help you find other members you could be related to. That's boring. BUT, now they have a celebrity database... you can upload your picture and the software will scan through the celebrities to find who you look most like.

When I uploaded my picture, the software told me I looked most like Jodi Foster and Teri Hatcher. That's great and all, but it also told me I looked like Samuel L. Jackson. I can see why I would be mistaken for a 60-year-old black man...

So maybe the website is not 100% accurate, but it's still fun and a good way to waste time!

Can you see the resemblance?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

You don't have to be crazy to talk to inanimate objects...

Before modern technology, anyone caught trying to communicate with a big plastic box would probably have been written off as legally insane. However, today it's a completely normal part of our everyday lives.

In the olden days (and by "olden" I mean circa 1980) nearly all of what we read, wrote, bought and sold was done on paper in our printed and written world. We were told what to do and think without our having a chance to respond to anything. If an instruction manual said "connect part A to part B, we could not ask "Hey, where is part A?" by instantaneously emailing the company the manual came from, we just had to accept what the printed book was telling us.

In her article "Do You Think You're Part of This? Digital Texts and the Second Person Address," Jill Walker explores the idea of "active participation." When you read a book or other printed text, you are fed information that is concrete, with no way to respond. However, with online texts, you can respond to what you are reading or doing. Walker uses the example of video games. You play the role offered to you, and you kill the bad guys and win the prizes. You are influencing, to some extent, what happens in the game, rather than just watching and having no control over it.

Though Walker consistently uses the example of video games, blogs can also be seen as an avenue for active participation. When you read a blog, you have a chance to make comments on it and spark discussion about it, perhaps changing the author's view. You are no longer just being spoken to, but also speaking out on the issue as well. You have the chance to speak to the same audience who is reading the original text. This was never possible with printed material, and now is becoming more and more important in writing and reading.

Guns, tanks, and laptops

Blogging seems like an innocent pastime: a way to express your feelings about certain issues or situations, or let your friends and family know what you are up to. Many American soldiers who are fighting overseas, keep blogs for just these reasons. However, in the eyes of many (including the Pentagon), these blogs are not so innocent.

Wired Magazine's "The Blogs of War" takes an inside look at the lives of several different military bloggers known in the blogosphere as Thunder 6, Ma Deuce Gunner, Hawkeye, Blackfive, and other tough sounding military names.

It's interesting that one lieutenant interviewed notes that in the old days, soldier would be shaken to detect matches, which could betray a soldier's position when lit. Today, every soldier has a cell phone or some other kind of technological device which could start beeping at any minute. Nowadays, with technology, there are many more security risks, from obvious ones such as ringing cell phones, to things such as blogging.

Milblogging is in many ways good, because it let's us see something we would otherwise not ever get to experience. We always see blood and guts and honor war movies, but that's Hollywood's version of a war, and it's not all there is to it. Milbloggers can express their person feelings towards life a soldier in a war zone, and political and military issues. On a war, we can get the perspective of a soldier who is actually there experiencing it rather than the perspective of our government and the media who tell us only what they want to tell us.

Milblogging soldiers are not always saying what people want to hear. They might stand up strongly for a war most people think should not be going on, or they might bash their country if they think it is not handling the war well. But despite what the Pentagon or general public does or does not want to hear, milbloggers have freedom of speech so long as they are not causing security risks. Soldiers stationed in Iraq now have to register their blogs so that they can be monitored to make sure nothing gets out that shouldn't. Milbloggers are not allowed to give any details which would jeopardize operational security, and they are not allowed to give names of casualties, which could upset friends or family who found out first from a blog.

Milblogs are an important part of the blogosphere because they bring a new perspective into the world that the public has never before had access to. They allow us to hear what is going on from different perspectives, and interpret it as we want to.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

I can write a better blog!

By this point, I have heard plenty of advice on how to write a better blog. Here are some things I've incorporated into my own to make it more interesting:

  • Make links flow! "Amazon is a great place to find books" is much better than "You can fins books at http://www.amazon.com".
  • Make sure titles are interesting... "Bernstein's 10 Tips" sounds pretty dull.
  • Use color every now and then or make things bold or italic.
  • The first line of an entry should draw people in, don't use "After reading the article 'How to Blog'...".
  • Use photos or graphics! Pictures always make a blog fun!

Computers are Frustrating!!

Well, I finally attempted to add something cool to my blog. Though after all the effort, it doesn't seem nearly cool enough. After reading Who Let the Blogs Out?, I decided to take Biz Stone's advice and add something to my sidebar. One of the features he mentions is a list of books you're currently reading. I thought that would be a cool idea, so I headed to AllConsuming.net to try it. This website did not even begin to tell me how to add a list to my sidebar, so after a few failed attempts (I somehow managed to get the list above my blog, overlapping other text...), I decided to try something else.

Next I wanted to try a Blogroll. This website was a little more descriptive than the last, but is definitely not written for beginner bloggers either. Okay, I decided this was going to be harder than I thought. After tinkering with my template for about 20 more minutes (and praying that my computer illiterate self would not erase the entire blog) I finally got the thing working and in the right place. So please, enjoy the list of blogs on my sidebar... I'd like to think it was worth the hour it took to get on there...

Monday, February 13, 2006

Playing with Photoshop

Two years ago for Christmas, Santa brought me a digital camera. I loved it and took lots of pictures. He must have been watching, because last year he brought me Adobe Photoshop. But of course, being the lazy college student that I am, I never bothered reading the directions, and the pricey software has been sitting on my computer, untouched, for a year. Needless to say, Santa did not bring me anything camera related this year.

When I looked at Fairfield University's RCADE schedule, and saw that they were offering a workshop on Photoshop for beginners, I decided it was time to try and put my dad's well-spent money to use (and by that I mean put Santa's software engineer elf's time spent to use).

When I first got to the workshop, I was surprised to see so many adults (meaning the over 30 crowd, I still can't quite seem to consider myself and adult). Once the class started, it was clear they were there for a reason. The instructor started showing us how to import pictures and how to use a few different tools. It was slow going at first, with a different one of the "adults" needing help every two minutes. After growing up on computers, the students didn't seem to have any issues with the simple stuff. Once the workshop got going, I learned a lot a cool tricks from the instructor.

I learned simple stuff such as taking a dark photo:

Image hosting by Photobucket

And brightening it up:

Image hosting by Photobucket

And more complex stuff such as taking a photo:

Image hosting by Photobucket

And doing all kinds of crazy stuff to it:

Image hosting by Photobucket

I'm glad I went to the workshop because now I can actually use the program that's been sitting on my computer for ages, and I actually had a lot of fun doctoring up all my photos.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Need a little extra cash?

Feeling drunk and reckless? Go ahead, break some mirrors, streak through the quad on one of the most somber days of the century. Heck, why not even throw some water out the window at your fellow classmates? They won't mind. Plus, you'll probably be paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for it!

I was appalled when I read Kelly Sheehan's article "Former student sues Fairfield, awarded $111,000" in Fairfield University's The Mirror.

The article describes a court case that a former Fairfield student, Bill Rom, took up against the University. The student was expelled from Fairfield University after a plethora of disciplinary problems which he brought upon himself. Now, Rom feels that Fairfield owes him...
"Rom graduated from college a year after he should have because Rutgers did not accept all his credits, according to The Connecticut Post. He said he deserves the tuition money he lost from Fairfield and the money he would have made at his job if he had graduated on time."

The fact that Rom was actually awarded money baffles my mind. Apparently the moral of the story here is it pays to cause trouble. How could any jury actually blame Rom's problems on Fairfield? He knowingly commited all his devious acts, and what did he expect to happen? Rom clearly thought that Fairfield and society would think that it is ok to do the things he did, and the jury's decision affirms that it is, in fact, okay, it's even to be rewarded. Is something wrong here?

Now, maybe it is that Rom has changed since his crazy college days, and the jury saw some nice, innocent, wronged man. But, oh wait, let's take a look at what else The Mirror reported. "Under his job description on a personal website, he wrote, 'I help people save and invest their money. I plan for people's future[s]. The funny this is I blow my paycheck on strippers, booze and drugs every weekend. Go figure.'" Sounds like a real winner.

So kids, when you find yourselves slipping into debt, you know what to do: go out, get drunk, then do your best to get kicked out of school. It'll pay big.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Technology has changed, but attitudes haven't...

I can remember back about 11 years, to the time when my dad first brought home this strange thing called the world wide web. My sister and I were enthralled and couldn't believe that we could actually talk to people live in the Nickelodian Blabbatorium chatroom. I remeber we had three trial memberships, to AOL, Prodigy and Tiac... I don't even think the last 2 still exist. After the trial periods were over, we decided on AOL. To this day my dad still complains that he should have invested in AOL when he saw how into it we were.

I started tinkering around with making websites. AOL had a template were you could just put in info and it would make the page for you. I thought I made the best pages (something about "I love cats" and perhaps a tribute to Dawson's Creek...), and back then they were pretty good. But today I wouldn't stand a chance and know no more html than I did back then when I thought I knew so much.

Back then, making websites was the huge, cool thing to do. Today, it's blogs. Biz Stone's book Who Let the Blogs Out? highlights some of the similarities between the two crazes.

One of the major components of having a good blog is having a large audience. When you know people are actually reading your blog, you're motivated to keep it updated and keep it interesting. The best way to get publicity for your blog is through links. This has not changed much since the days when websites first started coming out. When I had my silly little homepages, I would join all kinds of webrings and try to get "awards" that people gave out so that I would have links to my site floating out there. It actually worked and people actually looked at my site. Of course, back in the day if you got 20 hits in a week that was considered awesome. People with blogs do the same thing today. There are all kinds of ways for links to blogs to be put out. Stone discusses blogrolling, which is where you can make a list of your favorite blogs. Lots of people also link to blogs in their own blogs, and some people even leave spam comments just to get their links out there. Technorati.com even makes updates lists of what blogs have the most links to them.

Stone is often asked if the "blog bubble will burst," and he says that it will, but that doesn't mean that blogging will be forgotten. He uses the example of Napster. When filesharing first came out, it was huge. The excitement about it died down, but more people than ever fileshare now. The same goes for my example of websites. Ten years ago, making a website was the most exciting thing in the world. Stone mentions that there was actually a site keeping track of all the new sites as they were put up. Today there are millions of site and that would be impossible. Making websites isn't really exciting anymore, it's now a necessity, and more people than ever are doing it. The same thing will happen with blogging. The hype may die down, but it will continue to grow.

Technology is advancing at an alarming rate, and new things are popping up all the time. Blogging is the cool thing right now, but before we know it there will be something else!

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Neuromancer, part deux

When I first began reading "Neuromancer" I was waiting to find out who or what this thing actually was. When I was halfway through the book and still hadn't hear of the elusive, eponymous character and/or thing, I began to forget that that was even the title of the novel. Not until the very last pages do we discover what Neuromance actually is.

Neuromancer turns out to be a major AI that Case has been trying to crack. Case goes into a sort of virtual dream world where he is stranded on an island with Linda Lee. He meets a young, dark, native boy named Rio. But it turns out that he is not a real boy after all, this body is just the form that Neuromancer is taking. After talking with the AI, Case discovers that Wintermute has merged with Neuromancer, and has now become a superpower in the world of technology. The novel is titled Neuromancer because throughout the entire book, Case is searching for this AI. Neuromancer, and everything associated with it, is basically controlling every aspect of life in this novel. Case's whole purpose in life seems to be to find this AI, and doesn't stop until he finally does.

William Gibson, creator of "Neuromancer"

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

"Miss Erma" misses the mark

Before starting this site, I had no real idea what blogging was, and I certainly had no idea how popular is was. Now, it seems like it's all around me! After reading about local Connecticut blogs in the New York Times article "Dear Blog: It's Another Day in Connecticut" (Oct 9, 2005), and visiting some of the blogs mentioned, I stumbled upon the musings of Miss Erma.

In this blog, "Miss Erma" [see photo below] is a college student from Groton, CT, getting ready to pursue a career in the real world. She writes on a plethora of random topics, including fasion and shopping, college life and classes, music and television, and important issues.

When taking Bernstein's 10 tips into account, this is only a mediocre blog. Miss Erma writes about many random topics, but doesn't really seem to be passionate about one certain thing. Some of the entries are well constructed, but in some it seems that she doesn't have anything profound or specific to write about. Miss Erma often writes about events in her everyday life which may be interesting to her friends, but don't mean much to an outside reader such as myself. For example, she has a list of "Memorable Events of 2005," but personally I don't care that she went on 2 trips to NYC. However, she does seem to be careful to avoid inside jokes and explains why she does what she does. She doesn't assume the reader was there with her, so that if her writing did happen to interest an outside reader, they could follow along pretty well. Some entries are entertaining, such as "Fasion Dos and Don'ts: the College Edition." If all of her entries were clever musings such as this, the blog might be more appealing to an outside reader.

Berstein also says to "write often." Miss Erma seems to be very inconsistent in how often she writes. Sometimes she will post 3 entries in one day, and other times she will go two weeks without writing anything. This does not make for a good blog, because people get used to reading entries every day, and then they are left hanging for two weeks and will lose interest. Perhaps she just needs more to write about...

Miss Erma could also write a little more tightly. For example, she says "[Don't] Wear shirts that are not long enough to cover your midsection. I can understand the difficulty in finding the right blouse with the right length to match your body type because certain manufacturers intend for their t-shirts to flaunt the belly/lower back region AHEM*MUDD*AHEM but not everyone has a fit tummy, myself included. Don't fret, there is a fit for everyone! You just need to look and try things on." You can't even get through the second sentence without taking a breath in the middle of it. I can understand that she is trying to be clever and funny, and trying to fit in as many jokes as possible. However, the joke gets lost in such long, wordy sentences.

While Miss Erma does have its interesting posts, most of it can be considered just a fancy online diary.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Could my next post get me in trouble?

After reading Michael Berube's article "Blogging Back at the Right," I am more enthused about offering public comments online. When you write something on a weblog, people can instantaneously reply to what you have written. This could be discouraging if many people disagree with what you wrote, or misinterpreted it, and leave a plethora of negative comments. However, if you are writing in a blog, it is much easier to reply back to these people to explain yourself or clear up any misunderstandings. You can also go back into your blog to make things clearer, or change things that were particularly offending to someone. When you are writing offline, once something is printed, it will always be there for people to refer to. With a blog, you can change and clarify what you wrote.

When you publicly comment on issues in a blog, there are advantages and disadvantages. One advantage is that it is instantaneous. If something happens that you want to comment on, you can do it immediately rather than waiting until something is going to be published. You can also update it frequently as more thoughts come to mind. There is also more freedom in writing in a blog. Though you cannot violate libel laws, you are a lot less structured when writing in a blog than you would be in a newspaper, so you can get away with more. You may have a much wider audience when writing in a blog, which could be either an advantage or disadvantage. You want many people to read what you have to say, but with a larger audience, there is the possibility of offending more people. When writing in a blog you need to remember that pretty much anyone can stumble across your writing pretty easily.

A blog entry is different than having something published in The Mirror because it is so much more widely available. Chances are that the only people reading The Mirror are current and former students, parents, faculty, staff, and maybe the occasional town of Fairfield resident. However, when something is published on the internet, anyone in the world can access it relatively easily. Since The Mirror archives now appear online, it actually can also be easily found online. So perhaps, then, a blog is the better way to go since it can offer some anonymity.