UMW on iTunesU

-Vodcast tour of campus, because it is pretty
-Vodcast tour of historical Fredericksburg setting
-campus club intros
-performing ensembles (bagpipes, a capella, etc)
-SHH (Students Helping Honduras)

-professor bios
-sample classes
-Education program would be impressive (the program is very strong)
-New Media courses are unique and would merge easily with podcasts
-readings from our Poet Laureate, Claudia Emerson would be prestigious
-Great Lives podcasts would be unique
-Historic Preservation podcasts would be unique
-Literature in Performance presentations would be entertaining
-Debate classes are often recorded anyway
-new Women’s Studies major

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Thing 15: Images/Photos

I get to blog… about internet images?

No, okay, I’ve done enough about animated .gifs. (Almost.) And since you probably already know about Flickr, let me show you the Flickr map, a neat little gadget that gives you a clickable map to browse through. It’s not very expansive, but every photo on the map is a gorgeous representation of its region.

And not unlike Wikipedia, you can get caught up in links that lead to links that lead to links. The map lead me to this picture of New York, which lead me to the sidebar to show the other photos in the set, which also included this cityscape, which reminded me that I love dinosaurs, leading me to search for some more, and I found a t-rex tat, which reminded me that I love tattoos, especially bad ones on other people. All that brought me to this, which is my new favourite picture of the week.

Part of what makes Flickr so strong is the amount of professional work that’s uploaded and shared. Even people who aren’t personally photographers, and maybe even don’t want to share their vacation photos, can participate by browsing and commenting and are motivated to do so by how freaking gorgeous some of the photos are. Not to mention that you never knew you wanted an octopus on your back until just now.

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Thing 13: Forums

(Thanks, Toothpaste for Dinner)

Okay, we get it. Usenet is old. Usenet is actually super old. If internet years were like dog years – and they are – then Usenet could be your grandmother. But the reason we still talk about it is because it started a trend that got incorporated into nearly every aspect of the World Wide Web. As… soon as the World Wide Web was started, anyway. Usenet is actually older than it.

(I know.)

I’ve actually already blogged about several websites that use forum-style threaded conversations. Sick of Livejournal yet? Yes? Too bad. Livejournal’s “comments” section, which are beneath every post in a community or personal journal unless the poster specifically removes that option, open up compressed threads more conveniently when there is reply after reply after reply after reply after… yeah.

And if you clicked on any of those links, you’ll notice that everybody has a little icon by their username which is 100 pixels by 100 pixels. Even in the more traditional boards, these are pretty common – although they’re often 75×75 or even 50×50. DeviantArt makes great use of their message boards, especially the ones that show up underneath every individual piece of artwork. This is great for people to leave constructive feedback or even just a compliment, although they do tend to get mired down in a plethora of winking faces and other emoticons.

And, actually, can we talk about these things for a second? These little happy faces and banging-their-head-against-the-keyboard-faces and the flirty kissy faces? Because they are tacky. They have been tacky. 1996 is a long time ago, now, and we have moved on to better things like image macros and animated gifs to make our point if words are not enough. Into the future, people! Class up these forums, wherever they might be!

And seriously. No more emoticon images.

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Thing 12: Data Clouds

Huge files are a pain to work on. I’ve got a manuscript I’m editing right now, and it’s over 200 pages – how am I supposed to finish this, let alone at one computer?

Enter the cloud. Shared resources, software and information are provided to computers and other devices on-demand to your computer, handheld device, whatever you need it on. What does this mean? It means the cloud loves you. The cloud *is* love. The cloud wants you to be able to work on your project from any computer, without having to email new versions to yourself over and over. The cloud wants you to have that Lady Gaga mp3 anywhere you go. The cloud wants you to be happy. (And to dance to Lady Gaga.)

It’s not just a glorified flash drive, either – some endless capacity. You can use the cloud to only have secret files that only you can access, or you can change the privacy settings of a file (or several files) so that they can be read or also worked on by the people you choose. That means that this isn’t just convenient for you, it’s convenient for any group you collaborate with for school, for work, whatever. Google Docs is a great place to start if you’re still not sure what it’s all about. If you don’t like the layout, or you want to try something else, don’t worry – there are lots of other cloud sites that do just as much if not more for you, but it’s hard to find a better price than free, especially when your starting storage is so generous. And when I’m done with Google Docs, I can go right up to the bar at the top and click over to my email. And right back. Perfect.

(The cloud does love me.)

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Thing 11: RSS

(Thanks, ByteLove)

When I first started Livejournal, people explained the site as a blog website with “friends page” that was like an RSS feed for your buddies. I had no idea what that meant, but I knew that it was an online thing I could use to keep in touch with friends that had already (gasp) graduated high school. So why not use it?

Turns out RSS feeds are actually pretty useful, even though I’ve only just begun using them (and, actually, incorporated them into my livejournal friends list.) I hadn’t even been paying attention, but it’s what added writer/creator Warren Ellis to my list, as well as the comparatively mild Questionable Content for all my hipster comic needs. It’s also useful for friends who have moved to other blogging sites (like the DreamWidth beta, for one) that I want to keep up with. In that way Livejournal allows me to post my own content and have a one-stop-page to check my other LJ friends, non-LJ friends, and non-friends. (I would call Warren Ellis my friend except I have never met him and he scares me.)

But what about an actual legitimate RSS reader? I just went to Google’s, suspecting that I wouldn’t even have to register, and I was right. Since I already have a Gmaila account, I just entered in my username and password for that, and bam! I had my own Reader. Not only that, it was suggesting five people that I might want to ‘follow’. How did it know? Because those five people are on my Gchat in Gmail. Interconnected much?

But actually, what do I need to put in this thing? I’ve got Livejournal for friends’ blogs, and I’ve got Facebook for friends’… faceposts. And each of those is already a little interwoven with the blogosphere, pulling in a few internet celebrities and webcomics here and there. Maybe Google Reader would be a more comprehensive hub for non-friend stuff. Maybe it would be redundant. Upon checking, I could use it to check in on my livejournal communities. Okay, that’s definitely recursive. Hmm. Well, at least I can plug in a few news sites that I’ve been meaning to keep up with but always forget about. That could be a…

…wait, Helen Thomas retired indefinitely?

Okay, I found a use for this.

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Thing 10: Tagging

As I look at the tag cloud right now, which sits nicely in the upper left hand corner of this very blog, there are three phrases which are biggest, indicating they are the most used:

-terrible people

Two of those are kind of redundant, I guess, but it’s terrible people that surprised me. Clicking on it, I realized I used that tag both for talking about Facebook execs and for for Andrew Wakefield. Well, that makes sense. And since I have fewer than a dozen posts, something used twice would be biggest. As the blog grows, those words will probably shrink to medium size as other stuff comes along. (Comics will probably stay big. I work comics into my blog posts as often as possible.)

I stopped using back when it was, well,, and I can’t even remember why. Since then my biggest tagging experiences have been when I finally broke down and started using them on my personal journal. Livejournal had just added the feature a couple months ago, and it helps if I’m trying to find a link, story, or conversation that happened more than three weeks ago. My sense of time is vague at best. It’s way better to click through a list of concepts like “university”, “family”, “writing”, “awkward turtle” than trying to remember if that thing that happened a month to three months ago was on a Thursday? Maybe? Or a Friday? Something ending in day.

I’ve got 108 tags on that journal now, and while it sounds out of control, about 3/4 of them are for writing. I found that if I tagged stories I wrote with the genre and all the characters, I could go back later and search by character to see how much I’d written on somebody and what was missing. Excellent.

What I really admire, though, is a community called ONTD_Political. The name comes from an earlier community called Oh No They Didn’t, or ONTD for short, which posts tabloid-like stories about celebrities. ONTD_Political isn’t completely the same in that it’s not scandal-based, but rather globally focused and concentrates on, well, everything.

How do they organize it all, you ask? By tagging religiously. There are, at current count, 1,097 tags that the poster can employ, often using several at a time for one news article. Immigration has 133 uses. The RNC has 32. Zimbabwe has 19.

And this is a community where I have seen some hardcore tag enthusiasts. A recent Malawi couple’s story became the source for a lot of empathy and sadness, but also lividness as the community commented that not only was the general media misidentifying a transgendered woman as a gay man, but that ONTD_P itself was . Who knew internet tagging could get so political?

Signing out, and double-checking my tags before I publish.

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Blog Post 9: Videos

Videos are amazing. And while we usually think of online videos as both Youtube and amateur, it’s important to remember that television stations and music artists are learning to use Youtube as well, making their own official channels to show previews of upcoming episodes and putting up official versions of music videos. (And in both cases, you can subscribe to the posters (BBC or Island Records) which will keep you updated on what’s new and be reliably high-quality and relevant, as opposed to individuals who upload miscellaneous videos and might not be worth checking up on on a regular basis.

Youtube is also great for seeing content that was, say, only aired in Japan. Did you ever think about how much you wanted to see Wolverine drink iced tea and then dance? You probably didn’t, but now that I’ve told you it exists you know you want to see it.

Independent movies can use the Youtubes for creating buzz, putting up trailers when they might not be able to afford tv advertising. Up-and-coming comedians are benefiting too; it’s as competitive as the music scene, so being to show a potential venue that your stuff has been well-received before is helpful. (So’s the hit count.)

Of course there’s all the copyrighted content as well, but what can get interesting is the derivative stuff that people have created out of already-existing films and television. As much as Youtube has a reputation for being a time-killer or full of dogs on skateboards, there’s useful stuff as well. We can’t forget the educational stuff, and even examples of why we shouldn’t let magazines make us feel bad.

And if you still need convincing that Youtube is worth all the rubbish that gets posted in those 9,000 hours that’s uploaded per day… perhaps a laughing baby will convince you.

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Blog Post 7: Second Life

How did I get here? Why is there a manta ray?

If I told you I didn’t know anything about virtual worlds I’d be lying. I’ve taken enough classes in the English department to have studied them, and I had a nerdy enough childhood that I played my share of MOOs and MUDs as a kid. I even played a little WoW. Don’t judge me. It doesn’t count if you get bored before level 40.

But even the WoW experience is only helping me so much here. My virtual arm keeps virtually reaching for… something… making it look like I’m either trying to shield my face from an attack or, alternately, like I’m trying to bend my elbow around the nape of my neck. What do I keep clicking? How do I unclick? Why do I have to do this on a campus computer, where the load times make it look as if Second Life isn’t already there so much as being built up around me as I stand there and wait for ‘W’ to move me forward?

Don’t get me wrong – it’s not all bad. Any game where you don’t have to level up and pay huge piles of gold and a mount to start flying is a game I probably approve of. Page up, Page down, ‘Stop flying’. Simple enough. For all the possible useful uses of this technology, all I really want to do is float around and maybe cross a few oceans. For all the possible interactions I could have with other internerds, I think I’ve already found my favorite spot in the whole place:

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Blog Post 6: Internet Source Reliability

For every reliable Routers source on the internet, there are ten Rainbow Conspiracy Ladies. People who have dial-up, but maybe not a high school degree – people who just plain don’t know what they’re talking about.

What’s nice about Rainbow Conspiracy Lady is that she’s laughable. She’s one clueless woman with a camera, a backyard and a sprinkler who accidentally exposed her ignorance to the world – and we get to sit back and giggle, knowing that only people as hopeless as she is will actually get concerned about ‘whatever’s in our water’.

If you like that sort of thing, also try out the Dihydrogen Monoxide awareness website, which almost looks credible if you squint – again, this site is pretty funny because it’s not actually out to get anyone. It’s kind of Stephen Colbert-styled in its use of verbal irony:
“Unfortunately, some have seen fit to fill many thousands of web pages with purposely slanted propaganda meant more to titillate and sensationalize than to inform. The following “information” about Dihydrogen Monoxide is what you’ll commonly find on the Internet. The Dihydrogen Monoxide Research Division does not endorse the use of such scare tactics, particularly when telling people about the invisible killer, Dihydrogen Monoxide.”

Unfortunately for us, not all incorrect information is clueless or meant as a joke. There is a huge profit to be had from misinformation, and there are enough niches in the science world that the average person doesn’t understand that the right person with the right credentials can make a mint off of lying.

The first thing that pops up in google for Andrew Wakefield is "andrew wakefield fraud". Check it out.

Enter Andrew Wakefield, one of the most infamous names in the medical community. Wakefield is a UK doctor – that is, he was a doctor, until very recently – who made a living off of scaring mothers and expecting mothers about infant vaccines. While he got book deal profits and benefited from law suits against hospitals and governments, Great Britain suffered the consequences of families that were wrongly informed and not properly treating their newborns. Wakefield had claimed that the MMR vaccine (among others) could cause autism and other serious health risks in otherwise healthy children. Despite countries all over the world stating that the evidence for this was flawed at best, people love a conspiracy. Wakefield continued claiming that more papers would be published soon with more solid links between the thimerosal in vaccines and autism. The internet was swarmed with misinformation and online communities for expecting moms began supporting each other in talking to their doctors about skipping early-childhood vaccinations that would have saved their children from measles and worse. The above link to the Irish measles epidemic is from 2001, but that doesn’t mean this is old news. There are still plenty of families that plan on having children and not getting them their shots for this exact reason.

And why would Wakefield do this? For the money. Wakefield got over £400,000 by lawyers trying to prove that the vaccine was unsafe. And if you’re hoping that maybe those lawyers were also doctors, I’m sorry to disappoint you.

This year CNN reported on even further evidence disproving the autism/vaccination connection, but sadly the damage has already been done. By definition a conspiracy must be denied by those in charge. The misinformation is still being perpetuated by the under-informed, the wrongly-informed, and the just plain scared. And the worst part is that it’s the newborns that suffer the consequences. I hope Wakefield spent all that money on something really great.

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Blog Post 5: Research Tools

I want to post about WebMD. Because I am obsessed with it.

I’m going to start by telling you what a hypochondriac is, however, because it’s relevant to WebMD and other resources like it. Hypochondriasis is ‘an excessive preoccupation or worry about having a serious illness’. Everyone knows somebody that has at least some of these traits – that person that gets a bad cough during flu week and is obsessed with the idea that they might have cholera. Do they have a headache? It must be a migraine. Every time.

Lots of people, even mentally healthy people, can worry too much about their health. It’s pretty natural – we’re worried about what we don’t understand, and the majority of us know very little about how it is we keep waking up in the morning alive. We’re pretty sure it has to do with eating every day, and oxygen, and maybe blood levels, but shows like House MD get us concerned that maybe that leg jiggling that happens in our sleep is actually a clogged artery. That will kill us. To death.

And so, with our natural concerns being amplified by medical shows that are often both scary and completely inaccurate, we head to the internet. Because you don’t need to buy Grey’s Anatomy anymore, or the specialized enormous tomes that focused specifically on small, innocuous symptoms that really mean you have a deathly illness. (And, yes, they do exist.) Now you just need to log on and self-diagnose.

And there is the problem. The ‘Symptom Checker’ on WebMD has been especially panned for oversimplifying issues and leading would-be patients to false conclusions. The Symptom Checker, which I encourage you to try out for yourself, asks for your age, sex, zip code, and email – I assume it only uses the first 2 things for diagnostic purposes – and from there you literally just start clicking on what hurts.

As an example, I entered in that I had nasal congestion, runny nose, and sneezing. Pretty generic. While most of the suggestions are benign (indoor allergens, common cold and hay fever come up first), it also suggests that I might have ‘nasal polyps’ or ‘whooping cough’. Or… West Nile virus. (Maybe I should get to the Health Center.)

And the thing is, all of these are technically possible. What we as a Didn’t-Attend-Med-School community need to keep in mind, however, is that even having a reputable medical textbook isn’t the same as going to a doctor. The internet doesn’t know your medical history – and if it ever asks you for it, please, for the love of all that is good and secure, don’t give it what it wants. Trained doctors will always outrank click-through questionnaires, no matter how good the Flash is, and while resources like WebMD can be invaluable for sudden medical situations or the occasional question, remember that you pay that insurance premium for a reason. Get those yearly checkups on time and leave the wildly uneducated guesses to Dr. Nick.

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