Saturday, April 18, 2009

Wrapping up a couple of projects

Tonight I put the final polish on two projects, my new home page, and the blog for Camas School District Superintendent Mike Nerland.
The home page, I suppose, will never be done. But I want to launch it now with the capabilities I have in Flash and then work on refining this idea as I learn new techniques in the program. Flash is a very picky critter, very picky. I originally created a couple of buttons for this oPhone concept a few weeks ago. I came back to it, after my trial period had expired, and I could not remember every little minute switch that needed to be switched to get a darn button to work. So I spent a couple of hours banging my head against my desk, and then I signed back up for ($25 a month). It was money well spent, I guess, because after another hour or two, I was able to figure out the tiny little step I had passed over. Can you tell I was frustrated? Anyway, I finally was able to get the button to work, and, like anything I have done in Flash so far, everything looks so much easier in hindsight. Creating a button, adding sound, etc., have all been a snap once I spent hours and hours going over and over the simple 48-step process. Can someone please explain to me why Adobe can't turn a symbol into a button, then make the button follow one of several commons scripts (such as hyperlinking to another page) or keep the option for a custom script, so all the code monkeys of the world could get their kicks.
I really don't dislike programming. I started writing code in the mid-1980s. I basically get the ideas. But it's so very boring to do, and I'd much rather focus on the bigger picture of realizing my vision. That said, I really like the flexibility of Flash. If I can think of it, I pretty much can do it in this program. That's power!
The second project is the blog for the Camas School District's superintendent Mike Nerland. The last few steps were to snap an interesting photo of him and turn that into a banner, which I did tonight. Nerland and public information officer Doreen McKercher were very appreciate of this effort, and they seemed to learn a lot, which made the whole process worthwhile for me.
Now, I just need to turn all of this experience into a huge academic paper. Better spend my energy on that.

- Brett

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Harvest of human feelings

Ran across this harvester of human feelings, called:

We Feel Fine

Not sure what to make of it yet, but it's interesting to explore.

- Brett

Friday, April 10, 2009

A new form of book,The Vook

I've had an idea in my mind for the past few months, about how the future of writing will be a new form of multimedia art that will have to be established and judged on a new scale. This will include technology we know about today, such as hyperlinking and podcasting and video and images. But I suspect it also will incorporate capabilities that haven't even been invented yet, too.

One group that already gets this is the Electronic Literature Organization. There are a variety of other academics and professionals that see the light.

But I haven't found any mainstream business application attempted until I ran across this piece in the New York Times about a Vook. A Vook is essentially a book with video and other digital attachments woven into it.

The Vook company recently put a call out in the area I live, Portland, Ore., to encourage people to try it:

"Social media/Web Producer
Reply to: [Errors when replying to ads?]
Date: 2009-04-07, 12:03PM PDT

Calling on Portland's creative class. Book junkies, social media mavens we're looking for you too.

This is an opportunity to flex your creative muscles and build your own epic vision of a classic tale.

You may have already read about us in the Times on Sunday ( -- Vook weaves together text, videos, photography and social networking to create a brand new way to experience and interact with books.

We're looking for a handful of tech-savvy, local book lovers who can help us realize this vision. We want you to take your favorite classic book and "Vook" it.

Successful candidates will use our platform and should have:

* A love of fiction, non-fiction, long form and short stories.
* A passion for the web -- natch.
* Familiarity with Wordpress -- a must.
* A clear understanding of social media (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) and how to source copyright-free content on the Internet -- required.
* An arts, design, video production background -- bonus.
* Literary roots -- over the top.

This is a short-term, contract creative position. Work from home, work from Stumptown. Applicants should submit a resume and links to any on-line portfolio(s). Compensation to be on a completed, per-"Vook" basis."

This is somewhat of the Hundredth Monkey Metaphor, in which enough people start thinking about certain new things in new ways that similar technological eruptions happen in different unrelated places (or at least that's how I would describe the condition).

The distinct art forms now -- theater, dance, music, literature, architecture, poetry, opera, painting, sculpture, etc. -- can all blend together in the digital world, through holograms, computer generated imagery, animation, sound, video and words. That doesn't diminish the original form, just changes it. People who don't like change might as well move to a Pacific Island right now, because we've only begun to see the radical changes that we will experience in the next 50 years.

Art, though, is a product of its time. The context, the innovation, the foresight, that is all part of what makes art so interesting and, in some cases, timeless. Could you imagine some nation today deciding to create the Sphinx? Would anyone stop to look at a Jackson Pollock-styled painting hung in a gallery this month? If "Citizen Kane" was released this week as a modern movie, would anyone consider it great? Would anyone even go? It's ridiculous to take these art innovations out of their time, and it's naive to think that every great art form already exists.

Video games to me are the best current example. Two decades ago, it would have been laughable to suggest that the video game could become an art form. Today, I think it's ridiculous not to consider the video game edging toward that type of credibility. In many ways, the video game has gobbled up other art forms, such as photography, cinema and music, and added the interactivity not technologically possible before to grow into a blended form that could surpass them all in terms of impact on society when hundreds of years have passed.

With the Kindle, and other portable and flexible and durable screens being released already, including ones that can be written on by hand (and translated into typed and searchable text), it's only a matter of time before the printed page will be replaced ... just like film in a camera passed its era of relevance. Will the written word ever disappear? I highly doubt it. It's still (and always will be) a powerful and extremely efficient way to communicate. But could the day come when plain old written words on their own are considered antiquated, like cuneiform?

One comment in this New York Times' Vook article that I thought missed the point was:

"Would we have classics like “The Great Gatsby” if F. Scott Fitzgerald was distracted by the need to give Gatsby a Twitter account?"

The fact is that we will never have another "Great Gatsby" or Sphinx or "Citizen Kane." We will have something else, that could very well be equally great in terms of quality, or even better, but only of this time period, under these conditions. We should appreciate that, instead of always lamenting how wonderful things used to be.

- Brett

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Single sourcing and technology

After reading Ann Rockley's piece "The Impact of Single Sourcing and Technology," I was struck by the idea that everyone is dealing with this sort of issue on some level, not just the media and technical writers.

As a print journalist, I have experienced the drastic increase in demands on media folks. It started so simply in the mid-1990s, when some of us in the newspaper business began posting additional context or photos on the Web. By the time I left my staff writing job in 2007, a single newspaper story could easily be transformed and remediated a half dozen times or more in a day. What in the past could have been a two or three hour job instead turned into a full day's work of shifting and updating. That is not necessarily a positive development in an industry that's radically cutting costs and staff. It takes a lot of time to do this sort of remediation and transforming and continual updating, sucking the energy out of the will to produce new stories. In many cases, it creates a paralysis based on the immediacy of the story, a loop of constant checks to see what has changed since the last call, five minutes before. The problem is, things change constantly on any piece, and there's only so much of this polishing that any sane person can do. Even on breaking stories, which generally deserve this sort of attentiveness, I sense that journalists often have become slaves to the story, rather than insightful messengers of what the narrative really means to the world.

Another issue that arose was the default of: Did you create a photo slideshow for that? Did you create a podcast? Did you create a video? Some stories, frankly, don't work well in those media. Some work wonderfully.

Karen Peterson, Executive Editor at The News Tribune in Tacoma, shared a mantra with me once, "pick the right tool for the right job," and maybe that's a nod to Roy Peter Clark's toolbox metaphor, but I think it rings true regardless of the field in which the remediation effort takes place.

If you are creating a piece about something inherently nonvisual, either find the visual angle on it, or don't try to force it into a video or photoslideshow. Same with a podcast. Don't drone on about something that people don't want to hear. My fallback is a dinner party metaphor, would you want to be stuck in a corner with this piece of media? If not, it's not in the right form, or maybe it shouldn't be created at all.

That last point is a critical one. Just because you or I might have an idea, doesn't mean it's a good one. Just because you can make a podcast on constructing a bicycle, doesn't mean you should. The right tool for the right job.

Before remediating any single source material into a dozen forms, it first might be a good idea to ask why? Does the world really need any more static, or noise? Instead of remediating into a dozen forms, would it be more effective to look closely at what you are creating, and choose the best form for it, and really emphasize quality on that form, playing to its strengths? Unless you are running a highly funded marketing or advertising campaign, I doubt that saturation really is the goal. It's probably to make connections with the people who matter in your business. And that isn't a haphazard task. It probably requires a scalpel, not a chainsaw.

I think all of us are getting better and better at tuning out the noise in our lives. Single sourcing, to me, seems like the foundation of propaganda, the spread of a message rather than information. While in some cases it is convenient to just upload the manual to the web, and it might be better than nothing. But in that same amount of time, could something greater have been created?