Saturday, April 26, 2008

Blog Posting #5: Why are you using the scramblers?

This entry is more like a letter to my class rather than a blog entry where I rant about this or that. Well, it's both of these things, actually.

All 18 of my student's blogs are private blogs that the general public cannot access. Only invited classmates and the instructor, and perhaps some friends, can view these blogs. Yet some of you use the "word verification" option regarding people leaving comments. As Dawn Armfield mentioned, word verification can make it very difficult for learning impaired readers to leave comments. Now, as impaired as some claim I am, I don't believe I'm to the point where my ability to read has been affected, but even I cannot make out the letters on the word verification scrambler. Whoever came up with this ideas for word verification had a good idea, expect some of the actual "codes" that readers are supposed to decipher are impossible to read. It took me till the third try to leave a comment for one of you. Three times may be a charm, but I'm you're instructor, not some internet stalker. I was about to leave another comment, but was discouraged by the thought of facing the eye scrambling torturous word verification monster again.

But to get back to the point, this is really a logic thing. You know, related to that word we all love, logos. Well, if only your classmates and I can leave comments, why enable word verification?

Apparently I need to incorporate more lessons about that sense that is supposed to be common.


Thursday, April 24, 2008

Blog Posting #4: Awesome Web Sites for Geeks (and "normal" people too)

This is going to be one of my regular geeky entries, because I'm your instructor and if anyone gets this far in education, it's highly likely that they are a geek. So if you find yourself a Master's student one day, especially if you're a teaching assistant, you're probably a geek, so get out that mirror and bask in the geekyness.

New favorite web site #1: Bookmooch

Bookmooch is awesome. Why is it awesome, you ask? Well, I have some books sitting around that I never plan on reading again. This isn't generally likely as a Literature major, that I'd not want to keep a book on some merit, but it does happen. With Bookmooch I can add these unwanted, unloved books to my inventory for people to choose from and request if they have any points to give.

This site works on a points system. List a book, get 1/10th of a point. Someone requests a book, get 1 point. If you’re willing to ship outside of your country of residence, it costs the moocher 2 points, but you get 3 for your extra costs. That’s right. Last year (or the year before) the USPS pretty much did away with any cheap international shipping. Once you’ve received a book that’s been shipped to you, kindly let your giver know that you’ve received said book and you get another 1/10th of a point.

It’s generally a better deal than buying a used book at half off cover price, since you can ship your unwanted books cheaply using the USPS’s “media mail” service. With media mail you can ship books, CDs, DVDs, VHS, and other specific media at really low rates across the entire country. So a 350-page paperback should cost only about $2.00 to send, maybe a little less, maybe more, depending on its size and weight. Some people put $75.00 hardcovers to give away. Now how is that not a bargain for the moocher whose only paid the initial cost of the book (pretty much can’t even consider this once you’ve cracked the spine, so is it really any extra cost?), plus some small shipping fee in order to get such an expensive book?

Don't want to check your wishlist every day? Bookmooch will email you if a book (or a related edition) on your wishlist is added to someone's inventory. I’ve added over 900 books to my wishlist, and it's ever growing.

So far I’ve gotten some Dave Sedaris, a few Star Wars hardcovers (usually $27.00 SRP), Stephen Hawking, and some new Star Wars paperbacks. It’s been pretty exciting getting some pricey books for next to nothing. Try it out. Use of this service is free, but as mentioned, there are shipping costs, which can add up quickly if you’ve got books that are really in demand.

New favorite web site #2: Shelfari

Shelfari is awesome, because it is a free service that allows me to keep track of which books I’ve read and which books I own, favorite books, books on my wishlist, all books, books I plan to read, and books I am currently reading. I’ve added “tags,” or category labels, to help me further catalog and identify certain books more quickly. Overall though, the general organization of shelves in each category mentioned above (favorites, owned, etc.) can be arranged by title, author, date added, date read, date reading, rating, review, or custom.

This is good, because with so many books, it can sometimes be difficult to keep track of what I’ve read and what I own. It made me realize I own way too many (500+) books (is this a bad thing?). So far I’ve only listed my Arizona collection. I’ve got tons more books back in New York in “storage” at my parents’ place. I suppose I should get those when I go back and try to shrink my collection some.

Want to know if you should read a particular book? Ask the community and people who've already read the book can let you know what they thought of that book and will let you know if they think you might like to read it, based on your favorite, or owned books.

Kind of like Myspace or Facebook, you can also make friends there and join groups. Occasionally authors have accounts here, so you can possibly communicate with some of your favorite authors directly through use of Shelfari. If you’re a writer yourself, it’s probably a good way to get in touch with a potential audience, especially if you’re published.

There is one flaw with Shelfari, but so far I’ve noticed it’s primarily when adding Trade Paperbacks (collections of several comics in a single book) and graphic novels where somehow the same title has been applied to books with completely different ISBNs (An ISBN is the code number used to identify books, kind of like a UPC barcode or student ID number). So I’ve got three different Captain America books that I’ve tried to add to my shelf, and each book has a unique ISBN, yet only one title shows up. It makes no sense. I’ve emailed them about this and the representative mentioned that this is a problem that is being worked on and that they are expanding their database. Hopefully it will be resolved soon.

Additional issues being worked on, according to the friendly response I received, will be the ability to add several editions of the same book to your shelf, so if you really like two or three different covers of some book, say Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, and they’re all the same ISBN, you’ll be able to add all three to your shelf. Another feature being worked on is the ability to upload images of book covers that are currently not in the database. Since some books have been in print all around the world for over 100 years, there may be dozens upon dozens of varying covers for a single book that have not yet made it into Shelfari’s database.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Blog Posting #3: Arguing about Star Wars and the Artist

So a student emails me and asks, "Just a random question for you. Which Star Wars movies are better, episodes I-III or episodes IV-VI? and why?"

My long-winded response:
s this a test?

The original trilogy. George Lucas wrote the screenplays for the
prequels and they are pretty bad. Oddly enough my girlfriend and I are
currently going through each one. We watched Phantom Menace the other
night and it was pretty unbearable. Maybe a 2 out of 5 stars, but
mostly for special effects. Lucas also directed the prequels, and most
of the actors were not allowed to actually act. A lot of the delivery
of lines is pretty lifeless, making the prequels lack heart. The
original three had different directors and screenwriters, with the
exception of A New Hope. Lucas wrote and directed it, but he was
younger then and it seems many artists lose something with age, some
youthful vigor that allows them to create masterpieces filled energy.
While in their older age, one might think they should be able to
create masterpieces whose success lies/lays not in the energy so much
as the craft. In age, filmmakers, painters, writers, etc. should have
likely learned more about their craft, and where they lack that
certain energy of youth, they make up for it in skill.

Revenge of the Sith is pretty good, but it certainly has its
exceptionally bad parts, such as Padme dying of a broken heart,
Palpatine sounding like Gollum as he transforms, and Vader screaming,
"Nooooo!" No thank you. At least the final battle with Anakin and
Obi-Wan is an emotional one. Lucas' use of pathos there is pretty damn
good, with the music, the actors, the scenery, etc. Though I'm not
sure of that emotional resonance comes more from the previous two
films as opposed to the results of that fight, which are what the
next(previous) three films are about.

Again, if I were 6 years old and watching the prequels versus the
originals, I might have a different point of view. The special effects
in the 70s and 80s are certainly different from the CG of today's
films. It's like comparing apples with oranges, perhaps.

Of course my view is biased by my age. Not that the originals have the
best acting at all times, and dialogue, but then again, a lot of those
films were cutting edge in many ways, whereas these days every other
summer movie has special effects as good as the next film, making the
real thing that matters is the heart or lack thereof.


PS: Were you expecting some drawn out answer to this?