Liberal Studies This Week

Sharing your experience as an online student

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Monsters and Myths and my Obsession with Zombies

After a grueling semester of reading a dozen or so memoirs, three Beatle books, and countless web-based links, I'm beginning to understand that online LIS majors better deserve Pinkerton's motto of "We Never Sleep." Indeed, the ever present reddened eyes of LIS majors are strained, dried, and yearning for a much needed rest.

But I couldn't help opening the book for this summer's MPH478 course entitled, The Body of Frankenstein's Monster by Cecil Helman. I'm sure most of you already know, but it seems I always have to remind myself that Frankenstein is not the monster, but rather the Swiss doctor who egotistically offered us mankind's first abomination as well as the "mad scientist" myth. I've only read the introduction and the first few chapters, but so far Helman's book magnificently explains my obsession with the supernatural and how it plays into our psyche.

For those like me who are fascinated by monsters and zombies (I know you're hiding somewhere out there) this book addresses the physical connection to these fascinations, and most important, why all this has stood the test of time. It's a very good read thus far.

Although I get a little frightened when a four credit course requires only one book, I'm really looking forward to it nevertheless.

Gotta love liberal studies!


I'm still fine tuning this project but I wanted to throw it out there to get some feed-back.

I think I've mentioned Prezi in the past. I've always hated PowerPoint but Prezi is slick enough that I'm willing to ignore my dislike of presentation software. It allows the user to not only present information, but to present it visually in a way that reinforces the content. In this example, I've been able to plot out a structure that, to some extent, illustrates a seemingly complicated curriculum AND I'm able to fly around the illustration to present the details.

General thoughts on the iPad.

Okay, I may be a fanboy but I like the iPad. Is it just a big iTouch? Yes, but the first thing I thought when I used an iTouch nearly three years ago was “this would be great if it were bigger.”

The combination of an A4 data processor and solid state memory adds up to the fastest computer I’ve ever used. You can expect responses measured in fractions of a second.

The display is beautiful and the sound is surprising full given the tiny speaker port. I used the ABC app to watch the Jamie Oliver program that I missed when it was first broadcast and it was such a satisfying experience that I can imagine watching programs on the iPad rather than recording them on my DVR and watching them on my large screen television.

The touch screen is VERY sensitive. I didn’t have a problem with this but family members, who are not iPhone users, noted that they were having trouble controlling the touch-based operating system.

I didn’t spend a lot of time outside using the iPad so I don’t know that I can give you a definitive answer on whether you could read a book in full sunlight. Bright sunlight is clearly not the optimal viewing environment. The screen image does lose some of its crispness in sunlight but it is still remarkably easy to see details on the screen. If I were to guess, the problem will not be the image on the screen but the reflection on the screen.

As much as I like the hardware, it will be the software that makes or breaks this new class of touch-tablets – there will be many released this year including the Joo Joo which is now available. At this point, there are not a lot of apps so I feel a bit like a new sports car owner who’s only allowed to drive in a parking lot.

ABC, Netflix, USA Today, BBC, New York Time and all have great apps. They have taken advantage of the iPad’s operating system and created custom browsers that present their content brilliantly. Apple has added a lot of finish to simple things like contacts, calendars, iTunes and the app store, and the Safari browser. Without a doubt, the iPad email client is the best I’ve ever used. I’ll admit, I’m not sure that I’ll like typing long emails on the virtual keyboard but I’m not sure there’s a better way to read emails and keep in touch with friends and family.

I’m really looking forward to new software as it is developed but there are a few things that I think Apple should add to the operating system.

Okay, the iPad is primarily designed to consume information and not to create it but that doesn’t mean that I don’t need the ability to print. Most of the apps allow me to email information, which is a way to get data of of the iPad, but why not give me a wireless printing option? Yes, there are wireless printing apps but this ability should be native to the OS.

In the same vein, I bought Pages and Numbers (think Word and Excel if you’re a Windows person.) These apps allow me to save to, which is fine I suppose, but there are other clouds – why not MobileMe or Google Docs? The more Apple allows me to move data off and on the iPad wirelessly, the more likely it will fit into my lifestyle.

As I was considering this, I began to think of the iPad as a portable device and the iPhone as a mobile device. The iPad is easy to carry around the house or pack up and take to work or to Starbucks but the iPhone fits in my pocket and is with me at all times. They should work in tandem.

For example, as I was playing with the app, I noticed that with one touch, I could create a shopping list for each recipe. What good is that shopping list if it stays on the iPad and I have to lug its fragile glass screen to the grocery store? Why not a “send to iPhone” option? This way, iPad allows me to consume information, in this case a recipe, and iPhone would allow me to carry necessary information that I need into the world.

Friday Fun - cat humor

Yes, yes, Internet cat humor is trite but this one features a cat that looks just like mine. Moreso, my cat's meow sounds a lot like this cat's 'mouse.'


So about Evernote, it is a place on the web to save notes. That's it, nothing more. You can save documents, images, voice memos, emails. You can select text from a webpage and save it or you can archive the entire webpage for future use. You can add labels to each note to help you with future searches. You can create notebooks to help you organize notes around a central purpose.

To help you, Evernote provides a number of tools. You can log-in to their webpage to organize and access your notes or you can download their software so you can open the client on your desktop - this allows you to drag-and-drop files as you organize them into notebooks. You can download webclippers so that you can save webpages from Internet Explorer, Safari, Firefox, or Chrome. You can use an Evernote client on your smartphone. There is even a growing list of software and hardware options that interface directly with Evernote - Wacom tablet EyeFi photo cards, Lexmark scanners, etc.

So how is this useful? However you make it useful.

Some of their examples include a library of business cards in photo form, the details of your vacation planning, the research you do for making major purchases, a record of your favorite restaurant menus. Its use is totally dependent upon your imagination and needs. I have notebooks to archive webpages which may "inspire" future design projects I might develop, recipes that people recommend, movie reviews.

A free account has a few limitations and includes a banner ad but it is fine for most needs. If you end up becoming a power user, it costs just $45 a year.

Andy thinks too much about technology.

When I was an art major I learned about the concept of negative space. The space around your figure can be as important or more important than the figures themselves. If you’ve never heard of this, consider this simple example.

It’s only recently that I began to consider software and product design in terms of negative space. I’ve always been one to want to know something’s purpose. What’s it for? Tell me about the features? It never occurred to me that a brilliant design might mean leaving questions like these unanswered. By not telling a user a product’s purpose, a designer allows each user to identify its purpose so that unknown potential might be explored. So a product’s purpose need not be limited to its form but can be defined by space in which it exists.

Consider Twitter: what is it? A social network? A marketing tool? A forum for ritual communication? A search engine? A news aggregator? A tool of social justice and democracy? A creative writing medium perfectly suited to metafiction?

Yes, it’s all of these things but not because the creators told us so. They created a simple tool for micro-blogging which people didn’t seem to understand at first. The website was sparse with not a lot of guidance and very limited functionality. The buzz was that users should tell readers what they were doing from moment to moment but this was just what the tech-geeks wrote on their blogs. In practice, it was playground without any rules and it was in this lack of a singular purpose, which may have reduced Twitter to a fad, that so many varied purposes evolved.

I started writing this to introduce why I was recommending Evernote but I’ll leave this to the next post.

Radio Free Springfield.

If you've taken Media from a Liberal Arts Perspective or Computer Mediated Communication, then you know Jim Grubbs. (You may not realize it but he was also one of the professors who designed LIS 301.)

When Jim isn't teaching in the COM program, he is the administrator of our campus radio station, The Prairie Star.

To be clear, we have two radio stations at UIS. We have a traditional broadcast station which is an NPR member. If you're in the area, you can listen to WUIS at 91.9 FM but you can also listen online.

The Prairie Star is an online radio station which acts as a teaching lab. Before the station found its permanent home, it was secretly housed just down the hall from my office and Jim was always gracious to share his progress and even to let me listen in before the official launch.

So, if you must listen to the radio while you do your homework, you might as well make the station The Prairie Star

UPDATE: I received a nice email from Bill Wheelhouse, the General Manager of WUIS. He noted that WUIS is now broadcasting an HD channel - Alternative Public Radio. If you have an HD radio you can tune in to 89.3 in the area or listen to the broadcast online. I'm listening now and the recent music playlist includes Prince - Little Red Corvette, Richard Thompson - I Feel So Good (I love that album), Tears for Fears - Shout, and Run DMC - It's Tricky. That's a lot of variety and nothing like NPR:)

Friday Fun - Cherpumple

What is Cherpumple? Better to watch the video than hear it from me.

It's like repeatedly hitting yourself in the head with a hammer . . .

Last fall I thought: I like the Beatles and Michael Cheney has always been a nice guy, so I’m going to ask him if I can sit in on his online course. He graciously agreed.

Mind you, I’m not really taking the course. I’m reading the assignments and watching the videos and listening to the music but I’m not writing the papers or taking the quizzes. Still, even though I’m only doing half of the work, IT’S A LOT OF WORK! Don’t get me wrong, it’s a reasonable amount of work for the credit I might earn and the books are really good but I work all day and then I have to come home and do homework! What’s up with that? Shouldn’t this be easier?

And, scene.

That was my improvisation of stressed out student but even though my tongue is in my cheek, it doesn’t mean that the feelings aren’t real. The class is a lot of work even though I’ve only taken on half of the work load – and the fun half at that. This stress isn’t new to me. I earned my BA and MA while working full-time. I remember how discouraged I felt keeping up this workload knowing that it was going to take years to reach the goal. Still, even though I remember the experience, I forgot how it felt to balance work and class until last weekend when I spent hours going over the syllabus, reading, and watching 2 long videos. (Of course, I didn’t read the syllabus correctly and I watched the entire videos rather than just the short pieces I was supposed to watch for week one.)

I’m not sure why I thought to post this other than to acknowledge that the memory of my student experience, which I’ve always thought helped me relate to adult students, has become a fading memory without me realizing it. So, it’s good for me to experience this again – but maybe it’s good for you to know that the stress and anxiety will one day be a fading memory.

(By the way, the conclusion of the post title is . . . because it feels so good when you stop.)

Friday Fun - yes, I'm okay being a nerd

Last week, the Consumer Electronics Show took place in Las Vegas. This is the mega trade show which previews all of the things we’ll waste our money on in the coming year (or at least dream about wasting our money on.) Here are the three things that I might consider wasting my money on.

Boxee Box is a software package that hardcore nerds use to watch and interact with Internet content on their television. In the past, you had to create a media server if you wanted to use Boxee on your living room television but now you can buy the Boxee Box. Not only does it stream Internet video to your television, it also can pull your audio and video from your computer through your wireless network. If you have the nerd gene, check out the cool design and look at the backside of that cool remote control.

I sent this link to my wife and her response was just ‘COOL’. The ORB ring is a simple band with a high-resolution display screen. When your cell-phone rings, your ORB ring will vibrate. Look down, and you’ll see the caller ID on the screen. (This is where we get our nerd on.) If you want to talk to that person, take off the ORB ring, twist it and it becomes a Bluetooth headset. It also displays text messages and calendar reminders if you use a smart phone to sync to your calendar.

Do you own a hybrid vehicle? Ever wish you had that technology in a bicycle. If so, Sanyo has the eneloop for you. Okay, I’ll admit, when I was a kid, television promised me a hover car by 2010 so I’m a little disappointed that we ended up with the eneloop but that’s only in comparison to me Jetson-inspired fantasy. You have to admit, this is a pretty neat idea.

Do you take pictures and share them online? You might try the Eye-fi It looks like a traditional media card, because it is with storage up to 8 GB, but it’s also a wi-fi device that allows you to use wireless networks to send your photos to the Internet directly from your camera. Sure, you can buy a digital camera that is wi-fi enabled but what if you already have a digital camera. Just slide the Eye-fi in your media port and you’re ready to go.

And, if you’ve ever wanted to spend a full-year’s salary on a television CES had a lot of options most of which were 3-D enabled. For me, I like the Toshiba Cell TV. No, it’s not a cell phone but a cell computer microprocessor which (if I understand correctly) is capable of as many a trillions FLOPS (calculations) per second. To give you an idea of the computing power here, this television is yet another 3-D enabled television but it is also capable of converting a traditional 2-D broadcast to 3-D on the fly. It also has 512 dimmable zones. (If you’re a nerd you know dimmable zones create deep blacks on a television image and that 512 is 4 to 5 times what you’d expect.)

It’ll cost a fortune but it comes with a terabyte media server, a Ble-Ray player, video phone built in, WiFI and interaction with Netflix, Vudu, Pandora etc AND it has wireless HDMI. Look at the picture and you’ll see a screen and a box. The screen hangs on the wall but the box is the actual television. Its wireless beams its muscle to the screen.

If you want to see more tech from this year's show visit their site

Woohooo! Three day week-ends every month! Oh wait . . .

If you have not yet heard the story, faculty and academic professionals (people like me) will be taking one furlough day per pay period this semester. (We only get paid once a month so it’s not as bad as it sounds.) There has been a lot of debate about how this might affect students. I’m on the fence, what do you think?

The furloughs are due to the fact that the State of Illinois has not actually provided us with much of the money that was allocated to us in the state budget. I’m sure if my understanding is still accurate but we’re 50% of the way through the fiscal year and we’ve been given about 4% of our funding. If there is not impact on students why not do away with our funding altogether? Clearly we don’t need it if we can carry on without it.

On the other hand, I think most would agree with me that we have an obligation to do whatever possible to look out for students’ best interests. Whether I’m paid 100% or 95% of my salary, I don’t punch a clock. I work whatever hours I need in order to get my work done and I’m okay with this because I chose this job. I’m must rather be paid a bit less and work long hours from time to time if I can do the work I do rather than some other job that I don’t value.

So what do you think? Should furloughs be as invisible to you as possible or should we use these days to make a statement?

One way or another, the furloughs probably won’t be completely invisible. You may notice that furlough days are noted in your syllabi or that an email might result in an auto-response about that person taking a furlough day. The fact is that when I take a furlough day, I can’t read emails or return phone calls. (Of course I have free will and could do this but that would create legal/financial difficulties for the university so I won’t.) This is true of everyone else.

So, you may have a dire emergency that only one person can resolve. If that emergency happens on that person’s furlough day, it will not be addressed until the person returns and catches up on the lost work. Of course this is just a what-if. For example, I’m sure the health services and counseling offices aren’t going to completely abandon students. They’ll work to maintain coverage. Still, you may have an issue that seems dire to you. You may have an important question about an assignment and not being to move forward without an answer. In truth, these “emergencies” happen even without furlough days. (What is the saying?: one person’s emergency is another person’s lack of planning.)

Hopefully, these days will pass as painlessly as possible but do realize that a furlough day might result in a delayed response.