I finally managed to put my project preview up on YouTube — which allowed me to put it up on WordPress. I’m not much better with iMovie now, but, at the risk of arrogance, I am better.

Scholar Electric Draft

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I’m not quite sure how the opening to the story goes. “I was looking at the woman in the clearance bra but was distracted by an article about teen girls coding.” Or maybe, “I kept trying to click away the ad in the middle of my article before remembering I wasn’t reading news online.” Maybe: “Popular article connecting to my academic interests serendipitously rewards me for not flipping directly to news about Michigan’s Final Four run.”

No matter the story of the encounter, on April 4th, 2013, the Detroit Free Press ran an article called “Group looks to get more teen girls into computer programming” by Megha Satyanarayana, a staff writer. Initially stunned that such a column was not syndicated from a national source, I found that an event in Detroit this coming July (put on by the nonprofit Girls Who Code) prompted the local coverage. Most strikingly, at least at first, was the layout: the article unfolds like a waterfall, wrapped around a Macy’s advertisement.

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That design-quirk noted, the article contains a history of the organization, quotes from the founder, scary statistics on women and coding, reasons for the Detroit camp, and information on signing up.

I became interested in gender stereotypes in new media after I spent some time researching the crisis rhetoric around boys and literacy that started around 2000. Amidst stories of “wars on boys” and “women leaving men in the dust,” came pedagogical recommendations that sounded like pop songs (“Make’em Laugh,” “Let’s Get Physical,” etc.). One stereotype-cum-teaching strategy that popped up now and again went something like this: “boys don’t like reading” but “boys do like computers” so “boys should read (and write) on computers.” Basically, it seemed to me, some were reacting to stereotypes (and, to be fair, test scores) about boys and literacy by trying to offer some sort of pedagogical portmanteau in the sense that Wikipedia says Lewis Carroll first imagined portmanteau: put boys, reading, writing, computers, and maybe some violent video games into a suitcase and shake like hell.

I suggested that this idea might serve to strategically, hegemonically leave female students out of the new language / technology of power. If the supposed new media, high-tech economy gendered stereotypically male, then women might be stuck enjoying the subtlety of Great Books while being systematically kept away from great jobs. The Free Press article points to the stats: the sex distribution is nearly 50 – 50 on jobs in medicine and chemistry, but “in computer science as a whole, women made up 25% of the work force…, 23% of programmers, 20% of the software developers and 34% of web developers.” In the world of stereotypes, I can’t help but wonder if that is partly because people envision the holders of those jobs like Nick Burns, “your company’s computer guy,” from Saturday Night Live.

Most interestingly of all, at least to me, is how the article (and perhaps Girls Who Code as an organization) tries to recast existing stereotypes to address the original stereotype. Reshma Saujani, the founder of Girls Who Code, is paraphrased by the article as saying, “The issue…is women’s perception that the field is made up of white males often working alone.” Stereotypes about computer science jobs certainly seem to be a motivating factor for the organization. The response? Further layers of stereotypes. The article refers to the event this summer as a “boot camp” and suggests that teen girls want jobs that “change lives.” As Cinda Davis, director of the Women in Science and Engineering Program at the University of Michigan, suggests, “Girls want to help people.” A former participant in the program notes that she “bonded with the other girls in the group.” Oddly, the essentialized ideas are not even gender consistent: a boot camp to help people seems to index a drill sergeant screaming that your candy ass better collaborate on some ideas to help those orphans or you’ll owe 1000 lines of code.

To what end these comments? In a certain sense, I’m trying to react as honestly as possible to an article I recently stumbled across. I certainly have no aim of presenting a solution to complex problems like sexism in the workplace or over-stereotyping. I do, however, mean to point out a possible problem in accepting one stereotype (women are more caring than men) to solve the problems created by another one (men know about computers). A more thoughtful solution might involve interrogating the basis of these stereotypical assumptions while still understanding the very real work gender essentialism does for people. Girls Who Code, for example, seems a likely source for beginning to narrate a counterstory to computer science as a male domain. Nothing grinds at exclusive stereotypes like active, discovery-based participation. To be sure, the group immediately challenges the image of “white males…working alone,” but, at least as presented in the article, tries to call on the same binary-based stereotypes that helped to start the exclusion in the first place. Still, my hope is that Girls Who Code represents a still-forming sentiment of awareness and advocacy about access issues. That sentiment might be taken-up and enacted at a more local level by teachers, parents, school clubs, community groups, whoever. It really might be something as simple as the AP Computer Science teacher thinking hard about why no female students take (we’ll say) her class. The distant stereotypes will still exist, but, like the article eroding the edges of the Macy’s ad, local work can make an impact on distant ideas.

An Unpacked Suitcase

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As I listen to my cat scratch my still-unpacked suitcase, I want to share a few general impressions from 4C’s and a little more on one session in particular.

1) The sheer number of sessions that took digital pedagogy in the college writing classroom as a topic was surprising. Crystal made a good point, I think, that the attitude around these was more skeptical than celebratory / certain. But I was still surprised.

2) One thing that was underconsidered in the sessions I went to was concepts around design like universal and participatory. For example, I heard Peter Elbow talk about trusting the mouth, ear, and body for using vernaculars in classrooms but no complication / consideration about who this ideal body came from. AND. Jessica Enoch was a respondent on a panel about spatial rhetoric. Without going into too much detail, it seemed like considering participatory design could have at least helped with the language on unequal rhetorical spaces (a firehouse and a submarine) that 2 of the presenters considered.

3) Okay. I went to a session called: 14 Original Heuristics for Solving Writing Problems: A Roundtable in Tweets. The names! Selber, Selfe, Porter, Spinuzzi (among others I have at least heard of). I mostly just wanted to see what they all looked / sounded like. The idea was that with 1 slide (using only the Twitter allowed number of characters) and about 4 minutes each they could present all 14 sections in an edited collection about new media and technical writing. I’m going to try and explain the three reasons it didn’t quite work for me: a) the topic; b) the speed; c) the genre. To the quick on topic A, I know so little about technical writing that a lot of what was said was meaningless (outside of some computers and writing familiar conversations). That is not their fault and neither is (B) the speed with which they did it. 4 minutes is not exactly enough time to get situated in a field. Just to gripe a bit, however, I will say that in order to hit their 4 minutes, there was quite a bit of nose to the paper reading. And the Twitter-inspired slide often seemed to have a doubtful (or at least unexplained) relationship to that reading. I kept wondering as I tried to choose from 30 + sessions per time slot if some sort of notification system might be helpful for potential audience members. For example, a rating system on what level of topic familiarity is probably necessary for a given session? Is this experts talking to experts? Or will background / orienting information be given? Lastly, C: Twitter, a conference presentation, an edited collection of technical writing. These are three distinct genres not only in form / organization but also in the kinds of information that might be best presented / accessed within them. Trying to mix the three together makes me think about the care that needs to be taken when using media like Twitter to grapple with new / complex ideas. It’s not that I think Twitter can’t do it, but that pithy, speedy ethos, I would argue, needs a reconsideration of exactly what you can do in terms of the information presented. Stuart Selber told the audience that the beginning that this might turn into a mess. He was right, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t an interesting mess.

Okay. I’m hoping to keep thinking about 4C’s after I get back to normal sleep levels and wash some of my dirty clothes (the Riviera smells BAD). Anyhow, please read this post with the kind of permanent hedge that I wore around my neck for 3 days:

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Anaphora!

  • Anaphora will repeat an opening phrase or word;
    Anaphora will pour it into a mould (absurd)!
    Anaphora will cast each subsequent opening;
    Anaphora will last until it’s tiring.”
    (John Hollander, Rhyme’s Reason: A Guide to English Verse. Yale Univ. Press, 1989)

Groundhog Day Trailer

Lebowski – starts at 1:15 – “I don’t like…”

I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun.”

  • (Raymond Chandler, Farewell, My Lovely, 1940)

Carmax Commercial

Skee-Lo

 

Music Notes

Caption Fail, Fail? or the difference between /f/ and /th/

I’m waiting for my video to load the closed captions on YouTube. I tried to speak in the clearest, most enunciated language of which I am capable. I want caption success. That said, I’m listening to myself right now, and I sound silly and kind of insulting. Let’s say the closed captions completely reflect my intended words. What would that mean? Should I send to the original caption fail guys and say, boom! enunciation, my friends.

Here is the address: http://youtu.be/jvsCcLXOo54

I really did like the caption fail on Christmas carols that was in Multimodality in Motion. I wonder if it would be more difficult to do songs. I’m sure someone has tried to do a caption of Lil’ Wayne. I just looked to see if I could, and I can’t figure it out. Can people caption videos that they don’t upload? That would seem a key feature of adaptability.

UPDATE: Sunday, February 10th

Okay. My overall reaction is that this tool is overall-useful and maybe the mirth at its expense is just mirth. To be fair, I tried to do the opposite of the caption fail guys and speak slowly and clearly. And that probably isn’t realistic. Also, since Melanie told us that the software listens for the voices of middle-class white guys from the Midwest, well, there it is. I think I also have a good shot at being a national, accent-neutral weather person. The actual text is in the blog below (#1 – #3).

1) Found poetry. The mistaken words / phrases in my caption fail(?) have a cool, oblique quality to them. The grammar is not impossible, just the word combinations. For example, “in poor taste” became “indian port eight”. It sounds kind of like a rock lyric (i.e. “I thought it was in poor taste / we met at indian port eight” with some fuzzy guitars) that everyone thought meant my drug dealer’s house but was actually my mom’s street name. Now, the most obvious caption fail was the exchange of ‘deaf’ for ‘death.’ The line that stands on its own (“She is deaf”) but becomes “She is death” is so stark but it actually happens three times. The irony that captions that might be used by people who are deaf to access videos on YouTube change ‘deaf’ into ‘death’ is pretty inescapable. There is something to be said for consistency, I suppose. Of course, since I was trying pretty hard for a faithful rendering of what I said out loud and my original purpose was to be clear, the caption fail didn’t follow that. I got the feeling that the guys we watched in class were speaking quickly / in an affected way in order to find some fun / poetry. In this case, at least, I was trying to be a party pooper — at which I largely succeeded.

2) Stir-fry text? I’m going to stay with similarities of caption fail and stir-fry. Andrews suggests that stir-frys allow you to make your own text with “spastic interactivity.” He means that, once he designs it, readers make their own. With caption fail, it’s like I make the original and YouTube makes its own with that interactivity. I would imagine that if I read the same passage more quickly or with an affected accent, I might get more words. In other words, I might get ideas for a new stir-fry if I did a whole bunch of caption fails. One other comment. YouTube capital-F Fails at names. Try to match these (one name garnered two different fails):

1) Zdenick                                                        a) j ke e

2) Anne Gere’s                                                 b) “bruce taylor”

3) Ruth Anna                                                    c) “this a demic”

4) JPEE                                                            d) “retainer”

e) “in years”

Though I imagine you might get them, it seems noteworthy that, like the stir-fry that switched the author of the quote at each mouse touch, proper names (except Michigan and Caribbean…) changed.

3) Patterns. Like I said, the caption tool worked (for the most part). One pattern was the inability to recognize proper nouns. Another one is the /f/ and /th/ sounds.  At least with ‘deaf,’ the mistake happened every time. Verb endings also change on a pretty regular basis — for example ‘describe’ in the original becomes ‘describing’ in the text. That is something I read over / ignored at first, but when nuance is important that lack of accessibility to the full spectrum of verbs might be an issue.

 

I remember a few things about the Zdenek article that I think are worth mentioning:

1) I read the article in Anne Gere’s Composition Theory class my first semester at Michigan. I remember really liking the article – it being one of those that made me think about something I took for granted in a new way. Who knew that closed captions often sucked? Why not figure out a great way to do closed captions since people with all levels of hearing use closed captions in some way? We didn’t talk about the article much in class though.

2) Ruth Anna, in my cohort in JPEE, is the person I have heard talk about deaf studies / education the most. She is deaf. I will try to avoid just repeating her views and stories as it seems an unfair burden on her and in poor taste (“um, I have a deaf friend, so I think I would know…”). That said, one of my favorite Ruth Anna stories is her describing how funny she finds it when closed captions describe music as [tropical music playing] or [scary music playing]. Since she has been (I think she calls it ‘profoundly’) deaf since birth, she has no idea what that even means.

3) I remembered the story about Pirates of the Caribbean cannibals, but I think I might have made up the [dead Bruce Willis says…] line; it’s written in the margins of my old copy. I think I just thought I was being funny.

I remember the article and want to write about it because I got stuck again on the idea of closed captioning the law, the anti-censorship, the accessibility vs. using the original TV show / movie as a kind of “available design” for the new design that would be accessible to more people (and be, in a way, wholly new). After Zdenek lays down his guidelines, he says:

“Captioning is an art. The captioner must contend with spatial and temporal constraints while being responsible to the rhetorical needs of the narrative…Captioning is not an objective science; it is a highly interpretive practice.”

That just doesn’t sound like something any third party could ever do (especially live, for TV events like the upcoming Grammy’s or the Super Bowl). When he says this, Zdenek intends for the reader to think about movies or TV. It is telling, though, that he mostly mentions Hollywood movies like Pirates or The Happening. No snobbery intended but if he is surely counting on the idea that the worst that could happen with a poor captioning effort is the lack of Johnny Depp’s jaunty voice (how would a caption describe that? or Orlando Bloom’s terrible acting for that matter? – [Bloom overwrought says…]). Couldn’t someone make an argument that a movie working to be a piece of art itself (one made by a director who calls him or herself an auteur) can simply never be translated? Zdenek spends time discussing the necessary attention to narrative arc and purpose, the things that make a movie. Unless the people associated with the movie itself are involved in the captioning, how would that work? A rhetoric of closed captioning would need to consider a whole set of new circumstances. It would be a great interview question honestly, asking a director how he or she would remake the movie without sound. You’d have to think that a whole host of other choices might have been made in the images with that knowledge. Okay. In some way, this is all overthinking. I imagine that people who are deaf (and others who watch movies without sound for other reasons) have a perfectly great time watching movies and would be quite happy to see the tweaks that Zdenek suggests.

That said, I thought about a few what ifs. What if the movie and TV makers were the ones redesigning the pieces for closed caption? Would they stop at better decisions on background noise? I tend to think they might want to do some different edits. What if films were redesigned? What could Jurassic Park look like if sound wasn’t lacking but simply never there in the first place? I can imagine something like a comic book, inserting text boxes on the screen itself – narrative ones on the top, speech bubbles, and object vibration lines for sounds. The image would be much busier but maybe more integrated.

Anyhow, I finished the article this time (like that last) kind of excited to think about all Zdenek’s ideas, but feeling as if maybe he hadn’t gone far enough in terms of a rhetoric of closed captioning. His suggestions seem pretty practical but, in the end, come up a little short for me.