Living Portrait

I suppose The Johnny Cash Project is as close as I will come to a Grammy nomination. Seems the crowdsourced sketch-video put to Cash’s “Ain’t No Grave” has been nominated for Best Short Form Music Video at the 53rd annual Grammy event coming up in February. In case you haven’t heard of it, here’s a bit of background on The Johnny Cash Project, including a recent version of the piecemeal video.

As far as I can tell, the video is continuously redrawn, with new frames entering into circulation and with old frames dropping in rank as participants assign a five-star rating to existing frames. Many months ago I spent a whopping thirteen-plus minutes sketching frame #1271. Whether or not it was my finest (or even a remarkable) artistic moment may take many more years to determine. My efforts have been rewarded with an average rating of two out of five stars (.400 is kicking butt in baseball and in drawing, right?). Anyway, ratings are not what is important here (ignoring momentarily that the Grammys are a contest).

Grammy win or no, the Cash Project has a pedagogical double that I remember each time it turns up again in this or that RSS stream–the class-drawn music video pieced together from snippets of lyrics and whatever drawings they motivate, all spliced flip-book-style into an on the fly music video. The rawness of DIY; the investment of “I did that.” D. has done this a couple of times with first and second graders who illustrated “What A Wonderful World.” Before the Cash Project, I hadn’t given too much earnest thought to a corresponding compositional project worth pursuing in the classes I typically teach. The Cash Project is a far more mature (i.e., serious-seeming) digital monument, and, that being the case, it has pushed me to reconsider possibilities for small-crowdsourced projects, maybe by adapting something like this and incorporating Google Docs-Drawing (with placeholder images and layers).  I like the way these music video projects link (implicitly collaborative) crowdsourcing and gestalt; the summative experience is more forceful than, say, reading a wiki entry, although, ideally, their logics could be linked–with one used to illuminate the other. Maybe.

Undoubtedly, I’ll be too tired to stay up and watch the Grammys. And that’s if I even remember when it is on TV. But I’m hopeful that The Cash Project gets its due. Here’s a glimpse of the competition.

Method’s Con-trails

Caught a small
blip of discussion
yesterday concerned with whether or not Google Earth


the lost city of Atlantis
. Remnants of the elusive, underwater cityscape?

According to Google Maps Mania,


It’s true that many amazing discoveries have been made in Google Earth
including a pristine forest in Mozambique that is home to previously unknown
species and the remains of an Ancient Roman villa.

In this case, however, what users are seeing is an artefact of the data
collection process. Bathymetric (or sea floor terrain) data is often
collected from boats using sonar to take measurements of the sea floor.

The lines reflect the path of the boat as it gathers the data. The fact
that there are blank spots between each of these lines is a sign of how
little we really know about the world’s oceans.

How little we know, indeed. Is this Atlantis? The conspiracy doesn’t interest me all that much.
Instead, I’m struck by the impression: the stamp left by the "systematic"
tracing, the residue of the surface-to-sea-floor method (a term others
have smartly untangled it into meta-hodos or something like ‘beyond
ways’, even ‘ways
beyond’; this etymological dig lingers with me). The deep blue grid of
"bathymetric data" elicits questions: why don’t we see these in the adjacent
areas? What was it about this boat, this collection process,
translation from sound to image, that left behind the vivid trails?

Robert Sarmast
elaborated on the image’s trail-grid, noting:

The lines you’re referring to are known as "ship-path artifacts" in the
underwater mapping world. They merely show the path of the ship itself as it
zig-zagged over a predetermined grid. Sonar devices cannot see directly
underneath themselves. The lines you see are the number of turns that the
ship had to make for the sonar to be able to collect data for the entire
grid. I’ve checked with my associate who is a world-renowned geophysicist
and he confirmed that it is artifact. Sorry, no Atlantis.

More provocations here: the grid’s unevenness, its predetermination, the
inability of the sonar devices to see (erm…hear) directly below. And
yet, a telling illustration of method alongside method: seems to me a subtle
allegory in the adjacency of ocean floor imagery with lines and without.
Presumably, the surrounding ground was measured similarly. Why no lines?

Works Delicioused, Works Slided

An email message this morning asked about Flickr Creative Commons and citation: “How do you handle it?” I’d planned to address this in the class I am teaching on Tuesday morning, so it was more or less on my mind already. I responded that I prefer one of two methods for presenting the citations indexing the images used in a slide show: 1.) bookmark all of the images and any other web-based content using a unique Delicious tag and then present that one URL on a slide at the end of the presentation or 2.) provide a series of slides (as many as necessary) at the end with full citations for all of the sources used in the slideshow and in the talk. I used the first approach at Watson last month. In hindsight, I’d say that talk ranks fairly high (top five? top three?) among the talks I’ve given over the last few years, both in terms of quality and in terms of presentational style. Those 217 slides were, oh, 200 more than I’d ever worked with before, and the rapid-fire slide-changing got to be a little bit dicey (even after several practice runs, I lost my place once). But my point is that the single URL for my “Works Delicioused” worked fine. Anyone interested in the stuff I referenced could have followed up.

I’ll prefer the second option, “Works Slided,” when on Tuesday morning I take on some of the Presentation Zen stuff that frames our fourth and final unit in WRT195. This approach isn’t all that visually stimulating; these aren’t slides a presenter would necessarily show as part of the presentation, I mean. But they do make the citations ready-to-hand in case anyone should ask about a source–visual or otherwise. I’ve used this approach for presentations that include a lot of textual sources. And I’ve also blended the two: providing a conventional works cited along with a collection in delicious of all of the online materials. I’m sure there are other variations, but these are two are the ones I’ve been weighing today.

This teacherly weekend has also included commenting several drafts from 195ers–penciling comments in the margins and typing focused “looking ahead” notes in response to half-drafts of their unit three projects, researched arguments. There were sixteen drafts total. I commented six on Friday, five yesterday, and the last five today, reading and penciling up the margins first and then going back over each of the drafts to come up with a more focused end note. In the end note, I tried to focus as much as possible on 1.) the greatest strength of the draft (this was my opening gambit on all of them: “The greatest strength of the draft is…”) and 2.) the most pressing concerns given what they have been asked to undertake over the last 5-6 weeks. Spent roughly 90 minutes (two hours tops) commenting each of the last three days, but it will lighten the workload when they turn in finished drafts in another ten days or so.

The fourth unit of this course asks the students to translate the research argument into a 6 minute, 40 second Pecha Kucha presentation. So that’s where the PZ materials and slide show questions come from. I’m also reading around in Hume’s Surviving Your Academic Job Hunt (a book I’ll have more to say about in another entry one day soon perhaps), and it occurred to me, where Hume lists all of the various sorts of job talks one must be prepared to give that the Pecha Kucha format is conspicuously absent. In fairness, Pecha Kucha has only been around since 2003, and although Hume’s book was published in 2005, I don’t have any reason to think that anyone has ever been asked to give an academic job talk as a Pecha Kucha. But this does lead to yet another puzzler: why not? I mean, what is it about the 30-40 minute job talk that works out so well for academic audiences? I really don’t mean to balk at the convention. Not at all. But I do think there are questions worth asking about the performance conditions of a 30-40 minute talk relative to any of the alternatives, Pecha Kucha or whatever. Sort of an evocative thought experiment: maybe in thirty years we will see the top 3-5 candidates for a given position come to a campus where they all deliver Pecha Kucha presentations in common session. Then discuss. Wildly out there, I suppose, but interesting to me–especially so given that I have been thinking lately about the job talk genre, how best to prepare for such a thing, and so on.


Before touring the old Santa Ana Pueblo a week ago on Thursday morning, again and again
we were reminded that no photography was allowed. Also, no sketches, no
recording of sounds. The rationale for this goes directly to simulacrum
and the sacred: the ground itself and all activities upon it remain contained,
singular, rare. When reproduction and representation are banned, the site does
not suffer from diffusion but instead remains intact. On the tour to
the Zia Pueblo a few years ago, there was
a similar admonition. There, a
sign was posted in front of the church. Something like, "Any recording or
reproduction at this site is punishable by a fine of $3,500."

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Visual Findability

Find It! (via)
is a simple game of noticing or failing to notice a shifting visual scrap. Try
it out; you’ll see (or not). The screen’s general field is occupied by a
"static" image while some minor, hard-to-find, detail gradually changes,
materializing in the phosphor of the screen or fading slowly from view.
Trickery! The picture’s motion is segmented and minimized: quieted to a soft,
slow wink. Because the variation is slight, the unseen or missed in
the timed glance is amplified, exaggerating the sense of visual richness of the
mundane digital photograph. What did I miss? What can’t I see all at once?
How many pixels-amuck escape my peripheral field in a 600×400 spread?