Saturday, July 30, 2011

Visualizing Debt

Visuals are the way most of us receive information and good visuals can be very powerful.

U.S. Debt Problem Visualized

That's $100,000,000, yep, One Hundred Million Dollars in $100 dollar bills (the most counterfeited currency in the world) and it fits nicely on a pallet.

That's One Trillion Dollars and the caption partly reads: "If you spent $1 million a day since Jesus was born, you would have not spent $1 trillion by now...but ~$700 billion- same amount the banks got during bailout." Those double stacked pallets would cover an entire football field.

That's 15 Trillion dollars . . . the amount of projected U.S. Debt by December 2011 at current rates.

"If you live in USA this is also your personal credit card bill; you are responsible along with everyone else to pay this back."

Visit to see even more debt visuals including one of the U.S.'s unfunded liabilities.

U.S. National Debt Clock

Tables are a very common way to visualize data and the internet can take that a step farther by allowing visual motion. The U.S. National Debt Clock is a real-time, ever-changing running debt clock table. It is not a static data table, it constantly changes.

Here's a screen shot taken of the running U.S. National Debt Clock on July 30, 2011 at 11:40 a.m.

This visual is hard to read, but here are just three pieces of data: as of July 30, 2011 the U.S. National Debt was $14,553,695,312,277. The debt per citizen was $46,660 and the debt per taxpayer was $130,111. For a better real time visual - Click here to go to the U.S. National Debt Clock and see how those numbers have changed.

After looking at the illustrations of the "U.S. debt problem visualized", why do you think the creators made visual statements rather than just giving readers dollar figures? Why include the Statue of Liberty?

How does the U.S. National Debt clock create urgency?

How do U.S. debt visuals alter your perception about the U.S. debt? Do you find them disturbing or reassuring?

Friday, July 22, 2011

Plagiarism and the College Classroom

Cheating is rampant and not just in the college classroom.

Recent scandals include the Atlanta school district where hundreds (yes, hundreds) of teachers and administrators, NOT STUDENTS, changed answers on state wide tests in order for the district to look good (meaning get more money) on standardized tests.

You can blame "No Child Left Behind," for pushing up standards, but my response to those teachers who say the standardized test drove them to it: Didn't you always give tests in your classes? Of course, you did.

But I digress . . .

Great Neck, New York high school students paid to have their SAT tests taken by others with fake IDs and handwriting samples - tests that cost high schoolers $1 a point, meaning some paid more than $2000 for a good SAT score.

David Wangaard and Jason Stephens in the Winter 2011 edition of Excellence and Ethics posted the results of a three-year study of academic motivation and integrity. The two researchers "surveyed over 3,600 students from six economically and ethnically diverse high schools in the northeastern United States and found ninety-five percent of these students reported engaging in at least one form of academic cheating during the past academic year. More troubling still, 57% of these students also agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, 'It is morally wrong to cheat.'"

Panagiotis Ipeirotis, a professor at NYU recently blogged about his experience with plagiarism in the college classroom "and described how crusading against cheating poisoned the class environment and therefore dragged down his teaching evaluations. They fell to a below-average range of 5.3 out of 7.0, when he used to score in the realm of 6.0 to 6.5." Mr. Ipeirotis “paid a significant financial penalty for ‘doing the right thing'."

So what did the professor do?

“'Forget about cheating detection,' [Prof. Ipeirotis] said in an interview. 'It is a losing battle.'”

What lesson can we take away from these scandals? Students know it's wrong to cheat, while professors, administrators and teachers don't want to be financially impacted by enforcing rules against plagiarism.

But what do students want?

That's what Wangaard and Stephens asked some of the students they surveyed and the number one response was: "Schools should create and enforce stricter consequences for dishonesty."

How would you control cheating in the academic setting and what do you think the consequences should be?

Monday, July 18, 2011

Envisioning Information

It's much easier to read large collections of data in a visual format and this type of graphic data presentation is a modern phenomenon (relatively speaking). Can you imagine reading all these data points as lists of numbers? Talk about information overload . . . but like all other information you receive visually, everything is done for a reason.
Read the above data points. What has been the trend for winter temperatures in England for the last 350 years? What projections can you make from this trend?

Here's another graph of 10,000 years of global temperatures from the Greenland Ice Sheet Project 2.

What has been the trend for worldwide temperatures in the last 10,000 years? What projections can you make from this trend?

Here's a different presentation of the same information:

Why do you think the author highlighted certain segments of the data line? The green bars are labelled using periods of human civilization: Minoan warm period, Roman warm period, Medieval warm period, Modern warm period. Why do you suppose the author chose to use civilization labels? Why do you suppose the creator chose to use green shading rather than blue or orange shading?

What does the red line represent, and why is it red?

Why did this creator editorialize the information? In other words, why did he add different colors and labels to his presentation? Does this data confirm what you think about global temperatures? Why or why not? What predictions can you make about global temperature trends based on this data?

Should we make predictions on global temperatures based on any of these graphs? Why or why not?

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Dance + Comics = Personal Mythologies

Art Speigelman, author of Maus a comic book about the Holocaust, collaborated with the Philobolus dance company on a project where Sunday strip characters were animated to create dancing comics.

These dancing comics resulted in a mash up of ancient and modern mythologies; where Pan and Medusa ran head on into the Sunday funnies, noir film, detective novels, and movie classics to create a personal mythology, or dream life, that presents a slightly skewed world view, all set to the tinny tunes of early jazz.

Speigelman calls this collaboration a new language, which he termed Still Moving in a short interview he gave about his collaboration with Philobolus.

In addition, Speigelman talks about stories, characters, and movies that resonate from his childhood, stories like The Wizard of Oz and characters like the early Hapless Hooligan from the Sunday funnies. What stories or characters made an impact on your childhood?

Highlights from the Philobolus world premier of Still Moving:

What makes up your personal mythology or dream life? Do you resonate with stories from classic mythology or your own religious beliefs?

Do have fond memories of Johnny Quest, Scooby Doo, or Sponge Bob? What cartoons or comics did you enjoy as a child and how do these stories impact your personality?

Friday, July 15, 2011

And the Peeps just keep on coming . . .

I went to an outdoor performance of Shakespeare's Macbeth--awesome production by the way--and it reminded me of another strangely awesome Shakespeare, or rather Shakespeep, production.

And without further ado, here's Peepeo and Juliet by Plain Jane.

>Click here for the rest of Peepeo and Juliet

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Short History of Visual Communication

In argumentation, warrants or assumptions can be a tricky concept for readers and writers to grasp.

Claims are supported by evidence and warrants – those underlying beliefs or values taken for granted by bloggers, advertisers, politicians, and writers. Assumptions can come from cultural values, biological or scientific beliefs, intellectual (logical) tenets, or idiosyncratic viewpoints. In writing and visual communication some warrants (or assumptions) are explicit, but most are implied and your understanding of texts, both visual and written, relies heavily on your beliefs.

So having said all that - What does this strip remind you of?

What are some of the underlying warrants or assumptions of this strip?

Since comics often present information in a humorous way, what do you need to know in order to get the joke about visual communication? What is the joke?

The author seems to be making a prediction, what is it? Do you agree or disagree?

Is there anything, or any step, missing from this strip? If so, What?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

We'll be right back, after these messages . . .

When your ethos is about to be destroyed, and you can only rely on your logic to avoid the pathos of your audience, it's time to retreat - or at least that seems to be the implication here.

SPOILER ALERT: In other words, when you admit that everything you've told your fiance is a lie, the only logical thing to do to avoid his or her emotional reaction is to climb into your Range Rover and cower behind the wheel.

Message: "You'll feel safe inside."

Hmmm, I always knew there was something wrong with people who drive Range Rovers. On the other hand, it is a pretty funny commercial and the advertisers were looking for the audience to laugh.

Look at other rhetorical clues, what else were the advertisers trying to tell the audience or saying about people who drive, or would purchase, Range Rovers?

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Why I Shouldn't Blog About Politics . . .

Political ideologues can whip trivial episodes and misstatements into a frenzy faster than a washing machine during a heavy duty spin cycle. They engage in all the fallacies we're told to avoid: false analogy (comparing health insurance to car insurance), circular arguments (terrorists don't want TSA screenings, so if you complain about airport screenings you're a terrorist), ad hominem attacks (President Obama is a fascist, socialist, etc.)--you get the idea.

Political pundits usually get everything half-right, or half-wrong, depending on which side of the aisle you sit . . . and just when you think someone is getting unduly chastised by a rabid politico along comes a politician who does something so incredibly idiotic that you just can't help wondering how they got elected in the first place.

Enter Michele Bachmann.

No, it wasn't something she said at a political rally, some over the top promise made to supporters, it was something she signed called The Marriage Vow. With its subtitle "A Declaration of Dependence Upon Marriage and Family," it could be seen as just another inane promise from a conservative candidate to conservative followers, but one bullet point in the introduction (which has now been removed) read:

Slavery had a disastrous impact on African-American families, yet sadly a child born into slavery in 1860 was more likely to be raised by his mother and father in a two-parent household than was an African-American baby born after the election of the USA’s first African-American President.

As they text: AYK?

Not only is this completely insensitive, but every school student in American knows slaves had no control over their households and were not allowed to marry. Mothers, fathers, and children could be separated and sold off at the whim of their masters (and often were). Julie Summa, a spokeswoman for the Family Leader the author of the vow, responded by saying, “After careful deliberation and wise insight and input from valued colleagues we deeply respect, we agree that the statement referencing children born into slavery can be misconstrued."

Misconstrued? Again: AYK?

Michele (and Julie) dust of the dunce cap and go take a time out.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Alice in Peepland

Alice in Peepland is the Chicago Tribune's 2011 (People's choice) winner. What a misnomer! Of course, this is the Peeple's choice winner!

This is the Dispeep version, there's no Johnny Peep as the Mallow Hatter to scare the goo out of you. We can clearly see Alice as she waits for the Queen of Carnuba to wax the groundpeep through the Jackrabbit of Spades.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Advertising and Visual Rhetoric

These days we get most of our information via visuals--television media, magazines, the internet--even newspapers have gone cyber. Go to your local newsstand and you'll find papers featuring huge photographs above the fold. Tucked inside are various pics, graphics, and charts serving up information in a visual way that can be read just like any other text.

But the best servers of visual information (or at least the most creative) are advertisers.

There's a lot to learn about rhetoric by examining how advertisers are manipulating purchasers to buy a myriad of products we may or may not need. Recently, this ad found its way to my mailbox with the caption, "Can you guess the product before the end of the commercial?"

At first I thought it was some weird take on a new HGTV home redecorating show, but since YouTube so graciously provides the product in the header it's a bit of a giveaway.

Marketers know that when the audience feels familiar with something, like The Exorcist, they will feel at ease (a bit counter intuitive in this case), while the humor makes the message stick. Dirt Devil, the most powerful vacuum EVER!

But at the end of day, it's all about sales. So when looking at the details of this TV commercial, details like setting, characters, dress, and social roles, who is going to buy this product?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Celebrate the Fourth with Another History Lesson

Or Conservative Women – The Best Thing to Happen to American History?

Forget Sarah Palin.

Thank you Michele Bachmann.

Congresswoman Bachmann recently said John Quincy Adams and our other founding fathers “worked tirelessly” to end slavery. George Stephanopoulos reminded Bachman, and all of us, that slavery didn’t end until the Civil War, so the founding fathers couldn’t have been doing much to end that peculiar institution. Stephanopoulos also schooled Bachmann on the cast of founding fathers. John Adams, yes; John Quincy Adams, no.

John Quincy Adams was the son of a founding father and the sixth president of the United States, who, after his term as president was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. He railed against slavery and successfully upheld the release of a group of slaves who mutinied on the Spanish slave ship, Amistad, arguing that the Africans had been illegally detained. But he was not a founding father.

When Bachmann asserted that once immigrants arrived in the United States “everybody was the same,” Anderson Cooper reminded us, "Irish immigrants didn't feel the same walking past storefronts with signs reading 'No Irish need not apply.' Japanese Americans didn't feel the same when they were placed in internment camps during World War II. And, of course, enslaved Africans certainly didn't feel the same when they were brought here against their will." True enough.

But isn’t the “we are a nation of immigrants” line something all politicians say? “We define ourselves as a nation of immigrants – a nation that welcomes those willing to embrace America’s precepts. That’s why millions of people, ancestors to most of us, braved hardship and great risk to come here – so they could be free to work and worship and live their lives in peace. The Asian immigrants who made their way to California’s Angel Island. The Germans and Scandinavians who settled across the Midwest. The waves of the Irish, Italian, Polish, Russian, and Jewish immigrants who leaned against the railing to catch that first glimpse of the Statue of Liberty.” Cooper didn’t school the president when he made these remarks, and why should he? As Americans we know what President Obama and Congresswoman Bachmann meant: America is the land of opportunity.

There is not enough space in cyperspace to debate all the issues surrounding the founding fathers and slavery. Yes, there were slaveholders among them, and yes, holding one human in bondage to another is the worst stain our flag has endured. But one has to wonder if “working tirelessly” only counts when politicians accomplish something. Look at our current congress, those men and women who are working tirelessly to produce a budget and get America working again, while at the same time failing miserably.

On Independence Day Congress, like every other American, should be celebrating our independence by goofing off at the local VFW pancake breakfast, before they hunker down on the curb to watch the 4th of July parade commemorating the spirit that led our forefathers to end slavery and our ancestors to make that arduous trip to America. Tonight when you stretch out under the night sky watching the rocket’s red glare as fireworks arc overhead, remember those that worked, and those that are still working, to keep us free.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Sarah Palin: The Best Thing to Happen to American History?

During the 2008 presidential election, I taught English at an institute of higher learning where the class focused on politics. What a great way for students to learn something about the presidential candidates, American history, and critical thinking. Throughout the quarter, we had lively and spirited conversations about the limitations on free speech and the press.

For the final, I asked students to analyze a political cartoon that spoofed The New York Times for releasing sensitive material. This Times was dated April 17, 1775 and displayed a drawing of the old north church with headlines that read “One if by land; two if by sea. Secret Lantern Signals of American Colonists Revealed.” The first couple of paragraphs stated that an anonymous source had revealed the “secret plan for tomorrow to warn Patriot Colonist Militia Forces of the route the English Regular Soldiers plan to take as they move their forces to Lexington and Concord.” Student essays were to focus on how political cartoons satirically criticize widely held beliefs, while at the same time considering limits (if any) on a free press. This particular political cartoon referred to a well-known event in American history—Paul Revere’s ride—but with a twist. What if these headlines had appeared in American newspapers in April 1775? How does this cartoonist’s opinion relate to the political climate of 2008?

After twenty minutes of complete silence, I asked the class of California natives, “What’s up? This isn’t a take home final.”

“Who’s Paul Revere?” they responded, en masse.

“You know. ‘Listen my children and you shall hear of the midnight ride of Paul Revere’? He warned the colonists about the British invading. One if by land, two if by sea?”

Blank stares. Needless to say, we engaged in an impromptu lesson about Colonial American History–with the help of Google—and students got to take their exams home. But if I gave that same exam today, would I get the same dull reaction? I doubt it.

Recently, when googling “Paul Revere’s ride” the first entry describes how politicians, namely Sarah Palin, are dumbing us down. And whether you love her or hate her, you have to hand it to the former VP candidate for single handedly saving Paul Revere’s legacy.

Were there bells going off in Palin’s head when she talked about Revere warning the British, or the British grabbing American, or rather, British subjects’ guns? How could she be so ignorant of basic American history? Apparently, it’s accidental congruence. Allison Block of NPR asked Professor Robert Allison of Suffolk University, “So Sarah Palin got her history right?”

“Well, yeah, she did. And remember, she is a politician. She's not an historian. And God help us when historians start acting like politicians, and I suppose when politicians start writing history.” Huh? Let’s for one second ignore whether Palin is correct, incorrect, practicing nuanced subtlety, or some other iteration of political maneuvering, and look at it the way Professor Allison did, “Suddenly, Sarah Palin comes to town, makes an off-the-cuff remark about what she learned, and suddenly, you're calling me to find out what I think about Paul Revere and the American Revolution.”

Is Sarah Palin some kind of evil genius?

Whether you love Palin or hate her, she is the greatest thing that has happened to American history in recent memory. One person’s comments sparked a Paul Revere history debate—on Washington there are 384 related articles about Sarah’s comments. 384! It even made it across the pond with The Telegraph headlining “Sarah Palin defends knowledge of American history.” It’s on the nightly news, the morning talk shows, the internet news, blogs, and fodder around the workplace water cooler. How cool is that? Very cool, especially for connoisseurs of American history and plain old American citizens.

What’s even better, Palin, or rather, the media does this all the time. At a Tea Party rally, Palin crowed, “Party like its 1773,” sparking outright derision from some who asked, “Doesn’t she know the Declaration of Independence was signed in 1776?” She probably does, but the Boston Tea Party hit the harbor in 1773. That historical tidbit had long since departed my memory banks until Palin screwed up, errrr, I mean acted like an evil genius, or whatever plan she had in mind that day as I clicked through ten channels before learning that, ummmmm….Gwen Ifill had it wrong. Dare we admit Sarah Palin is right?

So Sarah Palin, do all Americans a favor and keep it up. We could all use the history lessons.