Wednesday, December 5, 2012

The Top Ten Books of 2012

The New York Times' editors chose the best books for 2012 naming Chris Ware's Building Stories, a kind of graphic novel, as the year's number two book.

Building Stories puts a boxful of anecdotes at your fingertips, stories you have to tease out from pamphlet's and puzzles, game boards and leaflets.

This "erector set" of ideas was specifically designed to foil any attempt at reading on an iPad or computer. The reader has to unsnarl the memories of a few different protagonists to deduce their story as presented by a few collected bits and pieces.

Do you have a scrap book or memory box at home? If you went through the memories you've collected--old newspaper clippings, tickets to sporting events or movies, dried flowers from the prom--what story do you think the stuff of your memories would tell?

Better yet, since the Holidays are just around the corner, what kind of memory box could you create for your parents, children, or significant other?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

The Top Ten Essays Since 1950

Robert Atwan, the founder and creator of the Best American Essays series, has read a lot of essays.
“To my mind,” writes Atwan, “the best essays are deeply personal (that doesn’t necessarily mean autobiographical) and deeply engaged with issues and ideas. And the best essays show that the name of the genre is also a verb, so they demonstrate a mind in process–reflecting, trying-out, essaying.”
As a college writer now specializing in essays you might want to take a look at Atwan's choices for style and organization.

Here's his list of the Top Ten Essays Since 1950 along with links to online versions of five of the Top Ten Essays Since 1950:
>James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son,” 1955. "Against a violent historical background, Baldwin recalls his deeply troubled relationship with his father and explores his growing awareness of himself as a black American."
>Norman Mailer, “The White Negro,” 1957. "An essay that packed an enormous wallop in 1957 may make some of us cringe today with its hyperbolic dialectics and hyperventilated metaphysics. But Mailer’s attempt to define the “hipster” is suddenly relevant again."
>Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp,’” 1964. "Sontag’s groundbreaking essay was an ambitious attempt to define a modern sensibility, in this case “camp,” a word that was then almost exclusively associated with the gay world."
>John McPhee, “The Search for Marvin Gardens,” 1972. "Conceived from a series of Monopoly games, McPhee juxtaposes the well-known sites on the board—Atlantic Avenue, Park Place—with actual visits to their crumbling locations."
>Joan Didion, “The White Album,” 1979. "Huey Newton, Eldridge Cleaver, and the Black Panthers, a recording session with Jim Morrison and the Doors, the San Francisco State riots, the Manson murders—all of these, and much more, figure prominently in Didion’s brilliant mosaic distillation (or phantasmagoric album) of California life in the late 1960s."
>Annie Dillard, “Total Eclipse,” 1982. “Total Eclipse” has it all—the climactic intensity of short fiction, the interwoven imagery of poetry, and the meditative dynamics of the personal essay."
>Phillip Lopate, “Against Joie de Vivre,” 1986. “Over the years,” Lopate begins, “Lopate dissects in comic yet astute detail the rituals of the modern dinner party."
>Edward Hoagland, “Heaven and Nature,” 1988. "An unforgettable meditation not so much on suicide as on how we remarkably manage to stay alive."
>Jo Ann Beard, “The Fourth State of Matter,” 1996. "In this emotion-packed essay you will find entangled in all the tension a lovable, dying collie, invasive squirrels, an estranged husband, the seriously disturbed gunman, and his victims, one of them among the author’s dearest friends."
>David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster,” 2004. "The annual Maine Lobster Festival boasts “the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker." Wallace poses an uncomfortable question to readers of an upscale food magazine: “Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure?”
Read more about the "Top Ten Essays Since 1950" at Publisher's Weekly. Have you read any of these essays? If not, read at least one and you'll see why it made the top ten list.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Illustrating Scientific Mysteries

Can you guess what this picture illustrates?

If you look at the context clues by reading the picture, what does the apple represent? Click on the apple for the bigger picture.

Could it be the story of Adam and Eve? No?

What about that universe inside the apple? Do you remember the story about Sir Isaac Newton and how an apple dropped on his head while napping and voila he realized there must be some force acting on the falling apple, and everything else for that matter.

Over at BrainPickings they reviewed 75 Scientific Mysteries, Illustrated by Today's Hottest Artists, a book that explores scientific complexities through pictures, including gravity and the big bang.

About gravity, Terry Matilsky notes:
[T]he story is not finished. We know that general relativity is not the final answer, because we have not been able to synthesize gravity with the other known laws of physics in a comprehensive “theory of everything."
Another artist illustrates his vision of what existed before the Big Bang
in a painting reminiscent of an M. C. Escher style stairway of the universe.

Brian Yanny asks:
Was there an era before our own, out of which our current universe was born? Do the laws of physics, the dimensions of space-time, the strengths and types and asymmetries of nature’s forces and particles, and the potential for life have to be as we observe them, or is there a branching multi-verse of earlier and later epochs filled with unimaginably exotic realms? We do not know.
Do illustrations help you "picture" complex phenomena? Would you like to see more illustrations in your scientific textbooks?

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

The US in Japan

When you think of the Japanese you may think of pachinko machines, but when the Japanese think of Americans they picture Nicholas Cage square dancing?

Do Japanese people think every American drives a pick-up truck while singing along to Beethoven? Cage played his "American-ness to the very hilt. When pachinko machine manufacturer Sankyo recruited Cage, they went all-out, getting him square-dancing in the middle of a lonely southwestern highway with a pack of metal ball-headed aliens" says Open Culture.

But the Japanese aren't the only ones who stereotype foreigners. How do American commercials stereotype other cultures? Do you think these stereotypes are fair? Why or why not? Why do we stereotype?

Monday, November 5, 2012

Ancient Rome: When Being a Teen was Tough

Being a teenage in ancient Rome wasn't easy. There were no X-box 360's to play or cars to drive, or even chariots to cruise around in. Don't get me wrong, there were chariots, but the only teens that got to drive them were those young men going off to fight the latest Roman war, or, if they were lucky enough, race around the colliseum, a sport that often resulted in death.

According to A Glimpse of Teenage Life in Ancient Rome
while your average American teenager devotes more than seven hours a day to imbibing media – to watching TV, playing video games, hanging out on Facebook — the average 17-year-old Roman kid (circa 73 AD) had some more serious business to deal with. Like mastering reading and writing in two languages, fighting in imperial wars, taking care of (obscenely young) spouses and various other items.
See for yourself:

The video was created by Ray Laurence, a classics professor, from the University of Kent.

How is being a teen tough today? Do you see any parallels between the world of today's teenagers and the teenagers of ancient Rome?

Monday, October 15, 2012

Naughty, Naughty

Have you read Lord of the Rings? How about The Great Gatsby or The Catcher in the Rye? If you have then you are reading banned books.

In honor of Banned Books Week (Sept. 30) here are the top twenty banned "classic" books according to the American Library Association (ALA).

1. The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald
2. The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
3. The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck
4. To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
5. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
6. Ulysses, by James Joyce
7. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
8. The Lord of the Flies, by William Golding
9. 1984, by George Orwell
11. Lolita, by Vladmir Nabokov
12. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
15. Catch-22, by Joseph Heller
16. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
17. Animal Farm, by George Orwell
18. The Sun Also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway
19. As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner
20. A Farewell to Arms, by Ernest Hemingway

Why are books banned in the first place? According to the ALA some books like The Grapes of Wrath are banned from school libraries because of "vulgar" words, while others like The Great Gatsby contain "sexual references."

Have you read any of these books?

Do you think your life has been enriched by reading banned books? What did you learn? Do you ever think it is appropriate to ban books from the school library?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

What do you get when you cross a Photographer, an Astronaut, and a Geographer?

A great combination of college majors! Art, geological and earth sciences, as well as engineering, astronomy or mathematics offer a career in a field you may not even know existed--geoscience.

At NASA there is a geoscientist that asks astronauts to snap pictures and take videos of earth from 250 miles above the planet in order to study planet phenomena. It turns out earth has more geographical diversity than we once thought (for example, there's a lot more deltas).

But they also produce some beautiful videos, such as Earth at Night.

Open Culture
also offers a link to What an Astronaut Sees from the International Space Station.

Have you ever thought about combining a science major with an arts major? If so, what kind of creative science would you like to be a part of?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Working in Pajamas

People who work from home don't get much done, right? Wrong!

According to a recent study conducted by Stanford University if you are a person working on the kitchen table wearing your pajamas you're a more productive worker.

Seems counter intuitive, doesn't it? I mean if I could stay at home all day and wander from the computer to the fridge to the computer to the television to the mailbox to the laundry room, well you get the idea.

Ctrip, a Chinese travel agency, agreed to be the guinea pig for a work-at-home study and during the 9-month period found:
> A 12 percent increase in productivity for the at-home workers. Of that increase, 8.5 percent came from working more hours (due to shorter breaks and fewer sick days) and 3.5 percent came from more performance per minute. The researchers speculate this was due to quieter working conditions.

> A 50 percent decrease in attrition among the work-from-home group.

> Substantially higher work satisfaction as measured by a survey among the home group. noticed something else interesting from the study "Employees who were already more productive tended to chose working from home while less-productive employees chose to stay in the office."

Have you ever worked from home? Do you have a college job that allows you to work from home?

Would your major (future career) be conducive to an at home job?

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Books About America's Colleges

15 Books That Take American Eduction to Task is a post that at first glance is a bit depressing. For you education majors, some of these books may help with research into K-12 practices.

Let's take a look at the books devoted to college, they have some useful things to say about what you are doing right now!

No. 5 Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses by Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa:
Even with ever-higher tuition, more students are heading to college than ever before, but are they really getting the education they’re paying for? Sociology professors Richard Arum and Josipa Roska don’t think so. They have research that points to some disturbing trends in higher ed, including a study which found that 45% of students showed no improvement in key skills, including critical thinking and writing, between their first semester and the end of their second year. They believe that the current culture at most colleges doesn’t adequately value education, preferring to focus on raising their rankings rather than putting out a smart, capable batch of graduates each year.
In addition, some institutions feel they need to teach students "what" to think politically and morally as opposed to "how" to think (critical thinking). They often disguise "what" to think as "how" to think.

No. 9 Inside American Education: The Decline, the Deception, the Dogmas by Thomas Sowell:
This book by Thomas Sowell is aging (it was published in 1992), but sadly many of the problems he points to in it still exist in education today, 20 years later. Sowell posits that the American education system, from kindergarten through grad school is full of incompetency, alienation, and moral bankruptcy, railing especially hard on athletic scholarships, the publish-or-perish syndrome, and academic brainwashing. Readers should note that Sowell can be a bit extreme (and sometimes downright wrong), but that doesn’t make his primary criticisms of the education system any less scathing or true.
"Incompetency and moral bankruptcy" at American universities? Do you find that the school lives up to the promises it makes to you? Are you getting the quality of education you paid for?

No. 11 Our Underachieving Colleges: A Candid Look at How Much Students Learn and Why They Should Be Learning More by Derek Bok:
This book is another hard look at the American higher education system, this time from former Harvard president Derek Bok. As in the work of Arum and Roska, Bok showcases just how little many students learn during their college educations, lacking key skills in writing, reasoning, mathematics, and critical thinking. In fact, despite high tuition that supports new technology, more professors, and greater resources for students, there is little evidence to suggest that students are learning more and may in fact be taking away less from their college years (despite a much higher price tag).
Students are taking out more and more loans resulting in something resembling a house payment by the time they are finished, so caveat emptor.

Do you find that you are learning skills in the university that you will need when you enter the work force? Or do you think you are doing a lot of busy work?

What kinds of classes would you like to see offered at your university to help you get where you want to go in life?

P.S. Remember life isn't just about working. What kind of classes would you like to take to make your life more meaningful?

Friday, August 31, 2012

How to find a Decent College Roommate

This post isn't entitled, "How to find a GREAT College Roommate," but "How to find a Decent College Roommate" because while you may think you are looking for a lifelong BFF with whom you can swap college prank stories in your old age, that's not the way it works in the real world.

In the real world you end up with roommates that can be slobs, eat all your food, or have late night booty calls with their significant other in your dorm room. Yikes!

In an article at USA Today, studies show that one of the top five reasons for leaving college is "roommate conflict."

So how do you find a decent roommate?

Well, apparently that's not an easy question to answer. But here's how some colleges select your roommates if you choose to live in the dorms:

Speed roommate search - think speed dating, but rather than a lifelong commitment, you're looking for someone to spend the next couple of semesters with.

College directed selection - some colleges assign roommates based on your major or profiles submitted to the director of housing (this sounds like has become

Suprise! - the college doesn't tell you who your roommate is until the day you get to campus--that way you can't look them up on FaceBook and find out what a horror show they may or may not be.

So do you have any tips for find a decent roommate?

Friday, August 24, 2012

Business Majors: Best (and worst) Small Businesses

Intuit put up a flow chart documenting the best (and worst) small business opportunities, and some of them may be surprising to you.

Good small businesses include pilates and yoga studios and accessory stores while bad choices range between movie rental franchises, music stories, and bookstores. Surprisingly, electronics (computers, etc.) aren't doing well either.
If you plan on opening a small business (or going to work for a small business franchise) consider some of the "good" options. Try working in your dream industry for a while (maybe even take a part time job to pay your tuition bills).

Accomplished small business owners and entrepreneurs fail before they ever become successful. In the same way, good salespeople know that they have to get a certain number of "Nos" before they will make a sale. This also translates to the entrepreneur who wants to convince a banker or venture capitalist to invest in his or her business. So if you are planning on going into business just know failure is a part of your success.

While some of these small businesses (successful or unsuccessful) are fairly predictable, are there small businesses they left out? What kind of small business would you like to open?

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Movies From Mars (and Mars' Science Laboratory)

We did it! We landed on Mars! Well, really NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory did it. If you have read this blog for a while you know that geeks (a term of affection here) hold a near and dear place in my heart.

Can you imagine how great all those scientists, computer and software engineers, launch pad operators, command center technicians, janitors, data entry personnel, optics and robotic experts, lab technicians, personal assistants, electronic experts, mathematicians--those modern day magicians--feel? Great! (Where's a bottle of champagne when you need one).

NASA created a full resolution decent and landing video of the $2 billion Curiosity's trip through the Mars atmosphere to its touchdown at Bradbury Landing.

Can't get enough? Me either! How about Curiosity's first jaunt across the Mars surface. There's no video yet, but here's a picture of its first drive.

Want to stay caught up with Curiosity's antics? Here's a link to NASA's Mars site.

So what's your major?

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

The New Face of Community College

Do you watch Community starring Joel McHale? Are you tired of all the stereotypes about dumb students, inept professors, and substandard education?

Yes? Me too!

As a proud graduate of San Mateo Community College I sometimes find it offensive that the media and pop culture continually bash community colleges and so does

According to the authors of "The New Face of Community College," enrollment is exploding at community colleges for a variety of reasons including cost and quality of education.

Community colleges boast some of the best faculty and state of the art facilities offering an education at a price that is easier on the wallet than most four-year institutions.

What do today's community colleges have to offer?

>Partnerships with local businesses.

>Training for high-demand but specialized jobs.

>Lower tuition costs.

>Help for the middle class.

>Many of the same amenities as four-year colleges.

>A cheaper path to a four-year degree.

>An increasingly diverse student body.

But there are still some problems with community colleges. Open admissions leads to an underprepared student body and lower retention rates. Those of you trying to sign up for classes know what a scramble it can be to get those required courses.

For those of you attending community college your first two years could cost you less (thereby reducing or avoiding student loan debt) and take you just as far in your overall college plan.

So why did you choose community college?

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Top Ten Things you Should Have in your Backpack

No. 1 is pretty easy...CASH! Maybe not $100, but enough to buy a BART or bus ticket if your car breaks down, a scantron or blue book, or maybe even something to eat. Do NOT walk out of the house with air in your wallet, make sure you have a couple of bucks.

So what else does Top Ten Online Universities recommend?

No. 2 - A Phone charger.

No. 3 - Ear plugs for power naps. Not ear buds to ignore your professor's lecture.

No. 4 - First aid kit. They make little tiny ones just for backpacks that contain band aids, aspirin, and antibiotic ointment for those massive blisters you get from your brand new "back-to-school" shoes.

No. 5 - Umbrella? Obviously this author is NOT a California sun worshiper. But for those couple of weeks in the winter, it's probably not a bad idea.

No. 6 - Energy bar. Yes, indeed. Don't go all hypoglycemic during class - that's a bad thing.

No. 7 - Disposable camera. I'm not sure if I agree with this one. It seems kinda redundant considering everybody has a cell phone.

...and that's where the list ends. I know, what about items eight, nine, and ten?

Here's my number one (and two) A PEN AND SOME PAPER! I am always amazed when I see college students without notepaper and a pencil.

I know how heavy a fully loaded backpack can be so channel your inner Sherpa and make your choices count as you decide what items you are going to haul around all day.

What things are on your back pack must have list?

Friday, August 3, 2012

Are you Lying to Yourself?

Good! According to some experts lying to yourself is a great way to boost power and influence.

In "The Case for Lying to Yourself" researchers found that "Believing we are more talented or intelligent than we really are can help us influence and win over others, says Robert Trivers, an anthropology professor at Rutgers University and author of The Folly of Fools, a 2011 book on the subject. An executive who talks himself into believing he is a great public speaker may not only feel better as he performs, but increase 'how much he fools people, by having a confident style that persuades them that he's good,' he says."

But lying to oneself can also be detrimental.
It takes a certain amount of self-discipline to keep self-deception from becoming a hindrance on the job or in relationships. Getting too wrapped up in achievements or public image is one danger sign. Dodging a chronic problem by telling yourself you'll solve it in the future is another.

The trick, Dr. Norton says, is finding the line. While "a little bit of self-deception isn't an unhealthy thing, a lot is an extremely unhealthy thing." Benefits tend to come, research shows, when people simply block out negative thoughts, envision themselves enjoying future successes or take an optimistic view of their abilities—all of which tend to improve performance or persuasive ability.
So what little white lies do you tell yourself? Do you think you could employ this technique when you give a classroom presentation?

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Job Skills and the New Millennium

While you thought getting a job was hard, keeping a job is just as hard, especially in the new millennium.

Most employers think recent graduates were born with all the computer skills they need from tweeting and designing websites to email and Facebook. But what do you do when your boss asks you to create a portal on Google docs for clients to give performance feedback. Huh?

With unemployment hovering around 8 percent, many employers find it unnecessary to supply in-house employee training. They figure if you want to keep your job, you'll figure it out on your own. But taking another class costs time and money.

So what is a new hire to do get up to office speed? Take a FREE online course.

ALISON—an Irish company with an uncatchy longer moniker: Advance Learning Interactive Systems Online—provides free online courses in job-friendly skills. Some are basic but essential—Fundamentals of Google Docs or Touch Type Training. Others are more specialized (Programming in Adobe Flash) and many could be useful for anybody, job seeking or not (Protect Yourself From Identity Theft), says Open Culture.
ALISON focuses on the practical, culling free courses from a range of publishers that will upgrade anyone’s employment skills. The site has a million registered users across the globe and is adding 50,000 learners every month. Un- or under-employed people can get help planning their career path with a course that takes from 1-2 hours. The course includes an assessment and a discussion forum.

While many sites offer academic instruction, relatively few offer free workplace skill instruction and ALISON selects courses for their quality and interactivity. The site is so robust and straight-forward that government workplace centers in 18 states use it as a tool to help clients beef up their resume skills.
Course categories include business and enterprise, IT training, financial and economic, health and safety, health literacy, personal development, and languages.

So the next time your boss asks you to create a spread sheet for your sales figures, ALISON can teach you Excel. Even better when your professor starts talking physics, you can brush up with a course on motion, speed, and time.

What skills do you need to help you keep your first job? What practical skills do you need to stay on top in the workplace?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Great Gatsby Graphic

Did you read F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby in high school or college? Did you have a hard time keeping track of who is who? created a slick art deco Gatsby Character Map to help you keep track.

But SomethingSoSam didn't stop there, there are also some graphics of memorable Gatsby quotes, like this one:

To finish off this trilogy of visual fun, here is a video with a little bit more about the Gatsby characters . . .

A Look Into the Characters of The Great Gatsby from SomethingSoSam on Vimeo.

It's obvious this graphic artist is passionate about The Great Gatsby. Warner Brothers would be well served to hire SomethingSoSam to create the posters for their movie slated for release December 2012. It is billed as an "American 3D romantic drama film", and stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Jay Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as Daisy Buchanan, Tobey Maguire as Nick Carraway, Joel Edgerton as Tom Buchanan and Isla Fisher as Myrtle Wilson.

Do you have a graphic art penchant? How can you use that skill when thinking about your major and future career?

What books or comics are you passionate about? What other texts could use a graphic character map like this one? What books would you like to see made into movies?

Friday, July 20, 2012

It's all Text Messaging's Fault

Two apostrophes in one title? Not possible?

Well, it's obviously possible, but text messaging may mean the death of my belov'd apostrophe. That's the claim in the article Dear Apostrophe: C Ya over at the Chronicle of Higher Ed. The author, Rob Jenkins, believes that
as someone who teaches college writing to the text-messaging generation, I have observed that not only apostrophes but also capital letters have become, if not extinct, then at least increasingly conspicuous by their absence–sort of like some of my students when their essays are due.
Yikes! Not only does he dis students for bad grammar, but he also doubts their veracity when it comes to absences and due dates (c'mon you know you are at least a little guilty).

I love apostrophe's. In fact I love them so much that I use way too many of them. While Jenkins worries about capital letters and apostrophes because of text messaging, I worry about too many spaces in my writing. I find that whenever you use any piece of punctuation in a text it automatically capitalizes the next letter whether you like it or not! So I'm always adding spaces.

There are two basic rules for apostrophes. Apostrophes show possession (something one owns): The dog's tail is wagging. Apostrophes are also used in contractions (contracting two words into one): it is = it's.

What do you think? Does text messaging make you a poor writer? Has your texting habits earned you a poor score? What text messaging habits bleed over into your academic writing?

P.S. Did you spot the extra apostrophe?

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Comics Journalism and Education Reform

A comics journalist and an assistant professor walk into a bar.

What'll ya have? asks the barkeep.

"Pictures of Reformtinis," says the journalist.

"A panel of Education Fizzes" responds the professor.

The barkeep frowns, "Okay, but you'll end up in the gutter."
I know the punchline could be better . . .

Education reform is no joke so Adam Bessie, assistant professor at Diablo Valley College, and Dan Archer, comics journalist, took on the education reform movement in their interactive comic featured at The first episode, The Disaster Capitalism Curriculum: The High Price of Education Reform and second episode, Murky Waters: The Education Debate in New Orleans take on the system while trying to make sense of how we teach our students.

But before you click on the links -- it gets even better.

Bessie and Archer designed their visual essay as a fully functional interactive comic with built in links to all their sources. Take a minute to check it out, it's really very informative and comic geek chic.

Are you an education major? What do you know about education reform? Did high school serve you well? How would you improve the K-12 experience for both students and teachers?

What do you think of comics journalism? Do you like its interactivity? Does it encourage you to read?

Monday, July 16, 2012

Summer Getaway? Don't Forget a Beach Book

21 Classics That Make for Great Beach Reads includes some new classics and perennial favorites. So before you take your summer trip, pack your towel, slap on some sunscreen, and grab a book.

Some favorites:

1. Their Eyes were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston
hits most of the usual beats of a contemporary beach read — love, danger, tragedy, and finding personal strength in rough times — but stands apart for its historical significance and hauntingly gorgeous prose. Written at the height of the Harlem Renaissance, for modern readers the story of Janie Crawford’s eventful, not always satisfying life offers up some excellent lessons in America’s racial and gender history.

If you didn't read this in high school you should have. A real page turner.

2. The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
Beachy bibliophiles who want a little splash of sci-fi with their sun might want to give this classic thriller about a mysterious Connecticut suburb where all the wives lose their ambition entirely and transmogrify into creatures of pure servility. The Stepford Wives is a real page-turner for lazy days by the ocean or pool — even if you already knows the famous ending before cracking open the covers.

I wouldn't have thought of picking this one, but I like it!

4.The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson
Based partly on the gonzo journalist’s real experiences working in Puerto Rico, Hunter S. Thompson’s only published novel overflows with sordid stories of sex and scandal in a tropical setting — perfect beach reading, in other words. Mainly it revolves around the author’s fear of moving forward, both chronologically and professionally, as he launches into a new career in a new country with new people.

Read any Hunter S. Thompson--they are quite a trip on any vacation.

13. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
A much, much newer classic already showered with accolades and a few awards is one that science fiction fans might want to tote to the beach despite its heft simply because it’s just that delightful. Maneuver through nostalgic pop culture references as hero Wade Owen Watts launches his legendary quest to retrieve an Easter egg. The digital kind of Easter egg, of course.

Another great piece of science fiction ala Blade Runner meets Back to the Future.

15.Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
Readers with an adoration of the adventure genre already have a perfect read for their sunny, sandy literary pleasure, one packed with pirates, booty, and exotic locales. Don’t be surprised if fantasies about uncovering rare gems and coins start seeping into a beach vacation, however!

Pirates of the Caribbean - meet the original. Oh, and this one you should have read long before high school.

Did you read any of these classics this summer?

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Afghanistan: The Way It Was

I remember my mother wearing clothes like this when she went to the record store looking for 45s of her favorite songs. There were little booths where she would listen to records before buying them to play on our high fidelity record player at home. But this isn't a record store in downtown San Francisco, this is a record store in downtown Kabul in the 1960s.

CSUEB's former president Mohammad Qayoumi had this to say about the Kabul of his childhood
‘Given the images people see on TV, many conclude Afghanistan never made it out of the Middle Ages. But that is not the Afghanistan I remember. I grew up in Kabul in the 1950s and ’60s. Stirred by the fact that news portrayals of the country’s history didn’t mesh with my own memories, I wanted to discover the truth.

‘Remembering Afghanistan’s hopeful past only makes its present misery seem more tragic. But it is important to know that disorder, terrorism, and violence against schools that educate girls are not inevitable. I want to show Afghanistan’s youth of today how their parents and grandparents really lived.’
Here are a few more pictures of "old" Afghanistan.

Biology class at Kabul University.

Kabul University students changing classes. Enrollment doubled in four years.

Student nurses at Maternity Hospital, Kabul

This is the way Afghanistan was. Kabul University thrived, women attended school, and popular culture was not punishable by death. If you'd like to see more pictures of old Afghanistan check out Retronaut.

Do these pictures give you hope for the future of the middle east? Do you think people like President Qayoumi will see old Afghanistan again?

Friday, July 13, 2012

What Makes a Book a Classic?

Mark Twain once said, "A classic is a book which people praise and don't read." On the other hand Italo Calvino, a Nobel Prize nominated writer and journalist believes “'Your' classic is a book to which you cannot remain indifferent, and which helps you define yourself in relation or even in opposition to it." In other words, it cancels out Twain's definition because a classic can't be "your" book if you don't read it.

Brain Pickings provides Calvino's 14 Definitions of What Makes a Classic:
1. The classics are those books about which you usually hear people saying: 'I'm rereading…', never 'I'm reading….'

2. The classics are those books which constitute a treasured experience for those who have read and loved them; but they remain just as rich an experience for those who reserve the chance to read them for when they are in the best condition to enjoy them.

3. The classics are books which exercise a particular influence, both when they imprint themselves on our imagination as unforgettable, and when they hide in the layers of memory disguised as the individual's or the collective unconscious.

4. A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.

5. A classic is a book which even when we read it for the first time gives the sense of rereading something we have read before.

6. A classic is a book which has never exhausted all it has to say to its readers.

7. The classics are those books which come to us bearing the aura of previous interpretations, and trailing behind them the traces they have left in the culture or cultures (or just in the languages and customs) through which they have passed.

8. A classic is a work which constantly generates a pulviscular [think pulverize] cloud of critical discourse around it, but which always shakes the particles off.

9. Classics are books which, the more we think we know them through hearsay, the more original, unexpected, and innovative we find them when we actually read them.

10. A classic is the term given to any book which comes to represent the whole universe, a book on a par with ancient talismans.

11.'Your' classic is a book to which you cannot remain indifferent, and which helps you define yourself in relation or even in opposition to it.

12. A classic is a work that comes before other classics; but those who have read other classics first immediately recognize its place in the genealogy of classic works.

13. A classic is a work which relegates the noise of the present to a background hum, which at the same time the classics cannot exist without.

14. A classic is a work which persists as a background noise even when a present that is totally incompatible with it holds sway.
According to Calvino's rules, what are your classic texts? How did they move you? How does your classic text define you?

Monday, July 9, 2012

10 Best Viral Visual College Jokes

Sometimes school just has to make you laugh!

You know those pictures on the web, at places like, that have the Success Kid photo with a caption that says something like, "Day off in the middle of the week. TWO FRIDAYS!" Bachelors Degree Online collected The 10 Best Colleges Memes from this School Year and some of them are really funny.

Here's a couple of my favorites:

Lazy College Senior

I'm not sure I would just say this about seniors. C'mon it's funny! Considered the antithesis of College Freshman, Lazy College Senior drinks beer and deals with senioritis. Originally created in November 2011, this meme really took off with nearly 10,000 up votes prior to being archived. 10,000 votes! His parents must be so proud.

Having been a returning college student this one made me giggle:

Senior College Student

I have also seen this one as "Corrects History Professor. Remembers Being There." This meme features Nola Ochs, a Guinness World Record holder as the world's oldest graduate. Younger colleagues would do well to emulate Ochs' resoluteness as a Senior College Student. Remember, if college gets put aside for a semester or two, it's never too late to go back to school. I took one class a semester for an unmentionable amount of years, but I finally finished college. Don't get discouraged.

Do you like art? Do you like writing? Do you like working with computers? Somebody gets paid to do this. I'm not sure what major would qualify, perhaps multimedia or graphic arts.

These memes are yet another example of visual texts. It's summer. Take time to laugh--then get back to work.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Beautiful Pictures of Unusual Words

Project Twins, a graphic design studio, created a visual study of obscure and endangered words. They use bold graphics and visual wit to interpret and represent a collection of strange, unusual and lost words. These are just a few examples, click on the link to see more.

After opening the Project Twins site I was instantly struck with tarantism as I viewed graphic words with a feeling of xenization making me scripturient, thus this blog post.

What do you think? Can you think of unusual words that could be instantly defined with pictures? Do graphics help you when defining a word?
A person whose hair has never been cut.

The practice of destroying, often ceremoniously, books or other written material and media.

Swaggering; empty boasting; blustering manner or behavior; ostentatious display.

A knockout punch, either verbal or physical.

Possessing a violent desire to write.

A disorder characterized by an uncontrollable urge to dance.

The act of traveling as a stranger.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Elmore Leonards' Rules for Writing

Elmore Leonard, author of Get Shorty, Out of Sight, and the small screen's Justified, offers some advice to would-be writers and even though his advice is for budding novelists, a great writer is just a great writer. Take Elmore Leonard's advice when writing your college essays.

Some of Leonard’s suggestions appeared in a 2001 New York Times article that became the basis of his 2007 book, Elmore Leonard’s 10 Rules of Writing. Here are the basics:

1. Never open a book with the weather. If you open an essay with the weather, it better be a paper for a meteorology class. In other words, don't begin with a "It was a dark and stormy night."

2. Avoid prologues. Hmmm, prologues are a wind up to the action. Think of a prologue as your introduction. While an introduction is important you don't want to give too much away (or bore your readers with information that is common knowledge). Tell you reader what your paper is about and then get to it.

3. Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue--if you use dialogue. On the other hand letting signal phrases do the work for you when quoting a text is a good idea because they can convey so much information. For example, disagrees and condemns are stronger than said, but when you are writing a dialogue you want the dialogue to convey disagreement or condemnation and "said" doesn't get in the way.

4. Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.” In other words, when you interview someone in a paper, don't use "angrily said"--convey anger with the dialogue.

5. Keep your exclamation points under control! PAHlease!!!!! If it's important an exclamation point doesn't convince anyone, your argument does.

6. Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.” Why and how did something happen? Show your readers, let them feel it.

7. Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly. It slows down your reader and gets annoying quick. That's why you need to write with standard English. If your professor is trying to wade through your "pop" dialect--well, don't expect an A.

8. Avoid detailed descriptions of characters. If you are interviewing someone, or using personal experience--get on with it.

9. Same for places and things. If you are writing a travelogue that's one thing. If you are writing about a treasured object than you will be writing an extended description. If you are writing an argument essay about litter, keep your descriptions succinct to keep your reader moving along and engaged.

10. Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.
Think about what you skip as a reader and then avoid writing those parts.

Good writing is just good writing wherever it is found, from a novel to a memo or an email, respect your audience (and yourself) by making all your writing count. Can you think of other techniques that novelists use that you could adopt and adapt in your academic writing?

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Income-Based Student Loan Repayment Plan

Many college graduates face crushing student loan debt and discover, after they have landed their first out-of-college job, that starting wages don't begin to cover all of their expenses. American students owe over $1 trillion (yes, that's with a T) in student loans.

According to the New York Times:
For all [student] borrowers, the average debt in 2011 was $23,300, with 10 percent owing more than $54,000 and 3 percent more than $100,000, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reports. Average debt for bachelor degree graduates who took out loans ranges from under $10,000 at elite schools like Princeton and Williams College, which have plenty of wealthy students and enormous endowments, to nearly $50,000 at some private colleges with less affluent students and less financial aid.
Some parents who co-signed student loans, many now totaling over $100,000, have started taking out life insurance policies on their new graduates.

But if you took out federal student loans, there may be some relief.

The Federal Government has a plan that allows college graduates to repay their FEDERAL student loans based on income.

Here's how to qualify for Income Based Repayment (IBR):

ELIGIBLE LOANS - PLUS and Consolidation loans, made under either the Direct Loan or FFEL Program are some of the eligible loans that quality for IBR.

INCOME QUALIFICATION - You may enter IBR if your federal student loan debt is high relative to your income and family size.

There are some huge benefits to the IBR plan:

PAY AS YOU EARN — Under IBR, your monthly payment amount will be less than the amount you would be required to pay under a 10-year standard repayment plan, and may be less than under other repayment plans.

INTEREST PAYMENT BENEFIT — If your monthly IBR payment amount does not cover the interest that accrues on your loans each month, the government will pay your unpaid accrued interest on your Subsidized Stafford Loans (either Direct Loan or FFEL) for up to three consecutive years from the date you began repaying your loans under IBR.

25-YEAR CANCELLATION — If you repay under the IBR plan for 25 years and meet certain other requirements, any remaining balance will be canceled.

10-YEAR PUBLIC SERVICE LOAN FORGIVENESS — If you work in public service, on-time, full monthly payments you make under IBR (or certain other repayment plans) while employed full-time in a public service job will count toward the 120 monthly payments that are required to receive loan forgiveness through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

Click here to learn more about the Federal IBR Plan.

Have you taken out student loans? If so, do you have a plan to pay them back?

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

5 Things You Should Know When Giving a Presentation

You will have to give presentations for the rest of your life--throughout college and during your career--so here are some suggestions for making them count. According Dr. Susan Weinschenk there are 5 Things Every Presenter Should Know About People to get audiences informed, inspired, and motivated.

Here's an informative short animated video illustrating Weinschenk's points:

So what are the five points?

1. People learn best in 20-minute chunks. This is true for most mammals. I know that I can only make my horse work for twenty minutes before he decides to join the Rodeo and buck me off. Dog trainers say the same thing--well, maybe not the bucking off part.

2. Multiple sensory channels compete. Don't fill your PowerPoint slides with text--once your audience starts reading slides they stop listening. Here's what I do, I print off my slides and write my notes on them. I don't repeat what's on the slide, and I only put a small amount of copy of slides.

3. What you say is only one part of your presentation. Think about your body language, gestures, tone, and dress. Don't wear distracting earrings that make more noise than you do.

4. If you want people to act, you have to call them to action. This is what you learned about arguments. While ethos (authority) and logos (logic) get your audience to believe and trust you, only a call to action using pathos (emotion) gets them up off the couch and taking out their wallets.

5. People imitate your emotions and feel your feelings. Show your passion, it's contagious!

Have you sat through a presentation where a speaker ignored all these points? How can you adopt these strategies to make your next presentation a GREAT presentation?

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Reading Beyond the Plot: 9 Graphic Novels

People often wonder how (and why) a college professor would assign graphic novels (aka comics) to a college classroom. Well, the folks over at The Best Degrees have provided some answers in their article 9 Graphic Novels That Revolutionized the Comic Industry.

Their post is not entitled the "9 Greatest Graphic Novels Ever" (I would then have to argue some of their choices), but rather it is a look at graphic novels that changed the way we look at comics. They include links (click on the pics in Best Degree's post) to some really exceptional analysis essays, essays that anybody writing essays (that's you) should look at as A+ examples of what can be achieved. These are not just book reviews--they go beyond rating comics--they analyze certain aspects of specific texts and critically explore rhetorical strategies you may not have tried before.

Best Degrees places Kurt Busiek's Astro City in the number 8 position because of the way it "showed the comic industry that it could reconceptualize the ways in which [superheroes] are characterized, and bring a bit more anthropology and psychology to the mix." Best Degree's number 8 entry links to Part One of "Welcome to the Real World: Location, Location, Location and the High Cost of Heroes (and Villians)" The author, Iain Jackson, asks "Why do so many superhero stories take place in places that never were, or versions of the here and now that kind of . . . aren't, quite? And how do those fictional cities and towns manage to recover from having superheroes and supervillains around? They can be, to put it mildly, quite destructive." If you read the essay, you can see what a great paper this would be for an anthropology, psychology, or even an architecture class--and something new and different for a professor to read (remember, we want to be entertained just like YOU!)

Coming in at number five on Best Degree's list is Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns, which links to an eight part series entitled "Reading Frank Miller's Batman: The Dark Returns, Part 2". Part two is a colorful essay about Miller's revolutionary remake of the caped crusader by emulating a dark and painterly style. "The total result is a comic that continually engages and reengages the reader’s eye, relentlessly exploring multiple possibilities afforded by such a wide range of colors." Are you an art major? Check out this article as a guideline for your own essays.

And then, of course, there's Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen linked to an essay on which provides a literary critique of the text, "because Watchmen is more than the acme of a maligned medium, it's a vivid bit of literature in and of itself. The pictures are not to 'help' illustrate the story being told - they are an essential part of the way the story is being told." This would be a great essay for a literature or film class.

My advice: Pay attention to essays that interest you and write about things you love. Most essay prompts give you some leeway to discuss what you are passionate about. Believe me most professors know that if you write about something that interests you, you will write a better essay--and that makes their job easier.

You can blend comics with any major. How about comics and medical profession majors? No way! You'd be surprised at how many good graphic novels explore medicine; Harvey Pekar's Our Cancer Year and David Small's Stitches are just two that come to mind.

What about math majors? Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth is the book for you.

Spiegelman's Maus can be used in any history or sociology class.

Think about the comic books and graphic novels you love. What kind of analysis essay could you write blending comics and your major?

Monday, June 25, 2012

It's All Twitter's Fault

New hires (that's code for young adults) can't spell, use proper grammar, or write an intelligent memo. At least that's what some employers and grammar experts would have you believe in a recent WSJ article entitled This Embarrasses You and I* Grammar Gaffes Invade the Office in an Age of Informal Email, Texting and Twitter.

The article catalogs the extreme lengths some companies employ for a standard English image, such as having employee letters reviewed before mailing, 25-cent grammar fines, and in-house tutoring. Ruined advertising and a tarnished company image provide employer justification, but to me it seems a lot of this could be avoided by a good proofreading.

These examples triggered a couple "new hire" memories of my own. First, my boss wasn't worried about poor grammar, but bad language, so every time an employee dropped an F-bomb in the office, he or she had to pay the can. Secondly, my boss had spelling problems of his own and created a 10,000 page door stop by announcing to the world that our company had a "Committment to Excellence"--it should be "Commitment" with two "t"s, not three. Whew, was I glad I wasn't involved in that fiasco.

The trouble with grammar among new hires seems to stem from "Texting and Twitter where slang and shortcuts are common. Such looseness with language can create bad impressions with clients, ruin marketing materials and cause communications errors, many managers say." On the other hand, employers should appreciate twitter-esque memos and emails that immediately get to the point. Who has time to read a beautifully written 3-page letter when one paragraph would do?

But really you "new hires" there is no excuse for not proofreading EVERYTHING including text messages -- especially text messages from phones with automatic spelling correctors that revise text messages to read "Grandma is in the grave" instead of "Grandma is in the garage." OmG!

Test your grammar--click on the link to the WSJ article--there is a tab for Interactive Graphics at the top and see how you score on their test. Remember, it is one thing to commit an occasional grammar blunder, it is something entirely different to commit rampant grammar and style mistakes. As a college student, you SHOULD know the difference.

What kind of embarrassing grammar gaffes have you made at work or in school? Can you think of television, magazine, or billboard ads that made you wonder, "Who in the world wrote that?"

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Ray Bradbury Predicted the Future

When reading or watching science fiction we often run across products or futuristic visions. But if one looks at the past works of science fiction, say from sixty years ago, we can see just how prescient a certain author or cinematographer is or was.

Ray Bradbury was one of those prescient visionaries that predicted among other things: spy satellites, automatic teller machines, cell phones and flat screen TVs. Many of his books are classics: "There Will Come Soft Rain," and Fahrenheit 451 are just two. As you look at this infographic from Ria Novosti, think about recent creators and their predictions. What do you see in science fiction that will become a reality for you or your children.

Personally, I want my hover car!

Monday, June 18, 2012

The Earliest Cinema

European Cave Art!

According to Open Culture, Marc Azéma came up with the idea that paintings in Paleolithic caves are the first sequential art (think flip books). Others compare these 30,000 year-old cave paintings that dot the European continent to comics (think panel-to-panel visuals).

In 2010, the award-winning filmmaker, Werner Herzog, created a 3-D documentary entitled The Cave of Forgotten Dreams where
Herzog gained extraordinary permission to film the caves using lights that emit no heat. But Herzog being Herzog, this is no simple act of documentation. He initially resisted shooting in 3D, then embraced the process, and now it’s hard to imagine the film any other way. Just as Lascaux left Picasso in awe, the works at Chauvet are breathtaking in their artistry. The 3D format proves essential in communicating the contoured surfaces on which the charcoal figures are drawn. Beyond the walls, Herzog uses 3D to render the cave’s stalagmites like a crystal cathedral and to capture stunning aerial shots of the nearby Pont-d’Arc natural bridge.
Herzog confirms Azéma's idea. "Woolly mammoths are depicted in eight different phases, as if they were frames in an animated film." When Herzog says it, one of the greatest filmmakers in the world, the idea fills one's head with wonder at the creativity, resiliency, and genius of Paleolithic man. If you get a chance to see Cave of Forgotten Dreams in 3-D, take it.

Do you think comics are evolutionary in nature? Do you believe that reading and writing started with pictures to convey meaning? Why do we, as a people, love visual texts like comics, television, and movies?

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Film's Dark Predictions

Films set in the future often present a dark dystopia where people are barely surviving after a variety of catastrophes -- zombie apocalypse or global pandemic -- leaving society and people broken, alone, and in shambles.

Michael Hobson over at Tremulant Design created a beautiful infographic entitled "The Future According to Films" and records dozens of movies with cyborgs, underwater worlds, hell, precogs, aliens, anarchy, and shenanigans.

If you like science fiction, horror, and/or fantasy, here's a movie list for you....which are your favorites? How does this visual film timeline square up with your own vision of the future?

Think about your own essays. Can you see how a visual timeline can make material easier to place in history, making events easier to connect? Think about using one in your next history paper.

For essays where you have to make a prediction, say about the effects of a proposal, do you see how you can record the steps of a process along a timeline and then outline the possible effects along intersecting or divergent timelines? Look at how the creator of this timeline used brackets.

If you decide to use a timeline, be careful that your points are easy to follow (logical)--and try to make it as beautiful as this one. Pleasing visuals are always a plus in student writing.

Top 10 Most Read Books

Top 10 Books by Jared Fanning

1. The Holy Bible
2. Quotations from Chairman Mao
3. Harry Potter
4. The Lord of the Rings
5. The Alchemist
6. The DaVinci Code
7. The Twilight Saga
8. Gone with the Wind
9. Think and Grow Rich
10. The Diary of Anne Frank

Information graphics are great additions to papers, especially ones that look this good. They can convey a massive amount of information in the briefest glance.

Here's what I mean. If you wrote The Top 10 Most Read Books as a paragraph it would begin, "The top ten most read books in the world refers to the number of books sold, not printed. The number one book is The Holy Bible which sold 3,900,000,000 copies. The number two spot is occupied by Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung, selling 820,000,000." You would have to read a whole lot more before you got to "The Diary of Anne Frank is the 10th most-read book in the world having sold 27,000,000 copies." See what I mean? This could be a really long, boring paragraph, but the information graphic, using book spines as a bar chart, makes the information easily accessible and aesthetically delightful.

But, be careful, make sure your own in-text graphics are easy to read and easy to understand. There is nothing worse than a graphic filled with itty-bitty numbers that are hard to decipher.

Speaking of deciphering. Why do you think The Quotations from Chairman Mao is in the number two spot? At the other end of the graph with 27,000,000 copies sold, why do you think The Diary of Anne Frank is number ten? What do you think effects the purchase of these books?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Great Depression: From Farmer to Tramp

"1927 made $7000 in cotton. 1928 broke even. 1929 went in the hole. 1930 went in still deeper. 1931 lost everything. 1932 hit the road.”

The Great Depression began on October 29, 1929 and lasted until America's entry into World War II.

During an economic depression farmers usually remain economically stable, but during the Great Depression the U.S. not only experienced an economic crash, but also an environmental disaster known as the dust bowl. It destroyed croplands and sent farmers packing up to look for work, like the man and his family in this photograph.

According to Open Culture, "the Farm Security Administration took on the task of 'introducing America to Americans' through photography. The FSA hired Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Gordon Parks and other artists to capture images of ordinary Americans, specifically poor farmers."

Many of the Farm Administration's photographs have been missing for decades, but recently a NYC library curator tracked them down, cataloged them, and created an online archive.

We often think -- even in this economic recession -- that things could never get as bad the Great Depression, which may or may not be true, but these people lived through hardships that, hopefully, we will never experience.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words; what words would you use to describe some of these pictures? How would our society react to such a catastrophe today?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Fan Fiction is Good for You

Do you write stories set in the universe of your favorite comic book, movie, or novel? Do you keep your fanfiction life a secret from friends and family? Well, it's time to declare your passion. Why? "Because [you]’re creating paracosms — an activity that, research is showing, builds creative skills that pay off in real life," says Clive Thompson over at Wired.

What is a paracosm, you ask? "Paracosms are the fantasy worlds that many dreamy, imaginative kids like to invent when they’re young. Some of history’s most creative adults had engaged in 'worldplay' as children." What's more people who engage in this kind of activity
are more likely to be creative as adults. In 2002 researchers Michele and Robert Root-Bernstein conducted an elegant study. They polled recipients of MacArthur genius grants — which reward those who’ve been particularly creative in areas as diverse as law, chemistry, and architecture — to see if they’d created paracosms as children. Amazingly, the MacArthur fellows were twice as likely as “normal” nongeniuses to have done so. Some fields were particularly rife with worldplayers: Fully 46 percent of the recipients polled in the social sciences had created paracosms in their youth.

Why would worldplay make you more creative in your career? Probably because, as the Root-Bernsteins point out, it requires practical creativity. Fleshing out a universe demands not just imagination but an attention to detail, consistency, rule sets, and logic. You have to grapple with constraints — just as when you’re problem-solving at work.
The idea of "practical creativity" is exactly why business used to favor liberal arts degrees. If you can create a whole universe, or function in a diegetic from another planet, era, or society, how hard can it be to come up with a policy and procedure manual?

For you STEM majors, how is navigating through a parallel universe like designing a computer program?

In what kind of fanfiction do you engage? If you don't, what world would you like to write through?

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

"Truth Nothing But Shadows of the Image"

Plato expressed this idea in his "Allegory of the Cave" from The Republic. But what does it mean? If you live in a dark cave with other prisoners and suddenly you are released what would be your response? How would you see the world outside? Would you return to the cave with sun-dazzled eyes that slowly fill with darkness? Would you enlighten your fellow prisoners?

Franz Kafka's nightmare parable "Before the Law" asks, "Do you believe the law accessible to everyone?" Should it be?

These are questions asked in two short films from texts often assigned in college (or high school)--Plato's The Republic and Franz Kafka's The Trial. As you watch these animated images (Orson Welles narrates Plato's cave allegory and Kafka's parable) think about this: How is reality an illusion? Do you have an obligation to the unenlightened? How can you apply these parables to today's society?

Oh, yeah, what does this have to do with Johnny Depp? You tell me.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

2012 Summer Reading

The folks over at created a summer reading flow chart just for you! In between summer jobs, socializing, and sleeping, you may find yourself in need of a book - many of these texts are available free online, or even better free from your local library.

This list contains fiction and non-fiction books for all tastes. There are a few graphic novels, although I would add Watchmen if you haven't read it yet. Think about the classes you need to take in the Fall. If you have to take U.S. History, I can definitely recommend McCollough's John Adams. For you Administration of Justice majors, try Truman Capote's In Cold Blood. Something to consider, even if you aren't looking forward to psychology, sociology, or English (how can that be?), these are all GREAT books that will keep you entertained.

So what's on your reading list?
Summer Reading Flowchart

Via and USC Rossier Online

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Ray Bradbury R.I.P.

Ray Bradbury died Tuesday, June 5, 2012 at the age of 91. Remembered for his science fiction works such as Fahrenheit 451, The Illustrated Man, and The Martian Chronicles, Bradbury was a profilic writer who helped science fiction escape "pulp" status and legitimizing a whole genre.

In 2001, Bradbury offered twelve pieces of advice to aspiring writers. Even though most of your college writing will be essays which many see as not very creative, if you want your Professor to be engaged (and therefore entertained--that's a good thing) in what you're writing take Bradbury's advice from Open Culture:

>>"Don’t start out writing novels. They take too long. Begin your writing life instead by cranking out “a hell of a lot of short stories,” as many as one per week. Take a year to do it; he claims that it simply isn’t possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row. He waited until the age of 30 to write his first novel, Fahrenheit 451. 'Worth waiting for, huh?'"
In other words, get to the point and do it quickly. Also, remember the anecdote - they are a great way to hook your reader.

>>"You may love ‘em, but you can’t be ‘em. Bear that in mind when you inevitably attempt, consciously or unconsciously, to imitate your favorite writers, just as he imitated H.G. Wells, Jules Verne, Arthur Conan Doyle, and L. Frank Baum."
But you can borrow from them -- just don't forget to cite properly.

>>"Examine 'quality' short stories. He suggests Roald Dahl, Guy de Maupassant, and the lesser-known Nigel Kneale and John Collier. Anything in the New Yorker today doesn’t make his cut, since he finds that their stories have 'no metaphor.'"
Remember a metaphor makes an unclear idea clearer, not the other way around. Study metaphors and see what makes them work in the readings you are assigned.

>>"Stuff your head. To accumulate the intellectual building blocks of these metaphors, he suggests a course of bedtime reading: one short story, one poem (but Pope, Shakespeare, and Frost, not modern 'crap'), and one essay. These essays should come from a diversity of fields, including archaeology, zoology, biology, philosophy, politics, and literature. 'At the end of a thousand nights,' so he sums it up, 'Jesus God, you’ll be full of stuff!'”
This is reading from a book with pages, not FaceBook or Twitter. Although full texts from the internet (or your Nook are okay).

>>"Get rid of friends who don’t believe in you. Do they make fun of your writerly ambitions? He suggests calling them up to 'fire them' without delay."
Especially those college friends that would rather party every night instead of studying.

>>"Live in the library. Don’t live in your 'goddamn computers.' He may not have gone to college, but his insatiable reading habits allowed him to 'graduate from the library' at age 28."
We have a good library on campus and it has more than computers and wifi - Check out a book!

>>"Fall in love with movies. Preferably old ones."
Yes, that means those black and white ones. Start with Sunset Boulevard, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Metropolis, and of course, Casablanca.

>>"Write with joy. In his mind, 'writing is not a serious business.' If a story starts to feel like work, scrap it and start one that doesn’t. 'I want you to envy me my joy,' he tells his audience.
This may be hard to achieve with a college essay, but at least give it a try. Pick a subject you are passionate about. Do the brainstorming activities -- they usually take you somewhere.

>>"Don’t plan on making money. He and his wife, who 'took a vow of poverty' to marry him, hit 37 before they could afford a car (and he still never got around to picking up a license)."
What? That's why you are going to college. Well, don't plan on being a millionaire, plan on doing something that makes you happy, something that isn't a chore to study and that you can spend the rest of your life doing.

>>"List ten things you love, and ten things you hate. Then write about the former, and 'kill' the later — also by writing about them. Do the same with your fears."
What do you fear? What would happen if you wrote about them? If you write about them, practice them, you will find they become less and less fearful.

>>"Just type any old thing that comes into your head. He recommends 'word association' to break down any creative blockages, since 'you don’t know what’s in you until you test it.'

What are you supposed to be writing about? Just start typing. What comes into your head. Try it for a page and you'll be surprised about how much you already know--and how much you can use in your essay.

>>Remember, with writing, what you’re looking for is just one person to come up and tell you, 'I love you for what you do.' Or, failing that, you’re looking for someone to come up and tell you, 'You’re not nuts like people say.'
Doesn't an A give you that feeling of love and it's something you can do all on your own.

So treat your essays a little more creatively and you'll find they are a little less onerous.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What Superpower Would You Choose?

Do you want to fly? Would you like be invisible? How about superhuman strength or X-ray vision?

My superpower of choice is to be able to speak every language in the Universe - from Elven to Italian, Mandarin to Romulan, cat to bat, and everything in between. I'd like to hear (or receive, if it's a telepathic language) everybody's story in their own language and understand all the delicate nuances intelligent beings can fashion.

Speaking of stories . . . think of the stories these guys could tell. Imagine talking to Thor in Asgardian or being able to translate all the spells from the stacks at Hogwart's (BTW - the best class EVER!).
So what superpower would you choose?

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

2012 World Wildlife Fund Living Planet Report

The World Wildlife Fund's 2012 Living Planet report notes that "we are using 50 per cent more resources than the Earth can provide. By 2030, even two planets will not be enough."

Rising populations and rising incomes have and will lead to a larger human footprint on the planet.

Are we a plague? Ask Agent Smith who tells the captive Morpheus in The Matrix? "Every mammal on this planet instinctively develops a natural equilibrium with the surrounding environment but you humans do not. You move to an area and you multiply and multiply until every natural resource is consumed and the only way you can survive is to spread to another area. There is another organism on this planet that follows the same pattern. Do you know what it is? A virus. Human beings are a disease, a cancer of this planet. You're a plague and we are the cure." Yikes!

I don't think we need to get that extreme, but how do we balance population while protecting nature? How do we balance grazing, farming, and fishing with a growing population and decreasing resources? Can we blend the wild with the urban? What kind of sustainable ideas do you have? Can you work those ideas into your academic and career goals?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Geeks (will) Rule the World

Comics often present a world where science (fiction) meets art--and what an inspired vision. Comics are filled with things like shields that can absorb and store power, hammers that control lightening, wireless powering, suits that give you superhuman power and interdimensional portals. Sound familiar? It should to anyone who reads and imagines in the Marvel Universe, or anyone who has seen the new Avengers movie.

Life's Little Mysteries recently published "5 Awesome Ways 'The Avengers' Bends Physics" that explores the science needed to produce these novel gadgets. Some say "The laws of physics prevent such inventions," but true believers know better--we just haven't figured it out yet.

This article is so good that a large portion is pasted below:

Captain America's Shield

Captain America harnesses the power of "Vibranium," a metal extracted from a meteorite that crashed in Africa. The shield is capable of absorbing, storing and redirecting kinetic energy, and the material becomes more powerful as more weapons are turned against it. In the movie, Captain America redirects a shot from Iron Man’s repulsor ray into a bunch of Chitauri warriors sneaking up on Iron Man.

“The property that lends Vibranium its remarkable characteristics is its ability to store or channel energy in its atomic structure,” said Suveen Mathaudhu, a program manager in the materials science division of the U.S. Army Research Office. He recently contributed to a Journal of Materials story on the science of the Avengers. Scientists have yet to find a material that gets tougher the more it gets knocked around, but battlefield materials are getting increasingly better at dissipating impact energy.

Thor controls lightning

The Norse god Thor is able to summon lightning by wielding Mjolnir, his trusty enchanted hammer. Thor can channel the storm’s fury into devastating energy blasts that can destroy even secondary Adamantium. In real life, companies are tinkering with artificial lightning. Applied Energetics, a company that develops lasers and particle beam systems, has built a lightning gun that can stall cars or defuse roadside bombs.

Wireless power for aliens

In the movie, shape-shifting Chitauri aliens are wirelessly powered by their mothership. While wireless powering (especially for something so big) remains difficult and inefficient for non-super beings, many researchers, including a group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, are working to make this a reality. The most common form of wireless power transmission — for example, the consumer devices that can charge cellphones — use direct induction followed by resonant magnetic induction, but other methods under consideration include electromagnetic radiation in the form of microwaves or lasers.

Iron man’s suit

“One thing we can learn is that many, many science fiction heroes are scientists and engineers who use their innovative scientific discoveries to support or lend them their super-characteristics,” Mathaudhu said. Iron Man (alias Tony Stark) is a prime example. Iron Man’s armored suits give him superhuman strength and durability, flight, repulsors and the unibeam projector. They also have energy shields, an electromagnetic pulse generator, arm-mounted cannons and projectile launchers, various tools like a drill or detachable hip lasers, and can absorb and release energy. In real life, exoskeletons developed for military purposes have been shown to support soldiers as they run at speeds of up to 10 mph while lugging 200 extra pounds of gear.

Inter-dimensional portals

Even a demigod like Loki needed a scientist (astrophysicist Dr. Erik Selvig) to build a device to open up an inter-dimensional portal. “Scientists often [think in a way] that is predisposed to the limitations of the current physical world. However, science fiction has no such constraints and thus can stimulate creativity and innovation in unique ways. In the fictional world, they are not limited to the technology of today, and are free to image the extreme possibilities of science and materials, which often become realities in the real world in the future,” Mathaudhu said.

In fact, Einsteinian physics do provide hints at how transport through wormholes might be achieved. By current standards, such portals seem wildly unlikely, but no more so than an evil Norse god waging war against a team of superheros.

Can't figure out your major? How about physics? Future scientists here's your chance to make art science. Personally, I can't wait for my hovercraft to fly to work, or better yet a transporter, so I can set my alarm later.