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.