Showing posts from 2014

Itch for locations remote?

Erik Wernquist created a short film entitled "Wanderers" narrated by Carl Sagan (from 1994's Pale Blue Dot) that shows what future explorers may be in for. According to Wernquist, "The locations depicted in the film are digital recreations of actual places in the Solar System, built from real photos and map data where available. Without any apparent story, other than what you may fill in by yourself, the idea with the film is primarily to show a glimpse of the fantastic and beautiful nature that surrounds us on our neighboring worlds - and above all, how it might appear to us if we were there." 
It's a beautiful film, a look at what man can hope for.
But then there is the other side of man's race for technology as seen in Danny Cooke's "Postcards from Pripyat, Chernobyl," a film made using a drone to fly over the city that suffered a nuclear catastrophe on April 26, 1986. A nuclear disaster that exposed the area to 400 times more radiatio…

Lies, Damn Lies, and Charts?

Over at Nautilus, Becca Cudmore is puzzled by how the same information can be displayed on charts with two entirely different attitudes, or spin. According to Ruth Rosenholtz, a scientist over at MIT, the way you can tell if a chart is trying to deceive you is by how long it takes you to figure out what that visual is trying to say. "A bad chart requires more cognitive processes and more reasoning about what you’ve seen."

Since you are often required to use visuals, including graphs and charts, let's take a look at a couple of Nautilus's examples of what you should NOT do.

Puzzling Perspective - The purple chart is about "labor." It is displaying the same information, so why do these charts look so different?

The pie chart on the right puts labor up front and closer to you, so it takes up more space. The chart at left puts the labor information farther away from you, so it takes less space (think vanishing point perspective).

In other words, making your numb…

What's an In-Text Citation?

You would think it would be crazy hard for new academic writers to write a college-level academic paper, but NO, what's really hard for new academic writers is to format that paper correctly, especially when it comes to IN-TEXT CITATIONS (YES! that is ALL CAPS and BOLD).

Why? I don't seems pretty straightforward to me, but then I've been writing and grading academic papers for a long time...
would think it would be crazy hard for new academic writers to write a college-level academic paper, but NO! What's really hard for new academic writers is to format that paper correctly, especially when it comes to

So here's the basics: If you borrow someone's idea, you have to give him or her credit--it's their idea. They did a lot of work to come up with something original, so give credit where credit is due. A person's ideas can be expressed verbally or in writing. A writer can use those ideas by paraphrasing, summarizing or quoting directly. Any way …

The Best Infographics of 2014

Over at Brain Pickings they are featuring a few examples from the newly released, Best Infographics of 2014.
Why study infographics? Do you want to decide whether or not to take a job? Use the Existential Calculator (see graphic). "It organizes the spectrum of possible work outcomes—from pleasurable to spiritually degrading, from well-paying to debt-enhancing, from exciting to 'meh'—and shows where the reader is likely to land, based on what they tell it about the potential job.'" (Kelli Andersom)  Some of the other graphics to linger over are the fears of a cat wandering through San Francisco (LOL, some of those fears resemble my own).

Brain Pickings' post mentions one of my favorite creators and chart busters, Edward Tufte, noting that:

"Tufte and others have long spoken to the importance of minimalism in information design. But it proved to be more important as design was translated onto the web, where attention spans are measured in seconds an…

National Cyber Security Month

There is a month for everything, including Cyber Security. The infographic produced by SingleHop posits some interesting myths, especially "the internet is so big no one would pick on me," and "there isn't anything worth stealing on my computer."
Oh, yeah?
The Telegraph just ran an article about this very same issue, entitled "How Hackers Took Over My Computer." A test subject asked an "ethical hacker" to see what kind of harm they could do if they were unethical. The subject stated that she had "high security" ratings on social media accounts, but here's what happened:
Hackers discovered the subject's personal stats (birth date and family members) via a popular online ancestry website.Twitter offered up the subject's work email address.Recent locations subject visited were available through FacebookLinkedIn disclosed workplace data But why do hackers want to know this information? To get the subject to open an email from…

You Know You Need to Kill Your Cell Phone If . . .

So you're driving through Hollywood somewhere and spot Kirsten Dunst of Spiderman fame - what do you do?

Do you stop, jump out your car, and take a selfie? Well, that's just what happened in this short film. Think this is just a bit of exaggeration? I doubt it. But that's not the only sign that you are addicted to your cell phone.

You know you need to kill your cell phone if . . .

you have ever run into a pole (or any other large item) while can't remember how to write with a pen or pencil anymore and find yourself just taking pictures of the notes on the board.feel an event didn't happen unless you take a bazillion selfies on your phone while attending.can't make it through a family meal (or any meal for that matter) without picking up your phone.can feel your phone vibrating inside your pocket when it is in your purse or backpack.can't handle not being able to see your cell phone 24-hours a day because it causes you mental anxiety.have to have…

Is that a Giant Toilet?

Ummm, yes it certainly looks like one.

Mr. Crapper may have invented the first flush toilet, but he probably never suspected that we would be playing basketball in one.

That's righ sports fans, the Golden State Warriors' new arena may just be a giant commode. I know we want to put our favorite sport's heroes on a throne, but this may be taking things too far.

Apparently, the plans for the new stadium were getting too expensive so they were flushed for new renderings.

How much money do you think the architectural firm charged for this rendering of San Francisco's latest sports' arena? SF could have just called Moen or Price Pfister and enlarged one of their commode schematics.

Can you hear the announcers now? Thankfully, there is no one named John on the team.

What does this post have to do with college, careers, comics, or writing? I'm not sure . . . but it sure is strange that architects with an advanced degree came up with a gigantic toilet of an arena.


Women are Better Writers

At least that's what 3,000 writers said when they were polled by Grammarly, the world's best grammar checker.

But why are women better?

According to those polled, women are better writers because they spend more time developing characters, women like to write more about people rather than things. Women are even better writers because they like to write purple prose -- "long, descriptive sentences."

Or maybe this is just all a bunch of stereotyping?

I would really like to know what the internals of this poll are. How many men were polled? How many women? What were the ages of those polled?

If you look at the results of this poll (and it doesn't claim to be scientific), what would you guess about the internals?

Do you agree with the results? Do you believe women are better writers than men?

Who are some of the greatest writers of all time? Ouch, those are men, but is this the result of the male-dominated culture of the past?

Who do you believe is one of the greate…

200 Free Documentaries

Do you like documentaries? Over at Open Culture they've collected 200 free documentaries along with accompanying links.

The post includes A Brief History of Time (1992) about Stephen Hawking and Bed Peace (1969), John Lennon and Yoko Ono's protest of the Vietnam War, to Billie Holiday: The Life and Artistry of Lady Day (2002) and Audio Ammunition, a web site devoted to short documentaries.

There are items by or about some of the best in the business including David Lynch and Alfred Hitchcock. The world's most (in)famous from the music industry are also represented including Bob Marley, Lou Reed and The Ramones. Look at new films, old films, how-to films (Disney animation), silent films, music films. There is enough there to keep you interested for a while.

Documentaries let us examine the real world through the filmmaker's lens. They let us see the past, albeit filtered through the camera, our current world, and possibilities for the future. What was the last document…

World's Richest Superheroes Go To College

The Black Panther isn't just the world's richest superhero, he also has a super education. The Black Panther "has a Ph.D. in Physics from Oxford University and is considered to be one of the eighth smartest people on the planet." He needs that intellect in order to run his own country located somewhere on the African continent.  His estimated worth $500 billion.

Buddy Loans created the infographic, "The World's Richest Superheroes", which lists the top eight pocketbooks as well as the top intellects.

Infographics and comics--what a great combination.  Also, my college friends notice that this graphic contains a "Sources" section that cites Marvel, X-Men Wikia, DC Wikia, and, of course, Forbes. How's that for ethos?

Following the Black Panther on the intelligence scale is Batman aka Bruce Wayne who is a graduate of Yale Law School. His holdings include Wayne Enterprises, a company that holds many patents for all his gadgets and vehicles. Wa…

Wanna Talk Alien? Need to Speak Visuals!

Reading visuals - even NASA does it.

Archaeology, Anthropology and Interstellar Communication is a recent tile released by NASA, edited by Douglas A. Vakoch. Vakoch believes that when ET tries to communicate with us it will not be through sound but via images. All the stuff you had to learn about reading images is going to come in handy.
"Vision and the use of images would appear to be at least plausible. Although spectral details cannot be considered universal, the physical arrangement of objects on a habitable planet’s surface will be shaped in part by gravity (the notion of a horizon might well be universal) and thus multispectral images might plausibly be considered worthwhile for messages." So what kind of images do we send out?

One message contained the binary numbers one through ten, equations of basic chemistry, human bio chemistry, and DNA.  Another contained a drawing of what we look like, pulsar directives, and a schematic of our solar system. In other words, a ex…

Feeling Stressed? Good! But Stay Calm

Stress is a necessary evil.  While we don't want to walk around feeling stressed all the time, it does help get successful results.

We want to be in the middle of that bell curve when stress leads to increased attention and interest, but right before it causes strong anxiety.

As you climb toward optimal performance, you have to stay calm because once you lose your cool, well, that can quickly lead to a "complete meltdown."  So what do successful people do to stay cool?

Travis Bradberry over at offers us some insight about how successful people stay calm.

Appreciate what you have. "Taking time to contemplate what you’re grateful for isn't merely the 'right' thing to do. It also improves your mood, because it reduces the stress hormone cortisol by 23%." Remember, 99 percent of the world's population, alive or dead, would love to be a college student in the San Francisco Bay Area.

Avoid asking what if? "Calm people know that asking “…

What Would Your Internet Search History Say About You?

What if someone only got to know who you were based on your internet search history? What do you think he or she would think of you as a person? What kind of an analysis could be performed based on your search history?

How about whole states? Estately, a website that claims to be "an addictive easy way to shop for homes" did just that.  "The results ranged from mildly amusing to completely disturbing. No doubt this information will come in handy for anyone trying to decide which state they want to buy a home in, especially for those curious how their potential neighbors spend their time online."

Here's a sampling of the first four states in the Union (listed alphabetically):

ALABAMA:  FOX News / God / Impeach Obama / Jesus / Jessica Simpson / Obama Is The Antichrist / Polka  / Satan
          Analysis:  It’s a fire and brimstone kind of state, but with a soft spot for pretty blondes.

ALASKA:   Adult Friend Finder / AR-15 / Bestiality / Bird Watching / Couch Surfi…

Devoid of Humanity? Ask this "Ethics" App

The Marrkkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University in Silicon Valley held a contest asking students to develop an Ethical Decision making app that incorporated values presented in the "Framework for Ethical Decision Making":
"Making good ethical decisions requires a trained sensitivity to ethical issues and a practiced method for exploring the ethical aspects of a decision … The more novel and difficult the ethical choice we face, the more we need to rely on discussion and dialogue with others about the dilemma. Only by careful exploration of the problem, aided by the insights and different perspectives of others, can we make good ethical choices in such situations. We have found [this] framework for ethical decision making a useful method for exploring ethical dilemmas and identifying ethical courses of action." See any problems with this brand of moral decision making? What discussion and dialogue or insights of different perspectives can you get …

Successful Revising Techniques

Rewriting is the essence of writing well—where the game is won or lost.
—William Zinsser

This is very true - instructors don't expect everything in the first draft and, in fact, expect what Anne Lammott would call a "shitty first draft."

Here is some basic advice when it comes to revising drafts:
1) Revision is NOT just about fixing grammar and spelling.  2) Revision is NOT just about moving some words around or finding every synonym Word has to offer.  3) REREAD the prompt.  Are you answering the question being proffered, or have you gone off on some tangent? Get back on track and revise towards the prompt. 4) Check in with your thesis.  Is this the paper you just wrote, or did you discover a new approach towards the topic as you wrote your exploratory draft?  Make necessary adjustments.  5)  When revising the next draft "think big"....what kind of evidence (stats, facts, quotes, examples) do you need to support ALL of your points?  Does your paper display a st…

The Colored Rhetoric of Advertising

This is a great infographic entitled Psychology of Color - Analysis of Brands Color over at
Remember advertisers are experts at the use of rhetoric and color is just one aspect.  What do you find most surprising to learn about your favorite color?

Digital Shadow: Just Plain Creepy

You go about your life unaware of the Digital Shadow you cast_ Your life is measured in gigabytes. Data comes at a cost_ Algorithms can predict your interests, your desires, even your fantasies_ These are some of the ominous calculations Digital Shadow performs using your digital footprint.

Want to know who is secretly stalking you?

Want to know who your pawns are?

Don't think you have a very large digital footprint?

Well, guess again.  Among other things Digital Shadow will tell you about your "Liabilities" or people that consistently post about you making you vulnerable to attack. It also lists your "Obsessions" and "Scapegoats" -- people you would sacrifice if you had too.

Digital Shadow looks at your online Facebook data and provides a psychological profile of the digital you.  Perhaps the digital you is "Neurotic and exhibits high levels of self-absorption and insecurity" meaning you can be easily threatened.

Digital Shadow can also asse…

Is So! Is Not! Why Counterarguments Matter

When writing an argument you cannot ignore the arguments against your position.  You should seek out to identify the most obvious counterarguments and then address those objections in order to convince your readers that your position is valid.

In addition, addressing counterarguments adds ethos to your argument by showing that you have thought about other positions and aren't attempting to ignore them. 

According to, "one can acknowledge and even concede a point in counterargument without directly refuting it. For example, in an argument that girls should play competitive sports you might concede a point to an alternative perspective by saying
Of course, participation in sports is not the answer for all young women. Competitive sports can be cruel -- the losing, jealousy, raw competition, and intense personal criticism of one's performance. All athletes must learn to deal with these issues.  There are some basic rules when constructing a …

Need Some University Credit This Summer? Try a class in the Zombie Apocalypse

"Until you're actually in a catastrophe you don't know how you'd behave."  That's how Glenn Stutzky prefaces the MSU Summer 2014 class "Surviving the Coming Zombie Apocalypse – Disasters, Catastrophes, and Human Behavior".

When I first heard about this class, I didn't give it much credence.  Another crazy pop culture class - but then again, as a teacher of comics and all things related, I had to step back.  After all Walking Dead is one great comic book series that was serialized on television.  Although, I have to say, I still wasn't convinced that the zombie apocalypse was an appropriate fit in classes on the study of human behavior.

That was before I watched the above video.

What changed my mind?  The Mt. Diablo Fire of 2013.  I had always thought of myself as one of those people who, in the face of disaster, would remain calm, cool, and collected, rescuing neighbors and pets alike.  But, no, when Mt. Diablo was engulfed in flames, I was…

Race and Comics

The Root recently published an article entitled Black Heroism Illustrated.  It documents the instances of black superheroes created by the comic powerhouses DC and Marvel.  Beginning with DC's Black Lightening in 1977 and Marvel's Black Panther who debuted in "Fantastic Four" no. 52 in 1966.

The article also documents the rise of African American sidekicks -- Captain America's trusted Falcon (1969) -- while interracial justice leagues began appearing in the 1970s.

The Shadow League chronicles comic stereotypes, from Harlem as the hometown of every African American superhero to the use of the descriptor "black" in superhero names; think "Black Lightning, Black Vulcan, Black Goliath, Black Racer, the Black Spider, Black Manta and so on."

The most recent addition to the black pantheon of superheroes would be Nick Fury - who apparently underwent a race change in 2002's "The Ultimates #1" -- from a white World War II army hero to, I …

The World at your Fingertrips - FREE!

I love maps!  And the older the better.

I like looking at how the world has changed, or being reminded of places I've visited.

In my office I have a 1930's map showing the "Voyages of Discovery" with dashed lines and little galleon icons indicating the trips of Columbus, Vaso de Gama, and Magellan, a visual text sparking images of pirates, sea monsters, and exotic ports of call.

In my kitchen I have a very art deco map of "Europe in 1932" with pink and teal countries whose borders are very different than the world today. Whenever company comes and congregates in the kitchen it always sparks a conversation about places we'd love to visit.  Rome, Paris, Athens, Florence, London, Alexandria, Constantinople all great cities a world away.

Now some of these antiques are available to everyone thanks to the New York Public Library. The library has been scanning maps for about 15 years and now has "1,100 maps of the Mid-Atlantic United States and cities fr…

Favorite Toys from Around the World

When my daughter was born I bought her two hefty Tonka trucks, one a grader and the other a gigantic dump truck.

I was going to make sure she had choices.  I didn't want my daughter to be conditioned to be a Barbie lovin', pink wearin', prissy little girl; she was going to play with trucks and baseballs and soccer balls and dolls and then decide what she liked best.

Well, the Tonka dump truck soon became a bassinet for her Cabbage Patch dolls and her little brother gladly traded her the grader for a plush lamb that just wasn't macho enough for him.

Are girls conditioned to want dolls?  Are boys conditioned to want trucks?  Are girls naturally attracted to more nurturing, mothering type toys, while boys want guns to go out and bring dinner home?

An interesting book was just released called Toy Stories: Photos of Children From Around the World with Their Favorite Things by Gabrielle Galimberti.  Galimberti spent two-and-a-half years trekking through 58 countries askin…

Hunter S. Thompson on Power

What is power?

According to Hunter S. Thompson, Gonzo Journalist extraordinaire, "Power is language.  Power is being able to use language.

"Power is the ability to help people.

"Power is taking risks.

"Power can be ruthless.

"Power is doing the right thing at the wrong time"

This thirty-second commercial was created for Macintosh in the 1990s when Steve "Jobs waxed lyrical about the 'crazy ones, misfits, rebels and rule breakers?' No surprise, then, that Apple decided to burnish its rebel credentials by hiring none other than the father of gonzo journalism to star in one of its TV spots."

But more than Fear and Loathing, Thompson was notorious not only for his drug-induced road trips, but also for his temper . . . and he was no techie.
According to Open Culture, "Presumably, simply having Thompson in the ad gave Apple enough countercultural cachet, since he never mentions either the company or its product. This may have been t…

Introducing the Introduction

An essay introduction is just like a personal introduction . . . and yes, it is an art.  They are both a first impression and quickly determine whether you want to read a paper or engage with a person.

Let's look at seven standard types of introductions that you can use in ANY essay.  Since I have found examples to be the best teachers, let's look at seven introductory paragraphs for a single thesis statement:
Two types of students who attend college are the eighteen-year-old who just graduated from high school and the returning student who seeks a new career.A Personal or Fictional Anecdote
As I walked into my first college class, I wondered who would be sitting to my right or left. I remember fearing that everyone would stare at me because I was an "older" student. I soon realized that while many teens were in the class, I was not the only student who had waited a number of years before seeking a college education.  Two types of students who attend college are the…

Synthesis, Synthesis Why Do I Care?

We synthesize all the time.

When you have a conversation with a friend about something your other friends have said about that certain someone, that's a synthesis.

When you are given an assignment that asks you to use "at least one quote" to support your opinion, that's a synthesis.

When you go on RateMyProfessor to find reviews of a specific professor in order to decide whether to take his or her class, that's a synthesis.

When you read or watch the news, surf the internet, or your favorite video channel, and then form a new opinion, that's a synthesis.

Every one of the posts on this blog are a synthesis.  I'm not reinventing the wheel here, I just look for articles that might interest college students, or help them understand a concept better, and then add my own "two cents", as my father would say.

But let's take a closer look at the definition of an academic synthesis from Drew University:
"Although at its most basic level a synth…

Even Leonardo had to Write a Resume'

One would think that Leonardo da Vinci, the guy who invented the helicopter, created the most famous picture of man (you know the guy in the circle holding out his arms), and painted the Mona Lisa, wouldn't have to create a resume', but then one would be WRONG!  Before da Vinci was the toast of Renaissance Europe, he was a nobody, a student, just like you, and just like you he had to send out a resume' or two.

Marc Cenedella posted a translation of DaVinci's resume as follows:
“Most Illustrious Lord, Having now sufficiently considered the specimens of all those who proclaim themselves skilled contrivers of instruments of war, and that the invention and operation of the said instruments are nothing different from those in common use: I shall endeavor, without prejudice to any one else, to explain myself to your Excellency, showing your Lordship my secret, and then offering them to your best pleasure and approbation to work with effect at opportune moments on all t…

"Bless Her Heart"

Once the kids were safely dropped off at school, this one-time stay-at-home mom had lots of opportunity to coffee klatch.  These gab fests would eventually make their way to a sentence that began with "Bless her heart." Instantly, my antennae would go up because a juicy bit of gossip was about to be revealed. A cheating husband, less-than-stellar children, or the expanding width of a rear end were all fair game if it was preceded by "Bless her heart."

What is the point of "bless her heart" and other "tee-ups"? After all, a blessing is a good thing, right? Wrong, not when it is instantly followed by some snarky comment.

Like the author of "Why Verbal Tee-Ups Often Signal Insincerity" I cringe when someone says to me "Don't take this the wrong way . . . "  I mean you know what's coming.  Professor James Pennebaker asserts these "tee-ups" are preludes to criticism and worse.
"Language experts have textbook n…

DWYL - Do What You Love

It may be hard to see in this home/work space, but there it is a cute little picture proclaiming "Do What You Love" next to another cute little graphic "Love What You Do."

We've all heard this phrase, but at Jacobin an article entitled "In the Name of Love" claims that
"There’s little doubt that 'do what you love' (DWYL) is now the unofficial work mantra for our time. The problem is that it leads not to salvation, but to the devaluation of actual work, including the very work it pretends to elevate — and more importantly, the dehumanization of the vast majority of laborers." After all, we're not all Bill Gates building computers in our garage.

Is DWYL just a bit of self-aggrandizing fluff?

Jacobin makes a good point when saying, "By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, DWYL distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to …

Vindicated. Finally!

Reading Twilight, Harry Potter (take that Harold Bloom), Hunger Games, and Watchmen, for that matter, will improve your brain.

Don't believe me? Let's ask the experts.
ABC News is reporting that scientists are using some of their most sophisticated tools to peer inside the human brain to see what happens when we engage in the process of reading, and they are finding a number of surprises: -- Reading is a very complex task that requires several different regions of the brain to work together.
-- But surprisingly, we don't use the same neural circuits to read as we grow from infants to adults. So our brains are constantly changing throughout our lives.
-- It appears possible that reading can improve the "connectivity" between the various brain circuits that are essential to understanding the written word.

-- And there is recent evidence that simply reading a good novel can keep that enhanced "connectivity" working…

Reading Visuals: Infographics

My students often look at me like I'm crazy when I assign readings about reading visuals.  We don't just read written texts anymore...we read television, YouTube, graphic essays, and infographics.  In this visual-laden society, being able to read a graphic is a required skill.  As a teacher, a good visual in an otherwise excruciatingly dull (sorry, but you all know what I mean) essay can often make me drop my red pen for a moment or two.  And it appears, I am not alone.

Over at Brain Pickings they published an article entitled "How to be an Educated Consumer of Infographics:  David Bryne on the Art-Science of Visual Storytelling" and I just couldn't resist another blog post about visuals....I got The Best American Infographics of 2013 as a Christmas present and devoured it in one afternoon.  According to Bryne, of Talking Heads fame,
The very best [infographics] engender and facilitate an insight by visual means — allow us to grasp some relationship quickly and…