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December 2007
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February 2008

Deaf Culture and Expressive Captions for TV and Film

As reported in the Chicago Tribune today, PepsiCo has produced a Superbowl Ad based on a popular joke in deaf culture called Bob's House. Think how do deaf people find a house when they have forgotten the address? It was created with the PepsiCo EnAble network of employees with "different abilities." Based on some of the responses on You Tube, it has been very positively received by the deaf community.

Watching the captions on the video got me thinking about TV and Movie captions and how unexpressive they are. This seems especially a shame considering all the possibilities of visual expression in typography. Someone in motion graphics I would think would be on this, but alas it seems not to be so.

A quick Google on graphic design and captions/ typography and captions resulted in finding the website of Joe Clark, a Canadian designer who according to Atlantic Monthly is the "King of Captioning." He seems to be giving a lot of presentations on the subject and has the Open and Closed Project which seeks to write standards, conduct research, and offer training. They are seeking funding from industry, but not government. I wonder why that is so. This is the only research that I could find on the topic.

So I strongly recommend any graphic design students who are reading this to consider this as a thesis project. It seems a shame that no one has really worked on this in the US and it seems a smart way to demonstrate the power of design through universal design and kick-ass typography, as well as dealing with all the technical issues. I promise to serve as your advisor if need be, but someone should be doing this project.


Election information blues

The Illinois primary elections are on Feb 5th. So being a good citizen, I thought I do some research on the candidates and issues. So I got a sample of the Democratic Primary Election ballot, so I can research the issues. Download Dem08_specballot.pdf (PDF). From a design perspective, we still need to work on the non-centered type thing it seems.

The good thing is that sites like Project Vote Smart provides good information about current Federal and State officials. I got good information on the voting records for Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama (Obama has a lot of Non-Votes in his record), and Senator Dick Durbin (whom I am really coming to like). Project Vote Smart is a good source for State incumbent records, but has no information on their yet-to-be tested opponents.

For example, I have to vote for a State Senator for the 5th district. The incumbent is Senator Rickey Hendon and his opponents listed were Jonathan Singh Bedi and Amy Sue Mertens. I was able to find Bedi and Mertens's campaign websites but they all said the same thing (i.e. I am pro-education funding, pro-ending poverty, pro-safety, pro-CTA funding.) They do not say how they are going to accomplish any of this, at least not in any detail that would help me make a decision.  So not wanting to base such an important decision on the quality of their website designs, I turned to newspaper articles or people's blogs to get a sense of what the candidates will do. Why is it that we base such decisions on what politician's attitudes are versus their behaviors? Even when we get the facts of people's behaviors, we still focus on what they said. I got some issues where there were reports on debates, but I may end up having to vote based on the quality of their website designs. This is not as superficial a reason, because it indicates to me the extent to which the candidate values communication with their constituents, who may not have the leisure to go attend a debate.

What are always challenging elections are the judicial ones for me. I was told a long time ago to visit the Chicago Bar Association who does evaluations on the qualifications of judges. They have recommendations for every election except for this one it. Perhaps, it will be coming out in a week or so. We only have one public question this election, but it pretty straightforward on whether to make it mandatory for the Fed. gov to fully fund the Department of Veterans Affairs.

So if I can get my hands on the CBA's recommendations, I would feel like a semi-informed voter.

So Go Vote Smartly!!!




Files from NCSU workshop

I finally can upload the files from my workshop. They are:
the lecture presentation that I gave, Communitas Digitas. Download communitas_nscu_prez.pdf (PDF 5.4 Mb)
the assignment sheet I passed out to the students Download communitas_digitas_assignment.pdf (PDF 56 kb)

The assignment was to:

  1. Select a digital community with various aspects of “learning” part of it. This can be a broad as “learning” about products (ex. EBay, Slashdot, iTunes) or as specific as an educational institution (ex. MIT OpenCourseware).
  2. Define the common values (i.e. charter, constitution) of the community and how they are made tangible to community members.
  3. Define the major categories of features, functions, and content on the digital platform that make manifest those values and represent the ritual behaviors of the group.
  4. Rank on a 5-point Likert scales (from Completely weakens, Partially weakens, Neutral, Partially supports, Completely supports) the extent to which the top 10-15 major features, functions, and/or content support historical consciousness, life goals, organizational structure, agency, and relationships.
  5. Visualize the communitas of the community using your scales, categories, and values.
  6. Report your findings to the group in a 15-minute presentation. Try to make your presentation capture the essence of the communitas.

I will probably give a review of the student's work this weekend. But suffice to say they produced in less than 12 hours that which would have taken weeks by others. This is the list of participating Masters of Design students and the links to the sites they analyzed using the assignment:

  • Kelly Cunningham analyzed Lolcats.com, I Can Has Cheez Burger, I cannot explain LOLcats. You have to see them to believe them.
  • Steve Harjula analyzed Fixed Gear Gallery.com, to quote Steve "amateur bike porn"
  • Samyul Kim analyzed Croquet Consortium, multiplatform 2D, 3D, network
  • Marty Lane (former UIC graduate) analyzed Slow Food Charlotte, local chapter of the Slow Food Movement
  • Valentina Miosuro analyzed Children with Diabetes.org, which is a cool site that treats diabetes as a lifestyle not just a medical condition
  • Matt Munoz analyzed Plastic.com, which is like slashdot for political news junkies
  • Kelly Murdoch-Kitt analyzed Goodreads.com, which is a social networking book recommendation site. Really cool.
  • Robert Ruehlman analyzed Last.fm, a music database that we were not sure counted as a community
  • Alberto Rigau analyzed Facebook, if you don't know I cannot help you. Tee hee.
  • Gretchen Rinnert analyzed Sports Shooter, the online resource for photojournalist.
  • Rebecca Tegtmeyer analyzed Our Kids, an art expression blog for parents with children with autism
  • Michele Wong Kung Fong analyzed Google Docs, which we were not sure counted as community but perhaps was only a tool for a community

They totally rocked. See what you analysis would be if you follow the assignment. Feel free to post in comments.


My Communitas Workshops at NCSU

This weekend in North Carolina State University has been totally awesome. I am so thankful that Meredith Davis invited me to come in give a workshop on digital community and a public lecture on the Yin Yang of Design and Anthropology. It was funny because I met so many of the Masters of Graphic Design students from either AIGA Schools of Thoughts conference, AIGA National conference, and one is an alumni of UIC.

I will post the workshop materials later when I have a wired internet connection, but I feel that the workshop was successful. Meaning, the students were able to take the concepts presented  (imagined community, communitas, and the 5 experiential elements of community) and use them to analyze a digital community, and then share that analysis with the group to inform an in depth discussion of the various natures of digital community. The gist of my discussion was that:

1. Benedict Anderson's concept of imagined community helps:

  • Distinguish between digital and analogue mediated communities
  • Address the impact of digital communities
  • Emphasize the role of capitalism in community
  • Introduce discourse of charters and rights.

2. Using Victor Turner's concepts of liminality and communitas, the liminality (betwixt and betweeness) of identity in digital communities can contribute to the feeling of communitas (open, shared, brotherhood) which can be experiential (existing in the present moment), normative (starting to impose social structure), or ideological (utopian blueprint) in nature.

3. Based on old Sapient work, the extent to which historical consciousness, life goals, organizational structure, agency, and relationships are supported helps define the extent and characteristics of the community. We actually used this to measure the features and functions of digital community to see on a 5-point Likert scale the degree of support.

We talked about it. The students had an afternoon assignment to analyze a digital community and do presentations the next day. They are so hard working. What they produced in a less than 24 hour period would have taken several weeks in my classes.

Some interesting questions that came out of the discussion of the student's communities were:

  • What is the role of scale in the definition of a imagined community (Google or music lovers) versus a tool to support a community (Google documents or last.fm)?
  • Whether a digital community, because it speaks of a design for sustainability and imposes a structure on a community, always represents a normative communitas as opposed to an existential communitas?
  • How do artifacts (custom bikes, diabetes monitoring machines, photos of cats) come to represent identity and thuse mediate relationships among people in digital communities?

More later on the student's actual presentations. Just wanted to hint at some of the questions raised.



Headin' South

Today I go to North Carolina for a workshop and public lecture tomorrow at North Carolina State University and Meredith Davis's interaction design class.

My lecture is on digital community, as it relations to Victor Turner's idea of communitas and Benedict Anderson's Imagined Community. I then take, from an old Sapient Project, the idea the community is experienced through one's historical identity, goals in life, the community structure, one's agency within the structure, and the relationships you have. That project was a really good report.

I also give a public lecture on the Yin Yang of Design and Anthropology. I realize I have two versions of that lecture: the one I did at Wayne State (more informational) and the one I did for AIGA (more lyrical). I'm giving the informational version for this audience.

So I will look forward to the warmer weather, although it's only gotten cold again in Chicago today.


Historic Moment_Obama Wins in Iowa Caucus

Although the reports seem to say that the overwhelmingly white Iowa voters did not see race as a factor in their decision, the fact that Obama garnered 37.5% of the vote marks a significant moment in American history. While it does not mean that America is by any sense a post-racist society, it does mean that race is not as over-determining a category as it was in the past. You can be white, love Oprah, and vote for Obama and it actually be a really good thing because you can bring about change. So thank you Iowa for keeping the faith that one can be judge others by the content of their character over the color of their skin.

Congratulations Obama! You really do represent the potential for change because you have made this moment happen.


New Year Resolutions

I like the term resolution because it connotes a self-awareness of imperfections and the discipline to address them. Of course, I make resolutions all year long. But, New Year's resolutions seem to have a stronger resolve because you feel as though you can forgive your past shortcomings and start fresh.

One of my shortcomings that I keep pressing up against is my accelerated sense of timing. So my New Year's resolutions are all about activities and experiences that will acclimate me to a slower life pace:

  1. Invest more time in face to face and telephonic communications. I realized how impatient and frustrated I had become with face to face and telephone conversations with people because they take more time than an email. That probably is not a healthy attitude.
  2. Cook my own breakfasts and dinner and eat them at the table. I've started to do this already a bit and find that I am more relaxed throughout the day and evening when I do that.
  3. Double the amount of time I give myself to do something.  In Tai Chi, there is a saying that you have to go slow in order to go fast. I really need to go slower.
  4. Take a real vacation for one week in which I cannot bring my laptop computer.

I think the rest will all fall into place if I firmly commit myself to these activities.