Archive for March, 2015

I’m not talking about sex. Let’s throw that pun away out of the gate.

I’m talking about applying new knowledge to the real world. Rick Drumm, former CEO of D’addario Inc. (major music industry company) told me once that he had been the president of a company before ever pursuing higher education, and his real-world experience allowed him to better filter and apply the things he was learning. Along the same vein, the “use it or lose it” principal is very real with certain skills, like, new languages for instance.

And boy, am I losing it.

Len Matthews Photo CC-by Len Matthews. Relevant? Not really, no.

So, I’m lulling hardcore in my independent learning project. My book-studies are in a state of stasis that would embarrass any self-proclaimed scholar. Homework is nowhere to be seen. I mutter vocab words under my breath while I walk or drive, Ms. Fish (my esteemed teacher and better half) quizzes me on them periodically, but god knows I’m so far from any practical use or knowledge I couldn’t find it with the freakin’ Hubble telescope.

But. There are several moments, almost daily, where I get to witness something that might be more valuable than Nose-to-the-grindstone book learnin’. I have a teacher who, though she has lost some of it considering that this isn’t a predominantly Mandarin-speaking country, speaks conversational Mandarin on a daily basis.

We’ll go out to get food somewhere, (Chinese buffet, duh), and I find both her and myself listening, scoping out to see if the staff are actually speaking Mandarin or if it’s some other language – and I can recognize Mandarin. In tourist traps like Albuquerque or Mt. Rushmore, I can actively pick out when Chinese is being spoken. That’s definitely a new skill for me.

When the excited banter begins between my teacher and the waiter / waitress, I can pick out certain words or phrases. Only a few, and just barely, but I can pick them out. When said teacher has conversations with international students (or answers the phone in Mandarin because it’s hilarious), I can usually recognize commonly used conversational phrases.

It’s not a whole hell of a lot – but it is something!

Steven S Photo CC-by Steven S. entitled, “a caricature of things I”m not doing right now”

Seeing as how this is a class focused almost entirely on new / different ways to learn, we’re going to try a different approach. I’m going to start watching movies / listening to music in Chinese. Strange approach to some – but I’ve picked up a few phrases from a film we’ve already watched, entitled “Painted Skin” in English. I throw (poor) little quips in Mandarin at my teacher on occasion. Progress is slow. Like molasses in the middle of winter slow.

Buuuut, some would argue progress is progress. Right?



In previous blog posts, I’ve mentioned how anonymity and the Internet turns people into shits, how groups ranging from ISIS to Anonymous utilize social media accounts, and how hiding behind computer screens creates monsters of people.

Now, allow me to elaborate, and also possibly contradict myself in every imaginable way.

bradhoc Photo CC- by bradhoc, “Activism” pre-Twitter era

Digital Activism

No longer are we restricted to an age where activism consists of picket signs and marches at colleges where you will most likely be shot – though it is still alive and well (the Guy Fawkes mask is still worn by protesters and members of Anonymous). This is the digital era, where everything can, and will, be digitized, uploaded, downloaded, mainstreamed, outsourced, and pre-installed. Grassroots campaigns are being booted up via Facebook groups. Kickstarter, GoFundMe and indiegogo campaigns are funding people’s dreams, visions, creations, and movements. People standing on streetcorners with bullhorns is out. Active tweeting is in.

More and more movements, revolutions, voices are being forged via digital connections. The Internet eliminates the geographical, and sometimes political, bounds that people have when trying to find like-minded people to instigate change. In a list of 6 activist functions of technology, the list goes like this: Shaping public opinion, planning action, protecting activists, calling to action, taking digital action, and transferring resources. The list is extremely comprehensive, and any number of mediums are involved: blogs, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc. People with a cause have a network. Mobile devices, even in repressive countries (with a little know-how) allow infinite connectivity to other people. Technology is changing the face of revolution.

However, nearly all of these have another side to the coin. The same anonymity that protects activists from harm and death threats, also hides cowards, trolls, and attackers. Calls to action can be made for any cause, only relatively recently were ISIS pages taken down from social media sites. News stories are broken nearly every day of recruits added to terrorist ranks because of connectivity to other countries. Public opinion can be shaped and influenced for the better, as George Takei’s proposed boycott on Indiana shows, but countries like North Korea, and to some extent China, also utilize technology to censor the true goings-out and shape public opinion in favor of their causes. Social media can be used to rally people, but as a good friend of mine pointed out to me, there is no quality control filter on the Internet. For every genuine cause with a purpose, there are 35 others spewing political ideology BS, biases, ignorant, un-educated arguments.. the list goes on.

As I’ve said, technology is a tool. The usage of it is up to us.

Mohammad A. Hamama Photo CC – by Mohammad A. Hamama – also relevant!

Youth of the Nation

Luckily, there are teens / students out there using the Internet for the forces of good. The Buddy Project, founded by Gabby Frost, is a foundation dedicated to helping teens with mental illnesses, bullying issues, and suicide prevention by pairing them up with other teens based on age groups, interests, etc. and essentially giving them a digital pen-pal and a shoulder to lean on. There are infinite numbers of foundations and pages out there dedicated to these types of causes, but The Buddy Project won a Shorty Award for the best Teen Activist page in social media. The foundation is open to all – regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. and the value of something like this simply cannot be understated. The Internet makes bullying a global issue. Faceless attackers face no retribution, but there are supporters. There are good guys out there. The Buddy Project wants to help find them. The Project’s Twitter page consists of motivational speaking, as well as condolences and reassurances that people with mental health issues aren’t simply “faking it” or in control of how they feel. The Buddy Project acknowledges problems, and treats them as such. Activism done right.

The focus is on the people suffering. It’s not on the nay-sayers, nor the monsters hiding behind the screen – it brings the light into focus. It highlights the need for changes. Teenagers, students, aren’t morons. They may be adolescents or even children, but kids know what’s up. They recognize wrong when they see it (unless they’ve been indoctrinated otherwise). Even if schools aren’t encouraging kids to be activists, they should at least be encouraging passion about societal issues. Encourage research before opinions are spewed out for the world to consume.

Chris Scheupp Photo CC – by Chris Scheupp

Do Your Part

When it comes to my own “digital activism,” I do significantly less than people such as Gabby Frost. I’ve signed my fair share of petitions. I’ve voted when I saw options necessary.

The best I try to do is speak in defiance of that which I feel is wrong. CSC’s paper, The Eagle, has been berated with my angry ranting (much like my blog) for the last few years concerning religious bigotry, internet anonymity, violence in media, LGBT / women’s rights, etc. I don’t have a campaign, I don’t have a legion of followers, but I have a voice, and I have the mediums to spread it. I “shape public opinion,” or more accurately, “call to action.” With words I battle ignorance and injustice – though I probably have done my fair share of participating in both of those things regardless, I’m sad to say.

The best I can hope for is that I’ll continue learning, continue trying, and continue improving. If I’ve made even one person feel adequate, justified, or comforted with my words, I consider that a victory.



Posted: March 23, 2015 in DigiLit
Tags: , , ,

A lot of time spent in college, depending on the college, is time wasted. General Studies programs are the laughing stocks of people who went to pursue higher education fresh out of high school. You’re literally paying to take the same classes you took last year: basic Algebra, Biology, English, even P.E. (at least at my school) for Christ’s sake. What part of you thinks any part of me wants to re-experience P.E.? Yeesh.

Luckily, there are certain classes where your brain actually has to stretch a bit, you need to utilize (and harness) a set of skills, and you can walk away feeling like your time wasn’t wasted.

If you haven’t gathered, I’m reflecting on my Digital Literacy class, taught by Dr. Elisabeth Ellington.

Sacha Chua

Photo CC-by Sacha Chua, and pretty accurate to boot!

To be honest, going into this class, I was completely unsure of what to expect. The catalog description simply said “learning how to utilize technology in a way combined with literacy” or something really vague and over-generalized, as college catalogs tend to be. I expected to have to be tweeting and blogging (mostly because I knew the professor and her preferred methods, not because I knew anything about the class), and so far, that has obviously rang extremely true.

Considering that I had no expectations, they couldn’t exactly be defied – I was going in blind, but curious to see where I’d wind up. To say I’m surprised would be an understatement. This class has been multi-faceted in a way I wouldn’t have ever thought of. We’ve covered what it means to be technologically savvy, the best way to utilize technology in classrooms, ways to use technology to network properly and build a career path, as well as the infinite different ways technology can be put to use as a creative outlet. All without stepping on anyone’s toes, doing anything that can get us sued, or stepping out of the comfort of our homes and / or preferred coffee shops.

Denise Krebs

Photo CC-by Denise Krebs

This class hasn’t only helped me learn the ropes of a lot of facets of the web I wouldn’t have thought to use prior (including blogging and Tweeting, as well as searching for photos and videos that won’t have copyright lawyers banging on my door), but has also taught me a few things about myself. 1) I procrastinate, real bad. I always figured I sort of did, but trying to stuff 2 blog posts, 20 tweets, and more in one Sunday night is something I need to stop fucking doing jesus why do I do this to myself

I’ve also discovered that I very much enjoy trying to farm all sides of perspectives and arguments. When TEDTalks were introduced to the curriculum, I wound up gravitating toward anti-TEDTalk TEDTalks. So meta. So edgy. So hipster. When proposed initiatives or radical renovations to old-school teaching are offered, I’m the first one in line for both the pros / possibilities as well as the cons / harsh realities and obstacles. I’m not trying to be a contrarian because I feel cool – I genuinely feel like perspective gained is worthless if it isn’t all-encompassing. Stacking the deck in favor of your opinions or beliefs doesn’t help anyone, and it makes you look like a nimrod.

For future reference in this class, I’d very much like to connect with or see some people who have put these alternative forms of education and learning into practice. Granted, we did watch a TEDTalk and read a fistful of blog posts with examples, but I mean on a larger scale. Someone out there has to be doing something to better our busted-ass educational system, and the idea has to be gaining steam. At least, the (tiny) idealist in me hopes so. I also wouldn’t mind maybe some more collaboration / actual back-and-forth between classmates. Responding to tweets / blog comments is fine and dandy, but I’d be lying if I said that it felt like most of us were doing it for the sake of the assignment quota, and less out of a general interest. Regardless of how cool an online class is, I do value the all-important face-to-face components.

Paul HocksenarPhoto CC-by Paul Hocksenar

Overall, I am enjoying this class immensely, and I’m excited to see what else we cover before the semester is up. I’m also excited, if not a little leery, to begin my Daily Create project. I feel like it’ll force me to have to flex my creative muscles a bit more than I have been, and hey, I’m not going to complain about that.


It’s a question we’re often asked when we decide to get a tattoo: “Will that still look good 30 years from now?” As if any part of me looks good now. My body is not a temple.

Still, the question does hold merit – not in the realm of tattoos, what people want to do with their body is their business, not yours, but when it comes to responsibility and ethics online, a lot of people have made the analogy “what you do online is as permanent as a tattoo.”

And it’s true.

London Permaculture Photo CC-by London Permaculture, relevant!

Digital Citizenship

The Internet is an entirely different world in and of itself than common society. Granted, is has microcasms of society: niche groups, hobbyists gathered together, fans of music / movies / etc, cliques, etc. However, the Internet offers something that none of these other groups offer without the aid of a mask: anonymity.

Digital Citizenship is a sophisticated way of describing how you behave on the Internet, and is often multi-faceted, including your security (passwords, not exposing identity-related information), ethical behavior (being a normal person as opposed to being an asshole troll), and responsibility. Everything you put your legal name on, attach to your e-mail address, and upload to an image-hosting website is there for good. You can delete these things, but often webpages have cached, older versions of themselves that can still be recalled. The Internet Wayback Machine lets you look through the older versions of countless websites.  Deletion is equivalent to getting a tattoo removed by putting another tattoo on top of it. Underneath, the original is still there.

I found this out the hard way. Try Googling your name – some things might turn up, newspaper articles, forums, webpages, etc. My Amazon author page and my portfolio for CSC’s newspaper, The Eagle, turned up. Same thing with image searching yourself. If you want a bit more interesting of an exercise.. try Googling your e-mail address. This yielded some.. interesting results. Including, but not limited to, a Dragonball Z fansite I made when I was between the ages of around 10 to 12. Tristen still has not stopped laughing about how, in her words, “adorable” that is. My ears and their burning beg to differ.

Tom's pipe fetish. Photo CC-by Jeff Commons, and what turned up when I searched for “embarrassment”

Anonymity /=/ Ethical Behavior

The reason so many people forego responsibility, compassion, ethical behavior, any of it on the Internet is because the Internet allows us what we believe to be free reign. Usernames aren’t our real names. Our avatar photos aren’t us. So it isn’t us, right? Wrong. Police and those of us who are tech-savvy can easily still discover a true identity. Insert flaw #1 with the anonymity theory.

Without repercussions or consequences, people see it fit to let their freak flag fly, and reveal an uglier side of them that day-to-day life doesn’t give them a chance to vent. Perfectly normal seeming people turn into monsters online: people encourage others to commit suicide, make horrendous, tasteless jokes, and send threatening e-mails every day, and with the exception of Cyberbullying laws beginning to be legislated, get away with it. As I have found out the hard way: jokes / sarcasm don’t translate well over text alone. No tonal inflections means things can be taken at face value, sometimes with poor consequences. During arguments online, gloves come off: everything is fair game, and they often become pissing contests over who can say the nastier thing. For every good facet of the Internet, there are infinitely as many evil ones.

How in the world do we combat this?

open Photo CC-by

Live Online as You Do Off

Education is key. Children in school today have untold access to technology, and therefore, the Internet. Parents and teachers cannot possibly monitor it all, and even if they could, that would help little. It’s been proven that anti-Drug programs hammering it into kids to “just say no” don’t work. Schools where abstinence is the only method of sex-ed are proven to have higher teen pregnancy rates. Rather than treating kids like idiots, how about we do something novel and teach them early on how to use technology responsibly, and properly?

Schools (claim) to take zero-tolerance policies against bullying, but often look the other way (especially if perpetrators are children of administration or high-profile athletes). This has got to stop. If it’s doable, children need to be showed the permanency of their online actions early on, and be taught that the Golden Rule doesn’t stop applying just because someone’s sitting behind a keyboard. In a blog post by Craig Badura, he comes up with an extremely effective set of ways to analogize real-world actions to online behavior. Anything posted is like toothpaste out of a tube: it isn’t going back in. Passwords are toothbrushes: why in the hell would you ever share one? It seems simplistic or even silly, but something like this could be the difference between a student sticking up for someone being cyberbullied or laughing along and clicking the “Like” button. Bullies grow up to be bullies. Anything that can be done to break the cycle, should.

Scientia potentia est

No excuses, no bullshit, no way out:

I’ve been slacking in my Independent Learning Project.

Joe Athialy Photo CC-by Joe Athialy, and how I feel right now

Why is that? I feel like a fool for admitting this at all. Why is it so difficult for me to commit time to something I wanted to do? I’ve not just been slacking in my ILP, but even in my own writing. I don’t think I have senioritis, it’s way too early for that.

I think I need to ask one T.Hust to be more stern with me about my assignments / due dates or something. I can make excuses all day, but I just haven’t put the effort in that others have been. That’s not fair to her, and that’s not fair to everybody else. I chose this – so I should be stoked and rearin’ to go every day, right?

The fact is, when I get through with my classes, my (immediate) homework for those classes, practicing for my guitar lessons, straightening up the house, and just general random responsibilities, the first thing I think isn’t “I wanna do my Chinese homework!” It’s usually something more along the lines of “Hey, darlin’, let’s sit and play video games for 3 hours.” Or “hey everybody, let’s stay up until 2 playing D&D and have tomorrow morning really suck!”

It just isn’t super high on what my brain has dictated is my list of priorities. I vastly enjoy sitting and doing nothing (see: vidjea games and reading). It’s how I cool down. I’m up and about a great majority of the time, and when the dust settles, I also intend to settle.

Did I just not choose the right project? Am I the only one feeling this way? Have others in the class before me had the same experiences? Maybe I do have senioritis. Mid-term is here. What follows is the last 8 weeks of my college / schooling career in the foreseeable future. Maybe there are things pressing heavier on my mind than the terrible way I pronounce tones 2 and 4 when trying to read pinyin.

The thing is, I’m not trying to complain, I’m not looking for pity, and I’m not completely trying to justify my absence of results. I’m mostly speculating. Why is this so difficult for me?

To my teacher (one T.Hust): I apologize. I’ve been a terrible student, and you have shown infinitely more prowess as a disciple than I could hope to at this moment.

To myself: quit your bitching and get in gear. Limping to the finish line guarantees weak-ass results.


(Disclaimer: all images in this post are the property of / creation of Bill Watterson. All hail.) 

If I had to think back to the origin of my fascination with comic books, it didn’t come from superheroes. It didn’t come from dark, gritty graphic novels, or from webcomics, or anything of that nature.

It came from a newspaper.

bill watterson

A year after November, 1985 a daily comic strip by a man named Bill Watterson was running in 250 newspapers nationwide. The strips often tackled the daily antics of Calvin, a mischievous, imaginative, and surprisingly philosophical six year old and his sarcastic, equally philosophical best friend / stuffed tiger Hobbes, Granted, I wasn’t even a thought in either of my parents’ lives at this point. I was only 2 when the strip’s syndication ended in 1995.

Calvin and Hobbes is often considered the holy grail of Sunday strips, the pinnacle of the funny pages, and is without a doubt one of the most enduring tales in the world of graphic novels. It’s one that I can still stay up late and flip through time and time again, no shortage of humor from the last time, not an ounce of boredom, and not a sliver of the wit lost. Watterson himself was actually one of the inspirations of Gavin Aung Than’s Zen Pencils comic I mentioned in my post from last week.

But why does this comic resound with so many people? Why has it endured the test of time? What makes it so special?


Imagination is Everything

Did you read that strip above? That’s a six year old and his stuffed tiger. Those thoughts are astronomically complicated / sarcastic / hilarious to be coming from these characters. And that’s just it. The antics of Calvin and Hobbes almost always come back around with something more than a weak-ass feel-good moral. They discover real life lessons. They grow together as friends. They learn about hardship, girls, the world’s expectations, and the importance of the simple things. You’d be hard-pressed to flip through a C&H compilation and not find at least 2 dozen strips that relate to your life.

But the comic isn’t all heavy thinking and life pondering. A lot of it is goofing off: sledding, building (demented) snowmen, starting clubs, making forts, and torturing the babysitter are all included in this package. I’m sure you’ve all seen the bumper stickers and the shirts and that dorky shit with a demented Calvin-lookalike peeing on things or flipping the bird, but that shit’s all bootleg. Bill Watterson never, to this day, has sold merchandising, film, tv, or any type of rights for C&H.

In some panels, Calvin is Spaceman Spiff, getting into and out of trouble in far-off galaxies. In others, he’s Stupendous Man, saving the world from total annihilation. In others, he flips the role – he’s a Godzilla-sized six year old terrorizing the town! He’s a t-rex rampaging through modern-day museums. Calvin’s imagination takes us everywhere we could ever possibly hope to go. Give he and Hobbes a cardboard box, and hilarity is bound to ensue.


Memory Lane

The funny thing is, I can’t remember why I first picked up a C&H book. My memory of it is hazy. I remember being at my public library when I was only in grade school. I had rode my bike across town to get there, and I think I was looking in the section to see if I could find some old Garfield or Peanuts books to see what the fuss was about. As I searched the shelves, I stumbled on something I was unfamiliar with. Calvin and Hobbes? Curious.

A few flips through the book, and I decided it was coming home with me. The panels I read were funny, but not in a lame Family Circus kind of way. The humor was smart, not dumbed down or cheap. I took it home, read it, and immediately went back to retrieve the other 3 or so that were there.

Calvin and Hobbes books were the only books I ever did the quintessential “flashlight-under-the-covers” routine for. I would stay up and read them until my eyes got droopy. I remember the immense disappointment I felt when I had ran through all the library had to offer me. Fast forward some decade-and-a-half or so years, and I’m in college, on a date at a bookstore with a certain T.Hust (you’re all jealous), and while looking through a section of adolescent lit, what do my eyes fall on?

The “kid in a candy store” didn’t have shit on me. If I had bought that book any faster, it would have caught fire. Going back and reading through it again, I know my nostalgia lens hasn’t compromised my feelings about this comic strip. If anything, my age and experience have allowed me to better understand jokes that would otherwise soar over my head.

calvin-hobbes1Whether you’re a fan of comics or not, I know for a fact when sifting through a newspaper in a waiting room, you jump to the comics section. As of late, there might not even be one in your local paper. They’ve gotten smaller and smaller with the passage of time.

If you haven’t ever experienced the antics of Calvin and Hobbes, please do. All at once the scholar, the artist, the child, and the adult in me light up when I read C&H. To me, something that powerful, something that has that effect on a person, is something everyone should experience at least once.

Pulchra memoria