23: My Life in Six Words

Tried to study late. Ha. Ha.

I thought I was smart, before

Some music and doughnuts? English class.

“English project!” Best evasive answer, ever.

Walks wildly through forest, dancing vaguely.

Was an engineer, then got sane.

WHY YOU DO THIS TO ME?!

Depression: also known as my happiness.

When you’re in love with Cybermen…

Living my way through book worlds.

I write songs. … When fingers cooperate.

Sherlock has taken over my mind.

I enjoy messing with friends….Bad?

Live life to the fullest. Sometimes.

Fell in love with my voices.

London calls. Alabama tugs. Where, heart?

20: What in the Worlds is Going On?

So in case you haven’t noticed, this Honors Freshman Composition sequence isn’t exactly…typical. XD We’ve done a lot of very strange but very fun things in the past semester and a half, and all of our strange projects and experiments have made us think and have helped us become better writers. For instance, the murder project we did last year: have you ever had to write in a police report style? Or the explorations that we did, also last semester: do you have any idea how much fun it is to stalk people for an assignment, but also how hard it is to write about it afterwards? Goodness I love Dr. Woodworth. XD

(This is the point where I’m supposed to insert a picture that enhances my thinking, so, strangely enough, here you are: from http://www.infinitydish.com/tvblog/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/David-Tennant-Fanpop.com_.jpg)

We’ve made connections between quite a lot of seemingly disparate things in this class, wouldn’t you say? Tapestries, storytelling, a sci-fi/western crossover TV show that’s become a geek cult phenomenon, explorations, murder (rhetorically speaking, of course), open education, social media of all sorts, blogs and the intricacies therein, memory – public and private, memorials and monuments and the things they represent and the differences between them, ourselves and how they relate to the world and storytelling, machines and learning, and of course storytelling and writing in every shape and form. We’ve done some really strange connections, such as the “Bendito Machine” video we wrote about a few weeks ago, and connecting that to memorials and social media. We’ve done some more obvious connections, such as connecting the Explorations projects to the stories they tell about the world about the people we found in a few of the explorations. In fact, now that I think about it, the explorations connect quite well to the monuments and social media that we’ve been talking about this spring semester! And of course, everything can connect back to Firefly. I only just realised that we haven’t done much with Firefly this semester… 🙁 I do hope that in the last six weeks of this semester we’ll be able to do more of Firefly and those Explorations…

I have to admit, even though I was quite puzzled for the first month or so, and I wasn’t sure how the class was going to turn out, all the strange connections and things that we’ve been doing have been some of the most fun I’ve ever had, and I think they can all most definitely connect to each other in wonderful ways that work quite well and actually may be very useful in regular life after college. Because we’ve had to figure out ways in which these different things work together, we’ve done quite a few brain stretching exercises which couldn’t be anything but helpful. Besides, problem solving is a skill that nearly every employer is looking for nowadays, and being able to write about a variety of topics is a useful skill no matter what career field you are planning to go in to. Also, the fact that the entirety of our ‘papers’ are online, on a blog, and that several of our assignments are through Twitter or Facebook, means that we’ll be more computer-literate than we might otherwise have been. And since our world is expanding rapidly through technology and online and social media, being able to use these technologies without fear (or at least with less fear) is a crucial skill to have, and to hone. Some other experiences that emphasize that point are the fact that we are told to use Google on a somewhat regular basis, and the fact that we have all made memes online, and so in order to do that we had to have been exposed to some of the meme norms, and what is expected of a meme, in order to use the meme-generating websites that we discovered. During class, when we’re writing or doing something that’s not discussing or watching a video, our teacher will go onto YouTube and play music for us. Exposure to new music is always good, don’t you think? Actually, exposure to anything new is very helpful. Open learning, which we talked about very briefly, is one of the best ways to learn new things: because it’s free!

So yeah, our class is pretty crazy. Geeks, all of us, and not ashamed of it. We’re all also not afraid of writing, nor of trying new things. Can you imagine if we were? Goodness that would make for some awkward classes… [Dr. Woodworth: “Figure out what you want to write about, then research and write 2000 words about it in the next month.” Student: “Um, I prefer multiple-choice tests…” *horrible silence*] But thankfully none of us are like that, so we all have a tremendous amount of fun, despite how much we may complain about having to write 500 words in a week (terrifying the first few times, but after you’ve been assigned that a good 20 or so times, you get used to it). I love how much our strange and unusual assignments stretch our minds and writing acumen, and I really will miss this class and Dr. Woodworth after the sequence finishes at the end of this semester. And while I can still say it in class without people looking at me funny, “Shiny!”

Write on!

22: What’s Good Writing?

What’s good writing?Now before you answer this question, think of this as a multiple-choice math word problem where answer D is “Not enough information.” And of course answer D is correct! Yay! *fake applause*
And the reason why answer D would be correct for this particular hypothetical multiple-choice question is that there are so many different things that you can write that it’s hard to say just in general what good writing is. You first have to consider your audience, you purpose, and your genre or content.

In the broad meta-category of Writing, there are two generic subcategories: Formal and Informal. And, of course, under those two umbrellas there are many little genres struggling to see out from under the spokes. For instance, under “Formal Writing” there are research papers, formal emails, and book reports. Under “Informal Writing” you can have informal emails, memes, Facebook, blog posts, and song lyrics. Informal writing is so much more fun than formal writing (of course!) that I think I shall focus on one of the sub-genres of informal writing just to give a few examples of what good writing is or can be.

Song lyrics are incredibly fun to sing and to write. Of course they’re hard to write if you can’t think of a topic, but if you think of it merely as writing a poem, it’s not that hard at all. (And if you’re like me and all your poems have a particular rhythm, it’s even less hard to think of them as song lyrics.) Some things that are generally considered correct for song lyrics are having poetic lyrics (especially lyrics that rhyme), lyrics with double meanings (especially in pop songs), metaphors, and wittiness. For instance, Train’s “50 Ways to Say Goodbye” (which you may remember we remixed the lyrics of a while ago) is about a break-up, but he makes it into a very funny song about all the ways his ex-girlfriend died. The lyrics are rather like poetry, the entire song is a metaphor of death replacing a break-up, and it’s very witty – especially the music video. Now of course, there are some songs that just have inane lyrics that do absolutely nothing, such as Justin Bieber’s much-hated song “Baby” where the majority of lyrics are “baby, baby, baby, oh.” No metaphor, no poetry, definitely no wit. Now the rap bit by Ludacris that was placed in the middle of that song isn’t bad: it is rather like free-style poetry talking about how Justin met the girl he’s singing about, but that is about the only redeeming factor of those lyrics, in terms of what my class considers good writing.
One of my favorite songs with interesting lyrics is almost definitely the Beatles’ “I Am the Walrus.” Talk about confusion and metaphors! It is poetry of a completely different kind. I’m not sure if they were actually on drugs when they wrote that song, and so that’s why it sounds like it does, but I personally think it’s very pretty, very funny, and very poetic.

Now, in general, there are rules (or at least guidelines) for what is generally correct in all sorts of writing. For instance, good grammar, spelling, and punctuation is always appreciated (by those who know the difference, that is) no matter what genre you’re writing in. Run-on sentences are a nasty habit of mine (as is probably evidenced by this blog), but they are generally not considered a good way to write. Now, I will say that my run-on sentences generally do actually make sense, whereas there are people on Facebook that, I’ve heard, write an entire paragraph of a post in one sentence where five would be considerably better. Writers like Dickens also write paragraph-long sentences, but for the most part, they’re also grammatically correct and do actually make sense if you read them carefully, while the grammatically uneducated who seem to populate Facebook write paragraph-long sentences that make no sense whatsoever. Another common Internet mistake that I have never personally experienced but which a few of my friends have mentioned is the lack of subject or verb in sentences. Now, really? No subject nor verb? How exactly does that work? I don’t consider myself an expert on grammar by any means, since I’ve technically never taken a grammar class, but I’m fairly sure that it’s quite hard to write a sentence with no subject and no verb. Okay, so my sentence “now, really” probably had neither subject nor verb, but I don’t know that that really counts. ‘Course, I could be wrong…

I think good writing is very important no matter what it is you’re writing: a Facebook post, a tweet, a meme, song lyrics… And if you don’t write well, what does that say about you and your priorities?

Write on!

21: Writing, Metaphorically Speaking

  • A Thousand Rules and Three Principles
    Utmost Application + Greatest Patience + Steadiest Energy (http://www.hownottowrite.com/lessons-from-great-writers/charles-dickens-three-principles-of-writing/); or Unity, Order, Variety (http://www.english-for-students.com/Paragraph.html) [and another one: http://writing2ucsb1wp3.blogspot.com/2012/05/thousand-rules-and-three-principles.html]
  • Show and Telepaths
    Some stories about telepaths, perhaps? http://ask.metafilter.com/219541/Need-some-telepath-stories-stat-You-may-already-know-this
  • The Little Green Ball and Some People: Doing Details Right
    Here’s a site that actually has the literal example: http://writing2ucsb1wp3.blogspot.com/2012/05/little-green-ball-and-some-people-doing.html
  • Lost Money and Thank-you Notes: What’s in an Audience?
    Communications is key (http://writing.colostate.edu/guides/guide.cfm?guideid=19)
  • Pink Houses & Choruses: Keeping Your Reader With You
    Aaaaaaaand you should recognise this blog again… http://writing2ucsbwp3.blogspot.com/2012/05/pink-houses-choruses-keeping-your.html
  • Fruit Jell-O: Balancing Arguments & Examples
    A boring way of putting it: http://writing2ucsbwp3.blogspot.com/2012/05/fruit-jell-o-balancing-arguments.html, and actual fruit jello: http://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://www.boomantribune.com/site-files/froggy_fruit_jello.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.boomantribune.com/story/2008/9/4/22267/29007&h=194&w=240&sz=14&tbnid=sKLlDIi5W6CHtM:&tbnh=95&tbnw=117&zoom=1&usg=__xiNqdHpHax5pCqLzWH_-YZmnRW0=&docid=aik1HTanv-fXdM&hl=en&sa=X&ei=AutJUaSuEpDW9ASyxYGABg&ved=0CDsQ9QEwAg&dur=993, and an essay about jello: http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/06/today-essay/
  • Wash-and-Wear Paragraphs
    Possibly a good example of this point: http://writing2ucsb1wp3.blogspot.com/2012/05/wash-and-wear-paragraphs.html …
  • Hey Hey Hey and the Textbook Conspiracy: Annotating Your Reading
    A textbook conspiracy theory: http://www.examiner.com/article/the-college-textbook-conspiracy; Annotating text: http://faculty.bucks.edu/specpop/annotate.htm
  • Short-Time Writing: Use Your Higher Brain
    Higher brainnnnnnnnnnns: http://www.livestrong.com/article/122124-higher-brain-functions/; Writing in a short amount of time: http://writing2ucsb1wp3.blogspot.com/2012/05/short-time-writing-use-your-higher.html
  • Rules vs. Rhetoric, or The Five Paragraph Essay vs. “Try Something!”
    Rules: http://writing2ucsb1wp3.blogspot.com/2012/05/rules-vs-rhetoric-or-five-paragraph.html; more rules of rhetoric: http://junketstudies.com/joomla/11-rules-of-writing/the-rules

19: Remix Open Sesame!

Open courseware: surely you’ve heard of it? Coursera, MIT, Stanford… No? Doesn’t ring any bells? Well, open courseware is a new revolution in how people of all ages and in all parts of the world can learn whatever they want, whenever they want. And most of it’s free! So far, you can’t actually obtain a free online degree, but educators are working on it, and it’s definitely coming. “Open” is the new standard for 21st century learning, and that’s why much of this semester we’re going to be talking about all sorts of “open” things in Honors English II.

We started off talking about open things with three TED talks (woot!) and a couple of other very interesting videos. TED talks by UN Admiral James Stavridis, Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk, and Kirby Ferguson (all available on YouTube or ted.com [although ted.com can be temperamental]), as well as Kirby Ferguson’s four-part series “Everything Is A Remix” on Vimeo.com. Adm. Stavridis spoke about open security for protecting people in, say, Afghanistan and Iran, Rich Baraniuk talked about his open textbooks that he and several other students and teachers from around the world had created, and Kirby Ferguson related stories about how creative people have always borrowed and stolen ideas from creative people who came before them.

As you can probably guess from the title, Kirby Ferguson believes that everything is a remix of everything else. This goes for education and learning too: papers about books, poems, scientific studies, or really anything that’s not an original idea is basically a remix of whatever it is that you’re writing a paper about. For instance, this blog post is a remixing of all seven videos that we watched the last two class days in English, and the last blog post I wrote is very much a remix of the Wikipedia article I used as a source. Even the massive project which you may remember I did last fall was a remix of all the historical things I knew or learned about Montgomery (and a couple of my favorite places to visit, even though they weren’t or aren’t necessarily historical; i.e. California Yogurt Kraze – not exactly a memorial). I sort of knew that people borrow from other people for all sorts of inventions and things, but until I watched these videos I had no idea how much they borrow. For instance, did you know that the Macintosh borrowed its Graphical User Interface from Xerox’s early PC? Or that Led Zeppelin stole (or borrowed without citation) many of their lyrics and melodies from old blues songs?

Putting things like books or music into the sphere of open works is something I’m fairly familiar with. I downloaded books from Gutenberg Press when I was about nine, and when I was 12 I read maybe a third of Fahrenheit 451 on Google Books. My brother, who obsessively plays Microsoft Train Simulator, talks almost incessantly about “free-ware” add-ons for that game. One of my friends releases all of his electronic music for free downloads online. I pretty much only download free apps to my iPod (because I’m too cheap to buy any XD). When I was about eight, I took an online writing course. But I’d never really thought of textbooks and actual college classes as being open. I’m really curious and excited to see how we’re going to incorporate our class into the world of open learning.

I really highly recommend all these videos, especially Kirby Ferguson, to anyone interested in how the world works nowadays for learning, security, and creativity. I’m personally very excited to see how my life will be changed because of the new world of openness, and the constant remixing that takes place in the lives of all human beings who actually absorb new material. I hope you’ll join me in my explorations!

Remix on!

18: Yad Vashem

Yad Vashem is a memorial and museum complex on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, Israel, commemorating and remembering those Jews who died in the concentration camps in Nazi Germany during the Holocaust, and also those whose communities were destroyed during that same period. In the complex are the Yad Vashem museum, the Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations, the Holocaust Art Museum, the Hall of Remembrance, the Hall of Names, and the Square of Hope, among others. Yad Vashem is Israel’s official site remembering the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and is the second most visited site in Israel, after the Western Wall, receiving some one million visitors every year.

It was established in 1953, but the modern museum building was dedicated in 2005, replacing the original museum, which was smaller, and less technologically advanced. Inside the Yad Vashem museum, there is a skylight which runs the length of the entire prism-shaped building (all 200 metres of it!), and a series of hallways and passages that guides you through rooms dedicated to different chapters of the Holocaust, accentuating particular points in time, and giving voice to some of the individuals who were killed, not merely numbering them as one of six million. It blends the stories of 90 Holocaust victims and survivors, and presents over 2500 personal items given to the museum by survivors and by others, presumably family members of those killed. Avner Shalev, the curator and chairman of Yad Vashem, said that the museum revolves around “looking into the eyes of the individuals”, and that “there weren’t six million victims [of the Holocaust], there were six million individual murders.”

The Hall of Names, inside the Yad Vashem museum, is a memorial to the 6 million Jews who were killed in the Holocaust. It is made up of two cones, each 10 metres in height: One suspended above the platform, covered with the photographs and fragments of “Pages of Testimony” of 600 Holocaust victims; one excavated into the rock beneath the platform with its base filled with water, reflecting the photographs and testimonies of the cone above as a memorial to those Holocaust victims whose names and stories are as yet unknown.  (This is a picture of the Hall of Names to give you an idea of what it looks like, taken from the Yad Vashem website. I actually looked it up to try and figure out how it worked myself, and I figured you’d probably want or need to see it too. The second cone is visible through that hole in the middle of the platform.) The shelves surrounding the platform and cones are filled with the over 2.2 million Pages of Testimony that the museum has collected about the Holocaust victims and survivors.  (Pages of Testimony can be submitted by anyone, and have pretty much any information you can think of about those who were in the Holocaust: genealogical, residential, occupational, and wartime information are just some of the things provided on these pages.)

The Garden of the Righteous Among the Nations is a memorial garden dedicated to those non-Jews who risked their lives to help Jews out of the concentration camps during the Holocaust. I believe every tree in the garden was planted in honor of an individual who made a truly incredible effort to save the lives of Jews. Along with the tree planted in their honor, the honorees can be presented with the Title of one of the Righteous Among the Nations – usually by an Israeli ambassador in their own country, a Medal and Diploma with their name on it – awarded in Jerusalem, and every rescuer has their name engraved on the Wall of Honor, in the Garden of the Righteous.

Of all the memorials I’ve read about and seen, this is the memorial that touched me the most and the one that I’d like to visit the most. I’ve always been interested in the Holocaust, but this seems more personal to me, somehow, than all the books I’ve read. I do sincerely hope that I can visit Yad Vashem sometime in the future, and that it will be as truly incredible as the Wikipedia page makes it sound.

Til then, remember on.