August “Worlds in Panels”: comiXology’s “My Backups” and DRM

In my most recent column for PopMatters, I look at what downloads of comics from your comiXology library means for the future of DRM:

When I buy a print copy of a comic, there are a number of things I can do with that copy beyond simply reading it myself. I can, as noted, loan it to someone else. I can give it away or even sell it. I may not have to buy the comic in the first place; in many cases I could check the book out from the library to do my reading. With print there’s a clear distinction between owning a copy of a work and owning the work itself. I can do what I want with an individual copy that I come to possess by legal means, but what I can’t do is start making copies of my own for sale or to give away; that right adheres to the owner of the underlying work.

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Why I quit Foursquare

Over the weekend, I deleted the Foursquare app from my phone. I joined the service in 2011 and used it pretty consistently up until Saturday when I quit the app. It was actually my last check-in, to the Corvallis Farmers Market, that prompted me to give up.

My geographer’s curiosity prompted me to try the service. I wanted to experience this way of relating to place (and, in fact, became aware of Foursquare by seeing check-ins from other geographers in my Twitter feed). I was also interested in the potential of the app for discovering new places, particularly when visiting new cities.

Over time, what kept me using Foursquare was habit, sharing with Anne-Marie when one of us would be traveling, and the game aspects of the app.

When I first started with the service, I didn’t really give the gaming function much thought, but as a base of users in Corvallis and the mid-Willamette Valley began to develop, I found myself getting caught up in competitions for mayorships of my most frequently visited places. That was, as it turned out, kind of fun. The Corvallis Farmers Market was one of the locations where I competed for mayor, and the lack of mayoral updates for that place is what made me decide to let go of this habit.

Of course, starting a few months ago when Foursquare announced “Swarm”, competition for mayorships ended. The folks at Foursquare have reconfigured mayorships and badges for the new app. I haven’t adopted Swarm for a number of reasons, but the main one is that the new app, and the way that mayorships work, looks effective for larger urban areas where you will have a critical mass of both general participants and friends using the app in your immediate vicinity. Mayorships are allocated within circles of friends instead of from the entire user base. On Foursquare, most of the other people I traded mayorships with weren’t “friends”; we were all just local participants on the service. Swarm does not appear as it if offers much fun or incentive for people like me who live in a smaller city and where other users are going to be dispersed and probably not “friends”, in whatever sense.

I don’t fully understand the thinking behind splitting the service into a Yelp-like app, still called Foursquare, and the more social, Swarm, or why the functionality of the latter is so geared for users in larger metropolitan areas, but maybe I am a case in point for these changes.

Even before the gaming parts of Foursquare were shut down, I had reduced my use. I had stopped regularly cross-posting my check-ins on Twitter, and based on my Twitter timeline, I clearly was not alone in that. I was gradually making less of a point about checking in and right before I quit, had reduced my use of the service to a few places where I regularly had comments or photos to share. In some cases, I stopped doing even that (turns out that shooting pictures of dinosaurs trying to drink your beer at Laughing Planet will, in fact, stop being fun past a certain point).

I don’t know how many other people are also quitting Foursquare and taking a pass on Swarm, and I am sure that the new app will attract its own user base independent of original Foursquare adopters, but I think that it’s notable that the service is being reconfigured in a way that loses value for most of us who live outside of a small number of major metropolitan areas, and is likely now mostly appealing for (some) young adults (honestly, I don’t think even when I was a twenty-something living in Portland that I would have been too thrilled by the locational tracking aspects of Swarm).

At the end, this episode is a small reminder that our digital networks are neither spaceless nor placeless.

Critical notations on the new GODZILLA

I went to see the Godzilla reboot yesterday with Anne-Marie and A, and we all enjoyed ourselves, especially A, but I do have a few critical thoughts and feelings to share.

  1. Director Gareth Edwards and writers Max Borenstein and Dave Callaham, and their collaborators in special effects, get right one of the essential points from the original kaiju movies, which is that many of these “monsters” are sympathetic characters. Most of what they do, they do not out of malevolence, but simply as a result of their natures: they mate and breed, hunt and feed, and fight other animals that they see as threats or rivals. People are largely irrelevant, which may be what also makes them terrifying even as you can also sympathize with these creatures simply trying to survive and reproduce.
  2. I also appreciate how the new design for Godzilla references the classic “person in a suit” while also updating the character for contemporary aesthetics and expectations. There is one shot of Godzilla where he takes in a big breath and exhales that prompted A to remark that he looked like a person, which to me, was just perfect. The “humanity” of Godzilla is important to acceptance of him as something other than just a “monster.”
  3. Like others, I thought about Pacific Rim (2013) a number of times during this film, and, on the whole I enjoyed last year’s movie more. I found the creature designs to be more interesting, and, I suppose, I also liked the spectacle of having the giant robots as well as the giant monsters (although as A pointed out to me, the kaiju in Pacific Rim are alien while the ones in Godzilla are terrestrial). Mostly, I think that my reaction here has to with the difference between remaking an existing work and creating something new from familiar material. Guillermo del Toro made something new and the larger universe of his film is richer and more interesting than that of the new Godzilla.
  4. Another important difference for me was the fact that Pacific Rim featured two people of color (Idris Elba’s Stacker Pentecost and Rinko Kinkuchi’s Mako Mori) in the principal cast, while Godzilla defaults to the far more common young white male and his white family for the primary human characters. Indeed, even though the story starts in Asia and Japan is given a central location in the narrative in a nod to the source material, somehow a white American (or EuroAmerica) family has narrative prominence in Godzilla. Anne-Marie also made the good point that the primary family relationship, and loss, for the white guy protagonist in Pacific Rim (Charlie Hunnam’s Raleigh Becket) is a brother, not a wife and kid or even a parent. This is a less common dynamic for these kinds of films.
  5. For me, the most interesting, and underused characters in Godzilla are Ken Watanbe’s Dr. Ichiro Serizawa and Sally Hawkins’ Vivienne Graham. The story of Serizawa’s decades long pursuit of Godzilla seems more interesting to me than the monster/disaster movie spectacle we get at the end of his pursuit. As far has Hawkins goes, I’m not sure that her name is mentioned once in the film or that we are told that she is also a scientist. But she seems to be Serizawa’s partner in the search and I want to know more about that (I gather that this is the focus of the prequel comic). Both Watanabe and Hawkins are charismatic actors who draw your attention when on screen, and I was more compelled by them than I was by Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Elizabeth Olsen did not have much to do, but I am interested to see her as the Scarlet Witch now).
  6. Obsession with Godzilla is also a narrative through line for James Stokoe’s “The Half Century War” mini, and, honestly, as far as contemporary re-imaginings of this story goes, it is hard to do better than what Stokoe did with that book (I wrote about the way that Stokoe adapted Godzilla for comics, particularly his roar, for PopMatters).
  7. I left the theater with an uneasiness over the reworking of the origin story which removes American culpability for creating the kaiju as a result of the testing of nuclear bombs in the south Pacific. The original Godzilla (1954) picked up threads of anger and resentment among many Japanese for the American use of nuclear weapons in World War II and the subsequent occupation. This is also an important reason for Godzilla being a sympathetic, even, ultimately, a heroic, character: he, too, is a victim of the American bomb. There is a brief acknowledgment of Hiroshima in the new film between Serizawa and Admiral William Stenz (David Strathairn), but that only served to remind me of what has been lost in the new telling in terms of being a critique of American militarism and nuclear weaponry. Now, at worst, the American deployment of military and nuclear force just seems stupid or ineffectual rather than existentially threatening to ilife as we know it (I am drawing on Anne Allison’s Millennial Monsters, University of California Press, 2006, for the gist of this interpretation of the original Godzilla).

Column and review: SUSCEPTIBLE by Geneviève Castrée

My latest “Worlds in Panels” at PopMatters is a review of Geneviève Castrée’s Susceptible (Drawn & Quarterly, 2013). I draw on Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust (Penguin, 2001) to frame my discussion of the comic.

Solnit notes that seeing remembering as a form of walking through space is related to how we often see our lives: “If life itself, the passage of time allotted to us, is described as a journey, it’s most often imagined as a journey on foot, a pilgrim’s progress across the landscape of personal history” (page 73). Susceptible opens with a visualization of this metaphor.

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November Worlds in Panels: Geek Girl Con 2103

My latest column for PopMatters posted on Monday. I give my annual review of comics programming at Geek Girl Con:

… unlike other conventions, which are largely promotional in nature, whether from a corporate perspective or that of individual creators, Geek Girl is rooted in the desire for a critical unpacking, interrogation, and re-construction of the category “geek” in a way that is more open and inclusive than is normally possibly in the predominantly male spaces through which fields like comics, computer programming, and video gaming are defined.

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(On tech & teaching) Early adopting faculty, late adopting institutions

This coming Winter I will be teaching my first fully online course. To prepare, I decided to attend some of the Moodle workshops during Fall in-service at my university. While my initial purpose was narrowly drawn to learning how to get my course up and running, this orientation also introduced me to a parallel digital institution which I had only vaguely been aware of before.

Ironically, I think my lack of awareness is not due to a lack of interest in or resistance to online communication and social media, but because, relatively at least, I have been an early user of such tools for my classes. I have, for over a decade now, been trying out, and putting into practice, a variety of resources on the public web, from my server space at the university to blogging services and sites like Pinterest, in support of my courses. I haven’t needed prompting or significant investments in support and infrastructure from my university to engage with students digitally.

After the introductory workshop I attended I immediately began thinking about whether I should be making use of my university’s official digital spaces. I did, immediately, fill out my online profile pages, which, too, I did not know about. For whatever reason and to whatever effect, administrators at Western have encouraged faculty to go online, and have slowly built an architecture that makes it relatively easy to do so, but use of these resources has largely been left to individual faculty, or faculties, to decide. Not surprisingly, this has clearly resulted in an unevenness to what, notably, students will find from professors when directed to sanctioned spaces online.

Beyond populating my profile pages with information, I have, for the moment, decided that, I will use the formal online infrastructure primarily to direct students to my more public presences, and not in place of those resources.

I would be lying if I claimed that inertia and my sunk investment in my existing workflow had no role in this decision, but I have more substantive reasons for this choice as well.

As I’ve already implied, “WOU Online” and the university “Portal” system are both variations on walled gardens, with the former being more open than the latter, but still fundamentally designed to be accessed by those with WOU ids. There’s a philosophical aspect to this, I prefer not to treat my teaching materials as proprietary, even in a de facto way, but also a practical dimension.

One of the tools in Moodle I’ve thought most seriously about trying to use right away is its functionality for assignments and grades, which can allow for an essentially seamless process of submission, assessment and feedback, and posting of grades. After giving this some thought, I decided that my current system for electronic submission, which involves students sending me their work via e-mail attachment and me uploading assignments into Google Drive, had at least the advantage of not requiring students to login to Moodle before submitting their work.

This would not be an issue if my course resources were all being collected and distributed via WOU Online, but they are not, and that’s where the walled garden concern matters. I don’t want my syllabi and other materials behind a wall and I can’t see sending my students behind the wall to perform certain operations when everything else we do is located somewhere else on the public web. Some of my students have a hard enough time tracking the online syllabus and the class blog. I can’t see asking them to also go to this other, largely disconnected, space, too. More broadly, it is now easy for students who are inclined to do so to find me and my courses online, and equally so for those already at Western and those thinking of attending, not to mention having my materials accessible by others more generally. It is a small matter, but right now my course resources also serve a public service function that would be largely lost by moving my materials into the more “secure” spaces at my university.

I don’t want to give up the resources I’ve cultivated on my own, not only because of their open and public natures, but also because I have more control over the look and feel, content, and structure of what I currently use online than I would if I were to shift to places like WOU Online for communicating and interacting with students. This is most true for my faculty website, which I built from the ground up with the help of Anne-Marie, but even services like Pinterest and Vimeo are more “design rich” than are the institutional alternatives.

I know that Moodle is more flexible than the basic set up available in WOU Online and that if I wanted to I could dig deep into how to customize, but I also think that, ultimately, I would still have to work in an institutional frame and that there are inherent limitations to using a set of tools envisioned specifically for “course management” and not more broadly for communicative purposes.

A very small minority of students the past few years have assumed my courses would be “in Moodle” and some have been critical of my not being there. Now I have course shells set up to reach those students, as well as an active profile in WOU Online. It may be that at some point I will be compelled by student expectation to move more of my course resources into Moodle – the leader of the orientation I attended told another attendee that he thought that students would soon expect to be able to track their grades online via Moodle – but until I know more about what I might be able to do in these kinds of institutionally managed spaces, and am persuaded by their advantages, I am inclined to keep communicating via the public web. I can see where Portal and WOU Online would appeal to faculty who have been reluctant to move their course resources online, at base, all you have to do is fill out forms to use these tools, but for someone like me, these UIs compel compromises that I’m not prepared to make until I can see clearer advantages to doing so, both for myself and my students.

Some perspective on undergraduate majors and employment

Some perspective on undergraduate majors and employment

Here is a re-presentation of a discussion I initiated on Twitter about choosing an undergraduate major sparked by the first hour of the Diane Rehm Show today (http://thedianerehmshow.org/shows/2013-08-29/derek-bok-higher-education-america).

  1. One of the most frustrating aspects of the higher ed discussion: persistent, and false, assumption that undergrad majors are tied to jobs.
  2. Having a “marketable” major doesn’t guarantee a job in that field anymore than having an “unmarketable” major guarantees unemployment.
  3. @ShaunHuston A “marketable” major means you have to compete w/ everyone else in that market.
  4. @ShaunHuston Why not major in what make you shine differently than the others who are crowded into marketable majors. Be unique. Be you.
  5. @l1brar1an yes; and you will lose in that market to people who have more native skill and passion for the field than you do.
  6. There is no one-to-one relationship between one’s major and one’s post-graduate employment.
  7. @ShaunHuston & it ignores the “real world” our grads must navigate- choosing a career & staying in it forever w/o change is not the norm
  8. @ShaunHuston that’s pretty much limited to those who get post Bachelors degrees & is a privilege sign. But ignoring that allows us to 1/2
  9. @ShaunHuston blame students for choosing the wrong major when they don’t meet the success metrics of those who had opportunities they don’t
  10. @amlibrarian yes. Part of this discussion is about denying structural and contextual factors in (un)employment. Blame the individual.
  11. Many factors will play a role in where, and whether, you get a job after graduation. Some in your control, some not.
  12. @ShaunHuston I’ve been trying to write career advice for some young friends, and I keep stalling. It’s much harder than when I graduated.
  13. @sultryglebe i think you can honestly tell your friends that their undergraduate major most likely won’t be a barrier to finding a job.
  14. @sultryglebe getting employment and trying to work in a specific field are not the same. No, there aren’t many jobs in philosophy, but …
  15. @sultryglebe … plenty of philosophy majors have good jobs (and I’m using philosophy as one example of a major that gets derided).
  16. @sultryglebe students are still better off majoring in a field they care about, then majoring in something solely for job-reasons.
  17. @sultryglebe for most people, in most cases, the undergraduate degree is more important than the major.
  18. @ShaunHuston It’s just knowing that when I double-majored in Romance Languages and History, college cost less and job market was better.
  19. @ShaunHuston I wouldn’t change my schooling, but we need to go back to that same (or a better) level of opportunity for after.
  20. @sultryglebe yes. but those are questions about issues beyond the control of any individual.
  21. In many cases, your major will be one of the least important factors.
  22. Students: don’t major in something solely because you think it will lead to a job. That will diminish the value of your education.
  23. @ShaunHuston related maxim – Don’t feel you have to major in something just because it comes easy to you (if it doesn’t also excite you)
  24. @amlibrarian yes. choosing to challenge yourself could be another way to distinguish yourself to employers cc: @l1brar1an.
  25. @ShaunHuston @amlibrarian Or in my case choosing not to take another year in French means you graduate with w/ Sociology instead of English
  26. Major in something meaningful to you. Most people get jobs because of a wide range of qualities.
  27. What everyone pressuring you to major in something “practical” won’t tell you is that most people don’t end up working in “their field”.
  28. Major in dance. Major in lit. Major in sociology. Major in geography. Major in religion. Major in whatever moves you.
  29. Your education is more than your major. Your major is a small part of what you can offer employers. A job is only one aspect of your life.
  30. @ShaunHuston uJourney helps students choose wisely. However, there’s only 1 job for every 2 college grads, so even good majors struggle.
  31. Here’s the thing: in the U.S., the tendency is to want to make everything a matter of individual choice.
  32. Don’t have a job after college? It’s your fault for choosing an “unmarketable” major.
  33. This line of thinking masks the underlying dynamics of the economy.
  34. If we blame 20 yos majoring in theater for their own unemployment, we don’t have to confront how power is exercised in a capitalist culture.
  35. That string of tweets was sparked by the first of hour of @drshow today, particularly listening to callers, not so much Derek Bok.

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