Category Archives: learning

Herbert Marcuse in California

Wonderful documentary on Herbert Marcuse during his years at UC San Diego. Filled with potent engagement, thoughtful analysis and a political read on the culture wars against universities.

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Filed under academics, capitalism, communication, critique, documentary, learning, protest, representation, resistance

DIY synthesizer inspirations: Peter Blasser and Chris Beckstrom

I continue to learn about digital noise-making.  I’ve been soldering and bread-boarding synthesizers and noise-boxes for the last year.  Along the way I’ve found a few cool motivations and inspirations.

1. I found Peter Blasser and his musical wizardry through an essay he wrote about making electronic instruments for a small child for econtact.   At first I thought he was mocking the reader, and then I realized that the essay was deeply creative, fluid and inspiring.  I spent as much time exploring the links as reading the text.  This led me to Peter’s astounding limited edition home-made instruments: Ciat.lonbarde.net

Here is Blasser with a workshop about his Shnth I found enjoyable.

Blasser offers some really interesting DIY projects at his website: Peter B.  I’m collecting the parts to make some paper circuits.  I find his approach, openness and creative inspirational work to be sublime.

2.  Since I’ve been making my own instruments I often run into disappointment.  I finish something and plug in a battery and it doesn’t work.  Finding motivation to keep creating when projects flop takes a little intellectual inspiration.  I often turn to look at the pictures and read the notes by Chris Beckstrom.  As he puts it:

My admittedly lofty goal was to build a modular synthesizer, from scratch, using basic components (no kits), with zero electronics experience. Turns out, it’s possible! I’m sharing circuits, designs, pictures, and code to help other folks realize their dream of building a modular synthesizer for themselves.

Source: DIY Modular Synthesizer | Chris Beckstrom

I really like that uses bolts as cheap connections instead of the costly cables for most systems.  I appreciate that he lists that some of his modules aren’t working at the moment.  At points where I struggled to move forward it is really gratifying to see a home-made system that seems accessible.  In fact seeing creative people who aren’t deterred by lack of money or parts is helpful as I put together my machines.

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Filed under art, do-it-yourself, learning, music, synthesizers, technology, vulnerability

DIY synthesizers part 1

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I’ve been making my own synthesizers for the last few months.  It started with a challenge from my friend August.  August pointed me to the $25 Sythrotek Atari Punk Console kit at makershed.   Prior to this I had been messing with Arduino synthesizers (primarily using the under-respected Mozzi library).  We ordered some noise box kits and when they arrived, started awkwardly soldering.

My favorite thing is that I’m learning an astounding amount every day.  I think that is how it goes whenever you dive into something that you didn’t know much about!

Shout out to Synthrotek and Dr. Bleep.  I started with some kits and am now building my own little noiseboxes inspired by the kits (and any number of fine internet peeps).  Here are a few photos from the early builds including a my finished APC kit in the DIY wooden box.

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Filed under art, do-it-yourself, learning, music

“That comfort that you are experiencing is destroying our country!”

Welcome to W. Honky territory.  I just discovered his videos and appreciated his accusatory tone and  salty authenticity.  Turns out he has a youtube channel with his rural truck-cam post-work pov videos.

It took three videos from W. Honky before I ran into this nice gem where he calls upon white Americans to acknowledge the benefits they get from white supremacy.  Specifically he calls upon white people to film themselves articulating their understandings of white privilege.  “To get white people to take some responsibility.”

Honky is light on intersectional analysis.  Consideration of ability, sex and nationality in relationship to race sort of enter in the late part of the video.  Thinking about all layers of oppression at the get-go, what Mari Matsuda calls: “ask the other question,” foregrounding multiple frames of identity at the same time might help support Honky’s key suggestions of accountability and public dialogue.

And of course, given that the key problem is white supremacy might one try to privilege non-white speakers?  Many other persuasive people of color have made almost the same arguments and yet not had the same traction as W. Honky.  We might note that those who are most deeply to benefit from white supremacy may not be listening to thoughtful women of color, but they might listen to W. Honky.

People like Honky (and myself) benefit from white skin privilege, which means access.  A good example of W. Honky’s articulation of what to do about white privilege is his piece on the Bass Pro Shop (boycott).

It is an interesting arc and you come to wonder about the creator (Jorge Moran).  I have a suspicion that this is a character, a performance. Even if it is, I’m impressed with the quality of the arguments, the passion and the realness.  More is the accessibility – I would like to drink a beer with this guy and talk about race.  He seems honest about power and at the same time ready to think slightly out-of-the-box about class, race and identity in general.  He seems like the kind of guy I’d like on my team.

Y’know?

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Filed under class, communication, critique, learning, race

Inspired by ‘Who gets to graduate’

Paul Tough has a very strong essay in the New York Times called “Who gets to graduate.”  It is a snapshot of the strategies used by caring teachers and administrators at the University of Texas at Austin to help students succeed.  I appreciated the emphasis on successful strategies.  Here are a few of my favorite points.   Chemistry professor David Laude gets props for his initial approach:

In 1999, at the beginning of the fall semester, Laude combed through the records of every student in his freshman chemistry class and identified about 50 who possessed at least two of the “adversity indicators” common among students who failed the course in the past: low SATs, low family income, less-educated parents. He invited them all to apply to a new program, which he would later give the august-sounding name the Texas Interdisciplinary Plan, or TIP. Students in TIP were placed in their own, smaller section of Chemistry 301, taught by Laude. But rather than dumb down the curriculum for them, Laude insisted that they master exactly the same challenging material as the students in his larger section. In fact, he scheduled his two sections back to back. “I taught my 500-student chemistry class, and then I walked upstairs and I taught this 50-student chemistry class,” Laude explained. “Identical material, identical lectures, identical tests — but a 200-point difference in average SAT scores between the two sections.”

Laude was hopeful that the small classes would make a difference, but he recognized that small classes alone wouldn’t overcome that 200-point SAT gap. “We weren’t naïve enough to think they were just going to show up and start getting A’s, unless we overwhelmed them with the kind of support that would make it possible for them to be successful,” he said. So he supplemented his lectures with a variety of strategies: He offered TIP students two hours each week of extra instruction; he assigned them advisers who kept in close contact with them and intervened if the students ran into trouble or fell behind; he found upperclassmen to work with the TIP students one on one, as peer mentors. And he did everything he could, both in his lectures and outside the classroom, to convey to the TIP students a new sense of identity: They weren’t subpar students who needed help; they were part of a community of high-achieving scholars.

via Who Gets to Graduate? – NYTimes.com.

Laude’s interventions have been successful with many students.  Inspired by Laude, UT has developed a research tool which helps them discover which incoming first year students are likely to need some help.

I have a pang of concern about privacy and labeling.  There is something terrible about telling a student from a poor family who has worked really hard that they are “unlikely to succeed” because of some algorithm. This notion of a computer assessing students seems particularly soul crushing.   I appreciate that the folks at UT have something similar in mind in their communication strategy about their interventions.  Paul Tough again:

Perhaps the most striking fact about the success programs is that the selection criteria are never disclosed to students. “From a numbers perspective, the students in these programs are all in the bottom quartile,” Laude explained. “But here’s the key — none of them know that they’re in the bottom quartile.” The first rule of the Dashboard, in other words, is that you never talk about the Dashboard. Laude says he assumes that most U.L.N. students understand on some level that they were chosen in part because of their financial need, but he says it is important for the university to play down that fact when dealing directly with students. It is an extension of the basic psychological strategy that he has used ever since that first TIP program: Select the students who are least likely to do well, but in all your communications with them, convey the idea that you have selected them for this special program not because you fear they will fail, but because you are confident they can succeed.

via Who Gets to Graduate? – NYTimes.com.

UT has turned to psychologists to help figure out how to best communicate to at-risk incoming students that they belong.  How do you best re-articulate the fears and doubts to make them manageable?  Here is Paul Tough explaining UT professor David Yeager and his insights about persuasion and argument:

Yeager began working with a professor of social psychology named Greg Walton, who had identified principles that seemed to govern which messages, and which methods of delivering those messages, were most persuasive to students. For instance, messages worked better if they appealed to social norms; when college students are informed that most students don’t take part in binge drinking, they’re less likely to binge-drink themselves. Messages were also more effective if they were delivered in a way that allowed the recipients a sense of autonomy. If you march all the high-school juniors into the auditorium and force them to watch a play about tolerance and inclusion, they’re less likely to take the message to heart than if they feel as if they are independently seeking it out. And positive messages are more effectively absorbed when they are experienced through what Walton called “self-persuasion”: if students watch a video or read an essay with a particular message and then write their own essay or make their own video to persuade future students, they internalize the message more deeply.

In one experiment after another, Yeager and Walton’s methods produced remarkable results. At an elite Northeastern college, Walton, along with another Stanford researcher named Geoffrey Cohen, conducted an experiment in which first-year students read brief essays by upperclassmen recalling their own experiences as freshmen. The upperclassmen conveyed in their own words a simple message about belonging: “When I got here, I thought I was the only one who felt left out. But then I found out that everyone feels that way at first, and everyone gets over it. I got over it, too.” After reading the essays, the students in the experiment then wrote their own essays and made videos for future students, echoing the same message. The whole intervention took no more than an hour. It had no apparent effect on the white students who took part in the experiment. But it had a transformative effect on the college careers of the African-American students in the study: Compared with a control group, the experiment tripled the percentage of black students who earned G.P.A.s in the top quarter of their class, and it cut in half the black-white achievement gap in G.P.A. It even had an impact on the students’ health — the black students who received the belonging message had significantly fewer doctor visits three years after the intervention.

via Who Gets to Graduate? – NYTimes.com.

As a communication professor I’d like to claim some particular insight into these persuasive pathways.  Communication and Rhetoric teachers tend to think about exactly this kind of strategic approach to making messages, but it is also kind of common sense.   I bet English, Ethnic Studies Women’s Studies and Social Work professors all recognized some of our core principles in our fields in these insights.

I don’t think it is about credit.  There is certainly work to go around.  Part of the story is the structural support of administrators and the other part of the story are the good teachers primed  to implement these ideas.   You’d need administrators and informed teachers working in cooperation for a while to get results.   And you’d need all those teachers from all those fields who already know this to implement change successfully at a university.

Much of the ‘ah-ha’ arguments of the article are about a communication practice known as inoculation — that you pre-warn someone about a coming moment of persuasion in order to steer the person’s understanding of that moment when it happens.

Often used by political candidates to warn about an argument about to be spoken by an opponent in a debate, the tactic works equally well when thinking about education.   Here is Paul Tough analyzing UT’s online messaging module which helps to intellectually-inoculate first year students about belonging and doubt:

Our first instinct, when we read about these experiments, is that what the interventions must be doing is changing students’ minds — replacing one deeply held belief with another. And it is hard to imagine that reading words on a computer screen for 25 minutes could possibly do that. People just aren’t that easy to persuade. But Yeager believes that the interventions are not in fact changing students’ minds — they are simply keeping them from overinterpreting discouraging events that might happen in the future. “We don’t prevent you from experiencing those bad things,” Yeager explains. “Instead, we try to change the meaning of them, so that they don’t mean to you that things are never going to get better.”

via Who Gets to Graduate? – NYTimes.com.

Nice essay and more to think about as we do the important work of hustling to make change.

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Filed under academics, capitalism, class, communication, intersectionality, kindness, learning, representation, Surveillance

Social movements changing journalism and law: Canadian press against Rob Ford

Like most people who spend time on the internets I’m fascinated by Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.  I watched his interview with Jimmy Kimmel and thought: this guy is invulnerable.  He has that teflon acumen to look the audience in the face and (according to many accounts) lie.

The Walrus has a cool accounting of the legal changes in Canada which led to the press freedoms to write about the bad-boy mayor.  Including training the next generation of journalists!  That is social movement work.

Rogers and his colleagues were already monitoring defamation cases in other common law countries, such as the US and Britain, looking for effective defences beyond truth and fair comment. A pair of landmark decisions in Britain’s House of Lords in 1999 and 2006 gave them what they needed. “Responsible journalism,” as the Lords called their new defence, posited that if a journalist has taken reasonable steps to verify that a story is true, and has given the subject an opportunity to respond, he or she cannot be found liable for defamation, even if the story contains untruths. Responsible journalism revolutionized British defamation law.

ADIDEM’s task was to persuade Canadian judges to follow suit, but how do you persuade a judge to rewrite the law at your behest? “You start,” says Rogers, “by using defences that are not yet part of the common law of Canada but that you think should be.” First, however, the group had to make sure Canadian journalists were writing stories that hewed to the spirit of responsible journalism, so they began preaching the gospel in their daily interactions with clients and in seminars at journalism schools. At the Ryerson School of Journalism in Toronto, Rogers and the Star’s Bert Bruser, considered the dean of Canadian media law, recruited reporters like Doolittle to the cause.

via The Story behind the Rob Ford Story · thewalrus.ca.

Thanks to Longreads.com for the recommendation.

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Filed under communication, learning, resistance

Describing the call out as oppression: Paula Deen

There is something toxic about people who have public histories of being offensive arguing that being criticized for hateful comments is comparable to experiencing hate itself.

Here is Zerlina Maxwell explaining why Paula Deen’s recent articulation is exactly this kind of hijack of experience.

“In a recent interview with People, Deen said (via CNN):

“I feel like ‘embattled’ or ‘disgraced’ will always follow my name,” she tells People. “It’s like that black football player who recently came out,” referring to NFL prospect and former University of Missouri football standout, Michael Sam.

“He (Sam) said, ‘I just want to be known as a football player. I don’t want to be known as a gay football player.’ I know exactly what he’s saying.”

It’s no surprise that Deen would feel embattled, but as someone who said racially insensitive things, it is a surprise that Deen sees herself as the oppressed, instead of the one doing the oppressing.  How is Paula the victim if she was the mastermind behind the slave themed wedding?  It seems to me that actually being oppressed and embattled by structural inequality and policies that lead to disparate outcomes for people of color is worse than being called out for your bigotry.  And being the first openly gay player in the NFL like Michael Sam is nothing like being a celebrity chef exposed for referring to your Black employees in explicitly racist terms.”

via Paula Deen thinks she’s oppressed like “that Black” gay NFL player.

1.  Writing words or speaking it aloud usually archive ideas marked to bodies.

2. It is worthwhile developing critical vocabulary for this rhetorical maneuver.   It is one of the best tactics to resist the call-out.

3.  Thanks Feministing.  You rock.

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Filed under communication, Gay, learning, media, representation, rhetoric