All posts by Murph

Rained real hard and it rained for a real long time

Of my storytelling to date, I think this is the one I’m most proud of. But then, it’s about one of the things in my life I’m most proud of.

I made this during a workshop we hosted for faculty at Kenyon. It’s out of the Berkeley Center for Digital Storytelling model. (The workshop was actually coordinated by a trainer from Ohio State’s Digital Storytelling program.) This is a storytelling tradition which focuses on autobiographical narratives, respecting the storyteller’s experience and the “gift of voice” when they tell it themselves. There’s a strong social justice component to telling untold stories, which I think is part of why this particular mode of digital storytelling is appealing to academics (especially those pursuing a service learning pedagogy).

It’s also a very intense process – really a full 40-hour week of work, considering the writing process, the tech training, and the process of recording, finding and layering soundtrack, and image selection, ordering, and import. A tremendous amount of the work is done in writing circles, in which these personal narratives are laid out for the group’s supportive critique. That’s a lot of vulnerability to give, and accept – and honestly, my story didn’t require the kind of exposure which some other storytellers engaged.

This story is based on the diary I kept while on the rebuilding trip, and audioblogs I made at the time. Those audio reports were a particularly exciting composition exercise – every night, imagining myself as David Strathairn as Edward R. Murrow, I sat down and wrote my reflections on the day and the trip, and edited them into a short news-like report for my friends up north. I then posted them to Blogger through a now-defunct service which let me make audio posts through a cell phone call. (These were the pre-smartphone days, kids, at least for me. I was working on a Virgin Mobile pay-as-you-go burner.)

Fortunately, I saved those MP3s before the system went belly-up. I’ve put them on Soundcloud, but marked as private. I haven’t decided whether I want to revive those particular moments yet; as years have passed I’m less impressed with the emotional rawness and quick polish of that work.

Truthiness! Stephen Colbert in a parody of the I had a fair amount of trouble with the “truthiness” of the process. Some of the images in that movie are actual shots of the day in question. Some are other shots of our trip, or of New Orleans. Some are CC-licensed shots from Flickr or elsewhere, unrelated to my life at all. I had to wrestle with that. Did I sell out my own story by using a picture of “college students” which is from Madrid, not Gambier? Did I fail to carry the stories of the people of New Orleans when I used pictures of cleaning up a South Asian volcano blast? At the end of the day, I decided that the images help me tell a story which I still believe needs telling, and I made my peace with it. I still grit my jaw every time I look at them, but I’m proud enough of the result to share it with you.

John, John! I can see your house from here!

I was intrigued by the “Draw Your Own Map of the Internet” project, and moreso when it became a Daily Create. But it was this tweet from John Scalzi which really led me to get out a piece of paper and make my own.

(Oh. There’s a template. And it’s landscape, but I worked in portrait orientation. Oh well.)

This is a riff on Saul Steinberg’s View of the World from 9th Avenue. View of the World from 9th AvenueThat’s why it’s in portrait orientation, and a weak attempt  at perspective. It’s a personal view of the Internet – not an attempt to reflect what I know about the whole web, but how I think of my place in it. It reflects how I spend my time; it also reflects priorities in the way I use the Internet. (And of course, it reflects the way I wish to portray those things.) It’s also, really, a map of the Web, not the Internet. Notice that there’s no App Store, that I think of “email” as “the web” and not a separate thing anymore, that there’s no Netflix or Amazon Prime (which I watch through my Roku and TV, rarely my laptop or phone), that I don’t even think about protocols other that HTTP anymore.

In reflection, I’m a little troubled by the fact that I think of email as my home. That’s where I start and end the day, where I’m most reachable but also most secluded. Facebook is the patio table in my yard where most of my socializing happens; Twitter is the birdfeeder on the tree where lots of things fly in and out. Google+ is that really cool swingset over in the corner which hardly gets any use. Notice the “access road” running at an angle from the main highway, which shows the way my friends lead me out to other points on the web – occasionally their web homes, more often through citation.

Groom, Levine, and Rheingold as the
Don’t blog like my bruddah!

It’s probably Click, Link, and Embed’s fault that I thought of my webspace on Reclaim Hosting as “the garage”. It’s the tinkering place, and the place from which I go places. It’s adjacent to my home, but it’s a detached garage… which may say something about how I think about being “reachable” and “building things”  – or it might only reflect the fact that my real garage is detached. OK, this metaphor is officially beat to death. Sometimes a garage is just a garage.

I dunno why my car is some kind of ’70s-’80s land yacht, except that it’s probably been that long since I last drew a car.

There’s no particular reason that work-y things ended up on the left, and general interests/recreation on the right. It’s not like this is a time diary – but these are the neighborhoods which explain how I think about my time on the Web.

Of course, everything leads to Google, and Google leads to everything. Maybe that’s Oz, and I should draw little feet under my house.

There’s some stuff missing – webcomics ought to be on there somewhere, as should LibraryThing. But it’s a reasonable draft, and a fun project to reflect on the way I engage with the web.

Did you go crazy, or did you report?

I’ve been meaning to transfer some of my better stories from my first, late, and unlamented blog. My Facebook feed is spilling over with people’s remembrances of September Eleventh today, and I thought I might share mine.

This was originally written for a contest at Powell’s bookstore, in 2006 I think.


Lynn walked into our morning meeting in tears, and announced that a plane from Boston had flown into the World Trade Center. My stomach flipped as I thought of my friends who were moving out of Massachusetts that week. I didn’t know their plans. I didn’t know where they were. All I could do was run to my office in panic and try to find out. Today, even recalling the memory makes me ill.

(It wasn’t a rational fear; Michael and Ann share a fear of flying which borders on the pathological, and they were in Western Massachusetts anyway. In a psychic bond, their first thoughts were for my father, who at least does get on airplanes regularly without chemical sedation.)

Everyone has a September Eleventh story, and I suppose mine is similar to most. For most of us, our fear of loss was actually greater than our loss. That is, after all, why they call it a “terror attack.”

Our stories don’t often extend to the next few days, as America walked in our haze of grief and fear and senselessness. The media virtually suspended itself. My 160 cable channels seemed all to be set to CNN. After about two days, I’d had all the news I could stand, and I had to turn away from the box.

I couldn’t begin to think about reading nonfiction, and fiction seemed to be either too heavy or too light to handle. But poetry… maybe poetry would have something to say.

And that’s how I came to read T.S. Eliot’s Little Gidding in September 2001. I opened that big Norton Anthology of English Literature which every once and future English major owns, and turned its onionskin paper, and looked for solace.

Eliot wrote Little Gidding in 1942, while he watched the Nazis bombing the cities and civilians of Britain. It grabbed me like a branch grabs a drowning swimmer. This expatriate Missourian knew what I felt, had seen what I’d seen and more, and needed to tell me something. And I desperately needed to hear it. Teachers talking about “timeless literature” came into shining focus like never before.

I needed two tries to read the second section, depicting the aftermath of a bombing raid, “ash on an old man’s sleeve” and a ghost in the twilight. Eliot’s burnt roses could have fallen from Windows on the World. And yet, if I could not be distracted, at least I knew we were not alone.

Eliot did have solace for me. Little Gidding says that life somehow must triumph. I thought of Eliot, reading Julian of Norwich, and passing that thousand-year-old crutch to me:

Sin is Behovely, but
All shall be well, and
All manner of thing shall be well.

No one in America had said “all shall be well” in days. But if Julian could believe it, and Eliot could believe it, perhaps I could as well.

And in September of 2001, that voice coming through the page was enough. It was more real, and more comforting, than any voice coming from the box, even than any of the voices around me. Personal sadness has brought me back to Little Gidding many times in the following years, and every time, I feel that branch brush me in the rushing waters, and I grab hold.

I me mine

Allright, I give. I’ve got a million things I want to say about DS106 Week 1, but if I don’t say something and hit publish, I’m never going to give myself permission to move on to week 2. Plus, I’m not part of the group conversation as long as these ideas are in my head. Rather than let the perfect be the enemy of the good I’m just going to hit the damn Publish button on my thoughts on Art, and come back to technology and The Wire later.

In Art

Thinking back over the videos for Open DS106 Unit 1, I’m struck by the feeling that they all treat Art as something selfish. I heard a lot about what the Artist is trying to do in their creation, and I heard a lot which suggests that Art is found in the viewer’s reaction. What I don’t remember hearing is the idea that Art is a mode of communication – that the creation and the reaction are inseparable (except by time and distance).

I think it’s worth it to conceive of Art as a very stylized (and slow) way of having a conversation. Certainly this addresses all of the points in the Rhett and Link video. Conversations are allowed to presuppose a certain base of knowledge. That can be as simple as a common language, or as complicated as an academic debate. Some conversations are easy, and some are hard, demanding active listening and a willingness to have your attention focused by the interests of another. So no, sometimes Art isn’t a transcendent eureka moment, sometimes it’s a hard slog to figure out what you’re supposed to get out of it.

This isn’t to say that it’s always the listener’s fault when the communication doesn’t happen. Particularly in Art, where the artist may be manipulating details and symbols very subtly (or more boldly than we’re used to), I think it’s important that the artist thinks about who they’re talking to, and why. Gaiman’s advice to try things in your art before someone tells you they can’t be done is terrific advice – but I think it implies a certain element of the scientific method. Fail again, fail better is a good slogan, but it requires that evaluation of what “better” would look like, and how we might reach it. (And particularly, to the extent that an artist fails to include groups in the conversation, I think they at least have an ethical obligation to ask themselves if they’re OK with that and why.)

I’m smart, and I want respect

I’m already on Season Two of The Wire, but I’ll try not to include too many spoilers for my comrades in #wire106.

Ziggy Sabotka is a fascinating character – a runt, a screw-up, a dreamer. It was Episode Seven when the penny finally dropped how much James Ransone‘s  characterization reminds me of John Cazale‘s work as Fredo Corleone in The Godfather – little shifty guys trying to walk tall. They even bear a physical resemblance, perhaps made stronger by the fact that both characters dress with a colorful (yet unsuccessful) flash which stands out on camera.

Having found the two characters I wanted to compare in a Triple Troll Quote, I started thinking on a third. Now Terry Maloy is nothing like Ziggy or Fredo… but we got a little brother, we got the docks, we got organized crime, and we got one of the greatest monologues in film history…

And so we get my second triple troll quote:

On the Waterfront posterThis was a fun one to make. I knew I needed the shot to include Ziggy’s orange leather coat; fortunately Google returned a high-quality image. The red text seems to fit the image’s color scheme. I picked an italics serif font in an attempt to echo the poster for On the Waterfront; it’s not really successful at that but I think it does evoke some of the helplessness of the 3 characters, at least compared to the block font you get on most memes. (GIMP could give a better font browser – I couldn’t really tell if I had a script font available to me, and I wasn’t prepared to hunt for long.) I did like working with GIMP for positioning and resizing the text block; that was pretty easy.

Ultimately, it reminds me more of a dorm poster than an Internet meme graphic, but I’m happy with it.

It’s all in the game

I must really be #4Life if I’m ready to suggest a new Daily Create.

Calvinball!CALVINBALL! Mashup the pieces of at least 2 unrelated games into a new game. Take a picture.

Get Settled!

This picture actually comes courtesy of my son, who is seven. At that age, if Settlers of Catan Junior takes place on islands, then of course we should get the shark from Get Bit! And if the game is good with a little plastic figure of a Ghost Pirate, of course it would be better with a LEGO General Grievous. The robot from Get Bit! is my addition; the rainbow coloring was his.

He once called this ability “connectionation” – which is, of course, the imagination which sees new connections. I vaguely recall it being his kindergarten teacher’s word. It puts me in mind of the Stephen Johnson video about the birthing of good ideas, from week 1 of the Open DS106 syllabus. Admittedly, his mind doesn’t do anything slowly as Johnson describes, but it’s fascinating to watch the way his mind lets different ideas bump into each other and riff freely against each other.

It’s inspiring… and occasionally infuriating. The true story of that photo is that I missed the chance to get it some months ago. So this time, instead of explaining why there can only be one thief on the board, when he introduced General Grievous as the second Ghost Pirate, I got up and got the Get Bit set. Immediately, I was having a better time imagining new play than being the rules lawyer, and he pretty quickly estimated that we’d have a board full of Ghost Pirates if we didn’t pull back inside the magic circle just a bit.

Should this be accepted as a Daily Create, I’ll leave my first attempt at this shot here:

Get Settled!

I don’t like the lighting on this shot, but it does capture some of the feel for the game. Compare and contrast with a better lit and composed overhead, which unfortunately loses all the detail of the toys:

Get Settled!


Captain’s Log

For TDC 951

Captain’s Log, 8/18/14.

We are 3 days outside the Straits of Consumption. Bad weather off the Cliffs of Copyright; some debate about pulling into Safe Harbor to wait it out. But there’s little change in conditions predicted, so we agreed to proceed. Weather drills have been a Fair Use of crew time.

Having reached our checkpoint, we broke the seal on our orders. Scrabble tiles clattered to the table.

Lt. Thrun could not contain himself at the sight, and has been confined to quarters for rank subordination.

As I was struggling to make sense of the tiles, Seaman Pryzbylewski presented to inform me that he had lost yet another bucket and mop over the side. I prepared to gently instruct the Admiral’s son-in-law of the importance of even the most basic duties – and noticed that he was completely enthralled by the mash of tiles.

“What do you make of it?”

He reached out, and started flipping and rearranging the tiles. He mumbled, not really answering me…

“Not a full set… odd distribution… Sir! Look at this!”

The tiles were now in a tidy line, spaces between the words. From the other side of the desk, even upside-down, I could read the message:


I sighed, and laughed. “Well, that does sound like the Admiral to me.”

“Yeah… but so does this, sir…”

His fingers played with the tiles, and formed


“A for Admiral, Sir?”

“A… for All Of Us, Sailor.”


Troll Quotes

There Are Four Lights

The Troll Quotes assignment is another reason I signed up for DS106. We see plenty of motivational posters, demotivational posters, and LOLCATS, but I was just tickled by the idea of a three-way culture hack.

The gloss on this one is a little tortured (heh), but –

  1. The screengrab is from The Muppet Movie. I was watching it with my family, and when this shot comes on at the end, I said the quote…
  2. Which is from one of the best episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. A Cardassian torturer attempts to break Captain Picard’s will by forcing him to say that there are 5 lights in the room, when in fact there are only 4.
    (It’s an amusing coincidence that both the TNG episode and the scene in The Muppet Movie have a lot to do with memories, but it wasn’t intentional.)
  3. So why Mal Reynolds from Firefly? Eh, why not. He’s a captain, like Picard, and he’s kind of Muppety.

As far as the technology, this one is pretty straightforward. I tried doing the screengrab straight from the DVD, but some kind of copy protection got in the way – so I ripped it. I learned that Quicktime will advance roughly a frame at a time with the right and left arrow keys (which iTunes won’t), which helped me sync things up. I used Adobe Photoshop Express to do the video edit; it was a little wonky compared to what I’d expect from local image editing software, but it got the job done, and probably with fewer opportunities to get lost.

Daily Create: BSOD

I’d been looking at The Daily Create and one exercise in particular stood out as something I might find fun. There used to be a lot of computer technical support involved in my job, so working on an ASCII art Blue Screen Of Death seemed like a natural. (And it’s Exercise 386 –  how propitious.)

So the idea was fresh in my mind, when it happened that I walked past a Hot Topic, with a Game of Thrones display in the window. Now the truth is I’m not a GoT fan – haven’t read the books, don’t have HBO, just haven’t gotten into it. But something about the bird and the swords and the Season 4 slogan struck me.

So the first thing I had to do was learn a little bit about ASCII art. I’m old enough to remember the days before the Web incorporated graphics, but I never actually learned to make the stuff. Fortunately, there are still good tutorials available online. (I used the one linked; other resources and examples on that site are good too.)

That brought me to tool choice, and after a bit of dinking around I realized that the best thing to produce a landscape-orientation piece of text art was, in fact, PowerPoint. The Wikipedia article on the BSOD was kind enough to give me the font, and so I started to draw.

Trying to draw the raven quickly proved tedious. So I remembered an old joke. There’s just two steps to carving a statue of an elephant. Step one, get a big block of marble. Step 2, cut away everything that doesn’t look like an elephant. Since this is a solid design anyway, I made a big block of H’s to represent feathers. The equal signs are designed to evoke the swords, and to open the space up a bit like the original does. Apparently it’s important that it’s a 3-eyed raven, so 3 zeros and a beak, and voila.

From there, on to the slogan. A fan page of High Valyrian vocabulary told me to keep “morghulis” for “must die”; I made up “proscar” for “all processes.”

And then another funny thing happened. I walked to the fridge, came back to my screen, and realized, from far away, that I’d almost made a different iconic flying animal…

Hello DS106!

After years of hearing about DS106, and telling other people about it, maybe it’s time to actually try it out myself.

I’ve gotten tired of dropping out of big corporate MOOCs because of their inflexible time frames and faceless approach to content delivery. I might like to learn in a community of makers.

With any luck, I’ll also use this site as the repository for other stories I’ve told or will tell. When I get…

a Round Tuit

Once upon a time, I told stories at a blog I called  Hip Deep In Pie. Someday I might move the good ones over here.