eBooks

For the last week I’ve had no phone line, no internet except that which comes over the ‘smart phone’. Holy Shit how do people ‘consume’ through that tenuous porthole? Here’s me holding the phone up in the air trying to catch a reasonable WiFi signal, just so I can maybe see 5 words at a time from a ‘mobile’ news site – which is bowdlerised to the hell to show only ‘popular’ news items. No wonder so many dumb-ass millennials if that’s their online experience.

Anyway – it’s relevant to the topic at hand – what is ‘a book’ in this year 2015? What will ‘a book’ be in 2025? This really should be of interest to budding media designers, who spend too much time creating content and not enough worrying about publishing it. I’m starting a course on this topic because it makes no sense to keep teaching people how to animate for film and TV. That’s like teaching how to hoist sails on a long ship. Good luck on the high seas matey. I am no expert in electronic publishing, but then again I got the gig teaching ‘film studies’ 7 years ago from being a musician, and no complaints.

book-in-dumpster

There will be paper books, they will be expensive collectables, like vinyl. Never mind that foppery. There will tablets, watches and perhaps eReaders, although the most recent Kindles seem to announce death of the purpose designed reader. You would hope that the book would not just be a flow of endless text pulled from a word processor, and would in some way respond to the potential of the device with sound and animation.

In 2011 the ePub3 format finally took on fixed text and multimedia. But in 2015 most eReaders still do not properly reproduce this format.

Obviously Apple got sick of that shit and Embraced, Expanded and Extinguished it into iBooks. You can’t blame them for getting tired of waiting, in fact you have to admire their snappy Hugo Boss uniforms. But at some point the iPad will no longer be the Fuhrer, and iBooks will be a dead end. ePub, like HTML5, is a mongrel, but it’s the mongrel we have to adopt.

A group of Nazi troops and students gather seized papers and books to burn, in the Opernplatz, Berlin.   (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Nazis and university students. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)

Most of Apple’s shenanigans have to do with punching Adobe in the face enough times to try kill it, but you can’t kill that which does not live. Example – having been punched for Flash, Adobe built a tool called Edge Animate that creates Javascript animations. People build these into iBooks. Apple updates iBooks with a kill switch for Edge. Adobe updates Edge with a cloaking device. I am mainly on Adobe’s side because at least they are building a tool, whereas Apple is breaking it. Flash may have been too hard on the first iPads, but that’s turned into an ancestral dispute.

My students need to publish visually dense books that represent artistic folios, and that means InDesign. It will make ePub3 as well as PDF, which is a strong format for print publication and archives, but a little too heavy for portable devices. You can also get a HTML5 website out of it, which might equally be a book in 2025.

Under the hood the ePub is an XHTML file, the format that lead to the great HTML rebellion (in which the W3c tried to move the community over to clean and tidy XHTML only to have outsiders instead propose the messy and forgiving HTML5 spec.). Sadly that means they preserve a religious schism that has since healed, and makes hand scripting difficult. An eBook also uses Scalable Vector Graphics, while HTML5 avoids this heavy computation. All up it’s the kind of file zoo that existed all over digital media back in the good old days.

Of course there are many more things that you can do on a pad that have artistic merit. If they want to dip into objective C then it’s their private hell. Some students might want to make ‘apps’, which run on watches. Bless them, I do not know how you can convey important things on a watch.

Will we make 2025 books? Will they be good books? Can we start a dialogue between engineer and artist?

Kurt Vonnegut explained the death of education long ago.

Back in 1952, Kurt Vonnegut wrote a novel called Player Piano. Back some time in the 70’s I read a copy. Now I get to live it.

playerpiano

If it weren’t for the people, the god-damn people’ said Finnerty, ‘always getting tangled up in the machinery. If it weren’t for them, the world would be an engineer’s paradise.

I like lecturing. It’s by far the best thing about being a lecturer. I like to get at least one laugh out of the hall, to get them doing some odd thing like clenching and unclenching their fists to experience tension and release in plot design. It’s an effective and personal way to reach 100 people or more and get them switched on about the important learning points. The last few weeks I’ve delivered lectures for my main video class. Next week, it ‘flips’. I’ve been sampled.

In the novel, Vonnegut explains how every skill can be measured and transcribed. A pianist is captured onto a piano roll, the woodworker can be replaced by a robot arm that repeats their motions over and over again. When I first started teaching art we would show how to do things. Now that has been moved over to online courses. That means I talk about the whys and then they go online to see the hows. Actually because I insist on teaching how to do things I am required to work more face to face hours. That is, one hour of why equals three of how, and I either re-write my courses or take the extra load.

Next week, the whys will be in a 20 minute long recording. Not perfect, certainly plenty more for myself and the designers to sort out – but eventually the robo-Tom (or a more attractive replacement) will be available 24-7 to lecture to as many students as the university wants, and at a discount. The staff are only there to assess the results.

I met the person in charge of this. He manages a growing, opulent concern, flush with funds – at a time where other parts of the university are being scaled back. It’s clear to me that at some point I will jump over to what Vonnegut calls the ‘north of the river’ where the managers and engineers live, and I’m already well on the way. But it’s worrying me, because whenever I see somebody pleased with their disruption, I foresee the disruption that will come to them in turn, and meanwhile everything I have ever loved gets turned into sludge. Managers and Deans and Chancellors can be sampled and automated too.

The foreman had pointed out his best man – what was his name? – and, joking with the puzzled machinist, the three bright young men had hooked up the recording apparatus to the lathe controls. Hertz! That had been the machinist’s name – Rudy Hertz, an old-timer, who had been about ready to retire. Paul remembered the name now, and remembered the deference the old man had shown the bright young men.

And here, now, this little loop in the box before Paul, here was Rudy as Rudy had been to his machine that afternoon – Rudy, the turner-on of power, the setter of speeds, the controller of the cutting tool. This was the essence of Rudy as far as his machine was concerned, as far as the economy was concerned, as far as the war effort had been concerned. The tape was the essence distilled from the small, polite man with the big hands and black fingernails…

Disney is killing my soul

A new Disney animated blockbuster. Oh joy, oh bliss.

BIG-HERO

Look at this shit. Look at it. I am going to be looking at it for the next four years. I am going to see slight variations of the characters as drawings, referential plot lines, tacky 3D animations (mostly of the big white blobby guy because he’s a bunch of spheres). It’s set in fucking SanFranTokyo or some other animé hell basket. Every little weeaboo student is going to be pumping this crud out for four years as I slowly crawl in a mental corner and die.

my_other_really_bad_manga_drawing___by_goingtheextramile-d4x8om3

Thankfully just a search for ‘worst anime’.

Because they will come in, and they will say I WANT TO BE A 3D ANIMATOR and MY FAVOURITE FILM IS BY PIXAR and any attempt to wean them off this dream will be met by angry ratemyprofessor feedback and ‘we are not studying enough animation skills’ and ‘why is not every single course at university about how I will work at Pixar someday?’

Because you will never work at Pixar. You will not be listed at the end of a Hollywood animated film any more than you will be president of the fucking united states. And meanwhile the world is a cruel hard place where you might have to get a real job where the fonts on a local government website are the only creative act you get all month. And it is my job to somehow pack you onto the bus and then as soon as the bus is moving tell you that it’s not a choo-choo to dream land.

my_very_bad_art_of_anime_by_hokona-d4edpdd

likewise

You will have to write essays, you will have to solve problems, you will have to draw people so their heads are in proportion to their bodies. I will give you hell because your story idea is unbelievable, tacky and stupid and no one wants to watch your animé Disney rip off crap. But most of all you are going to have to make somebody believe that you are somehow better than the 90,000 other Arts students that graduate in this tin pot country every damn year. That means you are going to have to become research active dammit – even if it kills you (or me).

I am become Death, destroyer of (animated) worlds.

If I didn’t care it wouldn’t matter. But I actually care about the munchkins, and sometimes when somebody is going the wrong way, well, you just have to take a stand.

And a reminder of places that don’t really care…

Death

maj13

Hello 2 dogs and one person. Today is about death, or at least the meaning of death which is associated with the card;

  • Ending of a cycle — Loss — Conclusion — Sadness
  • Transition into a new state — Psychological transformation
  • Finishing up — Regeneration — Elimination of old patterns
  • Being caught in the inescapable — Good-byes — Deep change

according to The People’s Encyclopaedia of The Cloud.

I actually owned a tarot card pack when I was very young. I liked having a ‘system of everything’ – wouldn’t you? It’s why people become programmers, they get to control a small complete everything. Pity I didn’t understand the meanings back then – which pre-teen would get what Death was about? Better to be a mystic and control the full everything, but anyway…

…anyway, the last few days I was thinking – ‘this really is a complete load of shit isn’t it?’ By it I mean pretty much everything that everyone seems to have turned into ‘everything’. No, hang one, that’s not very helpful is it? Start again…

If you live long enough you get to see the cycles. You see the dawn, the inkling, the enthusiasm and the swelling ’til it bursts and the retractions and denials. I wrote about that last time. But more than that – now talking about the cycles from the outside – they go beyond laughable, beyond tedious – they become painful. Somebody gets in your face about the grandeur of something you already saw die again and again in a lonely corner and you feel pain.

I want out of that cycle.

Part of the fault is that I am powered by enthusiasm which is a dirty fuel, and runs out quickly. You can get a lot done quickly on enthusiasm, but when it runs out you are left dangling over the void. Another role comes along and you get your enthusiasm up for that one – a little less, a little shorter. Another role might get you started for a while but the cycle is now obvious; just jumping from role to role is no real progress. And you are confusing your enthusiasm for something with it being actually worthwhile.

When really the first question should be ‘is this worthwhile?’

Worthwhile to whom? If I make 1000 YouTube videos showing pictures of huge breasts while talking about computer games I’ve played – sure, that would do nicely for a large number of people. Those that dislike that kind of popular culture still measure how many people cite a paper or attend a conference – popularity is always the winning argument no matter what’s being debated. It’s pretty funny watching managers that want to ‘apply quality frameworks’ and ‘certify research value’, go into a panic when the sales aren’t there.

But this is about more than poor old academia. It’s about the ‘everything’ that we have built. In the country of the blind, the guy with Google glasses is king. He’s going to wander around a 3D visualisation of reality and we’ll all keep a hand on the shoulder of the next guy.

Bruegel_1568_Parable-of-the-Blind

The guy on the ground is the futurist – the rich one that made up some science fiction. About to fall on his ass is the great communicator, the journo that writes a pop science book or two. Armed with his walking stick, next up, the academic, with the business man, the worker and the consumer a few years behind. The joke is none of them are blind. They just have adopted a way of seeing, a personal technology that cloaks the world around them. They put the Occulus Rift on their heads and went on Facebook.

Visualisation is a post-punk word that has just walked back on stage to wild applause. Even though the stasi are watching I can’t clap, I just can’t do it any more. The irony of the blind men making a blinding device is too much. Visualisation is a very practical business in a limited sense, been around at least since people drew what dinner looked like on cave walls. X-rays are good and so are speedometers. But the blind men don’t mean that – they mean overlaying data on top of things to tell you what you are seeing with a few ads. Zoom out and fill your eyes with big data.

repin_cossacks5

Dogs and their person; hear me: 24 years ago, driven by insanity of enthusiasm and fear of unemployment I made a computer assisted teaching presentation about Ilya Repin’s Reply of the Zaporozhian Cossacks, on an Amiga. You could fly around the painting, call up information about the painter and the situation that was described. It was a marvel of the dawn of New Media, a proof of the glorious future to be. Now we can do it more and bigger and in 3D and I am not really sure if it was worthwhile the first time. I certainly know that previous experience is unwelcome.

What happens when you walk away from the procession?

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The other direction leads to muddled, incoherent mysticism of the type that Reich and Jung and Dee indulged in their old age. Sounds fucking great, some necromancy and visits to Pluto on a flying demon – hell I don’t care, so long as it blows a mind or two. Because popularity is never going to be a guide to risk, and risk is what is sorely lacking.

The tarot cards are back in use and the Death card is face up.

Oxygen Mask

Funny how the last post ended with the Video Cox Box. I thought that was a known reference – and was dead wrong. Obscure video equipment hasn’t the same general interest as musical equipment – everyone is well versed in Rolands and Korgs, especially in over-pricing them, but the Cox Box raises only the most feeble of online presence, and when you do find it mentioned it’ll be somebody from the old school of experimental video in Australia.

I feel like a Moonie, raised in a parallel culture. But there is such a thing:

Big Iron 12 copy

The rack thing with 9 knobs plus the bits underneath. Red, green, blue for each of 3 grey levels.

Synthetics must be only art form where the visual is completely dominated by the sonic. I don’t fully understand why this would be; I suspect it’s related to the floating problems of abstract art (that is, butt ugliness) that I’m trying to solve.

Plug In Wastelands

Using the KVR site as a source, there are now over 5500 VST plug ins, 2700 being VST instruments. If you exclude anything made with SynthEdit, the number is still 1400 – which just shows what a phenomenon SynthEdit has been.

freeframelogo

You’d struggle to even find an equivalent to VST for video synthesis. Let’s use the open source FreeFrame as nearly all VJ software tools claim to support it. The project page mentions about 200 plug ins; there should be more as this very old page still lists software makers that died many years ago (Macromedia!) or have since become mainstream IT consultants. The same figure appears on IntrinsicFX’s home page and it seems almost every surviving FreeFrame plug-in comes from one or two vendors. If it weren’t for BigFug it’d be dead. Hero Alert.

This virtual tumble weed is much the same as the SynthEdit phenomenon. Apple Computer picked up PixelShox to dominate live visuals. Binding synthesis to QuickTime was excellent marketing – everyone started to develop in Quartz Composer killing the open source format, and once that was achieved Apple moved on to their next bit of Embrace, Expand, Extinguish. Even the people that have done well out of QC have realised that Apple has rolled on to the next bit of scorched earth and they’ll have to create something to fill the dead space. If VUO becomes a thing that’d be sweet. But you can understand why I’m not confident.

$(KGrHqVHJB8FJ!)+n!I6BSVrC8JOUw~~60_12

It goes so well with my coffee table!

Simon Hunt points out that the rabid interest in old audio hardware is likely a consequence of virtual instruments. That is, it was software like KORG’s Legacy collection that inspired the surge in KORG prices as people wanted the ‘real thing’. That would need a lot of research to decide – VST came in 1996, but it wasn’t wide spread for a few years after. Certainly in the late 90’s I could buy a MonoPoly for $250*, which now sells for around $1,500.

It matches my Persian rug!

It matches my Persian rug!

Had someone created a CoxBox or a Fairlight CVI in software, would these would now be equal in their mythology to the 303 Bassline? More importantly; would we now be able to enjoy the same spread of ‘looks’ as we currently enjoy ‘sounds’? How would we do this, and what format would we use? Should we make this part of the ‘Big Iron’ project?

Musty Old Castles

How many online synthesiser museums are there? More than stars in the sky or grains of sand? Then how many video synthesiser sites are there? Battered, and bruised with lava lamps half empty, AudioVisualizers is the original and the only. There’s more missing animated GIFs than you can shake a data glove at, but still nearly all the wikipedia articles use it as the definitive reference for visual synthesis. That’s pretty worrying and I see that part of the ‘Big Iron’ project needs be a web site that collects that info in case it dies.

Some old-school VJ Tools have lasted through the millennium bug. Arkaos is most venerable, Resolume still kicks along. Both now have versions that address the more lucrative media server market, the projection of video clips and DMX lighting in large events like the UK Olympics. Other tools like Salvation and Visual Jockey have become only media servers, joining ones like Ventuz that always were. New contenders like VDMX are keeping the flame lit.

Still the community is nowhere near that of sound and music. Fragmentation is part of it. Video edit guys are not live visuals lads are not interaction design gals. Maybe Isadora tries to unite the latter two users.

Max/Jitter has recently gone all-out to be less inscrutable more accessible via Vizzie, but it’s still like driving an 18 wheeler to the corner shop. Way too big and hard to steer. However the excellent adaptation of Vizzie into VizzAble by Zeal Hero Alert might bring Max4Live into focus as a living, breathing video equivalent to Reaktor. That’s currently my best hope for one day sharing the distinct ‘looks’ of these old video machines with everyone.

* No, I sold it again quickly because the MonoPoly is actually pretty boring.

Operation “Big Iron”

Over the years I’ve been lucky to have many artistic opportunities – but I don’t need to tell you that opportunity rarely equals reality; good ideas often fall apart in the planning stages. When I was young and even more stupid, I would tell everyone wonderful things were going to happen, then eat socks in penance when nothing came of it. But I still get very excited & so I only announce project code names – if they die I can always pop them in a memory hole. There’s mystery in project naming as well as making merry with corporate culture. But at risk of sock eating I’d like to break protocol and talk about Big Iron because I think it’s on the verge of coming together and it relates to the last post.

2013 and the new broom.

I work at an art college, which sometimes feels like being a waiter on the Titanic. Of all the things that are waiting to be swept away, the art college is the one with KICK ME pinned to its backside. In consequence our executive are dragging the place over to be a research laboratory of some sort. We have a robotics lab now, which says, ‘do not shut us down we make potential weapons,‘ I guess.

My area is the sound and image coursework. That’s been about production – making movies, recording music. Given that plenty of places do that, there’s a need to be unique and not second fiddle to the competition. I have formed an idea – and it relates to the old band.

synthetics

First you should know that Stephen R Jones wrote a history of the synthetic image in Australia. The book stops in 1975, but the study goes on – he has collected the original masters of important works going back through the complete history of the subject. The collection is private but some of it may be seen online through the Scanlines website which was put together by a team at the college including Stephen, Ross Harley and John Gillies.

Stephen wants to find a home for some of the hardware he’s built. Part of the old studio is on display at the Powerhouse Museum – but in a glass case where you can’t touch it. We both think that a museum should be a living place. So the idea comes to build a space on campus where the history of the synthetic image can continue to be made.

Experimental Television Workshop?

I want to build what used to be called an Experimental Television Workshop. ‘Television’ is no longer the right word, and there’s a few problems that need discussion.

A workplace that pools production equipment for artistic access has been tried all over the world many times. Perhaps the best known is the Experimental Television Centre. In Australia we’ve had Bush Video, Heuristic, Metro Screen, and more. They provided people with access to new equipment that was too expensive for their alternative ideas. One reason why the workshops have declined is that you can now buy a HD camera, a copy of VDMX and a laptop and have more power than the pioneers could even conceive. Access is no longer the problem.

Rather, this ETW is planned to disrupt the historical lineage. ‘New’ and ‘old’ are worthless ideas and the value is only in the outcome. If you use a tissue and comb and the result is beautiful, then all is good. The only reason to collect historical devices is that they encapsulate ways of thinking otherwise unavailable and therefore expand the creative potential.

I can illustrate this with tape recorders – I find no importance in recording to analogue tape compared to a digital system that emulates tape. But I do find value in analogue tape as a way to grab and bend and scrub sound recordings.

Big Iron 2 copy

Some of the ‘Fridge’. Needs some love.

The heart of the system would be the Stephen Jones ‘Fridge’ video synthesiser from the mid 1980’s. There were models before and models after, but this one has a story that Stephen and I share, and for this reason alone I wish to fund its reassembly. I think the colour that this version makes is nicer than the models afterwards, due in part to the included Fairlight Paintbox.

The college owns equipment which is suitable as well. One favourite of mine is the Panasonic MX-30 mixer which I use to do things like this:

These old things will need to be tied to new things in such a way as it doesn’t matter whether you’re using The Fridge or VDMX, just that the outcome is what you wanted. I see a lot of Blackmagic Design in my future.

Synthetics.

The workshop will be part of clearly structured coursework that covers the history and meaning of synthetic video. It must never be allowed to degenerate into a meaningless VJ fetish, and that means carefully chosen artists in residence and plenty of background research before people get to twiddle.

It’s fair to ask why synthetic visuals should be the focus. Why not high definition or interactivity? Why not documentary, after all that’s one of the courses I teach?

I think that linear documentary and narrative are not dependent on video, they are film. Sure, video solved issues of community access and cost and there’s live broadcast, but these are not things unique to an art college and the Film & Television school is a better venue for this. An art college should first consider the relationship between painting and video.

Interactivity is the business of iCinema. The ETW should cover performance, which is a very different thing.

High Definition is nice to have but hasn’t prevented great work that inspires this project, and at worst aspires to be filmic. You can think I’m being bigoted and I welcome the guidance, but in the long run somebody has to put their personality into a creative environment, just as much as an artwork.

What happens next.

I have to make sure everybody at the college is in agreement. There is much to build and repair, it will probably be a year before the facility could be working. In America all the bits and pieces I need are all over eBay, here they are rare and I will have to meet people who have collected the parts I need and see if they have unwanted things they would like to contribute.

So if you happen to have a Video Cox Box sitting in storage, do let me know!

Wednesday Night is Garbage Night – Autodidact Edition

Fantasy 70’s Music school.

Never went to music school. Like many people I played the same records over and over and picked up hints about how to do stuff. Maybe I didn’t know what it was called but I knew it sounded good.

Here’s a bunch of records I cribbed when I was learning how to make music, and present here so you may too. That also satisfies the elderly listening audience, while presenting ideas for the younger. If you want newer music, please go here: Phantom Circuit.

They are not particularly rare or high art but each has much to teach. Occasionally they overlap because that’s kind of how I used to listen to them back then. Just playing all these old things explains much more about where I come from than a wall of text. Google it. (Actually DuckDuckGo it).

  • John Cale Heartbreak Hotel the barest sketch/analysis of the original, discord
  • Daniel Miller and Boyd Rice Cleanliness and Order found sound source. pop music deadness
  • This Heat Health and Efficiency deconstruction of recording process at end, manual looping with errors changing the loop, symphonic structure
  •      +John Cage Suite For Toy Piano 1 (excerpt)
  •      +Beatles Revolution Number 9 (excerpt)
  • Cluster Hollywood very pretty and sounds coherent although unstructured
  •      +Leslie Hutchinson Broken Hearted Clown
  • The Monkees Valeri 60s stereo production is very interesting, a great slab of sound, vocal harmonies, reverb
  • Wire The 15th guitars layered like classical instruments, EMI reverb HARVEST BAND tiny little keyboard melody almost unheard
  •      +Konstantin Raudive Breakthrough voices of the dead almost unheard
  • Pink Floyd See Emily Play psychedelia, intricacy, EMI echo HARVEST BAND
  • Orchid Spangiafora Hold Everything sound music, cut up, tape loops, spoken word
  •      +The Barrons Theme From Forbidden Planet
  • The Monochrome Set Eine Symphonie Des Grauens interesting quasi 60s production, lyrics
  • Brian Eno The Great Pretender production, especially the prepared piano & EMS-AKS crickets, 8 track recording
  • The Flying Lizards Hands 2 Take bassoon punk! dub technique, anti-guitar solos
  • Yellow Magic Orchestra Pure Jam tightness, neo psychedelia, analogue sequencer + real drums, seriously that guy is a drum machine
  • Suicide Dream Baby Dream minimal synth! lo fi, warmth, drones
  •      + The Lost Jockey Rise & Fall because these two fight each other nicely
  • Kraftwerk Pocket Calculator funkiness completely lost when remade later because they did not leave holes, electronic dub, less is more, HOLES
  •      +Subbulakshmi sitar drones FILLS HOLES
  • Dangerous Liaisons Los Ninos Del Porque grinding + holes, electronic punk, voices
  •      +Vincent Price The Broomstick Railroad widdershins
  • Holger Hiller Chemical & Physical Discoveries early sampling, was intriguing at the time
  • Beatles Tomorrow Never Knows tape loops, tape everything
  • Smegma Can’t Look Straight sound music, cut up
  • DEVO Satisfaction the barest sketch/analysis of the original, HOLES
  • Mark Stewart Blessed Are Those Who Struggle intense destructive dub
  • Chrome Half Machine Lip Moves heavy distortion as a musical device
  • Popol Vuh Aguirre Wrath Of God air
  •      +Throbbing Gristle IBM air
  • Wirlywhirld Window To The World 70’s keyboard rock, Australian post punk, pretty
  • Sparks Angus Desire it’s a song about screwing cows and sounds oddly buttery?
  • Snatch & Eno RAF looping found sounds funk
  • Status Quo Pictures of Matchstick Men psychedelia, tinnitus
  • Telex A.B. electropop
  • The Reels 3. electropop, early 80’s snare used like a kick
  • Simple Minds In Trance As Mission the negative of a bass riff, playing guitars like a cuckoo clock
  •      +Steve Reich It’s Gonna Rain strangely have a lot in common
  • General Strike Parts Of My Body tuba punk! dub

listen (This is a m3u file which can be associated with QuickTime PLayer, Windows Media Player or iTunes to stream the file.)

They all share some kind of internal principle, a process stated or unknown, a feature that can be recognized and practised. They are also attractive, there is no ‘difficult listening’ here. To make something that is both pretty and deep is far more interesting than noise.

bloody Education bloody Technology

Hey! It’s the inter-sessional break! You know, that period of about 5 weeks which looks like you are going to get so much done while you’re not teaching, only to find that administration will fill every waking moment! People outside of academia always think those big gaps in the contact weeks mean a blissful slumber for half the year – try it some time bubba, just try it.

general-motors-crash-test-dummies

I’ve already mentioned we’re switching to new degree – the first lot of test subjects have now been through the grinder. You ever seen one of those shows where they strap test dummies into planes and then crash them into the desert? Yeah, like that. The results are not public information, but I can tell you that blissful slumber is not part of it. I’m happy that some of my intuitions have turned out to be valid, although I’m still going to tweak damn near everything now I have seen it in action.

Anyway, as I’ve already moaned, the powers that be want us to move a lot of skills teaching off the agenda. Just make up some links to YouTube, yada yada. I keep saying that most of the teaching is really bad and we need to get some kind of structure up. You say things like that and you get the job of doing it. Because I have nothing to do all day right?

OK so where do you put all this learning? The university has a division called TELT which handles the tech stuff in teaching. Problem is that TELT spends most of its time trying to get a handle on the problem.

The TELT Evaluation Framework, developed in 2009 through to 2011, is designed to undergo iterative cyclical refinement and ongoing development, based on the results of the sub-layer evaluations themselves and an ever-changing staff, student and application landscape in which it is applied.

Therefore, readers are reminded that the nature, validity and applicability of the reviewed literature, the proposed processes, the suggested composition of the survey instruments, and the construction of the sub-layers are all likely to change in the future and undergo refinement and improvement in order to adapt to the evolving social, technological and institutional milieu.

You got that? Good. Build a house on that. I have built several, all of which have collapsed. But you gotta undergo iterative cyclical refinement and so this year I am starting up a Wiki. These have been around long enough that they probably are going be around for at least a few more years. The best thing is that if I write something in there some other staff member is bound to disagree and join up just to edit it. Which means they might write some other article that somebody else hates and they join too.

As well as articles I need to develop some kind of tablet kind of thing. Now I keep hearing that every single student in the universe has a tablet. That my own experience is the opposite is probably something about the application landscape sub-layers, so go ahead. Problem here is that lots of tools make excellent teaching modules, but in Flash. Flash is perfect for what I want to do but doesn’t work on one brand of tablet. The tools for that one brand of tablet are locked out from use on any other kind.

Then there’s HTML5. Since 2010 we’ve been waiting for some kind of standard. It doesn’t exist. Promises get made, conferences are held, people write books, no standard that runs across platforms. HTML5 has done more to sell magazines and blogs than it has created any viable media. It’s been coming so long that it’s just breathing heavy. Just something that got all the dweebs excited before they ran off and bought Googly Glasses.

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…that promised so much, and in the end gave so little.

In the tools I’m testing I keep finding long lists of things not supported in HTML5 – video, sound, words longer than five letters, more than one kind of ugly button with a drop shadow. Bottom line is HTML5 remains a very unattractive format for anyone that wants to get solid work done. I would rather use Flash, which in reality works perfectly fine on the laptops my students actually carry.

Not saying I’ve closed my mind, but I’d like to get started. After all, there’s now one less week of this ‘break’ left.

Edubigots

Forgive me for being fed up.

The next person that says to me “you don’t need to teach media production, people can find tutorials on the Internet” is getting an earful. Yes there are tutorials online for Photoshop. Great. There are tutorials online about painting. About taxation. About management. Let’s stop running the MBA because you can find tutorials on the bloody internet.

Oh, wait, suddenly there’s a big difference? Thanks, now I have the real point out in the open where we can all see it – there is a demarcation here. When I pick up a pen and I write, the physical skill of writing is not to be taught, only the organisation of thoughts on the page. That is clear. But when I pick up a paintbrush the barrier is murky – the skill of the brush is entwined with the message being created. This may be taught, and it is expected that your whole life may be needed to master this. For some reason the universities seem to have decided that the skills in media production are those of the pen and not of the brush, and they are dead wrong.

It involves an ignorance of the modalities involved. I’ll start with a simple example. I have heard that people ‘use a computer too much’. The user might be researching, designing objects, reading texts, writing a journal, collating data, socialising, politicising, or maybe putting together a presentation for the next university executive meeting – that’s all ‘using a computer’. It’s obviously ignorant to bundle tasks by their machinery.

The same ignorance applies when people talk about say photoshopping. Everything you do in television, in print, in object design, across photography, forensics, data visualisation and so on it’s apparently all just a single skill that can be completed before university. Again and again I hear that because PhotoShop is now taught in high school, we can safely assume that there’s no need to continue it any further. The proponents forget that we also teach painting in high school. Does that get dropped as well?

If painting is just putting paint on a canvas and writing is just making marks with a pen then sure, anyone with a mobile phone can make a movie. Sound recording is just pointing a microphone at something. Somehow the first two are ridiculous and the latter two not. Why?

Part of the distaste for media production comes from industry standards – do we really have to teach Pro Tools? Surely Audacity is enough to get the idea, and the idea is what matters? I’m no more in love with Pro Tools than PhotoShop but I am far more interested in my students having employable skills than the tastes of the didacts. Especially as they will go out for industry experience and be found unable to complete simple tasks. What do we want for students? Can they all be researchers – every one of them? Do we impose some political ideal about open source and creative economies on them all?

Universities then end up with postgraduate students who are illiterate in the tools needed to complete a production thesis. I personally have had to assist MFA and PhD students with the kind of tasks that are, apparently, taught by internet tutorials.

My major point here is about literacy. The people that are keen on these restrictions have an extremely narrow idea of what literacy is in 2013. They use words and numbers, they understand that a rubric on a page builds clarity that leads to better management. But a page is not the only place where a recording inspires thought. Let me teach the tools that make these recordings and I will make sure that the concepts will be covered as well. That’s my job.

I have to bring up another ugly subject. I didn’t learn any of my skills at a university and I think that’s common. People work in industry and then come to teach. Hell, I learned how to lecture by doing gigs. Students often report that they too only really start to learn once they found a position. Shouldn’t we be worried about that, study what happens after people leave, and make that the issue? Instead we keep pumping more research into the mix, as if that’s all we have left to offer.

I’m going to make a bunch of YouTube tutorials about research practices. Then we’ll all have nothing left to teach.

Education: Then and Now.

Then:

  • Teacher: Learn these passages from the Bible by heart.
  • Student: I shall sir, but may I enquire as to the reasoning?
  • Teacher: This is the way it is done by all, and ye shall not quibble upon it.

Now:

  • Teacher: Here is Maya, you’ll be learning that.
  • Student: OK, but why Maya?
  • Teacher: It’s the industry standard.

Don’t be hard on poor teacher, it is the industry standard. But in tonight’s programme we’ll be asking just what makes something the industry standard? Sex? Drugs? Enormous space ships piloted by toads? Or something less obvious?

Industry standard applications are at first glance an ill sorted lot. For every prissy convoluted overly complex video editing tool there’s an almost Neanderthal audio suite. But after some reflection and much alcohol we can start to invent a common thread. As with Shakespeare’s villains we have a noble figure of humanity, troubled by a fatal flaw, which eventually leads to their failure.

Maya.

If you make 3D for a cinema there’s a 90% chance you use Maya. (Unless you’re one of those crazy bastards that uses Houdini because you also like riding your sports bike off a cliff onto a moving trampoline.) Recently Maya was bought by Autodesk because they wanted to lose money on two major applications instead of just Max.Yes, the leading 3D animation tools lose money hand over fist – the ones that actually sell are the ones that professionals would not touch with a stick. Here we can post a rule:

Rule 1: if it’s easy to use and very affordable it can’t be the industry standard.

The quality of Maya can be seen time and time again in the results. A nobleman among programs. But look at the interface:Mayahem

Here we have dynamic menus, pop down menus, pop up menus, radial menus, ‘shelves’, dialogues, and a really really bad case of iconitus. If this was a teenager it’d be ‘edgy’ or just ‘pimply’. Now I have very little experience with Maya so far and I may be yet to understand but either this interface grew over years of tinkering or the person that invented it has florid hebephrenic schizophrenia. Either way it breaks so many usability and educational concepts it needs a specially minted medal.

Pro Tools LE.

It’s been said before – it needs to be said again. There is a moment when you are teaching Pro Tools when you have to explain that if you have an hour long programme to bounce down and it’s due on air in 45 minutes, it’s Game Over. The student looks at you like you are insane, knowing at least 5 other programs that will export that audio in 5 minutes and asks, what is this?

You’ve got two ways you can run this message. Official: Pro Tools HD is hardware based and LE has to fit in with that and besides running the mix through the hardware insures always that what you hear in the mix down is what you get – no surprises. Alternative: That PT needs to pass that signal through that big fat blue dongle called an M box to make damn sure it’s a legit copy of PT. The student looks at you like you’re a tool either way.

When you get to RTAS, they are questioning you again. Yes that’s right, the effects that you use in Pro Tools only work in Pro Tools. Yes, industry standard means no one else in the industry uses them. No I am not a tool, kindly refrain from looking at me like that.

Rule 2: there has to be some convoluted reason why it won’t work with anyone else’s software.

Fortunately, Apple has come up with Audio Units as part of their ‘we are the computing equivalent of North Korea’ strategy. They make Digidesign look good. Speaking of Apple:

Final Cut Pro.

Most common question in any FCP class: why do we use this when every single other application we use is by Adobe? I have Premiere, why can’t I use that? Can I do this at home on Premiere instead? I tried barking at them but recently a stony silence showing lots of teeth seems to work best.

No kids, you have to pretend that the Pr isn’t next to Ae and Ps in the dock. Final Cut is the industry standard, and it’s much to do with a fight between Apple and Adobe over Intel versions that by a process of attrition let Henny Penny reach the top of the coop. Besides Final Cut is fun to use – it comes with games! Adventure game: move your mouse slowly over the interface looking for hidden features! Puzzle game: using the resize bar at the bottom of the timeline, puzzle out which way the timeline is going to zoom. Gambling game: which way will the fields in your PAL video export flip this time? Wish it came with a shoot ’em up.

Rule 3: Overcoming arbitrary behaviour of industry standard tools provides teaching businesses with income.

Actually if you just want to edit video efficiently use Vegas.

Photoshop.

Ps is the good guy. The prince charming. If you ever grumble about photoshop then you need to be forced to use an alternative for a few days. That will learn you. If you are very bad we’ll make it The Gimp.

Quark.

Actually this is a cautionary tale. When I was a layout grunt, there was Quark. That was it. When Adobe first brought out Indesign, there was good natured shaking of heads. Everybody used Quark. The printers used Quark. What would you do with Indesign? There would be nowhere to get the damn thing printed! Just as I was ‘being made redundant’, a job came in from somewhere in Asia. An Indesign file. My job was to remake the whole thing in Quark, but we had to get Indesign to open it. It was a bit like Illustrator so that was alright, but no one more senior was going to touch the filthy thing.

Rule 4: Industry standards can change mighty fast.