Archive for the ‘ Media and Technology ’ Category

On Pandora, ‘The Giver of Gifts”

Nothing shifts my mood like music–my favorite music.  This morning  I settled in to my seat to finish off some grading in a less-than enthusiastic state. Sigh… another day, another round of student writers to coach.

I sign on to Pandora, an automated Internet music site, then toggle back to the student-essay file. Named after the Greek goddess who “sends up gifts,” it lifts my mood by launching into Led Zeppelin’s Traveling Riverside Blues, followed by the live version of Whole Lotta Love.

With this soundtrack lifting my spirit, not only do I breeze through the day’s workload, but I also start some writing that I hadn’t quite been able to push myself to do.

I discovered Pandora Radio about a year ago, while shackled in the silence of grading student essays.  Unlike those students, my entire music catalogue is not housed in mp3 files, but on CDs and vinyl shelved in alphabetical order in my home office/family room.

Just as I need music to step up the pace and keep me moving toward my goals when working out, I need rhythm to move me from paper to paper, some harmony to inspire my feedback. But pushing that desk chair away from the screen, and poring over the possibilities in my music canon,  can and does distract me enough to throw me off from the grading task.  So, Pandora is a great alternative—she pulls the tracks that keep me moving.

The goddess Pandora has a bad rep in our mythology–she is, after all, credited with opening a box from which escapes all the evils and misery that plague us. In fact, there is much controversy over the interpretation of the Pandora myth that is wrapped up in semantics. Some say releasing evil was a bad thing, yet others claim the story has been  misunderstood and that she really released blessings onto the world, rather than ills.

  I take the more optimistic reading of the myth and see her as Hesiod does in Works and Days, as an innocent and curious woman who holds one last thing in her box—hope for humanity. I guess it all depends on how you look at it. Is your Pandora’s  box half full, or half empty? 

I feel blessed today. I’ve got another round of student writers to coach while listening to my favorite music.

Lament for the Lost Library

Teens make good use of the library. (From the TLCPL webpage)

Growing up, I spent a lot of time in my neighborhood branch of the Toledo Lucas-County Public Library. Sometimes I’d wander there alone and read for a few hours. Other times I’d go with friends, or meet them to do homework at one of the community tables.

The librarians–the Silence Police–would make their rounds, shushing anyone who talked above the allowed  decibel limit,  admonishing giggling kids, and bouncing those  who made the library their playground. I recall once seeing someone ousted for  throwing a paper airplane.

The library has changed quite a bit over the years, no thanks to technology and the desire for more funding. I’ve long lamented the draw of the computers at my local branch. Whenever I go in, the seats in front of the screens are filled with zombie children and adults  feeding on their Facebook pages, online games, and instant messaging.  While computers were added to libraries everywhere as a means of providing unlimited access to unlimited information, I don’t see much research and learning at those terminals…for a lot of the users, computers are for play.

When the Main branch added the televisions, I, too, mourned for the days when the library was a repository of learning material, not a repository of media, which isn’t always enriching nor educational. The counter arguments posit that libraries are community gathering places, and that the definition of text is so flexible that as technologies advance, so must our recognition and acceptance of alternative texts.

Yesterday, I learned that the TLCPL has added video gaming to its offerings. As part of their new hip teen areas, The Main Library and Reynolds Corner branch have installed the  Wii, X-Box360, and Playstation 3 in areas where, according to its press release, 13-18 year-old-teens can, “…test their skills, learn and play games solo or in groups of 3 individuals.” 

The press release also includes this notation, in bold, “According to the American Library Association, some 75 percent of public libraries support gaming, by offering computer or board gaming, circulating games, or offering gaming events, areas and programs.”

WHY? Because it brings patrons in? Because those patrons have to use their card to circulate the items, thus signifying  the “need” for even more public  funding? And why the use of bold text as a rhetorical tool? Was spokesperson Rhonda Sewell expecting to be questione about the necessity of video-gaming?

Libraries in the state of Ohio suffered significant blows in the governor’s last two budget adjustments. Our local library system was quick to respond with an advocacy plot,  petitioning library users to call or write the state reps and the governor to demand more money for the library. Along with this came the dire news that the libraries would not be able to offer the programming they always have. Hours would be limited. They would not be able to purchase the volume of  books, CDS, DVDS, that we had grown accustomed to…

But they have funding for video games and the systems that run them? It’s all good for the kids, they’ll tell you–fostering community, engaging them in problem-solving, improving their hand-eye corrodination, 

I argue that had the library stuck to its traditional mission–a public source of information–rather than an entertainment venue and/or computer lab, it would not be so strapped today. I admit that I have benefitted from borrowing vdeos/DVDs and CDs without charge for years and years, but is that really the library’s mission? To provide community access to feature-length films? Don’t get me wrong: Funds used for expanding the film section could have beeen relegated to media, educational  media that is more difficult for the average citizen to access, like independent documentaries, for example. These would be more in keeping with a library’s mission than circulating  The Star Wars Trilogy.

I was shushed plenty of times by those Draconian librarians at the Point Place branch. It directed me back to my task and reinforced the idea that we need quiet to read and to absorb ideas. The library doesn’t seem to be the place for that anymore. But if not there, where?

A Reluctant Non-Endorsement

I opened my  (Toledo) Blade this morning, and read my way to the Op-Ed pages, where I found that the lofty editorial board chose not to use its traditional space to make its traditional endorsement of its favorite mayoral candidate. They claim to endorse neither Wilkowski nor Bell.

 I see things a little differently–the team stands equally behind both men, therefore, it rubber stamps both candidates, or perhaps, some quality or qualification in each of the men vying for  the 22nd-floor throne. Ah, t’wer it possible that both men could be combined into one fair leader who could create prosperity from the ashes! But this is not in keeping with the role of the American newspaper in our daily lives.

Newspapers have ALWAYS been a strong influence in politics in this nation, and newspaper editors have been the engine driving that machine. WHY, the editorial board would so flippantly dismiss its mission, choosing the “Good Choice for Mayor” route is worthy of analysis.

The wishy-washy editorial ends with this statement:   “And so we reluctantly defer to the electorate, hoping that they will turn out in large numbers to make their wishes known on Tuesday.”

Is this a kinder, friendlier, everybody’s happy Toledo Blade? Don’t be too quick to draw that conclusion–

 Let’s look at word choice: Reluctantly?

The American Heritage Dictionary defines “reluctant” as Unwilling; disinclined: Exhibiting or marked by unwillingness; Offering resistance; opposing.

The men and women who sit on editorial boards are “word people,”  that is, they carefully choose words that convey the meaning they intend. This word was not chosen by mistake, or wrecklessly to best describe the board’s inability to come to a conclusion about who they would want to govern the city–a conclusion that editorial boards in this city and thousands of others have done willingly and proudly for  hundreds of years.

One of the tenets of journalism tells us to be suspicious of such changes in policy: Why would the editorial board be so reluctant, so unwilling to make a public statement choosing one man over the other? What does the newspaper business have to gain by endorsing Wilkowski? Bell? What do they have to lose if Bell wins? If Wilkowski wins? Did someone, say a publisher, suggest that the editorial board not endorse a certain candidate, when the board did not feel it could in good conscience endorse the other?

If you read my diatribe levying charges of favoritism toward Democrat Wilkowski, you might be thinking that I should renege and concede that I was off base. You’d be wrong. I maintain my original stance–that the coverage of the mayoral race was biased in favor of Wilkowski. I did term this a “not so clandestine endorsement,” and that opinion stands.

It is clear; however, that for some reason, the editorial board could not or would not solidify that bias in a formal endorsement.




A White House official apologized Monday after a low-flying Boeing 747 spotted above the Manhattan skyline frightened workers and residents into evacuating buildings. Witnesses reported seeing the plane circle over the Upper New York Bay near the Statue of Liberty. The huge aircraft, which functions as Air Force One when the president is aboard, was taking part in a classified, government-sanctioned photo shoot, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

Much has already been said about the sheer stupidity of keeping NYC in the dark about the nature of the flight. So, instead of jumping on that ride, I’ll follow the money.

According to an Associated Press story, the White House took Air Force One for a drive to update its file photos of the Presidential plane near the Statue of Liberty. reports that an Air Force spokesperson estimated the cost of the publicity shot of the 747 and two F-16 fighter jets at $328,835.

The Huffington Post makes a more conservative estimate**, using Government Accounting Office (GAO) to calculate the bill at somewhere between $27, 500 and $215,000.

President Obama’s plan for America includes a hefty section on technology which promises that he and VP Joe Biden will “…use technology to reform government and improve the exchange of information between the federal government and citizens while ensuring the security of our networks.”

Technology could have gone a long way to save alot of taxpayer dough. Haven’t these people ever heard of Photoshop?

Actually, my photographer friends will cry foul at this, andquite honestly, the journalist in me can’t advocate altering –or rather inventing–reality. I can, however, ask why this photo was even necessary. If the White House was updating its file photos, doesn’t that suggest that it already has older shots of AF-ONE next to Lady Liberty?

When belts are tightening and when the government has already promised taxpayer-generated funds to preserving rodent habitats and tattoo removal, updating publicity photos should be on the long list of activities that are put on hold until the halcyon days return.

**I couldn’t pass by an opportunity to use “conservative” to describe the Huffington Post.

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

WSPD News reported at every half hour yesterday that the Toledo Blade is considering another round of layoffs as it struggles to remain financially viable as an industry undergoing a double-whammy: the reader ship culture is shifting AND the economy is affecting revenue.

Several posters at Swampbubbles made comment that the newspaper is dying.

Just because The Blade is laying people off doesn’t mean that it is “dying.” It is undergoing a change, like any business. You know, kind of like the climate…tee hee hee.

However, this is one business that hasn’t been as innovative as it could have been to head off the turning tide of technology.

It’s not as if those in the newspaper biz didn’t know this was coming–There is a chapter in my 1992 textbook on the History of Mass Media entited “Hopes and Fears; Technology Trancendent.” They just haven’t acted as proactively as they could have.

I recall that the professor in this class (Dr. Ralph Frasca) told us a story about a Civil-war era prognosticator who invented a system for “instant delivery” of the newspaper to hopes via a tube system not unlike the one you use at the bank or pharmacy drive-thru. Duh. That’s the Internet, minus the big tubes linking houses to the newspaper office. Instead, we have DSL cables.

The newspaper can still function–and function well–digitally. Indeed the best writers will always have a job as text transfers from paper to screen, and generations who relied on the paper pass on, and new ones become accustomed to carrying their readers with them.

Newspapers just have to shift their income structure into online formats and face greater competition. Perhaps under this new model, the best writers will be sought after, because they will set a publication apart from others.