Visual Literacy Helps Us Make Conncections

“Visual literacy is a set of abilities that enables an individual to effectively find, interpret, evaluate, use, and create images and visual media.”  We are a visual culture; we find it easy to explain a story using pictures and illustrations rather than words.  “A picture is worth a thousand words” is a saying that is very prominent in our society.  Visual literacy takes this one step further, by adding interaction and stories behind a set of data to learn how something works, or how things are connected.  In the two examples I have found, the visualizations show how people are connected by ideas, and Netflix views.

The first example is a TED talk done by Eric Berlow and Sean Gourley entitled “Mapping Ideas Worth Spreading.”  In the presentation, they map out all of the TED talks done, arranged by broad topics such as video games or environment.  Each talk is represented by a dot that is connected to others if their topics are similar.  Under each broad topic lie even more specific topics for example, under the umbrella of environment there are exclusive topics such as nuclear waste and greenhouse gases.  Each of these talks are unique, yet their topics can easily be connected to others.

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Berlow and Gourley deicide to dive deeper into the visualization, categorizing the talks by the viewing audience.  They split the viewership into older and younger demographics, seeing which topics are more interesting to the respective audiences.  The younger viewers were more interested in topics such as energy technology and nuclear fusion while the older viewers were spread out over the spectrum. Berlow and Gourley then changed the categorization to male and female viewers.  The males seemed to be more interested in solar energy and females were drawn to food economy.

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These different categorizations tell their own stories.  It makes sense as to why younger audiences would be interested in energy technology as opposed to their older counterparts.  Younger viewers would be more attentive to the technological aspect of the environment because they grew up with technology, therefore they would understand it easily.

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Each talk is created by a different speaker, but may have the same underlying message as a completely different talk.  One talk on social media might have ties not only to youth, but also to education while another relates social media to government elections.  Similar, but different.  Berlow and Gourley point this out later in the video.  They take two very different topics, genetics and cities, and find the talk, entitled “Designing the Indoor Microbial Garden,” that connects the two.  This is so remarkable to me that two topics that are at differing ends of the spectrum can easily be connected.  I might just go back and watch that talk, since it has piqued my interest.

Berlow and Gourley go on to explain that here are some talks that didn’t fall into any category, that they are their own entity on the visualization, for example, the talk entitled “Living Sea Sculptures.”  So there are still the few individuals in the realm of TED talks, but they may soon have company.  Maybe one day, a plethora of talks will surface and Living Sea Sculptures will become it’s own major topic.

By using an image to show what they are talking about, Berlow and Gourley make sure that the viewers of their presentation know what they are talking about.  If they stood in front of their audience and just regurgitated the information back at us without showing us what they were talking about, us as the viewers would have a harder time understanding them.  With the color-coded and animated diagram to illustrate the points they are making, Berlow and Gourley make their presentation fun to watch, as well as to listen to.

The second example of visual literacy is a map done by a group of reporters from the New York Times.  This map, entitled “A Peek into Netflix Queues,” examines Netflix rental patterns.  It shows what residences of major cities across the country, divided by zip code, rented most from Netflix in 2009.  There are multiple ways to manipulate the map; by city or by movie.  You can chose a movie and see which neighborhoods rented it and how popular it is in certain cities.  You can also change how the movies are sorted; by most rented, alphabetical, or by metascore.

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Changing how the data is sorted surprised me.  The greatest reviewed movie was Wall-E and it was in only a few neighborhood’s top 10 and the most rented movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, did not score high with critics.  Also, many movies hated by critics, such as Eagle Eye and Paul Blart: Mall Cop, were high on many neighborhood’s rental lists.  This data is very telling of not only the critics but also the viewers.

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Many viewers may not take into account the score critics gave a movie.  I know I personally disregard reviews if I am really looking forward to a movie and critics rip it to shreds.  Also, many of the most rented movies starred high-profile actors and actresses such as Brad Pitt, Will Smith, and Clint Eastwood.  People may have been drawn to these movies just because of the star-power behind them.

However, there are a few neighborhoods that differ from the others.  A few zip codes in New York, Dallas, and Los Angeles didn’t even have The Curious Case of Benjamin Button in their top ten; some didn’t even have it in their top 50.  Unfortunately, in some cases that horrible “vampire” movie Twilight was the most rented movie.  To each his own, I guess.

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Something that I would be interested in seeing done with this map is the choice to choose between either movies or television series that were streamed.  Many people today binge watch series, but what is the most popular?  Is it one that has been on television for years like Grey’s Anatomy or Netflix exclusive series like Orange is the New Black?  The fact that I can interact with this map is very important.  Without the interaction the map would be extremely cluttered and hard to read.  Much of the information that is displayed by mousing over the areas would have to be written out underneath or to the side of the maps.

These two visualizations are perfect examples of how people are connected, either through ideas or culture.  Adding interaction and explanation to them only enhances the actual image to create something that all can understand.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then maybe a visualization is worth ten thousand.


No Shave Movember


You may be familiar with “No Shave November” when guys take it upon themselves to not shave their facial hair for the duration of November.  This movement has recently become known as “Movember” which is an annual campaign for men’s health.  Now guys everywhere can join the Movember movement with the brand new Movember app.  This app has multiple features such as tracking your daily growth of your ‘stache.  Eventually you will be able to create a stop-motion video chronicling your now voluminous mustache’s growth.


Movember isn’t just about the lack of shaving products in a man’s bathroom.  As I stated before, it’s to help raise awareness for Men’s Prostate Cancer.  Last year over $147 million was raised by participants in the Movember movement.  “We call this Generation Mo, which is about inspiring a new generation of charity, thinking and postitive protest,” says the CEO and Co-founder of the Movember movement.  Hopefully this year, Movember participants can raise even more awareness for this serious issue.



Source: Mashable

The Day of The Doctor is Upon Us


     Doctor Who?  That is the question that fans across the globe are anxiously awaiting to be answered. On November 23, 2013 the British sci-fi show Doctor Who will celebrate The Day of The Doctor.  This episode will premier exactly 50 years after the First Doctor graced the silver screen in 1963.  Since its incarnation Doctor Who has generated a fan base as big as the inside of a TARDIS.  It is because of this large fan base that the show was rebooted in 2005 after an eleven-year-long hiatus.  In the age of the Internet, fans can go on sites like Tumblr and talk about their favorite shows with other fans.  It is because of this that I got turned on to the show.  I was surprised to find that Doctor Who has been around for almost 50 years.  I believe that it is important that we look back on the original series in order to prep for the ever-nearing Day of The Doctor.

first Docotr

“’A frail old man lost in space and time’: that was the original profile, floated in discussions at the BBC in 1963” when Doctor Who first premiered.  The Doctor was portrayed by William Hartnell.  By the third season of the show, it was clear that Hartnell could not carry on due to his multiple health issues.  The clever writers didn’t want the show to end since it was doing well so “it was decided that the Doctor should ‘regenerate,’ taking a different human form.”  The regenerated Doctor would retain the memories and intelligence of the previous Doctor, but with a different personality.  This allowed different actors to portray the same man for 50 years, but add their own spin on the character.  Hartnell was replaced by Patrick Troughton in 1966.  “After Troughton came Jon Pertwee, wizardly in aspect but driving a little yellow roadster, like Mr. Toad. And after Pertwee … there was Tom Baker, wild hair and Shakespearean elocution; affable Peter Davison in his cricket jersey; testy, priggish Colin Baker, dressed for some reason like an entertainer at a children’s party; Sylvester McCoy … and then handsome Paul McGann, The Doctor for one TV film.”  In 2005 the show was rebooted and has featured three new incarnations:  Christopher Eccleston, David Tennant, and Matt Smith.


            I’ve listed all of the men who have played The Doctor over the past 50 years, but who is The Doctor?  “The Doctor is 950 years old, and he comes from the planet Gallifrey. Although humanoid in form, he has two hearts and almost-celestial intelligence. He is a Time Lord — something between a cosmic guardian and a private investigator — and he travels the spaceways in his TARDIS (Time And Relative Dimensions In Space), a time machine that, owing to a dodgy chameleon circuit, is stalled in the shape of a 1950s London phone booth.”  The Doctor travels around with his Companions.  There have been many different Companions throughout the show’s history but whether they are human or alien, the Companions still serve the same purpose:  They are meant to be the surrogate for the audience.  The Companion has the opportunity to travel the universe with The Doctor and we as the audience feel like the Companions.  We watch The Doctor visit all these wonderful lands and creatures that we could only dream about so we can easily identify with the Companions.


Another large part of the Doctor Who series are the enemies that The Doctor faces in the universe.  There are the Daleks, the Cybermen, The Master, and my personal favorite, the Weeping Angels.  Each enemy has their unique characteristics but they are all equally important to the saga of The Doctor.


            The Daleks are The Doctor’s oldest and most fearsome foe in the entire universe.  They are easily identifiable by their giant metal bodies, eyestalk, and plunger-like arm.  But do not underestimate them by their appearance, the Daleks can vaporize their foes faster then you can say “Exterminate.”  The Daleks are war machines whose soul purpose is to rid the universe of all beings inferior to the Daleks.  The Doctor has been facing the Daleks since his second episode in 1963 and still show up at some point every season.  The Doctor had to defeat the entire Dalek race during the Time War, a war between the Daleks and the Time Lords that left The Doctor alone in the aftermath.


            The Cybermen are cyborgs that originally appeared in 1966, William Hartnell’s last serial as The Doctor.  Since then, like the Daleks, the Cybermen have appeared numerous times in the show’s history.  Their main objective is to “Upgrade” everything they meet to create a race of super-cyborgs that will take over the universe.  They remove everything that is human about someone, like their emotions, to create the perfect soldier.


            The Master is a Time Lord, like The Doctor, who made his first appearance in 1971.  He is known as The Doctor’s archenemy because of their differing views.  During the Time War, The Master fought along with The Doctor on the front lines, but he fled the war, ignorant of the outcome.  He ended up at the end of the universe where he turned himself human and forgot all about his past as a Time Lord, until The Doctor accidentally discovers him.  Series three of the reboot focuses on The Master as he is the main antagonist under the alias of Harold Saxon, Prime Minister of London.


            The Weeping Angels are a fairly new enemy for The Doctor, having been introduced in series three of the reboot.  They are a fascinating alien race that can move at impossible speeds, but only when they are not being observed.  The Weeping Angels have the greatest defense of all The Doctor’s enemies, when someone is looking at a Weeping Angel, they look just like a stone statue.  They are also the kindest of the enemies on Doctor Who.  Most vaporize you without a second glance, but not the Weeping Angels.  One touch from an Angel will send you somewhere in the past with no way back.  They feed off of time energy and thrive off of the life you would’ve had.  The Weeping Angels are chillingly creepy and have made me fear statues in the dark.


            With less than a month to go until the premier of The Day of The Doctor we may finally know exactly who The Doctor is.  The previous episode, entitled The Name of The Doctor, hinted that the name of The Doctor would be revealed in the 50th Anniversary Special.  This has sent Whovians, the proper term for Doctor Who fans, into heated debates on Tumblr and other websites.  Do we really want to learn what The Doctor’s name is?  It has been looming over the show since its incarnation so the build up is immense.  What if his name turns out to be Bob?  Will the wait be worth it?  No matter what the outcome is on November 23, I will still be a faithful fan of Doctor Who.

Purpose:  The purpose of this essay is to explain parts of the Doctor Who television show in order to prep viewers for the 50th Anniversary Special in November.

Audience:  The Audience can be a number of people including faithful fans as well as newcomers to the show.

Original Post:  Allons-y! Doctor Who 50th Anniversary Special!

Works Cited

Davies, Russel T., and Steven Moffat. “Doctor Who.” Doctor Who. BBC. BBC One, London, 23 Nov. 1963. Television.

Parker, James. “The Doctor Is In.” Atlantic Monthly (10727825) 306.4 (2010): 66-70. Academic Search Premier. Web. 24 Oct. 2013.

I Want To Be Like Tony Stark

Did you ever wish that you could don an Iron Man suit and fly around shooting lasers out of your hands just like Tony Stark?  Well soon that may be possible, if you are in the military that is.  The U.S. Army is partnering with universities, labs, and the tech industry to create a super suit straight out of Hollywood.  They are calling this new device the TALOS.  “The Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit, or TALOS, would comprise layers of smart material and sensors, better enabling and protecting soldiers during combat situations.”  The TALOS suits are designed to make soldiers tougher, faster, stronger, and smarter.

The tougher aspect comes from more protective layers for the wearer.  Scientists are working on a liquid-ceramic material made from nanotechnology.  “The moment the thin, liquid-like fabric is hit with something — say, a bullet — it would immediately transform into a much harder shell.”  Stronger and faster comes from the attachable frame that goes with the suit similar to “the external suit worn by Sigourney Weaver in Aliens.”  This promises to give the wearer superhuman strength but also speed thanks to the hydraulic system in the arms and legs.  Smarter comes from the suit’s own version of JARVIS, Tony Stark’s personal assistant.  It will give the user a 360-degree view of his surroundings and also monitor their vital signs.

The prototype will hopefully be ready within the next three years.  Until then the only way we can be like Iron Man is by dressing up in cheap costumes.


Creation Requires Influence

Remixes run rampant in our culture today.  A remix is when you “combine or edit existing materials to produce something new.”  This could be used in music, movies, television, and even books.  Today the most common types of remixes are found on the Internet.  YouTube features many videos that have gone viral since the site’s incarnation.  Though many of these videos would be classified as a remix according to Kirby Ferguson:  “Everything we make is a remix of existing creations, our lives, and the lives of others.”  But Ferguson prefaces this thought by saying “creation requires influence.”  Without these previous sources, creativity would not thrive.  While much media today is some type of remix, many are original.  For example in the YouTube video “Star Wars (John Williams Is The Man) a Cappella Tribute” Corey Vidal uses scores composed by John Williams and words written by George Lucas to create a new song.  Vidal remixes these two works and produces an original video based upon them.

On May 25, 1977 a movie was released that would change the world.  Star Wars written and directed by George Lucas graced the silver screen with the far away galaxy from a long time ago.  This movie spawned a cultural phenomenon.  Fans went to see the movie over and over again, even dressing up for some showings.     In his “Everything is a Remix” video series Ferguson claims that Star Wars is a remix itself.  How could that possibly be?  Star Wars seems like such an original idea, how could it have been copied from something else?  Lucas was heavily influenced by the original Flash Gordon serials and a Japanese director named Akira Kurosawa from his childhood.  “George Lucas collected materials, he combined them, he transformed them.  Without the films that proceeded it, there could be no Star Wars.”  Even though it is a remix, Star Wars is still an extremely original entity.  No one before Lucas chose to combine everything he did.  This created an original concept even though it was based on something else.

One of the most important parts of the Star Wars franchise is the music.  Did you think I was going to say Luke Skywalker?  Well he’s pretty important too, but so is the music.  Composed by John Williams, the score for the Star Wars movies is set apart from any other.  If you play the opening fanfare, almost anyone would recognize it.  The same goes for many other scores written by Williams like Jaws, Indiana Jones, Jurassic Park, and E. T. The Extra-Terrestrial.  John Williams has won multiple awards for his compositions, including five Academy Awards.  But Williams did not come out of the womb composing award-winning scores.  He went to school and practiced his craft.  In order to become the great composer he is today, Williams first had to learn how to play music.  He had to learn pieces created by previous composers and practice them over and over.  These pieces influenced Williams and I’m sure some parts of them might show up in his original compositions.

Both Star Wars and John Williams’ scores have influenced many people over the years since they first made their appearances.  Corey Vidal is one of those people.  He grew up watching the movies and these influenced him to become a filmmaker.  In 2008, Vidal decided to make a video of himself lip syncing to a song called “John Williams is the Man.” This song is a mash-up of different parts of John Williams’s score, sung a cappella, with words taken from the first two movies of the original Star Wars trilogy.  I originally believed that Vidal had created this song, and sang it, himself, but in researching for this paper I found that the song was written in 2002 by an a cappella group called Moosebutter.

This video was uploaded to YouTube on October 27, 2008 and was featured on the YouTube homepage by November 3.  Currently, the video has over 18 million views.  “John Williams Is The Man” fits the criteria for a remix as stated by Ferguson.  The video copied Moosebutter’s song, which first copied elements from Williams’ scores he composed in the 70’s and 80’s and the words that Lucas wrote.  Copying is the first step of the remix process.  Next comes transformation.  The men of Moosebutter transformed Williams’ score into an original a cappella song.  Then they took the lines from Star Wars and arranged them into lyrics to fit the a cappella song.  Moosebutter took the final step of the remix process and combined the a cappella song and the lyrics to create an entirely new and original entity.

Years later in a friend’s basement, Vidal would chose to take a few hours out of his day and record himself lip syncing to this song and the rest is history.  The original song never went viral like Vidal’s because it was released prior to the creation of YouTube.  There was no way to share videos easily in 2002 and sharing is a major part of videos going viral.

Like other viral videos, “John Williams Is The Man” has spawned its own remixes.  Many videos have been uploaded to YouTube since 2008 of people doing their own version of the song.  Many choirs, including my own high school concert choir, have done their own covers.  One of my favorites features the students wielding lightsabers on a smoke-filled stage.  There are also videos featuring someone playing the medley on the piano and even one on the marimba.  Vidal eventually uploaded a video of Moosebutter singing a studio version of their song.   It was uploaded almost a month after Vidal’s and has only 2 million views.

“John Williams Is The Man” is a remix; there is no arguing that fact.  It is a copy of someone else’s work, but it is still original.  There is nothing like it on the Internet.  “Creation requires influence” and without these previous sources, creativity would not thrive.  Many things we have today would not exist if they could not be originally based on things that have come before it.  Everything may be a remix, but is that really a bad thing?

Purpose:  Though many things, such as music, movies, and videos, in our culture today can be classified as remixes, a great deal of these are also original.  Without previous influences, creativity would not thrive.  In this paper I will explore how “John Williams Is The Man” is not only a remix, but also an original video.

Audience:  The primary audience for this paper is the users of YouTube and those who produce videos for the site.

Works Cited

Everything Is a Remix. Dir. Kirby Ferguson. Perf. Kirby Ferguson. Vimeo. N.p., 2010. Web. 01 Oct. 2013.

Star Wars (John Williams Is The Man) a Cappella Tribute Medley Song. Dir. Corey Vidal. Perf. Corey Vidal and MooseButter. YouTube. N.p., 27 Oct. 2008. Web. 01 Oct. 2013.

It’s Marching Band Season!

The weather is getting colder, the leaves are changing, and the pumpkin spice lattes are sprouting up everywhere. It’s fall everyone and you know what that means?  If you said football season you’re wrong my friend:  it’s marching band season, the special time of year where band geeks show off their semi-athleticness by marching around a field for fifteen minutes while playing music they memorized months in advance.

Mashable decided to commemorate this occasion by counting down the “12 Marching Band Routines That Kick Brass.”  I, as a major band geek have, seen these videos multiple times each and must agree with Mashable that these do indeed kick brass.

One of my favorite routines has to be Ohio State’s video game show.  This show combines all of my favorite video game themes such as Pokémon, Mario, Tetris, and The Legend of Zelda along with some amazing sets that just blow my mind.

Of course my favorite marching band of all time has to be LVC’s Pride of the Valley… No bias whatsoever.  One of the main reasons for attending this school was because of the marching band.  The first time I visited LVC I was able to see the band preform their halftime show and I immediately wanted to come here.  Two years later that dream has become a reality.  Check out this year’s show in the video below taken from our latest performance at the Allentown Collegiate Band Festival just this past Sunday.

Source:  Mashable

No More Grammar Nazis?

Have you ever posted a status on Facebook that receives multiple comments right away?  Was you post actually thought provoking or did it have a spelling or grammatical error in it?  Most likely the latter.  Now Facebook is giving you the means to stop those grammar trolls from feeling superior.

In the newest update for the Facebook Android App users can now edit their posts in-app.  You just have to click the arrow and “Edit Post” will be an option in the drop down menu.  This feature will also be available for Apple Apps in the next update.

But what if this power is used for evil instead of good?  “A user could conceivably write, ‘Who likes ice cream?’ and get hundreds of Likes and affirming comments, then edit the post to read, ‘Who wants to beat up some cats?’”  Facebook confirmed that users will be able to access the history of edited posts a la Google+.

Facebook has slowly been allowing users to edit more and more items on the site such as editing comments.  What’s next for the Social Network giant?  Maybe customizable profile backgrounds similar to Myspace?  Hopefully not.

Source: Mashable