Unleash Your Inner Spielberg When Presenting

I've had the privilege of speaking at technical and educational conferences for more than a decade. At the turn of the century (it really wasn't that long ago), I was speaking on using streaming media in higher education, and even did a session on the first release of the Flash Media Server at conferences like Syllabus (back before it became the Campus Technology conference).

There was, alas, a long, dry spell for me in speaking at conferences for the past five years. That dry spell recently came to an end, in a big way.

In the last year, I've spoken at Adobe's Education Summit at MAX, CUE 2011, and Educomm 2011. I also recently spoke as part of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Center for Teaching and Learning with Technology's speaker series, giving a variation on the same talk that I gave at some of the other conferences: "Unleash Your Inner Spielberg When Presenting (Online) Lectures."

There are a lot of ways to present information in PowerPoint-style presentations. Most of them don't facilitate information dissemination and cognitive flow. My presentation focuses on using techniques from both film and the stage to help make presentations more engaging and increase learner information retention.

I'm pretty happy with how the presentation has turned out over its various iterations. It's been great for me to get back into the hard work of presenting, refining a presentation, and tuning it for the appropriate current audience.

A recording of the latest iteration of this presentation can be found on the Center for Teaching and Learning with Technology's web events site.

I Should Be Happy, But I'm Not

Technology takes a backseat for a moment here.

I should be happy today, but I'm not. This great country has taken a great step forward in equality and opportunity for all with the election of Obama as president. It's a day to celebrate progress, and change, and hope. But for 25 million or more Americans, today is not exactly a happy day.

With 91% of the precincts in the state of California reporting, Proposition 8, which would ban gay marriage and nullify the loving unions of tens of thousands of gay couples, is leading. With only 9% of precincts still to report and a deficit of over 350,000 votes to make up (and most of those precincts located in rural areas), it's unlikely that Proposition 8 will be defeated. It's my deep hope that in a couple of days, when some 3 million absentee ballots are counted, I'll be proven wrong. I'm not hopeful, however.

In Arkansas, voters overwhelmingly approved a measure banning gays and lesbians from adopting children. Who else is banned from adopting children in that state? Some, but not all, felons. So in Arkansas, as in Florida before it, gay men and women are equivocated with criminals against the state and therefore denied the same rights enjoyed by those who are not gay.

Arizona and Florida have become the next in a long line of states that has banned same-sex marriage by significant margin.

But it's California, my place of birth and still very much my home in my heart, that has broken my heart. As California goes, so often does the rest of the nation. If the largest and often most progressive state in the country cannot get a majority of its citizens to see that we all deserve equal (not special) rights under the law regardless of our sexual orientation, I hold little hope for the rest of this nation. The religious right, who saw this battle in California as armageddon, will be emboldened and work prolifically to ban same-sex marriage in the rest of the nation on a state-by-state basis. Once that ban is in place, especially on a constitutional level, it makes it vastly more difficult to reverse that ban and write in to the state's constitution "sorry, we were wrong."

I do not appreciate being treated as a second-class citizen, with basic civil — no, human rights denied to me. There is no fairness, no justice, no equality — core American values all — in that. As much as I know that the Obama presidency will bring positive change, and perhaps even, finally, the passage of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, and perhaps basic inheritance and hospital visitation protections under the law for gay and lesbian couples, I am no longer hopeful.

I thank my family and friends who voted against Proposition 8. Maybe I'm being typically American and taking the short view rather than the long, wanting instant satisfaction from my politicians and their policies. Maybe I should take heed when Obama said last night that his election is "the answer that led those who have been told for so long by so many to be cynical, and fearful, and doubtful of what we can achieve to put their hands on the arc of history and bend it once more toward the hope of a better day." Maybe in a few days we'll be able to celebrate together, but I'm not holding my breath.

Dr. Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Highly recommended. It's what Joss Whedon was up to during last year's writer's strike, and features Neil Patrick Harris and a hilarious Nathan Fillion (on loan from Desperate Housewives) as his do-gooding arch-nemesis. The pacing is a touch slow at times, but it's funny and most definitely worth watching. It's "Once More, With Feeling," minus the demons and add the superheroes.

The series will only be available online for a few weeks, then you'll have to buy it on iTunes or on DVD. It looks like it'll run about 45 minutes (kind of like an episode of a TV series), but I'm down for the time.

Why So Silent?

I've been more than lax of late in posting here. It's not for want of material (for once!), but more for want of time. An acquaintance of mine sent me a message the other day telling me that he missed my movie reviews and liked them very much. This got me thinking about my deliberate choice to stop writing about the movies I had seen and focus more on software development. The trouble with that plan is that when I'm developing software all the time (and I've been cranking out a new app in the past few months), I don't feel like writing about it so much. Thus the lack of postings of late.

So I'll start the movie reviews again, and I've got a bunch of postings in the works about Web application development too. I've been using jQuery of late on my latest project and have some very good and less good things to say about it. (I've also used Script.aculo.us and Ext 1.1 on previous projects too.) I'm developing an API for smarter guidance/help systems in Web applications, so expect a series of postings on that. I've also got to start work on a major overhaul to a major application, focusing on simultaneously expanding the flexibility of the core business object structure to allow for a greater range of functionality while simultaneously improving performance in the face of object instantiation costs in ColdFusion. Maybe it's time to look at Transfer?

So that's the plan. Let's see if I can stick with it.

How Creativity is Being Strangled by the Law, or, How the Law is Raising a Generation of Criminals

Larry Lessig, of EFF, Creative Commons and Net copyright battle fame, gave an excellent talk at TED in Monterey, CA, earlier this year. In this talk, he makes a pretty good, common sense argument about how the law is trying to strangle creativity. More interestingly, and the part that spoke very clearly to me, was how the law was corrupting our culture and turning many of us, especially those on the younger side of 40, in to those who live their lives against the law.

His argument (and, again, watch the 20 minute video, as it's excellent) is that the law, buttressed by conglomerate lawyers, proactively seeks to punish those who remix and rebuild content in to something new. He's not defending those who steal content outright and sell it as their own (which he should not). The side effect of this is that this strangling of creativity has a corrosive effect on our culture, and that it is raising an entire generation who live their lives (at least their creative lives) against and outside the law. If you post something on your MySpace page or make a hilarious video remix and post it on YouTube and use someone else's (copyrighted) content, you're breaking the law. But this (and this is critical and key) is how many, many young people communicate their lives. As such, they begin to see their lives and the key ways in which they communicate their lives (their photos or music on MySpace) as against, or outside, the law.

As a gay man who can still get fired from my job without any legal protection in 26 states and who can get jailed or killed in many parts of the world for holding my husband's hand, living against the law is something I'm familiar with. Until a few years ago, I could be arrested in any state in the country for having sex with the man I've chosen to share my life with (and in some parts of the country, men still are, even though it's clearly in violation of U.S. law). Living against the law diminishes you as a person, and, in very subtle ways, it makes you devalue your contribution to society.

In a culture where thugs are glamorized and where more and more youth express disaffection with the simple fact of work and societal contribution, anything that directly forces them to live against the law because they want (or need) to express themselves in the medium that makes the most sense for them is both troubling and disturbing. If society, represented by its laws, says "You are not allowed to be yourself, to express yourself, to share and communicate and collaborate about your life in any way that we don't expressly proscribe," why would people want to participate in that society? Where will the next generation of artists come from? What great stories will go untold because we aren't allowed to tell them?

Again, like Lessig, I'm in no way advocating wholesale copyright infringement. That's just not cool. Artists deserve (fair!) compensation for the work they create. But the impulse to create, to contribute back to the community, to make everyone feel welcome and whole and part of society, should be our priority, rather than embedding in generation after generation the idea that their only life is one that must be lived against the law.

On the Pod: November

I listen to a lot of music. I happen to buy a lot of music (sorry, LimeWire!). I thought I'd start a monthly addition to the blog about what I'm listening to because, well, I have an opinion about everything, don't I?

I've bought a number of albums recently. That's different for me because since the iTunes Store was introduced, I've rarely bought albums. I tend to buy just the songs I like (or think I'll like), rather than whole albums. Now if it's an artist/group I really like, I'll buy the album, but that's more the exception than the rule.

So, here are the latest additions:

  • In Rainbows (Radiohead)
    Get it for $5, get it for $20, or get it for free. Radiohead is giving away their latest, and it's probably their most accessible album since "The Bends." With elements from OK Computer, Kid A and most of their other work, everything is blended together quite beautifully, and songs like "Reckoner" will win them new fans. Great rock that sounds unmistakably modern (or maybe it's just Thom Yorke's unmistakable voice).

  • Magic (Bruce Springsteen)
    They say this is a return to form for Bruce with the E Street Band, but I wouldn't really know. I've never been a fan of "classic" Bruce. "Nebraska" nor "Born in the USA" never really did it for me. But this album is surprising and excellent. The music is great, classic pop/rock, with a darkness running through it that transforms the songs as you listen to them. He's an angry man, that Bruce, and the band plays better than ever.

  • Teenager (The Thrills) The Thrills have made a career out of jangly, 60's-sounding California pop, and their latest album is no different. If I want to feel like I'm back in Los Gatos or Santa Cruz, I pop on the Thrills, and I'm home. Songs of teenage love never sounded so good, even if there's nothing as catchy as "Don't Go Back to Big Sur" or "One Horse Town" here.

  • Songs of Mass Destruction (Annie Lennox) Sigh. A finger-wagging exercise in the victimization of women. I really wanted to like the album, but the more I listen to it, the less I like it. She's got an amazing instrument, that Annie, but the songs are mediocre at best and almost consistently strident.

And a few songs I'm really digging:

  • Wasted, by Cartel. A marching-band pop ditty about the inevitability of death. Harmonious and happy and ruthless all at once.
  • The One U Wanna C and Guitar by Prince. Two kick-ass pop songs from a longtime master. Skip the rest of the album if you want, but this is what great pop music is all about.

30 Rock: How Do I Love Thee?

30 RockEver since my favorite television comedy ever, Arrested Development, went off the air, I've been content with Curb Your Enthusiasm, Entourage, and, of course, The Simpsons. There just aren't any other decent comedies on TV. But I've added 30 Rock to my rotation, and damn am I glad that I did.

While the first few episodes were only OK, Alec Baldwin was, well, a Baldwin from the get-go. The writing and performances have steadily improved, and I even find Tracey Morgan funny. I caught all of the episodes from last season, save one. Thanks to the TV and music industry's terror at Apple and the success of the iTunes Store as the primary, legal delivery mechanism for digital entertainment content (and I speak in numbers here, not specifically about movies, which Microsoft owns via HD downloads on the Xbox), you can catch at lot of TV shows on their broadcast network's Web site. NBC is no exception and unlike some of their competitors, there are no commercials in the playback.

So I finally caught that one last episode, with the genius of Will Arnet as Jack's rival, Liz's faking of being an alcoholic and hilarious tell-all monologue at the end, and cowboy hat-shaped fireworks. Why I love the show was crystalized in two moments: Kenneth's peacock dance and Baldwin as Thomas Jefferson on the Maury Povich show. Wicked. Fun. And a lot like Arrested Development.

New Web Gallery: The Dogs

I've added another photo gallery to my .Mac Web Gallery site: a bunch of pics of Puck + Cuddles, our dogs. There's some pictures of their cousin Chance too. Be forewarned: ours are the cutest small dogs ever! =)

BlogCFC was created by Raymond Camden.

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