Monthly Archives: March 2018

Bush, “As We May Think”

Reading Vannevar Bush’s “As We May Think” essay was a little mind-blowing because he predicted so many advancements in technology that we have today.

Bush believed in information compression, saying that “A library of a million volumes could be compressed into one end of a desk.” He essentially created an early conception of the computers we have today, believing that searching for subjects should be quicker. This idea of information compression allowed for more things to fit into a smaller space and also emphasized cost-efficiency, but Bush was more concerned with tying human nature into technology.

One of Bush’s main points was that technology should mirror the human senses, including speech. He mentioned how we should be able to speak to our devices and say commands, and now, practically everyone has this technology on smartphones in the form of voice assistants like Siri. Although machines lack emotion like humans, Bush still thought our interaction with them would be most efficient when we could interact with them in the most human way possible.

Going along with this idea, Bush believed technology should mimic the way humans think:

“The human mind does not work that way. It operates by association. With one item in its grasp, it snaps instantly to the next that is suggested by the association of thoughts, in accordance with some intricate web of trails carried by the cells of the brain.”

Bush believed that the problem in his day was that everything was sorted alphabetically or numerically, but that’s not necessarily how the human mind works. When humans think, they make connections among the things they’re familiar with. This idea is true with students like us, as I constantly make connections on my blog to past readings. It’s natural for the human mind to make connections, so Bush wanted technology to mimic the human thought process, which would maximize the efficiency of human beings to solve problems.

In our class discussions, we have talked about how it is easier for us to close read and slow read when we eliminate distractions and turn all our attention to one text. Since it seems like Bush is implying that the human brain is constantly making connections to other ideas, slow reading could be a way to force ourselves to focus on the task at hand. However, because there is so much information and our memories often fail us, we need some way to catalog our knowledge, which technology provides.

Technology has already advanced past Bush’s vision of the memex, but his ideas of matching human tendencies to our technology will likely continue as technology continues to advance. As Bush said:

“There will always be plenty of things to compute in the detailed affairs of millions of people doing complicated things.”

And as the world continues to grow in size and complexity, our technology will continue to grow as well.

Source: Bush, “As We May Think”

Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths”

After reading my second short story of the day by Jorge Louis Borges, I’ll admit that my mind is spinning a bit.

In “The Garden of Forking Paths,” the big reveal is that the labyrinth created by Ts’ui Pen is actually his book, and its nonsense is actually purposeful. Instead of following chronological order, every possible outcome of a situation happens, which explains the inconsistencies in the novel. These inconsistencies frustrated readers, which reminded me of the narrator’s frustrations from If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler by Italo Calvino. In my final blog post about Calvino’s novel, I discussed how people want books to follow their expectations instead of embracing something new.

People are also reluctant to embrace something new because it’s often challenging. In Ts’ui Pen’s book, his underlying message was about time:

“This web of time – the strands of which approach one another, bifurcate, intersect or ignore each other through the centuries – embraces every possibility.” (7)

That’s not an easy idea to wrap your mind around, but it’s a fascinating one nonetheless. It reminded me of multiple TV shows I watch, like Doctor Who and The Flash, where different timelines and parallel universes exist. Those shows have millions of viewers globally, so in a way, people are familiar with challenging intellectual concepts. However, they’re a bit easier to engage with since they’re watching something on a screen rather than reading and interpreting it for themselves.

This short story also reminded me of the choose your own adventure games and stories that Dr. Jerz has spoken about in class. We had the opportunity to play one of these games on our own in class, and it was interesting to see how the story changed based on our personal decisions. However, it was also interesting for me to compare my story to my classmates’ and see what other outcomes are possible. Since Borges’ story was published decades before these types of stories and games, it makes me wonder if they were influenced at all by him or authors with similar philosophical ideas.

Source: Borges, “The Garden of Forking Paths”

Borges, “The Library of Babel”

As I read “The Library of Babel” by Jorge Louis Borges, I noticed the many similarities between this short story and The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. The narrator says he is writing as he is dying, which is just like Adso, who was writing about the events of the abbey in his old age. The main topic discussed in each of these stories is essentially the same as well: the importance of the library.

In Borges’ story, the narrator describes the joy people felt when they found out the library contained all books:

“The universe was justified; the universe suddenly became congruent with the unlimited width and breadth of humankind’s hope.” (115)

This statement seems pretty true when applied to real life. We go to books when we want to find answers, and we also find hope in stories that move us emotionally. Books like The Bible are held in high regard among many, and they become a symbol of hope. Even in our digital age, books are still very important and symbolic to humanity.

The narrator also talked about how some people would “eliminate all worthless books,” which reminded me of Jorge from Eco’s book. There have been people like this throughout history and to this day who want to destroy books, essentially because they fear them. They might fear them because they do not understand them, or they might fear the interpretations of others. Regardless, the written word is powerful enough to cause fear in people.

One of the main ideas I took away from this story is that while books can contain infinite knowledge, that knowledge is useless if people do not understand how to interpret and apply it. I think that’s especially true in today’s society, where we essentially have an infinite “library” of knowledge in the form of the internet. That knowledge is meaningless if we don’t engage with it in a thoughtful way. I’m also reminded of an idea consistent across the Eco, Simonds, and Calvino books we read: words are nothing until we ascribe meaning to them.

Overall, it was interesting to read a comparison of the library to the universe. I’m sure I’m just scraping the surface of the deep philosophical ideas Borges had, but I agree that knowledge is all around us. It’s up to us to utilize that knowledge well.

Source: Borges “The Library of Babel”

Media and Culture Portfolio 2

After identifying my strengths and areas of improvement in my first Participation Portfolio, I am pleased with my engagement of the course content on my blog for Topics in Media and Culture since then. While continuing to add to the depth and riskiness of my posts, I also improved in the areas of intertextuality, discussion, and timeliness. Overall, I take pride in the quality of my blog posts I have created since my first portfolio.

Depth:

Depth continued to be one of my strongest categories, as I believe most of my posts could fit under this category. When I read If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler, I felt that my final posts best exemplified depth. In Calvino, Through Ch 9, I wrote multiple paragraphs, analyzed multiple quotes and also made connections to my previous post about the book and The Name of the Rose.

Similarly, Calvino, Through Ch 12 was one of my longer posts because there were so many topics I wanted to discuss. Along with incorporating quotes, I made more connections to my previous Eco posts and analyzed what Calvino was trying to say about reading.

Like Calvino’s book, I also felt that the posts that best exemplified depth for Gutenberg’s Fingerprint were the later ones. After reading a few sections, I became more comfortable with writing multiple paragraphs about topics that I was unfamiliar with while still making connections to previous texts like The Name of the Rose and my own experiences.

My Simonds: Press post was a strong example of depth, as I discussed multiple topics in this section of Simonds’ book and analyzed a few quotes. My Simonds: Book post was similar, with multiple quotes and analysis.

In addition, I included many quotes in my final post about Gutenberg’s Fingerprint, Simonds: Lasting Impression. Along with incorporating a bit of intertextuality by discussing the Plato: Pheadrus dialogue, I blogged about Simonds’ discussion of the future of books.

Riskiness:

My first post for this portfolio, Calvino Through Ch 3, was one of the biggest risks I took while writing. Italo Calvino’s book was written in a very different style and introduced a lot of complex ideas very early in the text. However, I integrated a quote and also made a comparison to a musical to help myself better understand this book.

Another risk I took was one of my more recent posts with our Class Activity: Typewriting. Although we were not using a physical typewriter, it was still risky to jump into using a typewriter simulator, which is something I was completely unfamiliar with.

While I was fairly comfortable engaging with Simonds’ text, the one section of her book that I think was riskiest was Simonds: Ink. Although I learned from each section, the Ink section in particular was probably the most challenging because of its deep correlation to art. However, this post ended up fitting under a few categories since I incorporated quotes from the text (depth) and related it to a class activity (intertextuality).

Intertextuality:

Intertextuality was one section I hoped to improve for this portfolio, and I believe I was successful. I attempted to make connections to other sources in all my posts, and now that we’ve read multiple texts, I find myself making connections among the texts often.

In my Calvino, Through Ch 6 post, I linked to Danisha’s blog post because she had a similar idea about the gender issues in the novel.

My DK Book: Second Glance post was full of connections to Gutenberg’s Fingerprint, and I specifically linked to my Simonds: Paper response, in addition to discussing Simonds’ experience with movable type.

The first posts I wrote for Gutenberg’s Fingerprint were strong examples of intertextuality. In Simonds: Front Matter & Hugh, Me and the Book, I wrote about our discussion of the article about our online reading habits, and I connected Simonds’ words to the TV show Doctor WhoSimonds: Paper also included many connections to other sources, such as The Name of the Rose, previous articles about reading habits, and Dr. Sasmor’s visit to our class.

Additionally, my Simonds: Type post could fit under depth, but because I devoted a large portion of this post making connections to The Name of the Rose, I think it is another great example of intertextuality.

Discussion:

My discussions with other classmates greatly improved from my last portfolio. I commented on a few of my classmates’ blogs, including Kemaura’s The Ink and I post, and Laramie’s Simonds: Front Matter post. Since Danisha commented on many of my posts, I also left comments on a few of hers, including Danisha’s Simonds: Front Matter, Calvino through Ch 9, and Calvino through Ch 6 posts. I also responded to all of the comments on my blog posts this time, which is a goal I set last time.

A few of my posts also generated a lot of discussion. Two in particular each received multiple comments: Simonds: Front Matter & Hugh, Me and the Book, and Simonds: Paper, both posts I placed in other categories as well. Danisha, Laramie, and Kemaura commented on my first Simonds post, and Steve, Kemaura, and Laramie commented on my Simonds: Paper post. I responded to each of their comments, and I was glad to see the vast improvement in my discussion section for this portfolio.

Timeliness:

In my last portfolio, I recognized that I began to fall behind on creating my blog posts on time and stated my plan to improve. Some of my Calvino blogs were posted slightly past their deadline, but after those first few posts, all of my remaining posts for this portfolio were posted early or on time. This is a great improvement, and I hope to continue this progress into my next portfolio.

Coverage:

Along with completing all my blogs for this portfolio, all of my posts fit into at least one of the above categories as well. Since I had a few posts in this category in my last portfolio, I am happy that the quality of my responses improved.

Conclusion:

My second portfolio was undoubtedly an improvement from my first, and I am very content with the density and quality of my blog posts. I have continued making progress to  achieve the course goals, including improving my ability to analyze and evaluate issues about “knowledge, thought, and literacy.” Each of the new texts that I have read discuss complex issues about these topics that I have engaged with. The other course goal I mentioned in my first portfolio was strengthening my critical thinking and writing skills,  which I have continued to do by analyzing the complex issues in the texts and writing about them. Overall, I have continued to engage with the course goals and hope to continue improving for my next portfolio.

Source: Participation Portfolio 2

Simonds: Lasting Impression

It’s hard to believe I’m already at the end of Gutenberg’s Fingerprint by Merilyn Simonds. One of her first quotes in the Lasting Impression section was:

“Something about printed books elicits strong emotion. People refer to them as friends, as companions, as the scripted playlist to their lives.” (324)

It makes me a bit sad to finish this book, because I really enjoyed going on Simonds’ journey, which made this book feel like a friend to me.

Despite the popularity of digital books, people still love print books. Simonds mentioned how people still buy CDs, even though most of us have all our music digitally, and I thought about how people still collect records as well. We tend to reserve having physical copies for our favorite authors or musicians, but we still do it nonetheless. Print books give us a physical reminder of a story we love:

“My books are my brain and my heart made visible.” (366)

It also blew my mind to think about how ebooks aren’t really yours; you just have the license to read them. That’s another benefit of a print book: it’s yours to keep forever, and no one can take that away from you.

I thought it was pretty coincidental that Simonds wrote about the Phaedrus dialogue, which obviously reminded me of my Plato: Phaedrus blog post. Socrates believed that writing would destroy our memories, and in a way, he was right. But at the same time, we wouldn’t have so many stories from the past if someone didn’t write them down. New technology always has its pros and cons. Another Simonds quote described this:

“We may not be able to anticipate the fallout from the dramatic paradigm shifts, but one thing is inevitable: there will always be someone on the podium, shaking their fist, warning of dire consequence and an impoverished future.” (355)

Print books will probably always be around to some extent. For now, they exist right alongside digital books, and it’s likely that will continue for at least a little while. Even if digital books make print books obsolete, print books will still exist. Simonds also said:

“Technologies come and go. What is eternal, it seems, is the human craving for story.” (373)

Humans are storytelling creatures, and books will always exist in some form to tell our stories.

Source: Simonds: Lasting Impression

Simonds: Book

As I read the Book section of Gutenberg’s Fingerprint by Merilyn Simonds, one of Hugh’s quotes from the book launch stuck out to me:

“‘This book is worth more than any price we can put on it,’ he says simply.” (276)

I always feel connected to anything I write. I wrote a memoir about my marching band experience for my high school senior project and had it printed and bound, and just holding that physical culmination of my work gave me a sense of pride and accomplishment. I can only imagine how much deeper that connection would be if I worked with the people who created the physical book and had a hand in that process.

There was a lot of interesting knowledge in this section as well. I found it interesting that people were really resistant to books at first, especially because it’s so much easier to flip through pages than to read a lengthy scroll. It reminded me of the video we just watched in class for the Class Activity: Typewriting assignment, where the monk was struggling to open a book because it was a new technology.

It was crazy to imagine that Hugh actually sewed the binding of books himself, which would be an extremely time-consuming process. I also did not know that people used to write the names of books on the spines themselves. Although having the name printed on the spine makes books more aesthetically pleasing, I think it’s cool that people could customize books that way.

Another quote that stuck out to me was when Simonds said:

“A printed book is a world I can hold in my hands, a world I can step into and out of as I choose. It is limited and self-contained, which changes how I interact with it. The experience isn’t necessarily better, but it is qualitatively different. Print books encourage depth; digital encourages breadth.” (296)

Simonds touched a lot on the differences between print and digital books in this section, and some of the pros and cons of each. We’re in such an interactive culture right now, which is one of the reasons why ebooks are popular. People like to be able to customize details like the text size and color to make the reading experience more personal. Since we expect that level of interactivity in our culture, it makes me wonder what digital interactivity will be like a few decades from now.

Our culture is also perfectionist in a way. We like things like books to be flawless, free of errors. However, like Simonds discussed, you feel more emotionally connected to something imperfect that you physically created as opposed to something perfect but created digitally. Simonds put it best:

“These books are flawed. They don’t pretend to be made with machine precision. They are made by human hands, a human mind, an exquisitely human heart.” (319)

Humans aren’t perfect, and there’s something kind of beautiful in that imperfection.

Source: Simonds: Book

Class Activity: Typewriting

When I responded to the video we watched in class about the monk who struggled to use a book, I only wrote a paragraph response because I knew using the typewriter simulator would take me more time. Typing a paragraph normally takes me less than a minute, but using the typewriter simulator significantly lengthened the time it took me to complete this assignment.

Normally, I type quickly, but having the backspace key helps speed up my typing process. With the typewriter simulator, I typed very slowly, knowing that one mistake could not be easily corrected. I also had to watch out because there was a few times when I hit a key and the letter did not show up. Everything is so permanent with the typewriter, which is something I am not used to because of computers.

I also ran into a lot of smaller issues as well. Because I was so focused on not making any spelling mistakes, I didn’t realize that when I neared the end of a line, I needed to either hyphenate my words or enter to the next line. I made this mistake for the first few lines, and then tried to keep more of a watchful eye as I went along.

Another mistake I made was not realizing that I was running out of ink. When my text started to become glaringly gray and faded, I realized this was something I had to adjust on my own. I was also partially terrified to mess with the sliders, but luckily I figured it out and tried to maintain a fairly consistent ink level for the rest of my writing.

Overall, using the typewriter simulator was a good learning experience and practice for my upcoming project. Using a typewriter involves a lot of precision and attention to detail, along with paying close attention to multiple aspects of the typewriter, like the ink levels. I’ll need more practice before I type my final document, but having this practice allowed me to catch my mistakes early and get used to a slower, more detail-oriented way of typing.

Source: Class Activity: Typewriting

DK Book: Second Glance

As I browsed through the DK Book for the second time, the “Paper” section was the first to stick out to me. Unsurprisingly, I made a lot of connections between this section and my Simonds: Paper response.

Merilyn Simonds wrote about the process of making paper in Gutenberg’s Fingerprint, but it helped to see photos of the process in the DK Book. The DK Book also showed photos of marbling paper, which is common for the inside covers of books, and the process of dying pages, which involved swirling paint drops in water. This reminded me of how Simonds, Hugh and Emily decided to make the endpapers colorful, which was also a very intricate process since Emily was using plants and making the pages herself.

The “Typesetting” section in the DK Book also reminded me of Simonds’ process with typesetting her own book. It was a little daunting to see an actual photo of a typecase in the book, which was filled with more blocks than I imagined. Not only would it take me some time to find the letters I actually need, but it would also take time to put the text together, especially because it would be upside down and back to front. I also learned that there are multiple stages where you have to transfer your blocks of type, and considering how clumsy I can be sometimes, that part would be a little terrifying for me as well.

Another section that stood out to me was the “On press” section, which discussed the process of running the printing press. Although it was easier than physically writing, running the printing press still involved multiple people to maximize efficiency. I also didn’t know that a printer had to serve an apprenticeship for at least seven years before he could work wherever he wanted. This shows how serious people were about the printing process, which makes sense, since one mistake could ruin everything. No pressure, right?

Finally, the “Typewriter” section was interesting to examine. Although I knew the basics of how the typewriter worked, there were a lot of new details. For example, I didn’t know that a bell would sound when a typist approached the end of a line, or that the appearance of letters could be affected by how heavily you hit the keys. Also, while I knew that the QWERTY keyboard was invented to maximize efficiency, I never knew why. I would’ve never guessed that it helped prevent typewriter keys from jamming as often, and it’s kind of fascinating that we still use this system to this day despite our advancements in technology.

Source: DK Book

Simonds: Press

In the Press section of Gutenberg’s Fingerprint by Merilyn Simonds, one of the first things she discussed was how the word “press” came to represent the entire journalism profession. She included how the word “expression” originally meant representing something in words, and eventually switched to mean producing.

“A printing press expresses words.” (209)

Simonds’ definition works well, especially given the descriptions that follow about the actual print press process. The press itself is a combination of physical parts that takes letters and stamps them into words on a page.

Of course, the original printing presses took lots of human input to run, and they had to be extremely detail-oriented. This was evident in Simonds’ book, as Hugh took hours to get just the right impression, or “bite,” on the paper.

Hugh also had to check for issues with ink consistency, and ran into an issue with dark and light patches, which Simonds said are called “monks and friars.” The terminology reminded me of how we use the words “orphans and widows” in layout for the Setonian, so it’s interesting to see some similarities despite the difference in technology.

The section where Simonds was talking about the digital process of makeready was also extremely interesting to me. I’ve learned some basic coding in one of my courses and in my independent study, and despite it being basic, I find it challenging. I can’t imagine what it would be like for me to go through Erik’s process of coding to make sure all his mother’s ebooks were consistent across different platforms.

However, I realized that coding today is essentially what typesetting and printing was in the past:

“‘Really, really clean code is a beautiful thing. In the same way that a smooth-running press with a perfect skim of ink on the disc and a perfect bite of type into the paper is, and the perfect consistency to the prints even when you look closely at the pages through a loupe – in that same way, you can see beauty and elegance in a well-coded ebook.'” (240)

When people buy a book, they expect it to look aesthetically pleasing and be free of errors. With ebooks, we expect the same thing. We might not have to manually set type anymore, but the process of makeready still exists – it’s just digital.

It also blew my mind that it took Hugh 400-500 hours to print all the copies of Simonds’ book, which she said was about the same time it took her to write. We take it for granted now, but actually creating a book was such a time-consuming process when the printing press was invented. At one point, when referring to the press, Hugh says, “‘The goal is addiction!'” (267) While I always thought you had to be addicted to writing, I realize now that you can also be addicted to the process of making that writing come to life on the page.

I appreciated reading the line where the title of the book comes from as well:

“‘That fingerprint – that’s what makes this copy distinct. Human. It says, ‘Somebody printed this.’ Imagine what it would be worth, a book with Gutenberg’s fingerprint!'” (270)

Even in the digital age, we still seem to hold onto what makes us human.

Source: Simonds: Press

Simonds: Ink

Ink is something a lot of people take for granted, including myself. In this section of Gutenberg’s Fingerprint, Merilyn Simmonds discussed how her son, a painter, made a lot of the decisions with Hugh regarding the creation of the ink for her book. I also got the notion that artists would be the ones who are most knowledgable about ink. While it isn’t something I think about often, my younger sister, who loves to draw and paint, probably knows way more about ink than I ever could.

Simonds really highlighted the importance of ink in this section:

“But it is ink, flowing between the banks of those curves and lines, that makes type – letters, words, sentences – visible.” (165)

There was a lot of new information I learned from this section, like the knowledge that red ink was used for importance in medieval manuscripts. It reminded me of the Google Doc that Dr. Jerz created for us to record information about The Name of the Rose, and he used red ink. Because I was so focused on adding information, I didn’t even think of the significance when we did that activity, but now, I have a better understanding of the process behind the manuscripts.

I also had never considered how ink is created, so I didn’t expect it to be a thick and heavy substance that needs cut and mixed. I found it fascinating as well that ink-makers used to travel outside the walls of their towns to create ink because there was a chance the varnish could explode. It’s a little crazy for us to think that making the material we use so frequently to print our words once risked people’s lives. I like the way that Simonds put it:

“Three seconds. It is easy to take this simple gesture for granted, to forget that for half a millennium, hundreds of men and women cracked their skulls trying to solve the problem of making words visible, transferable, indelible.” (183)

Simonds mentioned how proofs have been commonly used in the printing process to make sure there are no errors or issues with the ink. Even in the digital age, this is something we still do today. For the print magazine of the Setonian, we always request at least one proof (and usually multiple) for practically the same reason people have been checking proofs for centuries. We look for errors within the articles themselves, but since we usually print in black and white, we check to make sure the photos aren’t too dark or too light. We definitely have it easier than people did centuries ago, but ink does still affect us.

To wrap up this section, one of Hugh’s quotes really stuck out:

“‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we had an easy job like a writer?'” (194)

I’ve never considered writing to be easy, but when you look at the entire printing process, it’s just one piece of the puzzle. Plus, if I had to make ink, I’d also think writing is the easy part. Reading Simonds’ book has definitely given me a greater appreciation for the entire printing process.

Source: Simonds: Ink