Dennis G. Jerz | Associate Professor of English -- New Media Journalism, Seton Hill University | jerz.setonhill.edu Logo

In January 2000, I was blogging about dancing paperclips, the transience of literary judgement, “bafflegab,” and a planned B&N/Microsoft online bookstore

In January 2000, I was blogging about Dancing paperclips and telemarketers A “100 best novels” list published in 1899 Updike’s prequel to Hamlet The “bafflegab” jargon generator “Bookseller Barnes & Noble is teaming with Microsoft to build a new online e-book store.” (but the link is dead)

Over time, Google has made paid ads harder to spot

  In 2007, Google changed the long-standing shaded background indicating the ads section of the page from blue to yellow. In 2008, it then briefly tried a green background before reverting back to yellow. Google continued to test variations of background colors including bright blue and a light violet. In 2010, violet officially replaced the yellow, but only lasted about a year before yellow reappeared in 2011. In 2013, Google tweaked the yellow to a paler shade, which would close out the era of background shading. At the end of 2013, Google removed the background shading and began testinga yellow…

Big Calculator: How Texas Instruments Monopolized Math Class

My math education predated the widespread use of graphing calculators. I remember writing my own BASIC programs to graph simple functions, but that was in a summer school programming class during middle school, not part of my high school curriculum. I’m amazed these old calculators cost this much. Bulky and black, with large, colorful push buttons and a low-resolution screen, TI graphing calculators resemble top-of-the-line design from the 1990s and are functionally the same as when Texas Instruments first launched the TI-84 Plus in 2004. Even the price has remained almost the same. When my mom bought my TI-83 Plus…

Dennis G. Jerz | Associate Professor of English -- New Media Journalism, Seton Hill University | jerz.setonhill.edu Logo

In November 1999, I was blogging about books, camomile tea and Skylon 4, the death of Star Trek, and the “active user paradox”

In November 1999, I was blogging about John’s Book Pages (by a CS grad student who had recently read Gene Wolfe and Anthony Bourdain, among many others) What camomile tea has in common with the attack squadron over Skylon 4 (rec.humor newsgroup reference to a disastrous “tandem story” assignment) “Nimoy is, to say the least, amused by the notion that ‘Star Trek’ is on its death bed.” The paradox of the active user: Why engineers shouldn’t write for an idealized, rational reader who wants to read the manual. The business philosophy of typewriter repairman Victor Barough.

Dennis G. Jerz | Associate Professor of English -- New Media Journalism, Seton Hill University | jerz.setonhill.edu Logo

In October, 1999 I was blogging about college application essays, Willie Crowther, and Elizabethan English for RenFest workers

Jessica found herself wishing that somebody — anybody — in her family had died: ”Because then I could write about it.” — College application essays. >As a young man I needed someone to look up to, someone to emulate. I was something of a nerd: I needed someone who’d integrated highly technical talents with the basic social graces. —Tribute to Willie Crowther, by Martin Heller Proper Elizabethan is more akin to the speech of backwood communities on the East Coast of the United States, where language has not changed significantly since the founding of those communities. —Proper Elizabethan Accents (for…

4 Lessons From Moving a Face-to-Face Course Online

This fall, I’ve been asked to teach a Shakespeare class online. Here’s what Kevin Gannon wrote in The Chronicle of Higher Education about moving an established course to cyberspace. As I looked at the class — an upper-level U.S. history seminar — and began to think about how I would teach it online, my heart sank. How was I going to preserve what I thought was most essential — the regular student interaction, the freewheeling give-and-take as we discussed a particular source or topic — if none of us would be together in the same physical space at the same…

PAC-MAN: The Untold Story of How We Really Played the Game

A fascinating study of the thinginess of a video game. Put in your quarter, hit the one-player button and grab the joystick. All you have to do is move Pac-Man through a series of tight cornered mazes, trying to eat all the dots and fruit on screen while also trying to out-maneuver a group of ghosts who will kill you as soon as they touch you. If you eat one of the energizer dots, though, you’ll have a short period of gameplay where the ghosts slow down and stop chasing you so you can eat the ghosts and pick up extra…

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Digital literacy is different from print literacy. How do we balance the trade-off?

My job includes teaching students to read long, complex texts (novels, play scripts, and academic texts.) My job also includes asking students to write researched essays that are longer documents than many of them at first seem comfortable reading. Years after they graduate, students often thank me for what I’ve taught them, and say the effort was all worth it. Buoyed by that feedback, it would be an easy thing for me just to keep plugging along, doing what I’m doing, confident in my belief that what I’m asking students to do is good for them, that the end result is…

Screen shot of a Globe and Mail news article that uses an anonymous source, with an expandable inline explanation of how and why journalists use anonymous sources.

Canada’s Globe and Mail Uses Expandable Inline Meta-articles to Explain Its Coverage

Journalism matters. Educated citizens who understand and appreciate the role of the free press in a democracy are a threat to authoritarian figures who benefit by sowing mistrust. It’s perfectly reasonable to point out errors and bias in specific news stories. (News organizations love reporting about when their competitors get a story wrong, and journalists are regularly disciplined or ousted for egregious mistakes.)  It’s hardly constructive to use the errors of individual journalists to justify a claim that journalists in general are unreliable or “fake.” We should all be downright terrified to hear our president repeatedly claim that journalists are…

Facebook Axes “Trending” Sidebar

Facebook is discontinuing the “trending” list. After the employees hired by Facebook to curate the trending news items were found to bury news they didn’t like, Facebook fired them all and tried to automate the process. If it matters to you whether their bias was liberal or conservative you can look it up, but my point is that a social media feed that adapts itself based on what you say you love and hate is not the right vehicle for informing yourself about the world. A truly informed citizen should not just follow sources that confirm their worldviews and ignore…

America’s Real Digital Divide

If you think middle-class children are being harmed by too much screen time, just consider how much greater the damage is to minority and disadvantaged kids, who spend much more time in front of screens. |  According to a 2011 study by researchers at Northwestern University, minority children watch 50 percent more TV than their white peers, and they use computers for up to one and a half hours longer each day. White children spend eight hours and 36 minutes looking at a screen every day, according to a survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation, while black and Hispanic children…

Impact of One-size-fits-all Web Design

I don’t particularly miss the splash landing pages, rotating animated logos, and “click here” web design of the 1990s. But one of the great things about it was that people experimented, sometimes doing crazy things. Rob LoCascio, who in 1995 “came up with the technology for those chat windows that pop up on websites,” notes that the language we used back then and the interfaces we worked with all assumed that the web was like a library for static resources. Of course, the mission of a library today has evolved to include the interactive elements that LoCascio sees as signs…

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Interface changes make it a little harder to work with Google’s image search

When I’m looking for a picture I’m going to use in an academic project, I typically search Creative Commons; however, Google’s image search is quite useful. The interface is changing to make it easier to view a picture in context (and a little harder to download an image without visiting the source page). The the underlying tools (opening an image in a new window, downloading the image, and searching by image) are still accessible for those who really need it. Sounds like a fair way to encourage users to visit pages that host the images. Google is making a change…

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Updated a post about Sarah Rush — the “launch when ready” crew member from 1979 Battlestar Galactica

I recently noticed that a blog post I created in 2003 has been getting a spike in traffic. Today my five-year-old son was watching one of my wife’s old Battlestar Galactica videotapes, and I remembered that when I was about 11 I had a crush on the cute bridge crewmember who told the Viper pilots stuff like “Transferring core command to probe craft. You may launch when ready.” —Battlestar Galactica ‘Launch When Ready’ Bridge Girl Fan Page Looks like that page, SarahRush.com, has gone offline. I’ve updated my Sarah Rush post with links to archived versions of those pages (from…

AmLit Rescue — Scratch Game

A student in my “American Literature: 1915-Present” class used the medium of a 2D graphic adventure game to deliver her multimodal final project. (Students also wrote a traditional term paper.) You are the cameraman of a new TV show based on Thornton Wilder’s “The Skin of Our Teeth.” But things quickly go downhill when a mysterious criminal shows up and takes over the set. Unexpected faces and scenarios appear at every turn. It’s up to you to go out and find the one person who can save the day, but it won’t be easy—after all, we all know a good…