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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…

Did you share Russian fake news? Facebook, apparently unable to insert items directly in our feeds, will make you jump through hoops to find out.

Did you share fake news from Russia during the US Presidential election? Grudgingly following up on a Congressional order, Facebook will permit you to jump through hoops to find out. Because Facebook apparently does not have the technology to insert items of its choosing directly in user feeds, the social media company has helpfully provided a new option in its maze of settings. Whether you have unknowingly participated in the efforts of foreign propagandists who used you to manipulate the US presidential election and the fate of the free world will be revealed if you look for an item that…

MS-Word’s helpful “View -> Focus” mode delays stress-related breakdowns.

You won’t usually catch me saying anything nice about Microsoft. (Ok, Flight Simulator was good.) A few days ago when life was a little more stressful than usual, I found myself nearly overwhelmed by what should have been a routine editing task. Then I stumbled across MS-Words’s View->Focus mode, which hides most of the intrusive accretion of menus, buttons, and readouts. After changing the default black background to a nice woodgrain, I somehow found the inner strength to jam one more show credit into my daughter’s resume. (In the distance, sirens.)  

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A new study shows that students learn way more effectively from print textbooks than screens

Saving this for next term’s “History and Future of the Book” course. Students said they preferred and performed better when reading on screens. But their actual performance tended to suffer. For example, from our review of research done since 1992, we found that students were able to better comprehend information in print for texts that were more than a page in length. This appears to be related to the disruptive effect that scrolling has on comprehension. We were also surprised to learn that few researchers tested different levels of comprehension or documented reading time in their studies of printed and digital texts. —Business…

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10 questions to help you write better headlines

I already have some handouts on writing titles for web pages and writing titles for college papers. I don’t (at the moment) have a full handout on writing headlines for news stories. In this age of clickbait (“Clickbait Tactics Drive the Writing of Headlines on ABC News,” 2015), revisiting Poynter’s advice on writing traditional news headlines is worthwhile. Clickbait headlines generate visits, but they don’t generate shares or trust. If you need any proof about the power of headlines, consider this: what do you imagine drew the majority of people to this post? Chances are that you and others made…

Prototypes in Technical Writing: What are They?

Many a high school student has muddled through a book report in a single caffeine-fueled sitting, but successful research term papers or quarterly progress reports require planning. In technical writing, a prototype might be a full table of contents (with summaries for each major section) and one or two complete chapters.   If conducting a survey is an important part of your project, your prototype might be a complete survey of a small number of subjects, designed to iron out the kinks in the questions you want to ask. The prototype is a means to an end; its purpose is to identify…

How to Make a Website: Guide to Web Creation, Design & Styling

I am a textual thinker, not a visual thinker. The resources I create for my own students focus on my own strengths and needs as a college English teacher:  the writing, basic conventions, and genres such as instructions and emails, and user-focused areas I’ve picked up out of necessity after watching my students learn to write for the web (there’s nothing in a typical composition class that will help them understand the importance of site navigation or usability testing). While I have tried my hand at creating graphics to help me teach various concepts (such as the difference between revising and editing, or the difference between…

The Minecraft Generation

It’s a world of trial and error and constant discovery, stuffed with byzantine secrets, obscure text commands and hidden recipes. And it runs completely counter to most modern computing trends. Where companies like Apple and Microsoft and Google want our computers to be easy to manipulate — designing point-and-click interfaces under the assumption that it’s best to conceal from the average user how the computer works — Minecraft encourages kids to get under the hood, break things, fix them and turn mooshrooms into random-­number generators. It invites them to tinker. In this way, Minecraft culture is a throwback to the…

Facebook Ad Refreshes Interrupt the Composition Process

So I’m trying to edit a Facebook status, and every minute or so, when the ads on the right side of my screen refresh, and the cursor disappears from the editing area, I have to take my fingers off the keyboard (I’m using Chrome for iPad, with an after-market add-on keyboard) and tap the window to restore the browser’s focus. How depressing. Facebook’s interface is fighting against my intention to compose more than a few lines in this space. I could, of course, use the official Facebook app, or I could just share memes. I was writing nothing of huge…

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And so it begins: the unmarked assignments counter

This little icon will control my life for the next four months. It’s an iPad app that’s connected to Canvas, Seton Hill’s learning management system. Every time a student submits a new assignment, that number ticks up. Every time I submit a grade, the number goes down. Some assignments are really easy to grade — I scan a paragraph and tick off items on a rubric. Other assignments — like a term paper draft — take me an hour and 15 minutes each (because I’m not just assigning a grade, I’m offering the student personalized feedback on how to improve…

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The Days of Microsoft Internet Explorer Are Numbered—But Its Sorry Legacy Will Live On

Starting today, Microsoft will no longer support most versions of Internet Explorer, one of the most contentious pieces of software in history. … By insisting on following its own path with IE rather than follow generally accepted standards, Microsoft dictated web design by years. That probably drove many aspiring web developers [to] careers that didn’t require trying to figure out why the margins between images looked different from one browser to another. Keeping too many old browsers in circulation contributed to that mess. Thankfully, the time has come to move on. Source: The Days of Microsoft Internet Explorer Are Numbered—But Its…

The Chronicle of Higher Education Announces Plan to Limit, Curate Comments

By 2016, the terrain has shifted. Publications of all stripes are re-examining what it means to engage with their audiences and to encourage productive conversations. Quite a few of those conversations — including ones about our work — have already moved to social media. Many publications have played down comments or eliminated them altogether; others have gone in the opposite direction, devoting more time and energy to shaping discussions. Comments have been, at their best and at their worst, an integral part of the experience of reading The Chronicle online. We’d like to keep it that way. But our job goes…

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Male Microsoft Leaders Ignored Women Who Really Hated Clippy

I hated Clippy, not because it looked like it was leering at me, but because it was so intrusive. [T]he engineers in the room were willing to throw out the focus-group-provided data—data which they paid hundreds of thousands of dollars for—because it didn’t cohere to their expectations. The software shipped with 10 male assistants and two female assistants, she adds.It turned out to be one of the most unpopular features ever introduced—especially among female users.This isn’t the only case of how design that assumes the prototypical user is male could go awry. —The Atlantic

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iMovie Glitch: Unplug Removable Media before Using iMovie

I spent a few hours today working on a video for Stage Right. I usually use Screenflow for my videos, but today for some reason I thought I’d try iMovie. Big mistake. Of the eight video clips I wanted to use in iMovie, seven seem to have imported properly, but the eighth has this little camera icon. I didn’t notice it until hours later when I was finished with the project and wanted to “share” it as a file (Apple’s annoying way of hiding the “export” function). I got the unhelpful error message “This item cannot be shared while it…

Television is Now the Second Screen for Kids with Tablets

Of course, not all kids have tablets, and at least some of what the kids are doing on their tablets is watching videos. There’s only so much one can draw from a survey-based study, and much more that could be learned from a controlled experiment that actually gives kids the choice and reports what they do. [I]n households where tablets and smartphones are accessible, they’ve now taken the lead with kids as the preferred way to enjoy and explore video content.TV has become the ‘second’ or even third screen for many of these kids. Parents in nearly half of these…

Time article with clickbaity headline: Web users annoyed by marketing tricks

This Time magazine article is a good one, but that “what you think you know is wrong” headline is more of the same obnoxious clickbait that the article itself critiques, so here’s a bit of what I found useful. Scrolling is more acceptable behavior than it used to be. We’re all much more used to scrolling now, especially when using mobile devices. Just because we click a link doesn’t mean we read or share what’s on the other end of the link; we still engage meaningfully with news, while we click on and ignore fluff. (So, marketers who trick us…