All posts by Francisca Goldsmith

Tech Instruction via Webcomic Wisdom

Over at geekculture.com, The Joy of Tech is carrying along nearly into it’s third decade. Nitrozac and Snaggy, as this pair of Canadians sign themselves for their work here, publish fast-to-understand lessons in the form of half a dozen or fewer panels per take-away. These are insights and explanations that speak to experienced geeks and casual users of technology alike:

Published between four and 10 times monthly, The Joy of Tech, as one would expect, has an elegantly searchable archives. While reading individual posts is of course free, site registration for geekculture.com is encouraged, and Nitrozac and Snaggy have also set up a variety of ways to pay for what is very much an effort worthy of monetary support. With laudable transparency, the donations page spells out, too, exactly where the money goes as well as the various Patreon, non-Patreon, and even advertising routes available. As with all aspects of the webcomic, even this part of The Joy of Tech experience gives the reader a great précis to apply to other sites and situations when investigating their monetizing strategies.

This is a webcomic with a community and even the casual visit is likely to send the individual reader off to find someone else with whom to share it. In short, this is a webcomic that not only explains tech but also evokes why tech in truly humane terms.

 

 

In Celebration of a Compelling Speaker

On 19 July 1962 Martin Luther King Jr became the first African American to speak at the National Press Club. His post-lunch remarks were delivered days after he’d been convicted of participating in a peaceful protest against  segregation in his home state of Georgia.

The Press Club rediscovered tapes of the speech and made them available online in very recent years. They can be downloaded in MP3 format and a transcript s, of course, included.

Let’s Mansplain That (in Webcomics)

With women in the United States continuing to refuse to step away from both mic and spotlight as they talk back to a Western tradition of white male entitlements, the time is suited to tuning into webcomic “Manfeels Park.” The team of Morag & Erin use commentary (from men) found in current news account and even quoted from found dialog that sits there begging for satiric puns. The art harkens to the title’s Jane Austen roots stylistically and also manages to introduce current day settings for the kinds of occasions in which the particularly featured commentary fits.

This is one of dozens of webcomics archived by the Library of Congress. For their parts, Morag & Erin go the distance to provide source notes for each strip’s commentary. Once a fellow fan of puns, satire, and active counter attacking of mansplaining falls for this gem, there’s some back matter worthy of exploring as well in the Links section of their webcomic, including a not-too-long of other webcomic recommendations, some recommended blogs, and a couple of other projects the creators of Manfeels Park are undertaking online.

Build Listening Awareness with Challenges

Omnivorous readers with competitive bones in their bodies (if only to seek a personal best), and librarians and teachers seeking some self-managed professional development, look to reading challenges to stimulate self-accomplishment. Biblioblogs of all sorts publish them to ring in the new year, and the range on offer includes some better suited to relatively neophyte casual readers to those for word warriors. A benefit to many all along this spectrum is the sense of community joining a challenge can bring: who else has taken the challenge? How’s it working out for them? Is there someone among them who can offer support when the reading gets dull? Is there a well-matched super-reader to provide extra motivation for the high-achieving competitor?

A number of these challenges suggest participants take the occasional “challenge” of trying an audiobook. And there are a few audiobook-specific challenges on offer as well. The Caffeinated Reviewer has a well developed one that offers various intensity levels as well as the opportunity to find a listening buddy or buddies. This is a high quality, no-fee skill-building opportunity that can appeal to readers’ advisors, audiobook collection selectors and developers, language arts teachers, and families.

If joining a group doesn’t appeal, this audiobook listening challenge—and many others—can be undertaken independently. All you need is a good supply of audiobooks (library, OpenCulture, anything but piracy, please), listening advice and recommendations, and a will to listen more, and more deeply.

Introducing Sequential Art Online: Webcomics

https://imgs.xkcd.com/comics/digital_resource_lifespan.png
Randall Munroe’s webcomic XKCD regularly offers unexpected nuggets of information management insight as well as real answers to seemingly unanswerable questions

With the new year, NSR pushes further into published online content, including a weekly visit to the world of webcomics. This expressive medium has been around for more than three decades. It’s a realm of stories, reports, and visual creativity, some the early forms of later publication in paper or e-resource format. Others have, some will, and, meanwhile, a lot do live long and happy lives in web only form on such graphics-friendly blogging platforms as Tumblr, and through software custom-designed specifically for creating and sharing comics content.

Webcomics give both amateur and professional cartoonists a means for sharing out new content, experimental techniques, and fan art or homages to comics artists. The web has also become a right-sized location to build a following via webcomics to gain monetary support through Kickstarter for eventual paper publication. We’re not going to be dropping into these projects much except to note subject matter themes arising that reflect more broadly on content innovations. Continue reading Introducing Sequential Art Online: Webcomics

End of the Year Listening

This week we take a half-step east of audiobooks per se to listen to recordings of live performances by a poet and a comedian. Both expressive forms are intended for auditory consumption and, in these selected cases, offer a shot of wry retrospective to go with current day events.

First up, Allen Ginsberg—Beat poet, comfortable performance artist, and more truthsayer than the provocateur he was accused of being—reads America. From atom bomb talk to TIME Magazine obsessing, this over-60-year-old invocation of the United States as hazard zone currently requires no historical explanation even to those a quarter of the poem’s age.

George Carlin’s “Filthy Words” routine, here as recorded in “Occupation Foole,” recorded in 1973, tracks the words involved in what became a First Amendment case arising when Carlin was arrested the previous year for speaking seven particular words aloud to an audience during his comedy performance. Last week’s news about a demand made of the Centers for Disease Control by Executive Office policy analysts included a different set of words, and yet the number of them—seven—puts a nearly biblical twist on US government suppression of vocabulary choices.

Among the delights of listening to such recordings is hearing the speaker’s actual delivery. This is a far cry from being left to read what a student wrote down as he heard Plato speak. We hear the places that matter to the speaker, even under the audience’s responding laughter. The leverage of direct access to intonation and pacing proves to be more than extra; in these two cases, the speakers’ good humor can give us some hope in light-heartedness itself.

Closeup Listening

Oral history projects organized, performed, and/or administered by archives and libraries create opportunities for audiences dispersed by geography and date to hear first person accounts of personal and public events. Typically led or encouraged by a prepared interviewer who prompts for details or expansions on the featured speaker’s memories and observations, these histories arise without a pre-written script and so arrive in fully oral vernaculars: the pitches and tones of the subject, of course, but also the cadences of unfolding oral expression, and regional and idiosyncratic word choices that have become second nature to the speaker rather than being carefully selected to impress or hide from the audience.

A variety of public and arts and culture agencies have utilized the method for acquiring and preserving elderly community members who have experienced contrasting eras, been present through public disasters, or witnessed momentous political and/or social events. Unlike the historian or the journalist, the subject providing the oral history’s content comes to the table with a personal understanding from which the account is told, providing contemporary and future audiences with direct access to how the reported events and observations were experienced. Continue reading Closeup Listening

AudioFile Magazine Names Best Nonfiction & Culture Audiobooks 2017

This is the season when “best” lists bloom like gardens in spring and understanding who declares a publication as best of the year is the first step to deciding why that declaration deserves what amount of attention. Since AudioFile Magazine is the only publication that has been reviewing audiobooks only, and for 25 years, the accumulated experiences of their editors and reviewers puts them in the lead for a demonstrated capacity to judge the best from a year’s output of new audiobooks. AudioFile’s reviews concern themselves with the specifically audio format of the presentation: narration quality, suitability of the written work to audio performance, and directional and engineering attention during the publication process.

This year’s list of more than 100 best audiobooks is divided into topical areas, with Nonfiction and Culture audiobooks accounting for 11 titles on the full list. From the mathematical and molecular delights in the history of CAESAR’S LAST BREATH, written by Sam Kean and read by Ben Sullivan, through the all-the-rage Danish cosy movement discussed in THE LITTLE BOOK OF HYGGE, written and read by Meik Wiking, to the fascination with language shared in WORD BY WORD, written and read by Kory Stamper, this category of Best Audiobooks offers delight for the omnivorous autodidact as well as for listeners seeking comfort or advice. There’s comedy in Paula Poundstone reading her own THE TOTALLY UNSCIENTIFIC STUDY OF THE SEARCH FOR HUMAN HAPPINESS. Contemproary racial bias in policing is examined in journalist Matt Taibbi’s I CAN’T BREATHE, read by Dominic Hoffman. Personal and professional development take center stage in OWN IT by Sallie Krawcheck, read by Ellen Archer, and FINISH written and read by Jon Acuff. Continue reading AudioFile Magazine Names Best Nonfiction & Culture Audiobooks 2017

#GivingThanks for Digital Audiobooks

In the opening scene of the new and Sacramento-hatred-drenched movie Lady Bird, the title character and her mother are listening to the closing 30 seconds or so of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath while driving on an August hot highway. They each shed a tear as the audiobook ends and then teenaged Lady Bird pops the cassette—the final of about 20—from the car player and back into its rigid, made-to-crack plastic shell. It’s 2002 and this is how most listeners handle audiobooks. Continue reading #GivingThanks for Digital Audiobooks

Listening to Speak Well

November 19th marked the 154th anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln delivering his Gettysburg Address, an event that, of course, was not recorded by any mechanical means. However, because of its brevity, powerful prosody, and stark imagery, it continues to live not just as a document but also as script for oral performance.

The flip side of listening to read is listening to learn how to speak, and listening to stellar deliveries of careful language choices to learn to speak well, compellingly, and clearly in terms of conceptual communication. Without practiced listening skills, speakers lag in oral communication skills, a situation that can lead to frustration, alienation, and exclusion from power.

While the writing of Presidential speeches has evolved over time to comport more popular styles of grammar, phrasing and word choices, how we experience them has also changed. We tend to read them in full and listen to only moments of the whole. Often that listening, truncated as it is, also comes via video and thus invites visual appraisal of postures, faces, and other details beyond the spoken words. Except for those who elect to join forensics teams or involve themselves in school drama departments, young students now rarely, and most never, have the opportunity to experience delivering speeches or master communication intended to be heard (beyond music).

After millennia of human ideas and ideals being shaped aloud, are we now in the Age of Unspeaking?

StoryCorps and the Great Thanksgiving Listen

Besides engaging with what authors and performers have created through audiobooks, the sound of storytelling extends to creating and listening to family stories, neighborhood stories, captured memories of unwritten, and otherwise unscripted, events, and conversations. The work of StoryCorps addresses this by providing both structure for and preservation of such recordings. Recordings made in StoryCorps booths, which pop up around the country on well publicized schedules, are accepted by the Library of Congress as part of the American archives of cultural and popular history. StoryCorps has won a variety of humanities distinctions, including the Peabody Award (2007).

For several years, StoryCorps has been promoting The Great Thanksgiving Listen, a guided opportunity for those gathered with multiple generations to celebrate the holiday. With the goal of creating “a culture of listening,” this effort points directly to the power of listening in communication, intergenerational honor, and understanding. Directions are specific, simple to follow, and require virtually nothing to attain satisfying results. The event is suggested for families, classes of all ages, and neighborhood gathering places. Continue reading StoryCorps and the Great Thanksgiving Listen

Less than the Sum of its Parts?

In its grasping attempt to move from ubiquitous to monopolizing, Audible’s new come-on for romance genre consumers apparently leaves the concept of audiobook—as in book—behind. Having sliced and diced the genre’s presentation for paying consumers in more ways than the Kama Sutra suggests positions, they’ve just gone to a level of servicing that might leave both authors and narrators—to say nothing of narrating authors—with the frank understanding that it’s not the books that Audible is moving here, just what the company coyly calls the “good parts.”

Audible Romance already has allowed the fans of this one genre to dine freely at their subscription rate while listeners with interests in other genres or topics are kept to a single subscription “free listen” per month. Beyond that, Audible has parsed its romance genre fare and labeled titles for consumers by every imaginable plotting and character trait. In short, Audible makes sure those romance consumers don’t have to make too many discoveries by actually listening to entire audiobooks, eros forbid they might be confronted by unanticipated kinks, lack of kinks, or casting that wanders outside their comfort zones. Continue reading Less than the Sum of its Parts?

Literary Awards Season Disambiguates Writing from Performing

This is the high season for literary award announcements, from the international Nobel Laureate to the Mystery Writers of America’s Anthony Awards. In between come plaudits for the best writing in everything from investigative journalism to lifetime achievement in military literature. Many such award winners have had previous titles recorded as audiobooks; some have the winning title already available in audio format; a few will remain unrecorded, at least in the foreseeable future.

Does a satisfying, literary award-winning book automatically translate into a great listen? This is like asking whether a fantastic cake recipe can be made into delightful cookies. Maybe. Sometimes. It depends on factors that have nothing to do with the print work—the quality of the narrators’ performance, sound engineering care—and a few that do, in fact, connect to what the book is, how the author treats both language and prosody, and whether the content makes sense aloud. Continue reading Literary Awards Season Disambiguates Writing from Performing

Book a Free Skype Visit with a Narrator

The Audio Publishers Association coordinates a literacy initiative, Sound Learning APA, to collect and disseminate research and guidance in support of multimodal literacy. The initiative is run by volunteers with professional backgrounds in teaching, library service, and audiobook distribution and publishing. While the first years of Sound Learning efforts concentrated on collecting and organizing bibliographies and audiographies and publicizing their availability, with other supportive news, through Twitter and Facebook, a new phase is now underway.

A variety of professional narrators, featuring those with backgrounds in teaching, theater direction, and coaching, have also volunteered to become active in Sound Learning’s efforts. Librarians, teachers, and coordinators of book groups or other clubs can now contact Sound Learning to arrange for a free Skype visit with a narrator matched to their needs. (Use “Narrator Skype visit inquiry” as the subject line when emailing). Continue reading Book a Free Skype Visit with a Narrator

Opening the Mind’s Eye

Reading by ear allows for a variety of other activities likely to require sight—running, driving, frosting birthday cakes—or no physical access to sight at all—after all, American audiobook publishing was born of the needs of blind readers. However, as with most things in life, there is a middle way: the opportunity for the sighted, or those with memory of the capacity to engage the world with their eyes, to use no organ other than ears and imagination to conjure the visual elements of what is being read. Eyes can be closed so that even the more or less automatic use of physical vision to track print across a page or screen comes out of play.

To read with the ears in this state of unaccompanied eye input is to give an open field to the images and colors the words and phrasings themselves evoke in the mind. This allows the full measure of works rich in such visual recreations to take center stage within, an experience that can be, in seriousness as well as punnery, heady and exhilarating.

Photo by Irina of Edward Hopper’s House at Dusk

A fine example of this involves an anthology of short stories commissioned to celebrate individual paintings by Edward Hopper. In Sunlight or In Shadow (print Pegasus Books, 2016) was a project of author and demonstrably gifted anthology editor Lawrence Block and comprises 17 short stories by the likes of Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates, Gail Levin, and other well known, critically acclaimed authors. Reading these tales of cravenness, fantastical mystery, and regret would be a rich experience in itself. Continue reading Opening the Mind’s Eye

#audiobookwish X 4

An underutilized hashtag on Twitter points up the books readers wish would migrate into listening format. Some are new titles, many are never-bestsellers that can still be found readily in current print editions, several tagged posts point up the dearth of titles representing affinity groups. Here’s a sampler of what and why readers want to push against the boundaries of audiobook publishing’s current offerings.

#audiobookwish Practice inclusivity in romance, both in print and in audio editions

While it came as no surprise to romance writers of color–nor to many readers of color as well as some who are white–last week’s publication of the Ripped Bodice bookstore’s report “The State of Racial Diversity in Romance Publishing, 2016” confirms that the disparity between both writer demographics and publishing attainment is wide. In fact, the romance genre also relies on small publishers to bring out any titles featuring romantic characters who are anywhere in the LGBTQIA family as well. Breaking down that print availability even further, we find an audiobook world in which virtually everyone is white and straight—unless it’s a teen title (both It’s Not Like It’s a Secret and If I Was Your Girl went to audio quickly, for example, and various youth award winning print titles are made into audiobooks ahead of the literary awards they earn). Continue reading #audiobookwish X 4

Publishing and bibliographic jobs below the radar

Some years ago, I was impressed by a speaker at a youth enrichment services providers roundtable who came from a vocational training background and currently worked in publishing house dealing mostly with career preparation materials. The materials she shared included, surprisingly to most of us gathered, board books for toddlers as well as interactive books for older children. These were not the “When I grow up, I want to be a firefighter” flavor: instead, they exposed kids to the actual doing of things that could eventually engage their interests in jobs beyond the Top 10 every high school student recognizes as the likely “only” options.*

A few industries are good—usually at the behest of union pressure—about exposing the fact of certain jobs existing. Think about the rolling credits after a movie. While such denominating for public view doesn’t explain what exactly the key grip or best boy does functionally, the job titles are there. And there are jobs called out in the credits as well that make intuitive sense while not, more than likely, getting much air time when the conversation turns to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Once it’s noted as a possibility, however, costume designer strikes a chord that could turn into a wholly satisfying career. Continue reading Publishing and bibliographic jobs below the radar

Hearing the Unacceptable

The not-quite-well-named Banned Books Week is upon us again, with the annual ALA Office for Intellectual Freedom’s collection of books most frequently named in community-level challenges to fittedness for someone other than the complainant and their own children to read. This year’s list has the typical earmarks of negativity aimed at books that speak to kids at those scary ages when they are demonstrating a new level of independence from parental control: the newly minted kindergartener, the middle schooler entering adolescence, the not-quite-out-of-the-house teen who can get out and about readily without parental assist. The remainder of the Top 10 Troublemakers speaks to the American shadow disposition of Puritanism: the frank recognition of sexual behaviors, the use of proscribed language, and authorship by someone later charged with crimes.

Calling out issues of intellectual freedom regarding specifically audiobook content has, at the level of national attention, been rooted in content that remains identical between print and spoken formats, with challengers who are cited objecting to the same works in audiobook as in print and for the same reasons. Five years ago, Professor Teri LeSesne predicted the likelihood of growth in the audiobook challenge industry, again noting works in trouble due to what the authors wrote, not to hearing-specific aspect of the written. As more audiobooks are produced and available, and with audiobook publishing for children and youth—the primary targets of books that meet community challenges—reflecting new and critically reviewed authors and print works, it becomes increasingly easy to find audiobook editions of titles on the list of troublemaking titles. Continue reading Hearing the Unacceptable

An Auspicious Day to Use Your Words—and Learn More

An essential aspect of early education, formal and informal and in every human culture, is coaching the very young to communicate articulately. Through explicit means, such as the preschool teacher’s
reminder to “Use your words [rather than slap the kid who just hurt your feelings]” to the implicit demand that responding when asked a question is required, we work at sharing, preserving, and refining language to serve our purposes as a social fabric.

With Samuel Johnson’s 308th birthday noted by Google and other less pervasive sources today, it’s a good time to consider how audiobooks and listening to language both maintain and expand each generation’s capacity to understand, speak, and choose the most appropriate words each individual can to keep that social fabric strong and dynamic.

It’s important to note at the outset that Johnson did not exclude himself from a rich social life, nor limit himself to a single neighborhood. He traveled. He made and maintained friendships. He read widely as well as writing. For Johnson, articulation wasn’t a sterile exercise but a garden to work, feed, and celebrate.

Listening to rich language, crafted by authors who make their characters both credible and relatable, and performed by narrators who understand both the rhythms of the writer and the needs of the audience, serves as a direct route to vocabulary building, flexibility in personal expression, and empathy development. Audiobooks ensure language as a lived experience, without regard to whatever verbal poverty or carelessness a child’s home might afford. For many, listening to audiobooks may be one of the few occasions when spoken language is both directed at them and demands no immediate action, simply inviting the warm bath of soaking in words, phrases, meaningful intonations that range across a wide spectrum of emotions and intentions, and opportunities to be held rapt.

While more American parents claim to understand and follow the advice that reading aloud to children from a young age is important, Scholastic’s 2017 Kids and Family Reading Report shows a drop off in following this advice from about age 6, just as kids are developing a deeper capacity to understand how to use words and phrasing independently and increasing in their emotional capacity for empathy That poor timing in pulling away from family-shared reading aloud can find some mitigation in access to hearing increasingly sophisticated narrative lines, more varied accents, and exposure to situations that are unfamiliar to any one individual listener by making sure that listening to books is not considered done and dusted for the school aged child.

If we want to assure a future in which understanding is more readily available through verbal communication than through physical power assertions, let’s share the joys of listening to language.

 

Page to Stage, with Every Attributive

For nearly a quarter century, the actors’ troupe Word for Word has been staging narrative stories and chapters, with every word of the author’s original maintained and spoken by the actors. With several different productions each season, they’ve shown how such written-for-the-page as Edith Wharton’s short story “Xingu” and the opening chapter , “The Ride,” of Upton Sinclair’s novel Oil!. Contemporary authors are well represented as well, with Colm Töibín’s “Silence” on the boards this year and past performances of Dorothy Bryant, Angela Carter, Sandra Cisneros, David Handler, and Alice Munro among many others. Langston Hughes, Toni Cade Bambara, Bernard Malamud, Rudyard Kipling, and Armistead Maupin also have gone from page to stage with the every-word treatment Word for Word employs in its dramatizations.

Continue reading Page to Stage, with Every Attributive