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Long-time professor says goodbye to teaching

Graphic design professor who helped build program retiring

Art department continues search for replacement faculty

MANKATO, Minn. — After 44 years at Minnesota State University as an associate professor of art in graphic design, Harlan Bloomer, will retire from teaching when the semester comes to a close next week.

Efforts to replace Bloomer have been unsuccessful, as an art department search for a tenure-track faculty member to fill the vacancy failed earlier this spring.

“We didn’t find anybody who met the department standards,” said department chairman Jim Johnson. “So we failed that search. Now we’re conducting a search for a fixed-term person that’s not tenure-track.”

Because the hiring procedure for tenure-track professors is lengthy, the fixed-term faculty will offer a temporary solution.

“There is a definite process that one has to go through in order to hire someone at the university level and we’re going through that process,” said Associate Professor of Graphic Design Mathew Willemsen. “Hopefully we’ll be successful sometime soon.”

Department staff met on Monday to discuss applicants for the fixed-term position which would last for one year and allow the department more time to find a qualified tenure-track candidate, which Johnson said is often hard to do.

“We changed the requirements a little bit to ease up a little on some the technical aspects to try to encourage a little larger pool,” Johnson said. “A tenure-track vacancy in graphic design can be hard to fill because there are a lot of schools looking to fill similar positions.”

Qualifications the department is looking for in a tenure-track graphic design professor include:

  • Expertise in graphic design
  • Knowledge of new computer technologies.
  • Commitment to teaching and research
  • Strong design sensibility
  • Interest in interactive design

“Our goal is to find someone who really wants to take on our interactive role, handling the web side and mobile web,” said David Rogers, assistant professor of graphic design.

Rogers has been teaching interactive graphic design since he was hired at MSU in 2010, but will shift his focus next fall to typography, which has been Bloomer’s main area of instruction.

Big shoes to fill

Besides finding a candidate with the right qualifications, the hardest aspect of hiring a new faculty member will be finding a someone as well-liked and respected as Bloomer, who helped to create the graphic design major at MSU, said Willemsen.

“He brings a fatherly figure to the table and he’s very nurturing and how can you replace somebody who’s been here 44 years,” Willemsen said.

Johnson, who has worked with Bloomer for the past 33 years, echoed the sentiment.

“Harlan is a great friend. He gets along with everybody,” Johnson said. “He can be somewhat mischievous and friendly, he keeps things lively around here. I don’t know if a new person will do that.”

Bloomer’s light-hearted and mischievous behavior has kept colleges guessing at times, but Rogers said his welcoming demeanor has made new faculty feel comfortable much more quickly than expected.

“He’s kind of our jokester so he initiates a lot of silly correspondents via e-mail,” said Rogers. “He keeps us on our toes with his quirkiness”

In addition to Bloomer’s quirky personality, his commitment and involvement within the art department has left a lasting impression on his students as well.

Students have been able to form strong bonds of friendship with Bloomer because he is able to see them an equals.

Teaching, Bloomer said, “is really like going to work with colleagues because most of the students are so mature.”

MSU senior and graphic design student, Lee Thorburn said he’s grown quite fond of Bloomer, who is also his adviser. He attributes his success in the design program to Bloomer’s instruction and encouragement.

“I don’t think they’re ever really going to find somebody who fills the void that he’s going to leave here,” said Thorburn. “I think it’s going to be really hard to find somebody who has all of the qualities that he has.”

What’s next?

Though he is retiring from teaching, Bloomer will not be leaving the university. He will remain director of the Conkling Art Gallery in Nelson Hall and assist with scheduling and show installation in the Centennial Student Union gallery as well.

“He does a great job with that,” Johnson said. “There are lots of communications he has to maintain with the various people that we want to bring in and coordinate when they’re going to be here and how much they get paid and who’s going to pick them up from the airport.”

Bloomer has acted as the gallery director for several years while also managing his teaching workload. However, he’s looking forward to the change in responsibilities.

“I thought it was just time for me to move on to another phase of my life,” said Bloomer.

Bloomer said he would still look fondly on his long teaching career at MSU after retirement and the good times he has had.

“It has been a wonderful journey,” he said. “It’s been a good fit.”

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Editing audio files with Audacity

Audio files and interviews can add impact to news stories on the Web. Like any other element of a news story, audio files must be polished and engaging.

Journalists who are unfamiliar with working with audio files can find online lessons and tutorials for creating and editing sound.

Mindy McAdams, a professor of online journalism at the University of Florida, offers an excellent basic tutorial for editing sound files in  Audacity — a free downloadable sound editing program.

Sound files that are opened with audacity appear as a waveform. The waveform reflects the high and low decible moments within the audio.

McAdams suggests thinking of the waveform as a line of text in a Microsoft Word document since several of the editing functions in Audacity are similar. The cursor can select specific instances of sound which can be deleted or copied and pasted just as text in a Microsoft Word document can be.

I chose to edit a wav file I downloaded from the data base of Creative Commons licensed audio files on freesound.org. My file contained audio recorded during a game of street basketball. The file was about to minutes long and the sound of a crowd, basic game banter, the shuffling of shows and the bouncing basketball can be heard. By selecting specified parts of the audio and either deleting them or copying them to other parts of the waveform, I was able to create a 12 second file in which a basketball can be heard bouncing every two seconds.

The trickiest part of editing in Audacity is what McAdams calls the “pesky pause button.” Most editing functions are unavailable while the audio file is paused. This quirk tripped me up a few times while I was editing my file because it was a natural reaction for me to pause the sound when I found a section I wanted to edit. Of course this was editing impossible and it took me a minute or two to discover what I had done wrong.

Overall, Audacity is a very simple sound editing program that anyone can use to create effective audio files for online news packages.

Multimedia analysis: Top Secret America

It took reporters from The Washington Post two years to create the complex,  online multimedia series “Top Secret America” which compiles information about what the post calls a secret fourth branch of government created after 9/11.

This project was a huge undertaking and required a large magnitude of information to be collected which is impressive in and of itself. However, most impressive is the Post’s presentation of this information which, because of the nature of the internet, can be accessed at any place or time. This package also takes advantage of the storage capacity of the internet which makes it possible for the Post to store and present it in such a beautiful and sophisticated way.

The site allows users to explore information in a non-linear fashion. The opening page of the site presents several options for users to choose from, either from the navigation menu – which is always present – or through links. Perhaps what makes this piece of journalism so remarkable, besides the wealth of information gathered, is how each part of the series is interwoven into another part through links and information.

Links to other sections of content create a large network and can be found frequently throughout the package including in the opening video. During the opening video which gives an overview of the package, pop-up links appear which lead the users to relevant content as it’s mentioned in the video. The video is also quite compelling as it utilizes a mix of voiceover, interview, video footage as well as still images. Mixes of different media elements can also be found within the “Read the Stories” section which is split into four parts that span a 6 month period.

The “See the Map” page uses interactive, multimedia graphs and maps to display the information visually. After a brief video on the map page, users are presented with an interactive map with customizable search options as well as additional graphs which offer even more audience control.

Users are able to explore which portions of the package appeal to them. During the introduction video to the map section, I saw what appeared to be Mankato marked on the larger U.S. map. Naturally, any user would be curious about what organizations are harboring top-secret information near them. Because I, as the audience, was granted control I was able to easily research my own local interest in the information and discovered Mankato is home to a resident agency of the FBI.

The interactive “Explore Connections” info graphic is the standout of the entire package. The graph highlights the secret activity of 45 government organizations which is broken down into six different types of work: intelligence, military, homeland security, unconventional warfare, weapons technology, and support and administration. Each type of work is color coded and present on the graph of each organization’s column when that type is producing secret information. When users move their mouse over any particular organization’s area of the map, the full column is highlighted and additional information is present. The graph can also be sorted several different ways and when clicked users are taken to another circle graph which breaks the information down even further and more graphs are presented. There is also an option to view any type of work’s full profile, which lists all the companies and locations associated with that work as well as the number of employees and the estimated revenue. Each of the company names is a link which takes users even deeper into the site where a Google maps mash-up is present and pinpoints the company headquarters.

On every page of the package there are options for sharing information and user comments. Links to Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites promote community building through user participation. The package also has a Twitter hash tag so users can follow live updates and posts on the subject as well that read what other Twitter users are saying about the site.

“Top Secret America” is quite thorough and the information is effectively conveyed in a way that is easy to understand. The variety of media used to tell the story, along with the complex, yet easily navigated info graphics, create a under-friendly environment. It’s obvious that the Washington Post assembled this information in a very calculated way as the site users most if not all of the advantages available for online journalism.

If anything, it could be said that The Washington Post presents such a profound amount of information that some might find it overwhelming.  I also believe that the options for sharing the information on social media could have been more pronounced since social media could perhaps drive the most site traffic. Each symbol is quite small and could be missed by some users. Enlarging these elements would perfect this already incredible piece of online journalism.

The art of audio

I am a big fan of National Public Radio and their programming involving storytelling such as Ira Glass’ “This American Life” and Dick Gordan’s “The Story.” Because NPR broadcasts its programming via the radio, it’s limited to engaging listeners with only recorded sound, something NPR does masterfully.

I was inspired to take the Poynter News University course “Telling Stories with Sound” to discover how NPR uses recordings to draw listeners in, so that I might produce my own gripping sound-only news story.

The Poynter course break sound into four categories:

  • Interviews can be conversations between a reporter and a character in the story or the characters spoken voice.
  • Ambient noise, like the roar of a crowd or birds chirping in the background, which can set the mood while also giving listeners a sense of location.
  • Natural sound marks action. An example would be the crunching of leaves under someone’s feet as they walk through the forest.
  • Voice overs can fill any gaps left by interviews and also help to tell the story by weaving elements together.

A great sound story will have a mix of different sound categories represented, some may even overlap. But like any news story, reporters should first research their subject. When sound is involved it’s important to know when and where the the best audio can be captured. When reporting on a coffee shop it would be better to capture sounds from the busy morning rush rather than record the atmosphere in the afternoon when it’s nearly empty. It’s also important to choose an appropriate location for each interview. Recording an interview with a dog groomer while they are working on a pooch would sound differently than if the groomer were sitting in a park or an office. The recording of the groomer while working may pick up important ambient noise like the buzz of a razor or splash of water which could aid the story.

If the location is one that a reporter not very familiar with, it’s important to interview someone who knows the area well. Not only could that person tip a reporter off on when to be at the location but they may also offer suggestions for other interviews. The interviewees should be instructed to speak descriptively and a reporter should be armed with good open-ended questions to keep their subjects talking.

When it comes to recording a subject Poynter stresses the need to select the best microphone. Two of the most basic and popular mics are the cardioid – designed to pick up sound from one source or direction, and the omnidirectional – a mic that pics up sound from any direction.

The Poynter course gave really great tips about being prepared for audio reporting. Reporters need to know their location well, what equipment is necessary and take care to record more than they think they’ll need. It was eye opening to discover how much planning reporters need to take when creating a sound story. Background noise that we don’t usually notice can ruin a great interview if reporters aren’t careful to take note of something like an air conditioning unit starting and stopping. Using the wrong type of microphone can also ruin a great recording. When something doesn’t turn out and audio isn’t usable, reporters have no other option than to tweak their story or re-record it.

A successful audio story will use all types of sound to enhance their story. In this fascinating story “Ice and Polar Bears,” David Gordon uses  voice overs to expand on the story while interviewing John Turk about his adventure kayaking in the Arctic. It’s nice to be able to hear the subjects voice is gruff and passionate . It gives insight into the mans personality that the written word and quotes wouldn’t be able to capture.

Similarly, “Play the Part”, an episode of Ira Glass’ “This American Life,” is an example of voice overs and interviews being mashed-up with natural and ambient sound during a story about a President Obama look-a-like.

Both of these examples may be a little longer than ideal for something that would accompany a written story, but they’re both well executed.

Practicing mash-ups

Google is an application programming interface which allows users create custom maps with its Web technology. Journalists can use APIs to enhance data from their stories. Below I’ve create a Google map which pin points 5 of my favorite places on earth.

Declaration of Independence

Preamble
Grievances
The Pledge

The Declaration of Independence: A Transcription

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Obama aims to add value to higher ed

Low college graduation rates, high loan amounts give cause for concern

President Barack Obama is working to move the country’s post-secondary education agenda, which for the past few decades has been primarily been focused on access, to instead address the value of an American education.

Obama believes schools should be more up front about the quality of education they provide in relation to the cost. The average college graduate has more than $25,000 in student loan debt. Yet, while student borrowing remains high, literacy rates among higher education learners has fallen in the past decade, leaving employers with a shortage of highly trained workers.

This unbalance has prompted the Obama administration to question what students and the government — which spends $140 billion on federal grants and loans each year — are getting for their money.

Data from the policy and analysis group College Measures and the American Institutes for Research show:

  • 40% of students at four year universities do not graduate
  • 40% of students at two year universities graduate or transfer
  • 20% of full-time community college students do not return for a second year

High numbers of college drop outs create an expense that not only weighs on individual students but also on taxpayers making higher education in America “unduly expensive,” according to a commission which met during The George W. Bush administration. Helping students visualize the cost to success ratio of college could help to slow the average debt increase among college students.

By Kelsey Hildebrandt

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