DS106 on the couch

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Letting Go

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So we came to the end of our radio show  The DS106 Good Spell in 106 Bullets. We did it in 107 bullets, of course!

Just before the last episode somebody sent me the above diagram, it reminded me that cycles are an inherent part of life. It also got me reflecting on the nature of the ‘group’ that is DS106 as an online open community. In our last show we talked about the value of combining of open participants and those doing the course at a university for a qualification. We spoke about how this reciprocal relationship works – offering students at a university a sense of audience beyond the professor and open participants a sense of structure and physicality that supports learning. 

The rest of this post is my personal reflections after the final show. 

Looking at the diagram I see how little ‘we’ within the DS106 community we talk ‘about’ the nature of the group we are; attention seems always focussed in the digital output we produce and we relate through that over time. Using the ideas  in the diagram as a descriptive and reflective model, I very much see  the hashtag classroom that is #ds106  as a community of practice. 

I remember starting to learn about it and seeing its potential for supporting learning; taking the first steps to get to know people and evaluating if this were ‘my kind of people’. Once I joined the question changed to how I could contribute. What Jim Groom referred to on our show as ‘we ask what we can do for #ds106 rather than what it can do for us’. This desire to contribute does not come from nowhere; it comes and grows as we see how being part of this group helps our digital practice. Some of us see what we do as art, others as story, yet others as mere artefact (that would be me when I started); but what brings us together is the practice we share and are developing. For some of us it is a limited enterprise, we need the credits for the course and for others of us it is a wider enterprise that supports the work we do elsewhere on an ongoing basis.

@ronald2008

The DS106 Good Spell show is a good example of the last two stages in the diagram. The ‘course’ I did, DS106 Headless, finished in 2013. Some people dispersed and some of us stayed in touch and continued to engage around the hashtag as  ‘a force and a centre of knowledge’ that still exists and that is to some extent independent of who participates at any one time.

John and I started this little project as a way to stay connected *because* we experienced the value of the community. We kept making stuff. We stayed around to be of use to others as best we could whilst we moved on to other projects and life. Even when DS106  is ‘no longer central’ (in the sense that it takes up every waking hour of your life) ‘people still remember it as an integral part of their identities’. Online, we express this with the hashtag #4life and make jokes about how DS106 is like Hotel California – you can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.

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The last episode of the DS106 Good Spell Radio Show was very much and example of this ‘memorable’ stage the diagram suggests as the end of the cycle. We told many stories, spoke about artefacts we have made and created. And, of course, the show itself is the most amazing artefact. @johnjohnston has painstakingly archived it all, so anyone can binge listen all episodes!

As we spoke about what we made, the stories we tell through time and the way in which ‘DS106 is just like the Internet but with less trolls’ you can hear in our voices how proud of DS106 memorabilia we are and how much we all wish we had some DS106 socks! (in-joke, sorry. But if you are interested watch the latest instalment of the story here). We talked about the most significant symbol of all, the number 106. A meaningless symbol given life by the relationships and stories people chose and choose to build around it. We even made a radio programme on DS106 Numerology, of course.

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We spoke about issues of inclusion and exclusion. There is a way in which DS106 does not set up to be inclusive. This for me connects with how our attention is on what we make and how we embody what we believe: ‘Show them, don’t tell them’ is a mantra for DS106. To me, this simple sentence expresses the essence of transformational pedagogy much more than much of the convoluted jargon I read on open pedagogy (critical or otherwise) elsewhere. 

The ethos of DS106 means that it is not for everyone, there is a vulnerability that comes with being willing to ‘futz splendidly’ in public. On the show we spoke about how what was important to us as educators was to be as transparent as possible about the nature of the experience, make it okay for people to join or not – much in the same way as not everyone plays golf and joining a golf club is not something inherently good or bad, just a preference. 

We may be more dispersed now than when I started in 2013, may be we only gather around the metaphorical campfire to reminisce about the great old days sporadically as other projects gain our attention. Yet, the important things remain and develop outside of the hashtag.

John and I are talking about a new radio show, I am furnishing a new home outside of Tumblr where I will show my ‘digital art’. I can now contemplate the idea of calling myself an artist as well as an academic. My new online home is with the best educational hosting company ever, Reclaim Hosting , run by DS106 folk.  I started to build an online contemplation studio, again with Reclaim Hosting, at the stillweb.org with support from people I met through DS106. I even run a kind of daily create of my own, thanks to @cogdog​, focussed on activities to ‘find stillness in movement (digital or otherwise)’ which I use in my university teaching on the LMS. All this and more would never have been possible without the people I have met through this great hashtag. 

The joy of having been part of what Warren Bennis labels ‘a great group’ will stay with me for a lifetime and reminds me that open true ego-free collaboration is possible…even at times when competition and comprehensive doctrines seem to make up most of our educational dialogue online. As James Poulos explains,

We’re all succumbing to what philosophers call “comprehensive doctrines.” Translated into plain language, comprehensive doctrines are grandiose, all-inclusive accounts of how the world is and should be.

Whatever I do for #ds106 going forward will never pay the debt I feel for it offering  me a learning environment that reminds me each day what true education can be.

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Ahmad talks about random acts of kindness

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The image of this 12 year old child holding on to his friends as he goes to school, will haunt me for a long time. One of his friends looks up to the sky to see if they are about to be bombed. They keep on walking. Sometimes random acts of kindness are a matter of life and death. 

The BBC video interviews Ahmad as he speaks of a friend who did not survive. 

Ahmad remembers the kindness they shared in a world that is falling apart as ‘we’ in the West sit on the sidelines, do nothing and (mostly) look for someone to blame as we profit from the war. 

The video puts at 106 the number of children who have died in Syria in September; some accounts put at 50,000 the number of dead children since the start of the conflict. 

As Ahmad remembers  that pencil and notebook, journalists ask: Where is the outrage? I feel the helplessness. 

Just some reflections for the Daily Create today. May we all find a way to act in the face of cruelty. 

So, my love for making photos look old goes back to @bionicteaching and a long time. This photo of @gifadog was the first one I ever made. I used a blog post written by Tom and fell in love with the idea as well as learning a lot about how to Photoshop.

So the top photo (labelled ‘made by hand’) is the one I made. You can find it on Flickr and also read the comment there. It took a long time to make. It takes me less time now but it is still in the region of hours to get ‘just so’. I also feel a sense of ownership for each blemish I add and that makes me love the ‘old’ photo I end up with. 

Today’s Daily create asks us to use a generator for the same purpose. I was not going to do it, as I am a bit of a snob when it comes to apps and generators…but this is the Daily Create, we must obey! 

The bottom photo (labelled ‘made by generator’) is my submission for today’s daily create. Clearly much easier, upload a photo and download the ‘old’ photo. Emotional attachment to output? None.

Which do you prefer and why? 

Yet another Daily Create…actually this one was not for DS106 but as it has taken me days and days to pull together,  I thought that I could offer the .PSD file for #artdropday. So far, no takers. I guess it is a bit boring to count as art! It was made for a blog post elsewhere on the subject of our relationship to social media. You can find funnier gifs at @gifadog ‘s Tumblr, I guess.

For todays DS106 Daily Create click-bait!

It all started with a Tweet

Viv said ‘Spike will start miaowing next’ to illustrate the idea we were in a parallel world where the impossible was now possible. I said I would make it digitally true as soon as I got a Spike Gif. 

I knew I had John Johnston’s plug in installed in my sandbox domain. I knew Viv had made some Vines of Spike eating a bone. 

How hard could it be? The rest of the post outlines the process; not because it is elegant but because sometimes you go around the houses to do something and it takes you right back to doing it the hard way!

I got an email that gifs.com now allows you to do frame by frame editing and tweening with their editor. I have tried their editor before but the result is not the quality I have come to expect from my gifs. Still, I thought I would give it a go because it said it take a Vine Video and turns it into a downloadable gif. Easy.

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I thought I would add a dancing sticker as above with the new features download it and boom upload my my sandbox domain add cat sound and done. 

It kind of worked. The new features are….shall we say glitchy? I started 1 day ago and could not get the gif with the frame by frame editing to save ( yes, I have written to them to let them know). In the end I thought, how about just the gif from the Vine movie and then I can add the sound without the sticker. Yes, that worked. Download gif. 

Forgive me, but who on earth finds joy in watching a 250×250 shaky gif? With a logo that takes up some of what little space is there, it was a waste of time for me. I would no post **that** even on my sandbox domain. 

So, I went to my usual workflow with the crappy gif. I cut the logo out as I really did not think they deserved it. Photoshop aligned the frame, I selected 20 frames out of the 48 frames in the original, I cropped, I changed the resolution and the image size, I dithered on 128 colours using the soon to de dead ‘save for web’ in Photoshop. Bingo. I had a decent gif. I am still not happy with it as the edges are too close to Spike and…but it was good enough for the wee gif(t) I wanted to make for Viv and David. 

How hard could it then be to find a cat making the right noises? Harder than you think. If it is not the right sound at the right pace it does not synch well with the movement. I tried 3 different cat sounds from Freesound.org. Of course, the one that worked was a .wav not an MP3 so pop into Audacity and export as MP3. 

Once I had the image and sound right, it was a breeze to use John’s plug in and publish a post with Spike miaowing! Head over to my sandbox to see the first dog miaowing ever!

The moral of the story: Don’t try to shortcut art, it will not be rushed. 

Useful websites

John’s plug in for WordPress rocks!

Freesoung.org great for finding strange sounds.

Gifs.com (they may get the new features working and it is great that you can just add ‘gif’ to a YT URL and it takes you straight to their editor to make the gif. I have never been able to use output as quality is not good enough for me)

I also wanted to try gifgrabber and I thought I had it on the Apple store to install as I had used it before. No. It turns out it is now giphy capture (they must have bought it) and let us say that the reviews did not inspire me to download. It does not allow you to grab high def quality gifs as the previous app did. I did get miffed by the fact that Giphy decided to alter my potential old version download to the new ’version’ which is really not a new version at all, but a new app. Bad Giphy.

I usually grab with Screenflow but it is not free and I think it is only Mac. It is awesome as you can edit, add captions, it have actions that means you can do typography; you can scale and crop….I don’t even know half of all it can do. 

The garden of death Hugo Simberg (1896) 

Just playing with old images today. I loved this one and tried to ‘see it better’. Death is gardening, I love that. Thanks @jimgroom for pointing me to the post. 

The new daily create site is making me lazy. It is so easy to just post on Twitter and forget to write posts narrating process and reflecting on learning. I keep telling myself it is ephemera and it does not matter, picking up on Michael Branson Smith’s  distinction between ephemeral art and more long term projects. 

All this is true. What is also true is that each little creation teaches me something and helps me keep up to date with what the web offers to help us make digital art. 

The rest of this post is my attempt to put this right in terms of a few dailies Creates I made the last few weeks. I want to explore the tools I used and write some reflections on what I have learnt.

A while back we made a logo with a logo generator. My immediate reaction to it was negative. I often find that with prompts that send me in directions I would not choose to go! What is the point of just using a programmer’s knowledge of design in order to create an output that I have nothing to do with? Where is the creativity in that? I have learnt to ignore the critic when it comes to this type of thing. So I started to play with Emblematic

My immediate reaction was: meh. But here is the kicker; as I played I saw that it was possible to adapt parameters in the designs I liked. Some of these parameters were not familiar to me and changing them taught me new elements of design. In making a choice about what I like, I am choosing what I like for a purpose. This taught me something about aesthetics for fulfilling a brief. It is not the same to design a logo for this blog and for, say, a fake hipster new ‘hood as in my ‘WickGre’  logo above. Again, quoting Michael and @ryanseslow: In making a choice about ‘like’ I am learning something about art even if I am not creating it myself; I am learning about refining my taste for a purpose. A design skill. 

I first used Emblematic to make the new logo for this blog. When it came to creating acronames I remembered that tool and decided to use it. The brief: a hipster fake name for an area in my locality. I do not want to put too much location information online, because I am paranoid. So, I chose a local area that has gone through huge development recently but is not too close to me. The development has been controversial. I remembered the idea of Honest Slogans (another daily create from a long time ago, I think). What would it be like if my fake name for the new development had an honest slogan? 

So I looked for an image that would be an accurate reflection of what people are buying when they buy houses there. The place basically overlooks a huge roundabout with a huge superstore. I have nothing against this, but it does feel rather dishonest when commercials advertise the new homes as ‘luxury countryside living’. It is dangerous to cross the roads to get out of the development and I fail to see how living by a roundabout (large road intersection, for those not in the UK) can be said to be ‘countryside’. So, I made my poster for WickGre – creating places where people aspire to live, with a background of the large roundabout that defines it. It really is not that different from “DoWiSeTrePla”  – Downwind of the Sewage Treatment Plant mentioned on the podcast that explores ‘the SoHo effect’. Perhaps I should have called it: CleViBiRo – Clear View of Big Roundabout. 

On other news, we had a another create that made us use a nifty tool that allows us to print out video. Again, I could not see the point initially. I knew that @johnjohnston had made these storyboards many times and his were awesome. What was the point of something that gave you no control? You just gave it a URL and then it gave you a series of frames on a pdf. Meh. But, not meh! Read on.

John’s scrolls are wonderful but beyond those of us who do not command the Command line on a Mac. This tool made this accessible to the rest of us, but I genuinely did not see this when I first tried the tool. So I made a comic.

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I could see how awesome the programming was, I could not see practical applications. I chose to do my background with and abstract video. I got a beautiful wallpaper, and assumed that this would be the only use. Then others started to use it. I realised how wrong I was. Jim Groom explored the potential use for scene analysis and understanding of a film. Doh! Of course, I never thought of that. I left a comment to that effect. He further suggested in his response,

Yeah, John Johnston has been doing amazing experiments along these lines for a few years now, we need to make some of that available. I like the idea of a daily tool..

Yes! Imagine watching a film and being able to create a storyboard of different scenes to analyse later not being dependent on You Tube. I started to learn how this could be useful practically as well as aesthetically. 

We then had a daily create that asked us to give clues for people to guess a movie. I immediately thought about the print a video tool. Get a scene and use as background to give clues on top of that background. The film was easy to guess, but I thought the poster looked lovely with the watercolour version of Blade Runner as background. 

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And we are up to yesterday’s daily create. A 3 word map story. For this to work with the image of a map, I had to post location information. How to do it without that? I searched for my 3 words for the same location of my previous honest poster: Bricks, Flames and Active. This made me laugh. I immediately thought of the slogan: Actively flaming the countryside one brick at a time. I did a little bit of research. Turns out that 1500 houses have been built, without any changes to the local infrastructure. Who knows what the people buying the houses will have to go through as the houses sell – no more school places, no more parking, no more access roads…

I decided to do a protest poster. I wanted to do flames around the logo. I have tried and failed to learn how to do this in Photoshop before; mainly because I did not get the how to select a path before rendering the flames. I used a tutorial and managed to create what I had in mind. 

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I replaced the background with a wallpaper of some public domain footage of a black and white house build, using the print video tool. And Bob is your uncle. 

So, yes it is true that the creations are ephemeral and are not something I will add to my best work folder. Yet, as a daily practice it cannot get much better than this: my expectations challenged so I can learn something new, finding practical uses for tools I was unfamiliar with, learning one more trick in a tool that will take many lifetimes to learn well and finding out about my local area’s development plans. 

And the biggest gift? I realise that I now have a tool to select frames for gifs easily. I can print it out, take time to view as stills and select my moments when making video gifs. Anything that help us gif better is a god send, says @gifadog 

Thank you, daily create.

Well, this was supposed to be a quick one. I wanted to gif part of my Addicted movie trailer  for today’s daily create. I decided to go with one of those easy peasy generators. This is the sucky gif it made and I could not leave it at that. I cannot leave a sucky gif out there… So, I had to go back to my own work flow: ScreenFlow, edit movie, export movie, import movie into photoshop, make the gif. The result: 27 frames, 628×590, just over 1MB and the manic timing I wanted to show how addictive DS106 can be; enacting what the gif describes by taking most of the afternoon to make something that is meant to take no more than 30 minutes! Bye for now. Heading to my DS106 anonymous meeting. 

Okay, so this was not at all close to the prompt for yesterday’s daily create. But the prompt really did not speak to me and I have been doing this for long enough to determine my own creativity rules, dagnabit!

I saw this post by Open Culture that talked about the Internet Archive’s public domain photo repository, I clicked and was lost there for a while. The latest uploads were the bugs in my wee collage above. I was taken by the little creatures and thought: a collage would be awesome! But it is such a silly thing and it would take so long in Photoshop…

To my rescue: Big huge labs. 

I thought it would take a while anyway to get the photo links over and organise the thing so that it looked good. It looks good, right? 

Well, I did not do it. Big huge labs did. Here is the magic: it can use your Flickr Favourites to create the thing for you! So, I went to Flickr selected my favourite bugs from the Archives and went back to Big huge labs. All I had to do was say use my Favourites, give them my user name and wham! The web gophers went away and produced the collage. What is incredible to me is that the layout is just as I imagined in my head. It is likely (I have not checked) that the middle photo is the largest and hence the one chosen for the middle – but it felt like web magic to type in: I want this, and to have the very thing I imagined come back to me with no effort. 

I have pro membership with Big huge labs, their tools are simple but so effective – no fancy big sell, just somebody making web magic. They rock.

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