This is (still) the Truth (Zeega Multimedia Version)

Five Voices in Search of a Poem

I’ve been wanting to take a poem for five voices that I wrote last month, and invited four friends to virtually perform with me, into Zeega for some multimedia interpretation, and finally found the time this week to do so. The poem is a response to both the media landscape and the political turmoil (made even more tumultuous yesterday by the firing of the lead investigator by the president being investigated).

First, here is just the audio, with help from Terry, Sheri, Melvina and Scott. We recorded it all remotely using a site called Soundtrap.

Now, here is the Zeega version (You might need to tell your browser in the url bar to allow it to play unsafe scripts, which comes as a result of Terry hosting Zeega at his own space, I believe). Also, it is best to view the Zeega in full screen, to get the entire effect of image layering and viewing. Here it is:

What’s always so interesting about this process is trying to match the visual experience, with limited text anchors, to the audio, even knowing that every viewer will process through the project at a different pace. With Zeega, the viewer/reader/listener chooses when to advance the visuals, even as the audio plays on.

I’m happy with how it came out. I hope you enjoy it.

Peace (in many voices),

Inventing a Mirrored Self in a Mirrored World

Pensato WebHome

As Networked Narratives hits the last lap this week (it has been an interesting exploration of digital narratives, with a graduate class at Kean University and a bunch of folks, like me, out here in the open), I want to reflect on a project that took hold in the last weeks of NetNarr.

Specifically, the invention of an alternative, or mirrored, Self in the NetNarr world called Arganee. When I say “World,” I want to be clear that we never did enter or create a real fictional world – like video games do, for example — but one of creative imagination, through an online portal into Arganee. (Essentially, a blog site with hidden doors and strange text features). We imagined it a world.

Our task was to create an alternative personality for the Arganee World, and after some thought, I created a character called Pensato Scherzando. Both words in the name are musical terms, which come together to create a definition of “imaginary music created, playfully.” Or something like that. Music. Play. Imagination.

We created a “home” in the Arganee World site, and created a Twitter account for our characters, and our health and growth was tracked based on interactions with others and how much writing and media making we ended up doing. I also created an alternative home elsewhere, as a collection point for media files.

Prompts encouraged collaboration (although I never really found a place to collaborate) and connection, and the overall theme of Civic Imagination and Social Activism (through World Building) emerged in the final days.

I found it intriguing to invent a persona out of the blue, and although I had some ideas for her, the voice of my Pensato emerged rather on its own.

Pensato became a collector of sounds, a remixer, whose Sound Collector Array is pointed to the Universe, seeking music and messages from somewhere “out there” in hopes of some larger understanding of the world(s). I tried to infuse her speech with metaphysical tics, always urging her readers to “listen” to the Universe.

Pensato is a collector, a poet, an interactor, an actor on the virtual stage, an optimist with hope that there are ways to mend the fabric of the world(s), if only we pause and listen and help each other.

I went about creating audio files from the Universe that Pensato could share out (I don’t know if anyone was really listening, though).

My aim was to find ways to create music and mystery, never quite giving away what Pensato was hearing. I wish I had had some master plan that would have ended in some symphonic conclusion but alas, I was winging it.

Her voice was my voice, but not yet my voice. She became herself, or at least some projection of what I hope we could all become if we just took the time to pay attention to each other. Listening requires attention.

We don’t listen nearly enough. Pensato did, or does. For a final assignment, she wrote me a letter. You can read it, too.

Peace (the Universe beckons),

PS – Special thanks to professors Mia Zamora and Alan Levine for inviting us to join the graduate students on this adventure.

The Dilemma of Digital Texts: Who Owns What’s on the Web?

Close Open flickr photo by Kaarina Dillabough shared under a Creative Commons (BY-SA) license

An interesting, and quite challenging, discussion unfolded on Twitter this past weekend that centered on the concepts of crowd annotation tools and content that can found on the open web. Tools like Hypothesis (which I use pretty regularly) allow you to annotate most websites and blogs, creating a digital margin side area for discussion. The benefits seem obvious to me: crowd annotation provides a space for engaging group discussions about specific texts and ideas, generating new and expanded understanding of the digital pieces that we are reading.

But the provocative question was raised by a writer with a large audience (one whom I read regularly and support via Patreon): Who owns that original text (that content which is being annotated in the digital margins) and how much say do they have over whether the annotation should even happen in the first place? This particular writer used a web script to shut down Hypothesis and other annotation tools at their site.

It’s not a clear-cut issue, at least in my mind, and a long discussion on Twitter between nearly a dozen people (including the writer, for a bit, before they became angered by the discussion and asked to be left alone) revealed the complexities of ownership of content, and what relationship the writer has with their readers when posting something to the open web.

I find myself appreciating a writer’s desire to be able to control what is being done at their website or blog, and understand the sense of being concerned about what people are doing in the margins of an original text. Sure, comments potentially do open up that discussion, too, but let’s face it, the comment sections of many sites — particularly those run by women with strong opinions — often get overrun by those with nothing better to do in their petty lives than leave vicious comments and provocative, and perhaps profane, words.

The worry is that someone writing in the digital margins will be malicious, too, and the writer would have little (at this time, anyway) recourse. This is a legitimate concern, as any perusal of comments at YouTube will tell you. (Hypothesis is close to adding some new functions for flagging content and has been mulling over this very concept of writer’s rights). To be honest, I have yet to come across anything like that in Hypothesis.

Still, as much I can see the point of protest, another part of me (maybe the naive part of me, that voice that says look to potential and possibilities with digital writing) thinks, if you post something to the world via the Web, you can expect (hope/intend) that maybe someone will want to read what you wrote and maybe react to your words. Why else post your writing if not to engage a reader? (The argument against this viewpoint is that people do the writing, not technology, and writers should not be held hostage to the potential aspects of technology. Or something like that.)

I believe tools like Hypothesis give space for collaborative discussions, allowing the margins of the text to come alive with conversation and questions and associative linking that extends the thinking of the original writer. It empowers the reader, although perhaps that empowerment comes at the expense of the writer’s authority over their own words at that point.

Personally, I use Hypothesis to closely read online texts, to examine and think, and to bounce ideas off the text to others in the margins, who help push my own thinking forward or force me to re-examine my beliefs and ideas. Your text, if posted to the web, can become a source of inspiration for me, and others. That’s a real gift to your readers.

Clearly, not everyone thinks this way.

What do you think?

Who owns the text once a writer makes it public on the Web?

Peace (thinking),

PS — There were other nuances to the Twitter discussion that I did not capture here — including the right to be forgotten in a connected world; obligations and compacts (or not) to readers who financially support the writer who is not wanting to be annotated; and what role a text has in the public sphere.

PSS — I purposely did not name the writer because they clearly were upset that their decision was being questioned, and I did not want to make their situation any worse. Besides, the individual case here is less important than the larger discussion.

#NetNarr: Writing with Sound(s)

Netnarr doodling

NetNarr Doodling for Doodleaday

This week, at Networked Narratives, the focus is on using sound for writing and writing for sound. There are a few suggested activities (including gathering sounds from your surroundings), but I figured I would dig back into some past posts where I did focus on sound, both as a writer and as a teacher encouraging my students to write with sound.

Here are some annotated links:

  • Sound Stories — for the past two years, during Digital Writing Month, I have been teaching my students how to use Garageband to create Sound Stories. Their task is to weave in sound effects into a short story, and then work on the recording and engineering and publishing of those stories. The results are always intriguing.
    Sound Stories under construction
  • The Rhizomatic Play — In DS106, a focus is often the creation and production of Radio Plays. We took that idea during a Rhizo online collaboration and created a very complex production, featuring participants (as writers and as voices) from all over the world.
  • No Words/Only Sounds: I also tinkered with a sound story, but tried to use no words at all, and let the sound effects tell the tale. It was an intriguing compositional process, let me tell you. But worth it.
  • Musical Conversations: In CLMOOC, a friend and I worked on converting language to music, and then creating a collaborative musical composition of our “conversation.” Another interesting use of sound.
  • Image Conversion into Sound: There is this program called AudioPaint (for PC only) that will take an image and convert the bitmap into audio. It’s strange and odd, and makes you think about the relationship of digital work across media. Here, I wrote a poem, which I made into an image, and then re-crafted it into sound.

What will you make with sound?

Peace (sounds like),

#NetNarr Invite: Random Emoji Writing Prompt

I was reading through the suggested activities for last week’s Networked Narratives course, and came across Alan Levine’s suggestion for doing a “Four Icon Story” that uses icons to tell a story with no words. I’ve done those before on Twitter via DS106. The visual aspect of writing (and trying to guess another’s four icon story) is interesting.

It reminded me of another post I had bookmarked, in which Eric Curts set up and shared out a Google Sheets Prompt Generator with emojis. It’s pretty nifty. I grabbed a copy, which Eric makes readily available, and began playing around with it.

One note: While Eric suggests that “control R” randomizes the emojis in the spreadsheet, my Mac wanted to do “command R” to get the randomizer working. So, you may need to tinker a bit.

I didn’t add any new emojis to Eric’s database, but it is certainly possible to do. Instead, I hit the “randomizer” button (Command R) and got my list of five emoji inspiration. How lucky is it that a saxophone was in the mix? Pretty cool!
Emoji Writing Prompt

And then, I wrote a story.

It was one of those blustery nights, the kind of night where every living thing in the jungle or the plains fell silent and tried to sleep, hoping for the sun in the morning. The Lion was hungry but not motivated to hunt. He knew there would be little out here, with the Wind blowing from the East. Hunting would likely be more trouble than it would be worth. Huddled in the leeward side of his rock, Lion pulled out his cell phone, and checked for service. Even with the Google Wireless Balloons in the air and Facebook towers dotting the plains, Internet service was spotty in these far reaches of the world. Lion imagined the Winds buffeting the Balloons, knocking over towers. Sure enough, there was no cell phone service on this night. Lion sighed. Hungry and disconnected from the world. He closed his eyes and sought out sleep. As he drifted off into dreams, he caught the faint sounds of music, as if someone were riffing off the melody of the Wind. The jazz floated above the plains, flatted fifths and augmented sevenths. Lion opened his eyes. Perhaps he might go hunting tonight, after all. The musician played on, unaware of the power of his song.

Wanna give it a try? You can either go to Eric’s post and grab your own database or you can view mine.

Peace (looks like),

Further Folding: A #NetNarr Multimedia Interpretation

Zeega Folded Story

I took the audio of the collaborative Folded Story that I shared yesterday and put the audio into a Zeega production (Thanks, Terry) and began to construct a media interpretation.

I grabbed out phrases, and met those words with images. The reader moves at their own pace, so the Zeega may not be in sync. That’s OK. I think the Zeega is a poem in and of itself, influenced by but different from the original.

You can move and read and listen at your own pace.

Experience the Unfolded Story as Zeega

(NOTE: Some browsers don’t like Zeega because of “unsafe scripts.”  This has to do with Terry hosted a version of Zeega on his own, I think. You can click on the option in the URL bar to allow the scripts to be read by your browser.)

Peace (unfolded),

#NetNarr: Making a PeaceLove& Twitter Bot


Yesterday, I wrote about diving into the world of Twitter Bots for Networked Narratives, and my interest in creating my own Twitter Bot, if only to understand the process of how it is done.

Well, I did it. Check out the PeaceLove&Bot bot. Every six hours, the PeaceLove bot will send out a new tweet that begins with the lines made famous in the Elvis Costello song (but written by Nick Lowe) with random word replacing “Understanding” in the lyrics. I’ve included the #NetNarr hashtag in the code, too, so that the tweets get sent into the NetNarr twitter stream.

Phew. It was both easier and more difficult than I thought, and it took a long time on Saturday to get all of the programming pieces together. I used a free program called Tracery and hosting site called Cheap Bots by the very generous @GalaxyKate and George Buckinham.

The easy piece was that Kate and George really make the programming possibilities fairly simple to use. The difficult part was the ins and outs of making sure I was writing my code correctly, for any little thing made the bot go boink (hard to resist that alliteration and Scooby Doo onomatopoeia).

First, I had to create an entire new Twitter account. Which I did. But then when I connected the Cheap Bots to the account, Twitter got mad and shut down my account, asking me for a phone number to reinstate the account. I did that, and then realized that now my main Twitter account could not use the same mobile phone number as my bot account … ack … I confirmed that Cheap Bots could use my new Twitter bot account, and then reversed the use of the phone number (which I use as a validation tool for my Twitter account).

Peace Love Bot Code

Second, I had to figure out the coding of Tracery. I looked at Kate’s example, and how it worked, and followed a link to her tutorial (which was more complicated to me, a non-coder, than I wanted it to be). I tried to tinker with the program and kept failing. Hmmm. I Google searched Tracery and found an interactive site called Bother that allowed me to replace its code with my own, and generate a code that Tracery would use. Phew. I still spent a lot of time tinkering but it worked. You can look at and remix my code, too, if it helps.

Third, I was stuck with the question. I am making a Twitter Bot, but what should it say to the world? I had Elvis Costello in my head, singing along with What’s So Funny (about Peace, Love and Understanding) and wondered if that might be a way to keep true to staying positive in this negative time of Trump, while also keeping the underlying mechanics of the Bot simple. It would use a common phrase but replace a word each time with a random word from a database.

Fourth, what database? I realized that while ideally I would have my bot draw from some outside database, I could not take on the technical aspects of that. Tracery allows you to make your own database right in the code, so I did that, mulling over phrases and words that would remain positive and still fit in the song title. At one point (and I might return to this), I had this idea of using the invented, made-up words from my students’ Crazy Collaborative Dictionary (which I wrote about the other day) as the database for the bot. But when I experimented, the bot didn’t seem to want to recognize the invented words. It may have been something that I did wrong with the code. Not sure. So I went back to my original database.

And now? The PeaceLove&Bot is loose upon the world. Every six hours, a new tweet is sent out. I may yet add more words to the database, and heck … I invite you: What words or phrases should end the What’s So Funny about Peace Love and ?????? Leave a comment here at the blog. I’ll add your word in.

Peace (not so funny in these tumultuous days),

#NetNarr: Considering the Rise of the Twitter Bots

Bot List

So, I am on another meander .. trying to parse out the possibilities of Twitter Bots as a means of digital writing. And wondering, is it? I don’t rightly know. Thus, the meander.

I’m on this line of inquiry thanks to the Networked Narratives crew, and one of the paths revealed during the recent “studio tour” with Leonardo Flores, whose work with generative Twitter Bots sparked some interesting annotation discussions.

Certainly, Twitter Bots — which are programmed to release writing or images or something from a data base at random or programmed times — are numerous (as I found when I started looking for them with new eyes) and funny and entertaining. Some bots mesh together ideas from other sites, creating a hybrid tweet. Others are original material, parsed together in odd ways. Some bots take on personalities from history, using archived texts as source material. Others are like programmed memes, making political fun of something through satire and sarcasm. Some are stories, unfolding in small bits over time.

Right now, I am following Mia Zamora and Alan Levine’s suggestion at Networked Narratives to “follow some bots” and see what happens over a few days time. I created a Twitter List of various bots that I have found (and feel free to follow the list if you want or you can ask Flores’ HotBots Bot to recommend Bots to follow based on your question or theme), and find myself dipping into the narrative stream now and then. It’s not a great strategy because the bot tweets are all mixed up, like a book whose pages have been put into disorder.

What I am wondering about in the larger picture, though, is this: can I make and launch my own Twitter Bot?

Yesterday, I started working on a Twitter Bot to send into the NetNarr twitter stream and  I think I can pull it off, but I have been struggling with what would I want that bot to say to the world? What database might it mine for words and ideas? What message? Is my act of making a bot share writing out to the world an act writing?

More to come …. tomorrow, I will write about my bot experiment.

Peace (generate it),


App Review: StickNodes

A few weeks ago, for the #CLMOOC DigiWriMo Pop Up Make Cycle, the focus was on animation. There are all sorts of apps that allow you to animate now, and StickNodes is one of my favorites (I paid the $1.99 for the Pro version). It’s an update on an old freeware that I used to use with students called Pivot Animator. When we shifted to Macs, I had to move away from Pivot (it is a PC-only freeware) and tried Stykz for a bit.

StickNodes Pro is pretty easy to use, and has a lot of powerful features for animating stick figures. It’s also pretty darn fun to use. You can create and then export your animation as video or gif files, which can be hosted elsewhere.

Here is one of my early experiments: Stickman Walking. (I had uploaded it into Vine, which you can no longer do)


No surprise that there are tutorial videos on YouTube for using the app. Here is the first in a series done by this person.

Give it a try. Or try some other app, and let us know. We’re animating this week!

Peace (in the frame),

When #CLMOOC Met #DigiWriMo

(A collage of “grounds” from the Look Down to the Ground Collaboration)

We’re wrapping up two weeks of Pop-Up Make Cycles that the CLMOOC Crowd (past participants who have stepped up to facilitate the Connected Learning MOOC this past year) organized for what used to be Digital Writing Month (but may be no more). We invited people to share photos, annotate and curate on the Web, make and share animations, discuss Digital Writing in a variety of formats, produce inspirational images and messages, and more.

It’s probably not the ideal time of year to hope that many, many people will take the CLMOOC up on the invitation to make, create, share. Still, that’s the beauty of the Pop-Up Make Cycle idea (first launched by Joe Dillon and Terry Elliott, I believe). It comes. It goes. It’s an open invitation.

Two of the pieces I am proud of making:


Do I wish more folks participated? Yes. But then I remember something we said early this past summer at all due to a different focus for the National Writing Project, when it seemed that CLMOOC might not happen in 2016.

A few us (participants and past facilitators) chatted and decided: Yes, CLMOOC will indeed happen, and those few soon grew to more than a dozen people who volunteered to become the CLMOOC Crowd (my name for it). We agreed that “small” is perfectly fine. The “M”  in this mooc does not have to be “massive” anymore. It just has to be “meaningful.” So, “minimal” works, too.

And you know .. this is the Open Web. Anyone at anytime can access any of the ideas. You’re invited. You’re always invited.

Peace (and connect),