Book Review: Pop Charts (100 Iconic Song Lyrics Visualized)

This is a nifty and fun book of visual information. Artist Katrina McHugh began creating one-page visualization of pop music songs, with a nature theme, as a side project to keep her artistic spirit going. The result became this book — Pop Charts: 100 Iconic Song Lyrics Visualized, with the tag of “A Collection of Diagrams for Music Lovers.”

She even offers up the idea of making her charts a readers’ guessing game — can you identify the song from her art? I may have got about 60 percent of them correct, but each of her pieces of art are pretty interesting, as she uses a collage style method to layer in visual cues to iconic lyrics.

Can you guess this one?

Or how about this one?

This book is a great example of how visuals can project information in interesting and meaningful ways. Connecting the visuals to memory of pop song melodies (for your brain starts to sing songs with identification of the lyrics) and writing is pretty nifty conceptual art.

McHugh explains in the liner notes that she chose the nature theme for all 100 of her diagrams because she began noticing how lyric writers use nature in different ways, as metaphor and story and more. Animals, landscapes, water all run through these pieces, connecting the 100 to the whole.

Peace (in the way pop looks),
Kevin

PS — The answers: Fire and Rain by James Taylor and Sitting on the Dock of the Bay by Otis Redding.

PSS — I lent this book to my band and no one liked it as much as I did. Just a heads up.

A Deeper Dive into the Health of the Internet

Mozilla Web Literacy Report

The Mozilla Foundation recently put out its 2019 Internet Health Report, and I kept meaning to dive in a little deeper to understand some of the trends of online activity, if only to better comprehend the world in which my young students are moving into (or are already immersed into).

You can access the report, too. They analysis focuses on some main areas:

Each of these sections has a series of short pieces on subtopics. I dug deeper into the sections and explored some of the following articles:

The study also makes three key policy suggestions for moving forward to a better Internet:

  • Give local governments and organizations more control over the Internet as they are more apt to have individual experiences and the public good in mind
  • Revamp the whole way advertising is delivered in view of how surveillance and psychological tools for hooking people into games and apps has taken root in so many advertising design elements
  • Purposefully consider the rise of AI through the lens of ethics and responsibility

Overall, the report surfaces some positive trends around privacy and responsibility, but also notes a continuing worry about censorship and the coming AI innovations on the horizon. I found some elements of the report intriguing, and worth a deeper dive, as it seems to provide information and balance, too.

Peace (inside the net),
Kevin

Wrestling with Algorithms: Submission to the Machine

from Lumen5

Our AI handpicked sentences for you! Does the story flow well? — this was the message I received on Lumen5 after I put a poem into motion in the digital story platform

You decide. I said, yes, to let the experiment happen. This is the result:

What is this? It’s a poem that I wrote in response to something Terry Elliott created, in response to something I wrote to him, about a poem I saw. Looping, everywhere. I took my response poem and put it into Lumen5, which is a cool site for making digital stories, and let the algorithm choose the images, and set the pacing (I did have to choose the music, which is too bad.)

The poem, as original text:

Replace me, writer,
with a machine,
algorithm, software,
and our fields
may go fallow

the genetically
modified organism
of words may be
planted, watered
and sown

but it is only in
the unique experience
of being human
that we nurture

a poem

Lumen5 chose images that I probably would not have, such as a typewriter instead of a computer, and the human body model is just kinda strange, I think, but I see it probably hooked its search on the word ‘genetic’. It also bundled words together that I might not have (which is the first message I had received, about AI picking my sentences). There’s something further off about the digital version but I can’t quite place my finger on it. Maybe it’s just me, the writer, losing my agency. Perhaps a casual viewer with no back-story would not even blink at the digital rendering of words.

Somewhat related (perhaps only in my head), a DS 106 Daily Create that I had submitted weeks ago went live yesterday, asking folks to try out the machine-learning Talk to Transformer site. (I explored the platform a bit here and then extended my work here) You type a phrase and the algorithm continues it, tapping into a vast and growing database of texts.

Yesterday, in Talk to Transformer, I typed the first line: This machine writes poems …

And this is what it kicked out and the response is rather intriguing:

From Talk to Transformer site

What’s it all mean? I don’t rightly know. But it is increasingly intriguing to wrestle on the screen with algorithms and writing, to suss out the elements that make us human and what makes us programmers of words. Or not.

What is writing anymore, anyway?

Peace (mining it),
Kevin

 

 

Graphic Novel Review: All Summer Long

Any book dedicated to “the weirdos and the part-time punks” and features a guitar-playing kid on the cover has my attention.

Hope Larson’s All Summer Long lives up to the dedication, focusing in on 13-year-old Bina, whose friendships are changing as summer vacation begins and who must navigate those changes while staying true to herself. In graphic novel format, the story unfolds over the course of the entire summer. The graphic story format works best during the boring moments, when Bina is alone, listening or playing music. The art captures the quiet moments in ways a traditional novel might not be able to.

Punk rock helps the summer move along, if rather slowly for her, and Bina is never far from either her headphones nor her guitar. Often, both. Her best friend and neighbor, Austin, has been acting strangely this summer, putting some distance between their friendship as he, too, navigates the world of being a 13 year old boy becoming influenced by peers and attracted to girls, but not Bina (maybe), and needing some space from their year-long close friendship.

When Austin goes away to soccer camp, Bina connects with Austin’s older sister, in a complicated friendship, and home life for Bina is unsettled, too, as an older brother is about to adopt a baby. The story told through the long weeks of the summer show Bina struggling to stay true to her passions even as adolescence and teen-hood begin to put pressures on her to conform.

Luckily, she’s confident enough in herself to resist the conformity and to be herself, and visiting a show to see her newest favorite unsigned band, where the lead player tells Bina to drop everything and just start a band, is the advice she needed. The book ends with Austin and Bina finding a friendship balance, laughing together. As the new school year begins, Bina begins to put up posters, seeking other girls to rock out with.

Think Bikini Kill or Sleater Kinney or L7. That’s what I heard in my head as Bina played her guitar.

This graphic novel is geared towards upper elementary, middle and high school readers. And, of course, to all of us weirdos out here. Maybe that’s you, too.

Peace (in the muse),
Kevin

 

Book Review: Just Write: Here’s How!

So you want to write novels? You’d be hard pressed to find a better guide than novelist Walter Dean Myers, and here he is, with Just Write: Here’s How! to give you some advice.

Interwoven with his own story of growing up poor in Harlem and finding a way out of poverty through the power of writing, and of using his stories to find his own voice, Myers provides plenty of helpful tidbits here about how to approach writing a novel.

In fact, his “six box” outline for fiction (focused on character) and “four box” outline for non-fiction (focused on research) are as good as a design as I have seen, particularly as Myers shares examples from his many powerful books for teenagers, and how he goes about doing both research and daydreaming about story and structure.

The book is written for a young audience, with Myers being realistic about the life of a writer — the amount of rejection one gets, the work of revision, the abrupt shifts in story construction, the ability to take criticism and feedback — and also extols the virtues of telling stories for others.

In fact, as would be clear if you dive into his vast bibliography of fiction, Myers seeks to give voice to teenagers in difficult situations, often facing long odds and even often, facing difficult choices. And he walks the walk — often working with incarcerated youths, helping them find their own voice as writers in hopes that writing forges a path forward for them.

This book is helpful in many ways, making visible the architecture of stories, and always focused on the development of characters that a reader might believe in and root for.

Peace (in stories),
Kevin

 

 

 

Dog’s Eye View: A New Webcomic Series

Dog’s Eye View 1

We have a dog. His name is Duke. I’ve wanted to bring his spirit and personality into a comic for some time now.

Well, here we go.

In a series I am calling Dog’s Eye View, I’ll be posting comics now and then with a dog as the center of the action. The real Duke is an inspiration for the comic strip Duke, but who knows where this idea is going to go. I’m using my go-t0 comic-making app, so the art is limited. In other words, you might see common poses of the main character across strips.

Let me know if this comic strip idea, as seen from a dog, seems like a good idea …. Maybe I’ll even use some of the ideas in a books some of us are reading about the art of cartooning and move over to paper at some point!

:0

Peace (with kibbles and biscuits),
Kevin

Thoughts about Bruce on Broadway

(I guess I never posted this … it’s been in my bin for some time. New Bruce music coming out had me thinking of this viewing again. — Kevin)

I have a friend who has long been a diehard Bruce Springsteen fan, who watched the Netflix special “Bruce on Broadway” (and even tried to score tickets during Bruce’s run in New York City) who dislikes the Springsteen he sees up on that stage. My friend thinks Springsteen comes across as too pompous and unapproachable and, well, fake.

Which I find interesting, since Bruce begins the show by telling us, his audience, that he is indeed a fake, a magician who invented his hard-scrabble persona for the stage of rock and roll by emulating his father, the one who showed little love during Bruce’s childhood but whose country-wide unexpected travel to see Bruce in California before his first child was born is one of the emotional touchstones of this concert. He never worked in a factory. He never worked as a car mechanic. His sole job has been making music.

I appreciate Springsteen as a songwriter (although I find the Born in the USA album years of over-produced pop a terrible turn for him, even though I know it was made him into a star) and I was impressed with how well he commands the stage when I saw him and the E Street Band years ago. He had us at the first power chord.

I find it sadly ironic that while he uses his stage to advocate for racial tolerance and economic equity, and weaves those messages into his songwriting, his longtime core audience of blue-collar listeners is likely the same ones who voted Trump into office. You can tell he thinks about this, too.

Unlike my friend, I watched this special, knowing what it was: a performance on the stage and not just another acoustic concert.  Bruce spent a year or so working on these stories, the flow and the pacing, night after night. He framed his songs as stories of his life, and as a songwriter, I am always fascinated to hear a musician peel the paint back on where songs come from. Bruce does that, although sometimes he reaches a bit too much for a grandiose approach (this is what bothers my friend).

A few things that stood out for me after watching Bruce on Broadway (you can stream/listen to the whole album on YouTube if you have 2 1/2 hours to kill):

  • The ghost of Clarence Clemons looms large in the show, and the section where Bruce remembers meeting the saxophonist and his huge personality, and the way the E Street Band coalesced around the two of them — characters in a story on the stage — is pretty fascinating. Bruce nearly tears up on the memories, and then launches into Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out, about Clarence and the band during the New York blackout.
  • Bruce is a fine piano player. I guess I didn’t quite know that. He has a soft touch and I was pretty impressed with how he finds his way around the keys, as he alternates with acoustic guitars on songs.
  • The story of his father underlies everything, and the aforementioned tale of the day before Bruce’s child is born, when his dad arrives unannounced to tell Bruce that he wishes he had been a better father, is riveting. It’s not an act of forgiveness as much as an act of understanding. The song about his father he then plays is like a call to the past.
  • Bruce uses his position on the lighted stage to push back against anti-immigration policies, and for cultural awareness and understanding, before playing The Ghost of Tom Joad, and I wondered how this audience — paying top dollar on Broadway — differs from his other audience, the one that saw themselves in The River and other songs.
  • A revamping of Born in the USA as a swamp blues song shoutout was good, and necessary, pulling the song back from political hoorah of America to the story of how America has long left its war veterans with marginal support.
  • Bruce has a lot of guitars. Jealous.

Peace (singing it),
Kevin

The Practice of Cartooning

Cartooning

Bill, a DS106 friend, shared out that he is reading Ivan Brunetti’s Cartooning: Philosophy and Practice — which Brunetti describes as a sort of cartooning class in a book — and so a few of us — Sarah, Ron, etc. — are also getting the book. Mine arrived via library yesterday.

I joked that Brunetti telling the reader that they should do everything in sequence, to “not skip any of the assignments, jump ahead, or fudge on the instructions” seems counter to all of the ethos of DS106, but I will give it a try. I will not likely try all of the drawing/comic exercises here, but I’ll dip in now and then.

Cartooning

This activity — in which you draw 100 small boxes and then sketch without thinking to fill every box with an image — came out interesting, although I miscounted the boxes (see? already cutting corners!) and did it all in three sittings, not one.

Still, it is interesting to see what my brain came up with. Some of the boxes contain images I have no idea what I was thinking about.

Peace (in the frame),
Kevin

PS — on a strange tangent — when I started to type “cartooning” in my browser, a reference to a WordPress site that I helped my son make TEN YEARS AGO with paper-cut animations (he had a stable of invented characters on the theme of peas), and some live action, came up. He called the site Crazy Cartoonz. There’s not much there, other than a few movies that he made. (Somewhere, I have three large PDFs with pages of the cartoon/comics that he made as self-produced books). Ten years … wow … time flies. (He’s a media/film major in college right now).

See: https://crazycartoonz.wordpress.com/ 

 

 

A Whale’s Lantern Collaboration 4: Portraits

Photobooth Song Arc CollaborationThe fourth iteration of A Whale’s Lantern — a musical collaboration on a theme with random partners, mostly from the Mastodon social networking space — has just been released this weekend, and a song I co-wrote/co-produced with my partner — Bobbo — is the track called Photobooth. The theme was “portraits.”

I wrote about the construction of the Photobooth song from idea to final track here.  But now you can listen, too, to what we ended up making together:

And the entire album of music is on Bandcamp — along with all the other three Whale’s Lantern adventures, which I also have tracks from partnerships — for free, although you are invited to pay a little if you download the tracks.

Peace (in the listening),
Kevin