Category Archives: Writing

A Review of Print History in Norwich


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Museum volunteer explains 19th century print technology, which basically was used until past mid 20th century. The keyboard is part of a Linotype machine.

I’ve given up pretending I aspire to daily blog posts during this visit to England, partly because I’ve been too busy recording my adventures in the UK on my bicycle rider blog.

But today was worthy. First of all, Amanda’s friend Lara texted her and invited us over for lunch, which basically was a traditional English breakfast—beans, eggs and toast—but done with flourish and some fresh tomatoes, too. It was quite nice.

But before that, we walked some distance downtown to visit the John Jarrold Printing Museum, a cramped, fascinating place in an old building scheduled to be taken down in an area redevelopment project this fall. I do hope that they find a new home for this museum and save all of the interesting displays; we thoroughly enjoyed our visit.

The Jarrold name in Norwich is primarily associated with a downtown department store, but the family at one time were printers, too. In fact, they published the first edition of the children’s classic “Black Beauty.” Today, the small museum preserves many pieces of printing history.

We walked in, and at first were a bit lost in the clutter, until a nice elderly gentleman, one of many volunteers who gather at the museum, took us on a tour. He basically started with Gutenberg press technology, and delighted in telling the stories behind the names of many fonts. Every once in a while, he would would pose a question about print history, and seemed a bit taken aback when I knew most answers. Then again, he didn’t know he was giving the tour to a communication professor who teaches media history, but never mind.

Even if the ideas were familiar, seeing the actual machinery and mechanics of printing was still fascinating. And he knew many more details about how the printing actually works.

We moved quickly to the 19th century and the introduction of the Linotype machine.

The first volunteer later passed us off to a second gentleman, who explained lithographic printing. I didn’t realize that the offset presses most often used today actually use basic technology that dates back to presses using stones for offset printing in the 1700s—so I learned new information.

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Second volunteer explains offset printing, used today. The 2009 local paper he is showing the CMYK plates for reports the news that shocked Norwich–the death of Michael Jackson.

As we were leaving, a third volunteer proudly presented me with a one-page reproduction of Magna Carta, which is pretty cool and which I will probably frame and put in my office.

It was quite a day—the visit to the print museum followed by the pleasant visit with Lara and her daughter, followed by a quick bike ride.

I do hope Norwich has the good sense to somehow preserve this museum. It’s a treasure and is worth keeping.

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At the print museum, they noted Norwich had the first “provincial” newspaper, or English paper not published in London. As we walked home, we passed this marker on a downtown building.

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Filed under books, History, Journalism, Travel, Writing

A Man Walked the Walk Despite Cows


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Books for sale at evening presentation.

The Great Plains seems to be a beautiful place—a place of big skies, great distances and cows.

Beware the cows. A city kid from Buffalo, New York, Ken Ilgunas set out in fall several years ago to walk the route of the Keystone Pipeline, planned to go from Alberta to Texas. His purpose was to write a book about the land the controversial project would cross.

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At the evening speech, in the light.

But his worry, besides being shot for trespassing as he followed the route, was the potential for cattle catastrophe.

Although he did have some scary encounters, cows, it turned out, where not the bad.

And the people he met were mostly willing to help a scruffy looking stranger walking across their land. Ilguan, who spoke March 5 at Mount Mercy University, told both a journalism class and an evening public program that he had a particular approach to strangers.

 

Ilguna would walk up to a house, knock on the door, and then say, “I’m walking across America. Can I trouble you for some water?”

The answer was almost universally “yes.” One-on-one, as it turns out, Americans are not hostile or violent. They’ll invite you in, give you water, sometimes offer a meal or even a couch for the night.

I enjoyed both of Ilguna’s presentations, and hope to get and read his books—I did not have enough cash in my pocket to buy one tonight, but I’ll shop for “Trespassing Across America” soon.

Besides being an interesting and entertaining personal journey, Ilguna was also recording what he called, in scope, one of the biggest of all human-made environmental disasters, second perhaps only to global warming. Great swaths of land in Canada are being stripped to get at the oil tar, and great damage is then done to extract the oil from the sand and clay it is bound to.

The afternoon session, in which a social work professor kindly allowed my introduction to journalism class to sit in, included some interesting thoughts on launching a writing career. Among other things, Ilguna urged students to have their own web site—which validates a requirement I made in my writing classes for students to do that very thing.

The class also included an interesting discussion of the reality that Ilguna was a white man walking across the whitest part of North America, which was to his advantage. He and the students speculated it would be harder for any person or color, and several women noted that it would be difficult for a female to make that kind of solo journey.

It was an interesting day. More images. I’m glad Rachel Murtaugh and the MMU sustainability effort brought this interesting writer to campus.

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Filed under Environment, Mount Mercy, Travel, Weather, Writing

A New Web Site is Headed Our Way


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Web site as of Feb. 28, 2019

10 years, a marketing professional told me this afternoon, is a long time on the web.

That’s about how long Mount Mercy University has had its current web site. It actually has two, which is a minor irritant to me, because when I google MMU seeking our main web site, I sometimes end up in a special online school web site, which is not a terrible fate except when I’m there, I don’t know how to get to the “regular” home of Mount Mercy.

DSC_0012Well, the web is a complex, evolving system, more accessed these days via smartphone than via computers. Which is another point make by Jamie Jones, marketing director, as she spoke to my Introduction to journalism class.

The students are learning about interviews this week, and having a news conference fit into the lesson plan—so thank you, Jamie, for attending my class and subjecting yourself to students’ questions.

I think the question were decent, and I’m glad the class had this experience. I also think that Jamie is right—the MMU site is due for a significant rebirth. Personally, what’s most important to me is ease of navigation—and having a way to get there quickly when I land, by accident, on that online school’s alternative university web site.

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Filed under Computers are stupid, Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing

Students Begin Their Blog Adventures


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Students typing in computer classroom.

As is normal in my writing classes, I have a set of students who are starting their blogs this semester. I look forward to reading what they do with their own stories.

Blogs sometimes can be too personal—online diaries. But many are entertaining and informative. I have students write blogs so that they can self-publish and play with professional writing. One of my former students, Jenny Valliere, a radio personality at z102.9 in Cedar Rapids, even told me her Mount Mercy blog was helpful to her in launching her career, and she has maintained a blog since then.

Blogging, of course, is not the main or only form of writing I’m hoping my students learn in Introduction to Journalism. But a person who aspires to be a communicator in 2019 needs some online communication experience, and I’m hoping to prod my students in that direction.

Besides clippings from “The Mount Mercy Times,” which students will gain this semester, I’m hoping that a few of them catch the blog bug and continue this form of writing.

Personally, I maintain three blogs: This one which is about gardening, life in general and my experiences as a professor at Mount Mercy University. I also blog about:

My experiences as a bicycle commuter.

My thoughts, as a journalism professor, on media and how media changes our lives.

Anyway, later I’ll post some samples of the students’ work. I’m always excited to see new student blogs, and where this new writing adventure will take them. Some of the writers:

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Filed under Blog, Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing

2018, an Absolutely Remarkable Green Year


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Author Hank Green and singer Tessa Violet, two who have found fame on YouTube, discuss “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing” in a video on the Tessa Violet channel.

I do not remember why or how I stumbled into the world of the Green brothers, although I’m sure it was by accident on YouTube.

Hank Green and John Green began exchanging public video chats as the Vlogbrothers more than a decade ago. John Green is a well-establish author of young adult novels, although until I read and enjoyed “Turtles All the Way Down” recently, I had not experienced any of his fiction (then again, I’m rather remote from the target audience for a young adult author, I suppose).

Anyway, I probably read that book simply because I was getting into the habit of viewing Vlogbrothers videos, and they did chat about it. The VlogBro news in fall of 2018 was that the younger brother, Hank, was joining the ranks of published authors, with the release of his first novel, “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.”

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And a few days ago, I finished reading that book. One of my daughters read it at the same time, and pronounced it “weird,” but still a book she would recommend. I agree on the “recommend,” and although I think it’s a bit unusual, I’m not so sure about the weird part. In fact, it was one of my favorite recent reads.

This is not going to be a formal book review, other than to state that I enjoyed the book. I also don’t plan to give away too many spoilers, so if you have not read the book and might, you’ll probably be safe to read this post. Anyway, the book is about a graphic artist named April May who late one night in New York City discovers what she considers to be a cool giant sculpture that has suddenly appeared. Despite it being the wee hours of the morning, she phones a friend, a YouTuber, and they shoot a quick video before the 10-foot figure, which she dubs “Carl.”

Although April does not know this, Carls have appeared in cities all over the world at the same time. And because she encountered it and posted a YouTube video first, April May stars in an instantly viral video that makes her suddenly famous. It turns out (I do not think this counts as a spoiler, it’s too obvious anyway) that the Carls are aliens, not art. (Or maybe they are alien art, but they are not terrestrial.)

While the book is partly a science fiction mystery novel, one of the things I most enjoy about it is the ruminations about the nature of fame in the internet age, as well as a playful romp through nerd pop culture. On the later, one of the hints the Carls drop as to their needs is by changing the Wikipedia entry for “Don’t Stop Me Now,” the Queen song.

Hank, you should have included “Sorry, I’m Not Sorry” somewhere in the book, too.

Anyway, cheesy pop references aside, April finds herself both denying the attraction of fame and being seduced by it, to the point of making sometimes painfully awful personal choices.

Hank Green is a celebrity in his own right, and an interesting thread in the novel is his rumination on how fame is achieved, what it means and what it does. For example, April May struggles to deal with the reality that millions of people who don’t know her strongly love or hate her, which is not the normal human condition.

Hank, in the person of April, describes five tiers of fame:

  1. Popularity—You are popular in a place. A big deal at your high school or neighborhood.
  2. Notoriety—You are well known—mayor of a medium-sized city or local meteorologist. You are one of the million or so people with a Wikipedia page.
  3. Working-Class Fame—People distributed around the world know you. A stranger may approach you in a store. You’re a musician, athlete, etc. You still have to work, but fame is your job.
  4. True Fame—So many people know you that it’s a problem. If you date someone, you may read about it in a magazine. You have no money woes, but have a gate and intercom on your driveway.
  5. Divinity—Everyone on the planet knows you. You started a nation or religion. You are not alive.

In a “Pillow Talk” video with YouTube singer Tessa Violet, Hank Green and she discuss the nature of fame as described in the novel:

The book also includes a rather realistic backlash against April, her friends and the Carls. Fear, which may not be entirely unfounded, motivates a lot of people.

The story started off feeling kind of “normal,” that is, it was just a fun adventure, “The Princess Diaries” with older characters and an alien robot. But it got a bit more eerie as it went on, which I think was both deliberate and rather well done. I’m proud to say I did anticipate a few of the twists before they were overt in the book—but, without going into spoilers, can’t really say which ones. And some did catch me by surprise.

Anyway, I’m on to my next book already (“Dead Wake” by Erik Larson), but I hope more of my friends and family will read “An Absolutely Remarkable Thing.” I want others to talk with about this book.

I don’t know you, Hank Green, but I am a fan of your writing (as well as you on YouTube). I enjoyed your first novel, and I am wondering where the story goes from here.

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This is a vision of Carl created by comic book artist Rosemary Valero-OConnell, and was displayed on Twitter by Hank Green as a depiction he likes. If you want to see the artist’s work, her site is http://www.hirosemary.com/

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Filed under books, Writing

My Favorite Student Blogs This Term


As I often do in media writing classes, I required some students to establish or update a blog this semester.

Some student blogs never really take off. Others become more personal to the student, and she or he ends up doing some interesting writing.

This semester, I thought three blogs in particular have content that appealed to me.

Lakin Goodman has turned her blog into more of a personal web site, complete with resume information. She has an interest in photography, and I would like her to use more of her images on the blog, but she does have things to say. She notes that she has no theme to the blog—but that’s not really a downside, to me.

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Chuck Uthe is a self-described nerd, writing about film and games. His reviews are not casual—they have some depth and background to them. I appreciate how reflective he is.

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Matt Trueblood says he has more caffeine than oxygen in his blood right now—and I hope he can recharge soon. But his writing is honest and has what another blogger once called “emotional nudity,” which is meant as a positive thing. His blog seems to be an honest peek into his psyche—which is an interesting place to be.

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I am sure I will continue this assignment in media writing classes. Now and then, a student who is introduced to blogging via the class will own it and continue their online efforts. Today, when students who wish to be communicators need to consider their online identity and the nexus of social media they can use to showcase and promote themselves, a blog gives them something to tweet about and share on Facebook. It also is a minor taste of web writing for students, which is a key skill.

The three that I am choosing to feature here (and it does not mean that other students have not done interesting work, this is a personal and ideosycratic look at blogs that just tickled my fancy) are all visually interesting, too–it’s a feature of this semester’s crop of student blogs that those who seemed to care the most about their writing also cared some about the presentation of that writing, which has not always been true.

I hope you check out and enjoy the writing that these students are doing!

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Filed under Blog, Journalism, Mount Mercy, Writing

The Modern Sounds of Writing


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From wikimedia commons (commons.wikimedia.org), English portable typewriter of the 1970s. From user Dwight Burdette.

In the 1970s, when I learned to type in high school, typing was a loud process. Manual typewriters had a particular sound—the noise of fingers hitting the levers, the much louder smack of the letter against the inked ribbon and paper and the hard rubber-coated roller, the “ding” when you grabbed that lever and advanced your paper to the next line.

The latest technology in my typing class was the electric typewriter. Its motor hummed, its clack was artificial and less loud than the smack of a mechanical typewriter, but each letter produced a quick “snick.” The ball of letters would spin and hit the paper. It was a still an audible experience, but very different—sort of like the satisfying thud of a wooden baseball bat compared to the ping of its aluminum counterpart.

Today in a writing lab, I am requiring students to write a blog post—it can be about anything. It can be about writing blog posts. It can be about their favorite (or least favorite) professor this semester. I can be about Buffy the Vampire Slayer or Tessa Violet.

But it’s interesting to me that the act of writing, while it is much quieter than decade ago, still has an audible quality. You can hear the fingers dancing across the plastic keyboards.

Several students brought their own laptop computers, a totally legitimate thing to do, although I know from experience that many laptops have quieter keyboards than their desktop cousins. Me, I’m more of a fan of writing at a desktop computer, when I can, because my big, fat old fingers don’t always find their way well on a small laptop keyboard. No tiny orange hands for me!

Don’t get me started on trying to write on a cell phone. A cell phone is Satan’s keyboard.

Anyway, there is a buzz of conversation going on in class, along with the clacking of keyboards. One issue with writing in a lab situation is the distraction factor—I know I do prefer to be by myself when I write, far from the maddening (or annoying) crowd.

But professional writing often takes place in distracting group environments, so dealing with distractions is a good experience for students.

 

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I assign students to write blogs for several reasons. Mostly, it’s because a professional communicator today should have a web site—blogging and other web content development is usually a requirement of a PR or journalism career. Writing a blog also provides students with a venue that reflects the reality that professional writing is a public act—a performance that is open to the world to view, which makes it different from many other forms of academic writing.

And I know that blogs I have required students to write have, now and then, aided them in a job interview when the interviewer asks about their URL. They have an answer, and original content of their own to show, which can be important.

But today, what I am mostly thinking about, is the sound of writing, which makes me happy. Clack. Clack. Clack Clack.

No dings.

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Filed under Blog, Mount Mercy, Writing