Monday, December 10, 2007


Sorry that the posts are a bit out of order. Just pretend that the introduction is at the top, where it's supposed to be. Enjoy ;)

Final Portfolio: Visual Communication

In my opinion, visual communication is probably the more useful of all the communication methods in WOVE, since nothing can beat the power of a well chosen photograph. While writing may end up dwelling in more abstract thoughts, visual communication adds a hint of realness to your argument, a proof that what happened might actually exist. For example, sitting in the reading room next to the coffee shop in the library lie two large books just full of pictures: one deals with the Mar's explorers, while the other shows photographs of the wreckage of the twin towers right after 9/11. Both books draw you into their own world with huge, striking photography, along with some written commentary that explains the purpose and the event happening inside the picture. With both visual and written communication working together, both books tell a very compelling story.

While my pictures of the bridge that stretches across the creek on campus might not be as huge or as cool as the captured moments mentioned above, they analyze and describe the span very well. Hopefully, my written commentary along with the visual part of the communication helps you explore this Union Drive bridge.

The Union Drive Bridge

We didn't go too far for this assignment -- in fact, we choose the same bridge that we used for the mini-assignment in class! However, we chose it again for a good reason. It is an interesting piece of architecture that doesn't get noticed in light of the grandiose pillared buildings (and the Campanile), but it's still pretty to look at, anyway.

Overview in Black and White

I'll start this one off with an overview pic. This is a nice picture that shows the overall architecture of the bridge along with a bit of the background. In fact, this picture feels a bit old-school, with the antique looking lamps and the black and white look and all. If there were people in this picture, they would probably be dressed up in dresses and suits and school uniforms. The photo is framed well with the lampposts acting like walls, and the bridge itself looks classy and dignified to the observer. Maybe this could be a photo that would be on a pamphlet advertising the school?

Look at Me!

This picture was taken right underneath the bridge, and it shows an imposing close up view of one of the lampposts. Not a view that you see that often (since everybody passes over the bridge not underneath it), it has a dignified and classy look to it due to the angle. You look up onto the lamppost and immediately get a feeling that it's something special, which is interesting because the post is just one of several that dot the bridge. In absence of the others, however, it takes it's own importance. (Maybe it is important, with the monster death laser beam coming out of the light, due to the glare on the camera.) That said, there isn't anything really framing the camera, but your eyes start low and get drawn up to this lamppost, and you feel imposed due to your low vantage post. The picture also shows some close up detail of the rail and that post as well.

The Grate

This is a close up shot of the rail that boarders the bridge, as well as some of the foliage that appears on the side of it. I especially like the curvy metalwork on the top part of the rail, which contrasts with the jail bars that constitute the bottom part of the picture. These bars are meant to hold you in, and it feels that way in the picture -- you can't get to that plant easily, in any case. My eyes are drawn to the waves first, and then they drift down into the green. There isn't much bordering the picture either, but the bars indicate a boundary of some kind for your eyes.

Overview and Recap

The final picture is another bit of an overview -- again, it shows the overall footprint and architecture of the bridge, as well as the creek and the green on both sides of the span. I like this picture especially due to the rain -- in a strange way, the bridge almost looks like it is bleeding. Your eyes are first drawn between the two posts of the bridge, as you admire the leaves and branches of the surrounding foiliage. Then you notice the creek, with the waves and lines on both sides of the bridge indicating how quick the water is moving. In real life, it was fast when I took the picture, but here it seems quite a bit more tranquil. Finally, you get drawn under and through the dark expanse of the arch into the forest and creek beyond. Or maybe you noticed the white waters first and came the other way. Anyway, this picture is visually pleasing and tranquil, and it shows a side to something that you probably scramble over more than appreciate. It's a cool little bridge. Check it out sometime.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Final Portfolio: Introduction

You know, I hate introductions. For some reason, I never start off all that well. Once the first sentence is down, I usually have an idea on where to go, but plopping down that first sentence is as hard as nails to me. Sure, I could start somewhere else in the essay, maybe the body, and then work my way back from there. But if I try that, I usually have to sit there just as long before I finally get something on the paper. I freaking hate introductions.

Conclusions, on the other hand... Well, they don't come easy to me either. While I might have trouble finding a spark in the beginning, I have just as much trouble in trying to bottle up that spark in the end. I always want to add one more sentence, or paragraph, or heck, maybe another page. Maybe a couple more pages! Maybe I should splice all my pages together and form a book.

These two problems are what precisely describe me as a communicator; They exactly describe who I am. It takes me a while to warm up, to put that first sentence down. But once I have that firm start, I get involved. I want to spill all my thoughts out onto the paper, or into the speech, or take more arty photos, or make long, rambling blog posts that you can read down below if you dare. In order to do anything, I need to get into a zone; Once I'm in my frame of mind, I can go on as long as I want while ignoring everything else that happens around me. I get into my frame of mind, and it can take a bit of luring in order to get me out of it.

When I write papers, I usually do it all in one siting. Sure, I go back and edit, trying to make the rambling argument make sense. But when I edit, for good or bad, I usually don't change a whole lot -- maybe a word here, a sentence here, perhaps a bit of clarification. I don't even do much outlining, since the outline I made constrains my argument. It makes me want to hit every point without much detail, and I guess I like that detail. It's what I try to put into my writing. Sometimes I succeed.

I usually try to put down my thoughts in a quiet room. Sometimes I need to go somewhere else in order to escape the video games and the loud, cruddy MTV. Maybe thats why I like to pour out my thoughts late at night, when my roommate is asleep and the worries of the day are put to rest. It's when I can concentrate best with no annoying distractions. The cool darkness adds its own reflection underneath my big loft, and that air is perfect for laying out my soul.

Visual communication is what I most improved upon, I think. I tried to overlay my blog posts with a few pictures, just so the reader can get the drift and the direction. I've noticed that a pictures purpose varies with it's context -- sometimes, the picture takes center stage and states your thoughts in one tidy frame, and sometimes it's a bit of scenery on the side that draws you into the written word by proxy. Written communication was always my forte, the thing that I was best at when it came to getting my point across. Maybe electronic too, but that's just written plus visual.

I know that this course really changed me for the better, in a way. It seems to me, however, that the best way to learn these skills are to go out and do it, and then listen back to see if the message got through. Thats where, of course, the assignments came in. I liked the blog entries and the radio broadcast the best, however, since both involved playing around with technology. The oral assignment was great, since I stepped up and worked though the editing process, although we all did our fair share. Actually, as I look back, everything but the plain old writing stood out for me. It gave me a taste of another way to get my point across. But I am far from a perfect communicator, of course. I still have a lot of crap to learn about my communication and my life. But I definitely grew a bit in that crucial skill.

Final Portfolio: Electronic Communication

I have really discovered something the last few days, although it's a relatively well known fact: the internet is full of trolls. I'm not talking about the ones that hide under bridges and eat children (well, maybe some of them), but the ones that purposefully try to annoy posters and belittle your beliefs. The internet may be a great way to get out your beliefs, but it's also a great way for these guys (or girls) to really get under your skin. One major reason for this is that most posting on the web is more or less anonymous, so it's a lot easier to state some radical and crazy beliefs without knowing who said what. Not only is this really annoying, but it also kills real, insightful conversation; Eventually, everybody takes an extreme side and just snipe at each other over stupid issues.

Free speech is a great ideal on the internet, but that doesn't mean that you have the privilege of being a jerk. The best way for electronic communication to improve is for everybody to respect their peers and stop all purposeful sniping and flaming. To be perfectly honest, this will never happen, just like it doesn't happen in the real world; But it's another great ideal to strive for. Kind arguments are more likely to win over your enemies than name calling any day.

I enjoyed writing my blog entries. I enjoyed broadcasting my views and writing interesting articles. I especially like the informality that most blogs bring to them, since I never liked stuffy writing. I enjoyed everything possible about this assignment, actually, since I like the more intimate writing that came with that project. I know that the internet might be a hectic place when it comes to putting out your opinion, but I would like to brave it anyway. Heck, if anything else, I might get a good discussion out of it.

Final Portfolio: Oral Communication

T0 be perfectly honest, I have never been great with small group work. I usually like to work alone, where I don't have to fight with another person in order to get the project done. I also work a bit quicker when it's just myself as well. However, the groups I worked with on these past group assignments have been actually pretty fun for me, particularly the last task. The first group assignment was rather easy for me overall, since besides picking pictures the electronic and written component was up to the individual. The second group I was in I was fairly uninvolved, aside from explaining some of the Powerpoint slides. However, I had a great time with our most recent assignment, where I was given a cool task in editing the radio broadcast. I also had fun interviewing the various people around the memorial union, since they were all there for different reasons, holding different personalities. Out of all the group assignments, only this last one felt like, well, a group assignment to me, and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I may enjoy solo projects more overall, but eventually I'll have to get more involved in these kinds of project groups -- after all, in the real world this is a skill you need in order to hold any job! I guess it's something I have to grow into a bit more.

Final Portfolio: Written Communication

The essay I am about to post is about the FIRST Robotics regional competition that occurs every year down in St. Louis. I had a blast at these competitions, as you might notice during the essay, and the event in question is the year which we won the entire thing, the only time our team was able to pull this feat off in it's history. This written essay is supposed to convey the experience of actually being there and seeing the sights; I tried to put a level of detail in about the entire competition, which is something that written word can do particularly well. Short stories are a great way to get across you message and truly describe a place (even if you can't see it), so enjoy the show and have fun reading!

Our team was on the edge, hushed and scared as the rest of the Family Dome screamed with delight. Mr. Law looked his usual concerned, semi grumpy, semi pumped self down there on the edge of the field; Our student drivers had a calm, cool look on their face that masked their hopes and fears. Our robots job was to push a few balls into the goal along the way to hanging on the ten foot high bar that loomed over the rectangular field, but could it get there in time? It wouldn't tip over like before, would it?

While the final preparations were taking place, I was hanging around with the rest of the Linn-Mar robotics team, trying to keep a firm footing on the rubber mat covered ice which was the Family Dome's ice hockey rink. The announcer enthusiastically introduced all of the players in the last match on the field in front of us, the final set piece on the long road that started when we started hacking together some aluminum bars, black plastic computer boards and a heck of a lot of copper wiring back at home. It was a long road indeed. We had only six weeks to build the robot that was on the bottom left corner in front of us (or was it the bottom left corner? I can't remember now!), a process that had started mid January amid snow and a bit of angst. We constructed our machine in the back workshop of our high school, a cluttered environment with spare (and sometimes broken) pieces of metal works lying around. The workshop, in fact, was only one of many different places that we built and tested our robot – a computer lab nearby served as the programmers paradise (a place that I had stayed often), and a huge old storage area was a practice field where we got to test our contraption. Well, when we could get the thing away from our hardware guys.

Getting the bot away from the announcer on the field of our final match would also take some work. He worked his way around the symmetrically cluttered arena, hyping up the teams while waving their flags and pumping up the huge sea of faces in the bleachers. There were around fifty-fives teams involved in this regional competition, and many of these teams had brought their friends and family to go root them on. The amount of spirit in the place was crazy, with team flags being waved, people walking around in capes and robes, a copious amount of body paint in some places, and a few noisemakers from time to time to keep the groups alert. The team pit areas on the half of the arena not taken up by the play field was similarly decked out, from banners and trophies from previous winning teams to video displays and twitching bots being adjusted and modded. All of the bot teams were as nice as they were enthusiastic, since we both borrowed and received parts from many teams, some that we might even contend against. It was a mighty fun time even if we were losing, but it was quite intense when you were playing in the final match like we were about to do.

FIRST was the organization that suppled this experience to us, started about ten years ago by Dean Kamen to get high school kids more interested in science and technology. Dean is an inventor, the guy that came up with the Segway, an all terrain wheelchair that can go up stairs, and long, uninteresting speeches that seem to go on forever whenever he opens his mouth. Anyway, every year he and his lovable gang of nerds (including Woodie Flowers, the aging hippie like mad scientist figure) comes up with a game that has several tasks that our lovable robot must do to gain points. The game this year was to deposit balls into bins for human players to throw into this PVC basket, after which the robot could cap with a huge air filled bouncy ball to double the amount of points given by the balls in this basket. Nearing the end of the two minute match, the robot then had to get up two foot high steps and hang onto a bar ten feet of the ground for a massive amount of points – a daring feet that only a few bots could accomplish, ours proudly being one of them. The robot that we had slaved on all this time ended up as little more than a giant arm, built to do nothing more than a giant pull-up. This was the bot that had succeeded in so many matches so far in the two bot on two bot games that had made up the competition, and it was the bot that was going to win this championship and bring us back our first regional win trophy.

The announcer finished his spiel and got off the floor. The buzzer sounds with it's cheesy little trumpet call, and the robots start magically moving towards their prey. The audience screams with excitement, and my team members clutch at each other nervously, hoping that Murphy's Law doesn't take precedence and ruin our chances for a win. Our group, like many in high school, was a bit cliquish, with the software folk and the hardware folk usually hanging around each other more often than not, but we were still a unified team at our whole. I mostly worked on the software aspect of the robot with many of my acquaintances, spending long nights trying to get the robot to do something as simple as follow a line on it's own or even just go straight without assistance. The robot drivers had no control the first fifteen seconds of the match; therefore, getting the bot to do these things themselves was essential. After a bit of experimenting, we were able to get the robot to go up one step and up the other by itself, although it was still risky business, since if our robot tipped over like many times before we were little more than dead weight on the field. We prayed together now that this program might pull off as the robot learched forward.

Our robot doesn't bother with any of the chaos of foam balls and moving metal around it; quickly, efficiently, it moves towards it's goal. Six wheels propel the machine forward, the middle two wheels set a bit lower on the robot which makes it rock back and forth as it crosses the torn up carpet. It hits first edge with a large thud, and the motors spin heatedly to get the piece of metal up the step. The bot shudders and shakes as it slowly forces its way up the ramp – to an observer, it might seem like the robot was simply trying to chew through the obstacle. Not now. It passes the first step, it passes the second... and the second buzzer sounds. The drivers stumble towards the controllers, and our arm goes up. We hold in silence as the robot slowly guides towards the large iron pull up bar. It latches! Pneumatics kick in, and the bot uses its gigantic aluminum muscle to hoist itself up. Then something completely unexpected happens. Our opponents robot attempts the first step and stumbles onto its side. There is nothing that the opponent alliance can do. Victory is assured.

Within seconds the whole group is in a huge huddle, hugging and moshing as the rest of the stadium raises the roof. After a few months of craziness, we finally succeed and claimed our rightful trophy. The air of the stadium is jubilant, and I can remember the entire place vividly in my mind today. I had went there with the team all four years I was in high school, and it is a lovely place that brings back strong memories of FIRST. The team spirit is overwhelming there; the other teams robot designs innovative and sometimes stylish; the merry participant's cheerful and active; the competition both frightfully fierce and positively friendly. I will definitely go back there someday to visit as I am in college. This is an awesome activity to be in.

Friday, November 30, 2007

No Money on Free Parking

Apparently there isn't much greenery in Fairfax anymore. According to David Plotz, a reporter for the New York Times, the little grass that exists in front of immigrants houses are being paved over to make room for transportation. Unfortunately, the other locals don't take kindly upon that.

In "A Suburb All Grown Up and Paved Over", Plotz talks about the necessity of the immigrants situation, and how the suburb surrounding them (mostly made up of richer, larger home owning whites) doesn't like the new development. According to the neighbors, the pavement takes away the little amount of greenery that the area has left (which is ironic, since the rest of the foliage has already been paved over to put in shopping malls and housing subdivisions already). After talking a bit about this problem, however, the article goes off on a related tangent. The author analyzes the rapid growth and immigration that is happening to the county, and he likens the whole ordeal to a mid-life crisis the county itself is having. The article is finally ended with Plotz reflecting that things are promising if the worst reaction to this aging process is a little squabble over a bit of grass.

The author projects a confident, well informed vibe all over this story. In the beginning, the text seems a bit condescending and ironic, as Plotz points out that Fairfax's culture and history owes a lot to the automobile (and most of the neighborhoods are named after the beauty they desecrated). In the second half of the article, however, the author starts to reflect over the diversity of the community. The tone here changes to more of a storytelling mode, where Plotz outlines the modern history of the county. Facts are used there (with a couple percentages and fractions), and these facts paint a more positive tone. Diversity, as he argues, is changing the community for the better.

The argument seems ethical, and the facts seem solid. The world view advertised is a rosier, "Lets all get along" kind of view, and the writing at the end seems positive and upbeat. Plotz is on the side of the immigrants here, and I agree with him. the newcomers are getting the most out of the property and land that they own, and they have a necessity in their actions that the old guard doesn't quite understand. I love nature, however, and it's pretty sad that you have to destroy some of that to get by; But I think this is a necessity sometimes, and after the immigrants find some wealth, hopefully that greenery will return someday.

And While We are on the Subject of Labyrinths...

While I was thumbing through People magazine like I normally never do (I wasn't looking to advertisements to blog about, no way), I came across this Toyota ad. (Sorry about the blurry picture, by the way. I had to scan it in.) In this ad, Toyota's new SUV the RAV4 -- which I suppose is an attempted l33tspeak way of saying rave -- is placed right before a huge, foreboding maze of city buildings. The caption is impossible to read in the photo, but this is what it says:

No matter how lost the city makes you feel, it's comforting to know the RAV4 is engineered to handle it all. With Vehicle Stability Control, 166 hp and an EPA 27 MPG hwy rating*, solving the city has never been easier. Learn more at

Vehicle shown with optional equipment. *2008 EPA-estimated 27 highway MPG for RAV4 4-cylinder 2WD models. Actual mileage will vary. c2007 Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.S., Inc.

The tone of the advertisement is dark, with plenty of shadowy buildings in the labyrinth. The maze paths themselves are lit in order to create contrast against the walls and the dark sky. The SUV itself is given prominent space right in the lower middle of the page; Your eyes are first drawn to the maze, then to the convenient solution sitting on the road right below it. The context and purpose of the ad is simple -- cities are large, complex challenges, so why don't you take them with a powerful, safe, and environmentally friendly car? Heck, even David Bowie would flee in terror from this thing!

Actually, I'm suprised that they didn't mention possible GPS/map finding equipment in this ad, because thats what I would actually want if I'm going to take on Chicago or New York. Why would you need all that horsepower in the city, for instance? Why would you care that the thing has a 27 MPG hwy rating if you will most likely never go faster than 27 MPH in the maze? The ad itself is most likely targeted at younger, suburb grown people (or those who never had to take on city driving), since those who have lived in NYC all their lives probably can deal with the urban jungle. In all actually, it doesn't really matter what specific car you would drive in a metro area, anyway. A small sedan can navigate the streets as easily (actually, probably easier) than a huge honking truck.

Uselessly big cars are overrated anyway, in my opinion. I will probably be in the target zone for this ad in a few years, but as long as there is something cheaper available, I don't really care. Let the stockbrokers have their gas guzzlers, and let me have a simple car with a nice speaker system that can get me from A to B easily. That is all that I need, at least for now.