What I Learned at the SCMS 2014: Conference Report Part I

This pas week, I attended the Society of Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) 2014 conference in Seattle. Compared to the Film Studies Association of Canada (FSAC) Annual Conference, the SCMS conference is longer and larger: it runs from Wednesday until Sunday and has up to 26 co-current panels. I have no idea how people still have some energy left after all the sessions each day (and to go out for a drink or attend events), but the SCMS conference is a great place to explore expanding fields of cinema and media studies. Here are some panel presentations that I found intriguing.

“Experimental Cinema Enters the Worlds of Gaming: Considering Phil Solomon’s Recent Works” by Hava Aldouby

Still Raining, Still Dreaming (Phil Solomon. 2008)

She underscores Solomon’s phenomenological performance in the process of making his works like Still Raining, Still Dreaming (2008) and Empire (2008-2012). I found these works by Solomon particularly interesting as they can potentially indicate a gap between watching the moving image and playing a game.

“An Architecture of Phantasms: Screen, Space, Play” by Swagato Chakravorty
&
“Space and Spectatorship in Immersive-participatory Cinema” by Ian Robinson

Secret Cinema: Blade Runner (2010)

Charkravorty discussed the embodied experience of phantasmagoria in relation to spatiality and screen while Robinson explored the interactive and participatory experience of Secret Cinema (2007-). While phantasmagoria and Secret Cinema are not exactly the same, they both can encourage us to examine the relationship between the spatiality and the mobility of viewers/participants and the screen. Especially within the domain of cinema and media studies, expanded cinema and intermedia would be useful to consider this thread of inquiry.

“Goodbye Cinema, Hello Moving Images!; or, Is Planet ‘Cinema’ Spinning out of Control?” by Andre Gaudreault

Although I do not agree with his overall discussion, I praise his attempt to re-construct the genealogy of the moving image. He explored the use of the term, the moving image, in French and English, and his translingual approach could potentially disclose the most common factor of the moving image that exists across different cultures. Gaudreault used “Videocinema” as the term for the third birth of film in 1955, but it neglects the institutional development of cinema or video.  Or it is rather heavily laden with the connotations of both video and cinema, and it does not allow us to engage in a full exploration of the complexity or commonality of the moving image.

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To be continued to Part II…

Using Twitter Timelines to See the Trends on Your Research Topics

I don’t know how long Twitter Timelines have been available to regular users, but it is a simple way to see what people are talking about on your research topics. Major news outlets like CBC News, The Toronto Star, and The Globe and Mail are using Storify, which is a useful website to create and share your own “stories” through various social media. If you want to develop some kind of narrative, Storify would be a great tool for you; if you just want to see the trends on your research topics, Twitter Timeline may be a better option for you.

Here are two sample Twitter timelines that I made:

Twitter Timeline for the search term “affect theory”

Titter Timeline for the search term “deleuze cinema”

You just need to go to Settings > Widgets (on the side menu) > Create new. If you are an average user, you have four options here: user timeline, favourites, list, and search.

  • The user timeline option allows you to create a timeline based on a username, which could be your own or someone else’s.
  • The favourites option shows the tweets that the username of your choice has marked as favourite.
  • The list option creates a timetable based on your own or subscribed lists.
  • The search option generates a timetable based on your search query.

If you use TweetDeck, you can use the last option: custom timeline.

To find the tweets that include specific keyboards or your research topics, you may want to tweak your search query. Twitter seems to use the same kinds of basic search operators as Google. For example, if you want to find an exact phrase, you search it by adding double quotation marks at the beginning and end of the phrase like “exact phrase.” If you want to exclude tweets with specific words, you just add a minus mark in front of them like “-word 1 -word2 -word3.”

If you are not familiar with these special operators, you can just use Twitter’s Advanced Search. Just fill the search form, hit the search button, and copy the search term that appears right next to “Results for” at the top. For example, if I wanted to find the tweets that include “affect theory” in the exact phrasing but does not contain “emotion,” I would get ““affect theory” -emotion.”

(If you want to know about search operators, you can check this page from Google Help!)

Of course, we can always use more authentic online platforms for academic work, Google Scholar and JSTOR, but following the tweets relevant to your research topics may lead you to recognize a developing trend from there! Since I am interested in the nature of becoming, emergence, and affect through screen media, this may be one way to contemplate my research topic.

Bye Bye Procrastination, Hello Productivity! Part 1: Tracking Weekly Progress on an Ol’ Good Whiteboard

Bye Bye Procrastination!

Since I finished the coursework for my PhD degree requirement, I’ve been slowly and persistently developing and going through my comprehensive exam reading lists. If everything had gone as I planned, I should have finished much more readings than I have actually finished so far, but hey that’s life. The obvious reason why I’m not making as much  progress as I want is procrastination. I may be googling something continuously, checking books and some other interesting items on amazon, or watching some cooking shows on the Food Network website. Moderate procrastination may be a good way to relax during short breaks, but I definitely need a means to control the amount of procrastination.

Then, I thought that I need to have a system that makes me accountable for my (lack of) progress in the reading lists. I can do this by making to-do lists on a sheet or paper, or using to-do apps, but I wanted to have something visible but unobtrusive all the time for this.

I was initially searching for a regular whiteboard that I can hang on the wall, but then I eventually found Wall Pops! White Dry-Erase Board. It is basically a sheet of film that you can stick to (and peel off from) almost any surfaces, and you can write on it as you do on a regular whiteboard. (I bought mine at a local Home Depot store but you can easily buy one online as well.) As some of the online reviews were pointing out, it was not easy to stick the film on the wall nicely; after several tries, I gave it up and ended up putting in the side of my bookshelf. 

And, this is how I’m using it right now:2014 Week 1

Several Positive Outcomes from Tracking Weekly Progress

Since I was little, I always loved making daily, weekly, and monthly plans, but I barely stuck to them—I just felt I had accomplished a lot just by making such plans. For the past few years, I still plan my study in my head but have stopped writing/typing down the actual plans. After I started tracking my weekly progress, I’ve re-realized that what I need to do for these plans is to keep tracking the progress of my work and re-evaluate my working patterns and habits. I have noticed some positive outcomes from tracking weekly progress so far:

  1. The visible indicator of progress encourages me to keep working.
  2. This allows me to see how much work I can usually handle in a week.
  3. Lack of progress on a specific day makes me really accountable for that.
  4. It reminds me that I am making progress!

I think that the last point is particularly encouraging and crucial for PhD students since we often feel that we are not making enough progress at all.

On the top of this weekly progress section, I’ve written major deadlines such as an upcoming conference and conference abstracts, but I still need to add a section for monthly goals. I do not have much extra space on this whiteboard, so I may need to write my monthly goals somewhere else, like in my lovely Moleskine. I hope that this way of tracking progress will encourage me to work more and make me forget to procrastinate!

Which 2020 Olympic Games Promotional Candidate Video Would Win Your Vote?

I wasn’t really paying attention to the bidding for the host city for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games until the voting date. After finding out that Tokyo was among the shortlisted candidate cities, I started following the voting process on Twitter and other websites and ended up watching the webcast of the second round voting result/the announcement of the host city for the 2020 Olympic Games. That’s when I had a chance to watch the promotional candidate videos, and they caught my attention. Here are three 2020 Olympic Games promotional candidate videos for the shortlisted cities, Istanbul, Tokyo, and Madrid:

Olympic Games Promotional Candidate Video for Istanbul

Olympic Games Promotional Candidate Video for Tokyo

Olympic Games Promotional Candidate Video for Madrid

Istanbul’s video highlights its geographic trait as a port city while mingling the city’s traditional elements and modern essence. As a tourism promotional video, it would likely stimulate viewers’ curiosity about the city, but the video completely failed to make any connection to athleticism and sports. It shows a jogger early in the video and people playing basketball later, but does not effectively involve them in its narrative development. Besides, why did they use Rhianna’s “Diamond” as the background music? It was a little mystery. Instead of promoting the elegant lifestyle possibilities in the port city, Istanbul could, for example, emphasize its geographic location as a bridge between Asia and Europe and an ideal place for uniting all nations through the Olympics.

Compared to Istanbul’s “tourism promotion” style video, Tokyo’s promotional video focuses on the moment of excitement in sports: spectators cheering for athletes, athletes preparing for their matches, at the moment of performing their plays, and winning their games, and kids enjoying sports. The crescendo of its instrumental music toward the middle of the video also simulates such excitement. The video does show some of the tourist spots in Tokyo, but it mainly directs our attention to the players’ and spectators’ excitement built around the Olympic Games. The colourfully animated heart shapes that appear throughout the video not only provide a sense of national unity but also convey a message that Tokyo is the place to unite all nations through the Olympics Games. Showing children playing sports with a catch phrase, “Discover Tomorrow,” ends this video with the hope of bright future that comes through the Olympics in Tokyo. Although I have found the two shots of high school girl standing in the middle of Shibuya‘s scramble crossing a little odd, these two shots may be visually indicating accelerating heartbeats.

High School Girl at Shibuya Scramble Crossing 1 High School Girl at Shibuya Scramble Crossing 2

If Istanbul’s video focuses on tourism and Tokyo’s on athleticism, Madrid’s promotional video goes halfway between them, although it gives much more weight to tourism promotion. Three differently coloured light streams (yellow, pink, and blue) link various spots in the city by travelling through it, and also pass by a woman playing golf, a stadium, skateboarders, recreational cyclists and basketball players. While showing the scenes from San Silvestre Vallecana, a 10 km road race in Madrid, toward the end was effective, why did it not further build up the momentum of excitement coming from sports here? A few scenes of nightlife in Madrid completely flatten the sense of this excitement and closes the video like a tourism promotional video, mirroring that of Istanbul. The three light streams do illuminate various spots in Madrid, but does not clearly “Illuminate the future” as the video’s slogan goes.

San Silvestre Vallecana

Knowing the result of the host city election (and I may have a bias), but the promotional video produced by the Japanese Olympic Committee seems to reflect the spirit of sports and the Olympics most extensively and succeeds in evoking the sense of excitement of having the 2020 Olympic Games in Japan.

I’m not sure if any of the major Japanese electronics companies, like Panasonic, Sanyo, Sharp, and Sony, will be able to manufacture the futuristic handheld gadget that appears in the Tokyo’s promotional video, but I hope that we have better technology that allows us to experience the atmosphere of game sites more viscerally and to share our affective reaction to each moment of spectatorship.

Handheld Gadget 1 Handheld Gadget 2

Some Tips for (Vegan) Graduate Students Going to A Conference

Attending and presenting at academic conferences is part of graduate student life, and I have been trying to present at a conference at least once a year. Being in Canada, the Film Studies Association of Canada (FSAC) Annual Conference has been my main (and favourite) conference. The size of the conference from year to year, but I feel very much at home when I am attending the FSAC conference. I was planning to submit a proposal and hoping to present there in Victoria, B.C. this year; instead, I spent last week in Chicago to attend the Society for Cinema and Media Studies (SCMS) Annual Conference in Chicago.

2013 SCMS Conference Program

I submitted my proposal during the open call for papers back in August, and I almost forgot that I had submitted a proposal until November when SCMS e-mailed its members that they were experiencing a delay in finalizing their decision. I eventually received a surprising acceptance e-mail in early December, and started planning for the conference. I thought that I would share what I actually did here:

  1. Book flights and hotels ahead of time
  2. Keep all the receipts for reimbursement
  3. Research local vegan spots
  4. Get a prepaid sim card or a travel pack if you are going out of country abroad and using your phone
  5. Navigate the conference area with Google Maps and Offline map apps
  6. Check book sales at the conference

1. Book flights and hotels ahead of time
Here is my rule of thumb for booking flights and ho(s)tels: the earlier, the cheaper. Back in December, I did not know on which day I would be presenting my paper, so I figured that I would need to stay for the entire conference. (Also, this was the first time attending the SCMS conference, so I wanted to stay for the entire conference as well.) This year’s conference in Chicago was from March 6 to 10. Since I could be presenting in the first panel on the first day, which actually turned out to be the case, I decided to fly into Chicago on March 5 and then leave there in the late afternoon/early evening on March 10.

- Use mileage flight rewards 
If you have accumulated mileage for flight rewards, you may want to check if you have enough even for a one-way flight. I had accumulated some mileage with American Airlines (AA) over a few years, but I did not have enough for one way. Some airlines ask you to buy miles for the insufficient amount of miles, and others ask you to pay the price difference, which was the case for AA. By redeeming my AA mileage for a flight reward, I think I saved around 75% off of the original price.

- Subscribe to airline newsletters (or follow the companies on Twitter or like them on Facebook)
Many airlines offer flight sales once in a while, and if you buy your tickets at that time, you can get a really good deal. Particularly if you are booking your flights much earlier, you would be surprised by how cheap your flights could be. I think that Porter AIrlines quite often has flight sales of up to 40% or 50% off, and I booked my return flight from Chicago when it was about 50% off the regular price.

- Find a good deal for ho(s)tels
I usually stay at a university student residence or hostel to save money, but I decided to stay at a hotel with a kitchen this time since I was going to be in Chicago for 5 nights. I searched on online booking websites such as Expedia and Travelocity, but I found Booking.com the most useful since it had a search criterion for a place with a kitchen/kitchenette. I am not sure how much I saved by using this website, but I saved at least $200 to @300 dollars, compared to the price that I would have paid by booking a decent hotel in the area where I stayed.

2. Keep all the receipts for reimbursement
For a lot of graduate students, including me, booking and paying for flights and accommodation upfront can definitely hurt our wallets, but universities often provide one or more types of funds, like professional development or conference ones, to which students may apply to receive reimbursement for a portion of their travel costs to attend and present at a conference. Make sure to ask or search for such funds at your school and remember to check the applications and deadlines so that you won’t miss your chance to receive some reimbursement. For some fund applications, you will eventually need to submit (original) copies of receipts for transportation, accommodation, and conference registration fees in addition to original ticket stubs, so make sure you keep all of your receipts and tickets!

3. Research local vegan spots

Delicious doughnut and latte at Fritz Pastry

Delicious doughnut and latte at Fritz Pastry

I am a foodie and a vegan, so I feel more comfortable knowing what food options I will have when I going somewhere. I stayed at a hotel with a full kitchen so that I did need to eat out for every meal, but I wanted to try some vegan places in Chicago. Yelp and HappyCow are good places to start with, and VegNews Magazine‘s website may have good lists for the the place where you are going. Finding blogs by local vegans may also give you a good sense of where to go as well. Once I found enough interesting places to check out, I created a map on Google Maps. Some places that I actually visited are:

  • Chicago Diner (I asked a server for a recommendation and tried their famous Radical Reuben Sandwich and a cinnamon roll. This place is similar to Fresh in Toronto, but I liked the atmosphere of this place much more.)
  • Karyn’s Cooked (Again menu is similar to Fresh, but I think that the atmosphere is closer to Live Organic Food Bar in Toronto.)
  • Fritz Pastry (I went here for their doughnuts, and they were amazing! This place closes at 1 pm on the weekdays, so you need to make a trip here in the morning to get their awesome doughnuts!)
  • Urban Vegan (This place seemed too pricey for what it served, but it tasted okay.)

4. Get a prepaid sim card or a travel pack if you are going out of country and using your phone
Living in Canada, we do not have great travel packs for our cell/smart phones. If you intend to use your phone while you are away, you should definitely buy a travel pack or a prepaid sim at the local area. Roam Mobility offers several options for those who live in Canada and are travelling to the U.S. A benefit of using Roam Mobility is that you will have a sim card or phone that you can use as soon as you arrive at your destination. If you have an unlocked phone and some time to shop around, T-mobile‘s prepaid sim seems to be a good option. I was actually going to purchase a T-mobile pre-aid sim card, but my offline map app was good enough for me to navigate the city, so I decided not to purchase one after my first day there.

5. Navigate the conference area with Google Maps and Offline map apps

My map for Chicago on Google Maps

My map for Chicago on Google Maps

Going to a conference is a great opportunity to learn new things and to meet new people, but we should also enjoy experiencing the local spots. I do not care about typical tourist spots, and almost all my attention goes to vegan food. What I used to navigate Chicago was the My Maps Editor app on my iPhone. You can import not only My Places/maps on your Google Maps but also other KML and KMZ files. I am not sure exactly how it works offline, but as far as you have opened the app and navigated an area beforehand, this app seems to work offline. As far as you are receiving some sort of cell tower signal and/or wifi, your GPS works so you can easily find out where you are on the map. And the beauty of KML/KMZ importing function is that you can add public transit lines and stops easily on the map as well. The City of Chicago makes a lot of data available online and you can find the kml files for the Chicago Transit Authority’s “L” (Rail) System stations and lines here:

6. Check book sales at the conference

Books that I bought 50% off at the SCMS Annual Conference

Books that I bought for 50% off at the SCMS Annual Conference

If you are attending a large conference, some major publishers will likely have booths set up at the conference and will be selling some books. Understandably, many of them do not want to take back the books that they brought with them, so you may get a great deal toward the end of the conference. Some publishers only take cash, make sure to have enough. (I actually needed to borrow some money from my supervisor to buy a book.) I bought four books at 50% off, which is a much better deal than what Amazon or the Book Depository usually offers!

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I found many more vegan places in Chicago, but due to my tight budget and schedule, I was able to check only four places. I am not 100% sure, but Chicago seems to have more vegan spots than Toronto, though Toronto is now the fourth largest city in North America by beating Chicago by 80,000 people.  I hope that I can visit there again to try out other awesome vegan places!

Teaching Plagiarism: How to Avoid a Sad Situation

10 Types of Plagiarism
Ten Most Common Types of Plagiarism from Plagiarism.org

Have you ever needed to deal with students who ended up having plagiarisms in their assignments? Unless the students took phrases or sentences from obvious sources, identifying plagiarism has become nearly impossibly thanks to the Internet and computers. If you are living in the era of postmodernism and believe in postmodernist sensibility, plagiarism may not matter anymore. In academics and education, plagiarism is a really big deal, and it is essential for students to learn how to cite and use someone else’s ideas properly and for teaching staff to provide useful resources that can potentially prevent plagiarism.

Screen Shot of Plagiarism.orgThe top page of Plagiarism.org

I found this website, Plagiarism.org, last year, and it is a great website for students to learn about plagiarism. A company called iParadigms is behind the website, and its intention to create such a website is obvious: to encourage students to try out its new service WriteCheck, which is basically a lesser version of Turnitin. Regardless of the company’s intention, the website itself is useful and informative. It has four main sections as you can see in the screen shot of the top page: Plagiarism 101, which provides essential knowledge about plagiarism; Citing Sources, which guides students in learning how to cite properly; Ask the Expertswhich shares responses to previous questions asked from students; and, Resourceswhich provides further information about plagiarism. In the last section, I found this four-minute YouTube video that explains 10 types of plagiarism:

Showing this video is definitely an effective way to make students (re-)aware of plagiarism, but also sharing the top image in this post with students as a handout may be a better way for them to retain what they watched in the clip. The Resources section provides student materials that you can use as handouts in class. I have no idea how long the company will maintain this website, so you should download and save the files before the website disappears. The combination of the following articles may be also useful to raise awareness of plagiarism:

If you can use one tutorial session or a part of lecture, showing RiP! A Remix Manifesto by Brett Gaylor may be an interesting way to engage your students in the issue of plagiarism in general:

You would be very sad if you find out that one of your students has committed plagiarism. Your preventive actions for plagiarism by talking about it or sharing any of these resources can definitely decrease the chance of plagiarism in your classroom!

Stylish Academic Writing or Insanely Simple Writing?

I rarely read books directly or indirectly unrelated to my research and studies, period. During the winter break back in December, however, I unusually read two research-unrelated books, Stylish Academic Writing by Helen Sword, and Insanely Simple: The Obsession That Drives Apple’s Success by Ken Segall. Sword is an academic, her book is about academic writing, and her main audience is likely academics; Segall is an advertising creative director, his book is about Apple’s marketing, and his main audience is probably the general public. These two books do not share similar content, but both offer some advice on how to make things better: academic writing and marketing/business.

Stylish Academic Writing

Interestingly, I learnt much more about writing from Segall’s book than Sword’s book. Despite all the pieces of advice that Sword provides, her prose in Stylish Academic Writing was not stylish at all. You can see how she implements what she suggests in the book, but she seems to be struggling to integrate them into a coherent way of writing. Some sentences are even longer than typically long sentences that you would encounter in academic writing; too many parentheses keep cutting off the flow of sentences; the use of data that she collected is sporadic and does not really help strengthen her discussion; and, she does not really exhibit the occasional humour that she claims great academic writers possess. If you bother to read this book for advice, I would rather recommend that you read old-style prescriptive style guides like The Elements of Style, or The Craft of Research. Sadly, Sword’s prose was not engaging enough to be stylish at all.

Insanely Simple by Ken Segall

Unlike Sword’s book, Segall’s Insanely Simple was engaging and full of intriguing anecdotes. Segall writes his understanding (and version) of Steve Jobs’s and Apple’s philosophy based on his own experience as a TBWA\Chiat\Day creative director, and breaks down such philosophy into ten “Think” catchphrases. Not all these Think’s are helpful for stylish academic writing, but some of them are straightforward and, at least for me, useful to improve my writing.

Think Small

Although “Think Small” basically encourages us to work in a small group of smart people, this attitude is applicable to the preparation and the content of writing. At the beginning of brainstorming or writing, I tend to have more topics or ideas that I need to write a specific paper. By narrowing down my scope of topics or ideas, I should be able to engage with ideas or topics more rigorously and productively.

Think Minimal

If “Think Small” is a larger work ethic, “Think Minimal” is a smaller work ethic and it encourages you to focus on one thing at a time or identify the common ground for multiple things. This mentality is directly applicable to academic writing where we need to focus on one workable idea at a time in order to make ourselves fully understood before going to the next idea.

Think Motion

“Think Motion” indicates the necessity to have a clearly defined goal and to work towards it constantly without being distracted by other factors. Setting up a timeline tight enough to achieve this, I should be able to make full use of my time and energy to work productively.

Think Human

This “Think” mentality asks business people to think beyond numbers and to think about their customers, or human beings, first. By foregrounding customer satisfaction, companies can focus more on what they want to deliver. In academic writing, we all need to think about our potential audience, and without a clear idea of what types of people they are, our prose can end up being too vague for them, which also means that the audience does not understand our message.

I may be stretching  Segall’s points a little too much by relating them to academic writing, but his thoughts on how Steve Jobs ran Apple would likely help me refine my writing and achieve more stylish prose than Sword’s book. For now, in order to achieve stylish academic writing, I will aim for insanely simple writing!