New Project: The Definite Article

Exciting announcement today, y’all. My good friend Justin Smith (sometimes known on the webernets as Hoosten) and I are starting a collaborative project that has — directly and indirectly — been in the works for several years. We are going to be making a weekly podcast together about reading, writing, and creativity in its countless forms.

Justin is a blogger, activist, and community organizer over in Washington, D.C. He and I met on Twitter about three years ago, quickly became friends, and have kept up a steady correspondence ever since. He’s one of the smartest people I know, and by far my favorite person to bullshit about art and literature with.

The podcast is called The Definite Article, and we’re recording the first episode this Wednesday night.

In the show we’re going to talk about books, essays, articles, and all sorts of publications of note, as well as our own interactions with the written word. We’ll also, I have no doubt, embark on dozens of semi-related tangents that will hopefully be interesting to more people than just us two. We will probably spend a lot of time complaining about how hard writing is. If that’s not entertainment, I don’t know what is.

We’ll be posting the episodes over on Justin’s website as well as on the iTunes (that link to come). Here are two things we’ll probably be talking about some in the first episode, which you could check out if you want. That being said, not having read the material we talk about in the show will certainly not detract from your enjoyment of our ramblings and ravings.

I’ve been looking forward to this project for a long time. Conversations with Justin always prompt lots of thought and writing on my end, and I’d dare say on his as well. Hopefully our new show will help to recharge your creative battery, too.

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Tapestry/The Noun Project 6 Icon Story Contest

Robin Sloan’s tap essay, “Fish”

If you’ve got a smart phone and you like clever things, you need to download the app Tapestry, which is a tool for reading and writing tap essays.

The tap essay is a new medium for storytelling that originated with Robin Sloan‘s beautiful story of what it means to really love something on the Internet. It’s called “Fish.”

The rules of tap essays are simple: 1) you click/tap to move forward in the essay, and 2) there’s no going backwards. This kind of straightforwardness makes the reader less likely to be distracted, and more likely to read the whole story instead of skimming. Although “Fish” is still my favorite tap essay, there are a few others out there that are definitely worthwhile. Browse the Tapestry site to see what I’m talking about.

Tapestry recently announced a partnering with The Noun Project, a site dedicated to amassing a library of symbols with universally understood meanings. The Noun Project hopes to create a kind of visual language that’s accesible to everyone to promote global communication.

The two sites are hosting a contest for storytellers to create a story in six icons, with no words.

If that sounds easy (“Hey, no writing involved!”), then perhaps you should  try your hand at it. I’ve been browsing The Noun Project’s library for the past hour trying to come up with a story that can be concisely told in six icons, and I am coming up empty-handed so far. Ugh.

If you think you’re up to the challenge, check out the contest rules here, and get to… um… “writing.”

Update: You can, um, “read” my 6 icon story here. It is kind of sad and kind of funny. I hope that you like it.

Internet U

Education has always been high on my list of very important things. I’ve been lucky enough to take part in some seriously alternative (srsly alt) forms of education myself, and I’ve come to discover even more in the past couple of years. From Waldorf to unschooling to Montessori, (the kind of school I’ve been in most of my life) there are countless theories about the right way to facilitate learning, and more that are being born in impromptu and unofficial schoolhouses all over the world right now. Although I’m interested in all of these, the education trend that has caught my attention the most recently is that of online learning.

We’ve come a long way from online diploma mills, people. What started as brick-and-mortar universities’ attempts to offer credits to distant students has turned into a full-fledged educational revolution.

While those online university courses still exist, (they’re downright commonplace) the further extent of online learning is much more fascinating. Websites dedicated to helping “students” learn specific skills or to simulating a classroom dialogue experience are becoming more and more popular among people seeking to gain more than what their however many years of schooling offered them. There’s Coursera and Udacity, directed towards more traditional lecture-style learning. OpenCulture is a syndicate of all things educational available on the Web. Khan Academy, the best known and most used self-teaching online tool online, is a finely tuned, thorough resource for teaching yourself any kind of math that exists (Salman Khan, the “teacher” at Khan Academy, has three degrees from MIT and an MBA from Harvard, so you could say he knows math pretty well). Additionally, there are countless less structured and/or more specialized websites and video series like TED and Philosophy Bro, two of my favorites. The fact that such a wealth of free learning tools now exists is, for lack of a better word, awesome.

So now I guess I should actually come to the point of all of this. I threw out the term “educational revolution” up there, something that might seem a little extreme for talking about a few unoffending educational websites. Maybe I’m inflating the good intention and meaningfulness of these websites to an extent, but I know for a fact that there are others like me out there who aren’t happy with the status quo of education in this country, and who are looking for alternatives. An alternative that just might take the form of online educational tools.

So while I’m saying borderline extreme things, let me go ahead and say something I’ve always thought: the public education system in this country is the most corrupt, counterproductive, and inane institution I’ve ever encountered. It constantly confuses me that we trust the same organization that brings you fuck-ups like the invasion of Iraq and holy crap is gay marriage seriously still not legal? with the education of all our citizens. But let me step off the soapbox before I start waxing politic too much, and talk some more about this alternative.

If it seems to you that you/your child are/is not getting much out of school, why sit on your hands and complain about it? With the vast array of resources that are now available to everyone with an Internet connection, there’s no need to simply be content with what you’re learning in school. Who says that school is teaching us the things really worth knowing, anyway?

I am hopeful that the people out there using Coursera and Khan Academy and all those other sites are alike in the mindset that a person’s education is something that they should be in charge of. I’m also hopeful that this mindset becomes more popular, and quickly, because the only consequence I can see is the production of more educated and driven people. And I don’t think anybody can take issue with that.

We live in an era open-minded enough that I don’t think anybody’s going to gasp at me talking shit about public education on some blog. I’d even say that most people agree that things need to change in that system. But action is the issue here, and that’s what I’m talking about. We all know that the public ed system needs a serious overhaul (or just to crawl into a hole and die), but that change isn’t going to happen unless we take serious action towards showing the powers that be that we’re not going to abide by the way things are anymore. And just like a consumer’s decision to buy a better alternative rather than the standard brand, choosing an alternative method of education is sure to send a message that the standard brand just isn’t good enough. And that is a message that I definitely want to send.

 

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To the People I <3

Last Friday brought me mixed emotions. Last week was, you see, my last week working with both Do713 and Culture Pilot, the two employers who’ve captured my heart and taught me so much over the past few months. This sadness, though, is tempered by a lot of excitement for the places I’m going next.

In August, I’m headed off to Chicago to upgrade my grey matter at Shimer College. This decision came only after much deliberation, (this can be confirmed by Geoff Smith, who was the victim of many rambling, wishy-washy monologues of mine) as I’ve created a life for myself here in Houston that is – putting it mildly – absolutely lovely. I’ve spent the past year being surrounded by wonderful people, and have gotten to learn so much from them. I worked very hard and played even harder, and got to discover many new things about myself and about this great city.

Leaving this life seems, at times, completely silly and ungrateful. Why leave your friends, family, and two great jobs for a far-away school where you’ll read ancient Greek philosophy and spend many late nights studying? Why leave everything that you’ve amassed over the past year?

The truth? I’m not sure yet. I don’t know how I’ll like school, or if the Chicago winter will be too much for me, or if I’ll make friends or feel fulfilled or learn the things I want to learn. The one thing I do know, though, is that I have so much freedom and opportunity laid out before me at the moment that I should be thanking my lucky stars at every step I take. That being said, the truly ungrateful thing to do would be to not take that leap of faith and throw myself into the bigger, scarier, and more thrilling adventure known as college.

As I embrace this next challenge, I’ve got to look back and thank some of the people and places who’ve made this past year so special to me:

The Culture Pilot team, whom I’ve mentioned before, are some of the most genuinely kind people I’ve met. Although I wasn’t able to work with them for very long, I instantly felt like a part of the family – and let me tell you, it’s not a family I will be forgetting any time soon. Thank you all – Tim, Javier, and Kara – so much for giving me the chance to work with you.

Jeremy Hart and Space City Rock – this man is a living wonder. He upkeeps the entire site on his spare time – a thankless task, if there ever was one – and writes some of the most honest and personable music criticism I’ve read, all with a family and a 9-5. I’ve had the honor of writing for Space City Rock for the past – what is it now, two and a half years? – and it’s been easily the most satisfying writing I’ve ever done. While I can’t claim to be a decent music critic yet, I’ve been thrilled with the opportunity to learn, and to listen to and review music that I otherwise would probably never have heard of. Thanks for taking me on and providing me with an incredible opportunity, Jeremy. Space City Rock has truly been a great outlet for me, and now I actually have some kind of a body of work to reference in the future. That, sir, is an asset.

Matthew Wettergreen and Do713. Matthew has been mentor, employer, and friend to me – a combination that doesn’t occur in the world nearly enough. His success and his incredible ability have been motivators to me all year, and I’m very excited to see what he does from here. Knowing that he’s just as interested in my future is one more motivation to do the best I can do. He gave me the job that introduced me to the rest of the greatness that ensued for me this year. Working with Do713 has been a catalyst for my realization of just how much Houston has to offer, and has given me at least a small glimpse of the inner workings of a starting up website – like, it really is just a couple dudes in far-flung places, working frantically after they get home from their day jobs. There’s no secretary with a Bluetooth and there’s no Flavia machine. Shit’s rough, man.

The place where all the Do713-ing went down, and probably more of a home to me than my home is, is Caroline Collective. Co-owned by Matthew Wettergreen and Ned Dodington and maintained by the ever dapper Geoff Smith, this coworking space is one of the lesser known resources of the Houston startup and arts communities. Populated by brilliant and hard-working people, this place is frequently filled with the ringing laughter of Fresh Arts Coalition‘s Candace Kizer, a one-woman driving force with a smile that outshines puppies. She is a part of my Caroline Collective family, along with Wes Gamble, Karen Aptekar, Nancy Wozny, Jeff Reichman, and a host of others who come and go with food and drink and stories. Some of my fondest memories of this year are from Caroline Collective, and they are ones that I will cherish for a long time to come.

Another re-thanking goes to Norma and Tim Thomson of Hot Pixel Action. Norma has proven to be both an ally and a friend, always lending me a hand in business and in personal matters. Her advice and her care have been absolutely invaluable to me these past few months.

Lastly, I want to thank Jenn Garcia and Joe Wozny. These two have been my dearest friends for the last few months, and I’ve had countless adventures with them in that time. We’ve made fort videos, we’ve gone to New Orleans together, and they’ve expanded my cultural horizons via Hulu Plus. Parting ways with them is going to be very hard. My hope is that whatever paths each of us ends up taking, we can all meet in a few years time and go right back to the conversation we left off on.

Once I get back from my present vacation (Atlanta, followed by D.C.), there will be lots of goodbyes to say and lots of packing to do. It will be difficult. I’d like to point out, though, to some of the great friends I’ve made this year: there is this awesome thing called the Internet, and it allows people who live far away from each other to communicate. And I, for one, intend to do that.

While I might be physically removed, I assure you that my heart will always remain right here in Texas with all of you. ❤

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The Orange Show Re-Opening and Easter Orange Hunt

One of the most amazing and unappreciated venues in Houston is The Orange Show, and their Annual Re-Opening and Easter Orange Hunt is this Saturday! Celebrate Easter weekend with puppets and Aztec dancers! Bring the kids and grandparents and third cousins twice removed! It will be a party and a half!

(Poster by Will Schorre)

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