As you can tell from my SIFTTTER projects, I’ve become borderline obsessed with activity tracking and logging. I’m still not entirely sure what drives this impulse, but I’m certainly not alone—new services and products to track this itch seem to pop up daily at this point.
The newest one I’ve seen is Reporter, a nifty little iPhone app that randomly polls you throughout the day to see what you’re up to. I’ve used it for a few days now, and in my opinion, the best things about these apps continues to be the way that that they can leverage your phone’s sensors to pull down information about your location, how many steps you’ve taken, etc. However, Reporter is the first app I’ve seen (though I’m sure there are others) that uses your phone’s microphone to track ambient noise levels. I’m worried that this will give the moral noise police more fuel for their fire, but it is actually kind of cool. I’m thinking of using the app just for this purpose, especially because you can easily export the data.
While Liz was out of town last weekend I spent some time working my own scripts for daily tracking, which I’ll post about later in the week.
When Cook turned the spotlight on someone, he hammered them with questions until he was satisfied. “Why is that?” “What do you mean?” “I don’t understand. Why are you not making it clear?” He was known to ask the same exact question 10 times in a row.
On Friday, the Wall Street Journal published an excerpt from Yukari Kane’s new book Haunted Empire: Apple After Steve Jobs, and throughout the piece I was struck by how much of Tim Cook’s command over his employees was in fact a command over his own voice and the auditory dynamics of the meeting. I think there is something uniquely audacious and disarming about asking the exact same question 10 times in a row.
But he also used silence aggressively. From later in the article:
When someone was unable to answer a question, Cook would sit without a word while people stared at the table and shifted in their seats. The silence would be so intense and uncomfortable that everyone in the room wanted to back away.
My first reaction to this piece wasn’t to consider theories of listening and the voice, but to think about how innocuous most of our verbal/auditory encounters are in academic life. The portrayal of these meetings reminded me of some particularly tricky grad school rites of passage, but not in a bad way. It can be really productive to get grilled, but it also feels deeply personal—almost intrusive—which is why I think we tend to restrict it to our closest colleagues and/or use it as a weapon on outsiders (job talks, disciplinary policing, etc.)
That said, Cook’s questions are good ones to ask. I had a committee member sit me down once to extoll the virtues asking yourself “so what?”—not in the often-cliché way that we talk about that process, but on a deeper, fundamental level. “What do you mean?” “Why are you not making that clear?” I left that meeting with a sense of twin responsibilities that I’ve carried with me since: 1) generating new scholarship, and 2) making that scholarship understandable and meaningful to experts outside of your particular disciplinary sub-niche. I know I’ll never get asked the same question ten times in a row, but hopefully I’ve already asked myself many more times than that.
Soundscraping — using the Internet to share, play, process, and mix live sounds from the world at large.
I love the idea of real-time soundscape audio streaming on the internet, and I’ve experimented with it before using Mixlr—something I hope to do again. (I think Mixlr is seriously underutilized for this purpose.)
The above event happens on March 10 with a call for participation email deadline of TOMORROW. So look over the amazing(ly ugly) website for the relevant details. Could be a cool little event, if a critical mass of people are involved.
Sifttter has always been about “set it and forget it” use—running silently every single night with minimal fuss and zero user interaction. But by far the most common request I’ve gotten is to easily create entries for different dates. There are a ton of reasons you would want to do this, especially if your primary computer is a laptop that might be closed or off at the time the script is scheduled to run. I would kludge this by force-changing my computer’s date, in part because I wasn’t confident in my ability to code a more complex date range function.
Enter Paul Hayes, who Tweeted at me two weeks ago to show me how he had modified Sifttter to create straightforward Markdown files over user-specified date ranges. You can see his super useful script here. I added Paul’s elegant solution for command-line date ranges so that you can generate nice Day One entries for any old day that you choose. Here are the options:
-d, --date DATE, 'Date to generate - Any parseable date string'
-s, --start START, 'Start date - Use with end to generate a range of dates'
-e, --end END, 'End date - Use with start to generate a range of dates
So a potential use would look like
ruby /path/to/sifttter.rb -s "2014-02-01" -e "2014-02-26"
I’ve used this occasion to bump Sifttter to version 1.5, which was a totally arbitrary choice. Honestly, this improves the use-cases for Sifttter so dramatically it feels like a 2.0. I’m glad I’m not an actual software developer who has to worry about that sort of thing.
Good luck everyone, and happy logging—let me know if something breaks or goes terribly wrong on your end. Download the script here, and read the original post about how to set things up here.
If you are in State College today, a reminder that I’m giving a talk this afternoon on the history of environmental sound recordings at the Palmer Art Museum at 4:00. I’m really excited to discuss some old sounds and the new research I’ve been able to do this year thanks to this appointment. I really can’t say enough how grateful I am to Michael Bérubé and the rest of the IAH staff and fellows.
In case you’re wondering about that old fellow up there, it’s Nelson R. Wood, my favorite taxidermist and animal imitator.
Back in December, I went to the New Media in American Literary History Symposium hosted by Northeastern and organized by the seemingly indefatigable Ryan Cordell and Rhae Lynn Barnes, who runs US History Scene.
Despite “literary” being in the title of the event, there were a handful of us there working on audio, and we were lucky enough to have Lisa Gitelman serve as the moderator and discussant on our panel. The event was live-streamed, but if you missed it then, the good folks at the NULab have recently posted all of the sessions.
This isn’t necessarily my best work, but it is the first time I formally presented on the idea of “natural history media,” which has been really helpful as I frame out my current book project (which might be titled Hearing Natural History). At this point I’m pretty used to hearing the sound of my own voice, but this video was pretty challenging to get through—and I probably won’t read my notes from my phone in future presentations. Ah well.
Anyway: you can (and should!) see my presentation in the context of the full audio roundtable and then watch the rest of the symposium.
Postcard from Charles M. Bogert to Moe Asch, June 3, 1953. The recordings Bogert collected on this trip were released as Sounds of the American Southwest the following year.
Bogert recorded many minutes of calls, rackets, and noises for Folkways, including the cult classic and personal favorite Sounds of North American Frogs.
A Brief History of the Waveform follows the evolution of sound recorded as a wave, from Scott de Martinville to SoundCloud.
Featuring the voices of: Patrick Feaster, sound media historian; Karen Topp, senior lecturer in physics, Bowdoin College; Jonathan Sterne, sound historian, McGill University; Carlene Stephens, curator, National Museum of American History; Eric Wahlforss, co-founder and CTO, SoundCloud.
This made the rounds a week ago when it came out, but is worth posting again if you haven’t heard it. It’s a great history of the waveform, from paper to ProTools to machines made with actual human ears (!). Sound historian Jonathan Sterne is featured prominently, and since Sterne edits the reader I’m using in my class this semester, I’m planning to play this for my students in a few weeks when we get specifically into this history of recording technologies.
Over the last few weeks I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback and suggestions for Sifttter, my DiY-via-@ttscoff automated system to create Day One entries. And it has also taken on a life of it’s own: there are now lots of new recipes that people have built to supplement my original handful, and you can find them all in one place by searching IFTTT for Sifttter. You can now bring Facebook, Github, Jawbone, Pocket, Instagram, and a few others into your daily logs.
Of course, there will always be gaps in a system like this, and, in my experience, once you start logging you want to log more. So people have been asking about ways to easily enter items into the system manually. I think there are three really convenient ways to do this, two for your phone (which I almost always have with me) and one for your desktop.
1) Via Text: The first is to simply send IFTTT a text message. The beauty of this is that it’s platform neutral, and even works with “dumb” phones. This recipe should get you started:
2) Via Drafts: If you are on iOS, @johnmullins came up with an elegant solution using the Dropbox Actions feature of Drafts. To get this going, start by creating a new Dropbox Actions in Settings. Point the Path option to your Sifttter folder, choose a “Predefined” file, and name it whatever you like. Then, in the code section, you should write
- [[date|%B %d, %Y at %I%M%p]] - [[draft]] @done followed by a hard return. Here is what it should look like when you are all said and done:
3) Via Alfred: If you’re using Alfred (and if you use a Mac, you should be), then you can create entries directly via a few keystrokes. I’ve just slightly modified a workflow created by the people who make Drafts designed to mimic the “Append to Dropbox” action as seen in #2. Read about it on their website here, and then download my modified copy here:
Sifttter Alfred Workflow
I came across these images from from Lynda Barry via Austin Kleon, and I think they do an incredible job capturing what, in my mind, is one of the important parts of being a college instructor: trusting your students.
There are a lot of ways assignments can go wrong, and I think the easiest one is to be too prescriptive. This actually comes from a good place, as Barry illustrates—wanting to help out, set the terms, make things clear. We all have been on the receiving end of a vaguely worded assignment, and it’s the worst. But I think overcompensating can be just as bad.
When I wrote the assignment for my students’ first audio essay, I was worried that it was vague. I even put in language about knowing it was a little vague. I wanted to give them freedom to work, but I also wanted to be clear (for my sake as well as theirs) on what was required and how they would be evaluated.
The results blew me away, precisely because they were so unexpected. Everyone “got there,” in terms of what I wanted them to demonstrate, but did that in their own way and with their own point of view—including people for whom this was their first experience with audio editing. It was one of those, “this is why I do this,” kind of moments.
I think it’s really easy and really lousy for instructors to make students into Twitter punchlines, or to group “them” into a totalizing category that instructors themselves would find offensive in any other academic context. (“Oh, those sure are some lazy students!”) As an instructor, you have give students the tools to “get there,” but then you also have to let them get there—not necessarily by making open-ended assignments, but (at least) by trusting that they can.