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I am all about crazy futuristic gadgets, gizmos, and doohickies (feel free to correct my spelling). But I am also all about not living in a world where people are constantly plugged in to some sort of electronic device and eventually become cyborg-people controlled by artificial intelligences that have grown too powerful for us to contain. Okay, maybe that last part was my recent watching of Terminator: Salvation talking, but if you’ve ever watched Transcendent Man (an intriguing and frightening documentary, I highly recommend it) you’ll realize exactly how much is actually a truly possible future for mankind.

My love for sci-fi plotlines means that there’s a small part of me that’s always wary of the mass-production of devices that are meant to “ease our lives.” I mean, if the cavemen survived just fine for thousands of years without an iPhone , do I really need one? What if Siri evolves and decides she doesn’t want to spend her artificial life telling me how to get to Chipotle? (And has anyone noticed that we’re already referring to her as “her”?)

Anyway…

To counter my paranoia, there’s the other part of me that just loves freakin’ cool gadgets! So when I first heard about Google’s Project Glass, my first reaction was to look up all of the really neat things we will be able to do with it. Quick overview: Project Glass is a pair of streamlined glasses that are really a tiny smartphone/supercomputer you wear on your face. The computer shows information as an overlay onto what you’re looking at in real life. Here’s a look at what a day with Google Glasses might be like:

Now, here’s the question: if these glasses go mainstream, what will the consequences be?

Will they become what smartphones have been for the stereotypical teenager — a constant distraction, a perpetual tether to the internet, a seemingly addictive device?

Or will they, as proponents of Google Glasses claim, merely augment our lives? Remove the distraction of physically pulling out a phone to look at a screen, replacing it with a couple of spoken words and an icon at the corner of our eye?

I can see both ways that this could go. In a perfect world (such as the one in the video), we would use these glasses as a supplement to our lives. We would go to work, meet with friends, learn, socialize, and use the glasses only when we needed to get a bite to eat or call someone. But I can also see people sitting on subways and park benches, staring glassy-eyed (bad pun intended) into space and ignoring the people around them as they surf the internet and play through apps (because I’m sure apps will be added at some point).

Of course, this is probably the exact type of commentary that surrounded the first real cell and smart phones, and as a whole we’ve done a reasonably good job of integrating those into our lives. Maybe this is just the next step in that evolution.

I guess (for the Ned’s Declassified fans) if Cookie could manage computer glasses, then we probably can. I just hope they don’t encourage people to walk around talking to themselves. That would just be annoying.

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There seems to be a stigma surrounding fan fiction. People assume that it’s either pornographic extensions of books or just plain bad writing (and yes, all of that is plentiful out in the wonderful world wide web). But every once in a while when I finish a book, I’m not quite ready to leave the world inside, and so I boot up my computer and head on over to sites like fanfiction.net and Archive of Our Own (unfortunately, there’s not a place like Pottermore for every book). In my mind, there are three types of people to be addressed with regard to fan fiction:

1) For people who just want to read fan fiction, some wading through bad writing is unavoidable. The best way to learn is by imitation, and lots of times budding writers are just testing the waters and trying to copy their favorite authors. Fan fiction is a great way to do this because it’s an opportunity to publish work to an audience of peers and critics who are either in the same stage as you or have been in the same stage as you.

However, in the mess of beginners, there are always writers with the skill and originality to truly add to a novel. The best kind of fan fiction is the kind that makes you forget you’re not just reading a sequel online, and that isn’t quite so hard to find as you might think. Depending on the popularity of the book, there could be as much as one to two good pieces of fan fiction on every search page of fifteen links.

2) For people who want to actually write fan fiction, I would encourage you to do it. Maybe you’re afraid of criticism, maybe you’re self-conscious about your work, but at the very least, write something. Maybe you don’t publish it at first, but the more you write the better you’ll get. And if you do publish, remember that you are among thousands of people on the website that are just like you: writers trying to express their appreciation and inspiration from books they love.

3) And finally, for people who look down upon fan fiction: don’t. Maybe you just haven’t read enough of it or maybe you’ve read too much not-so-good writing, but I think it’s really a great thing. Writing is a wonderful skill to have, but people aren’t born knowing how to write. It comes with practice. And what better way to practice than writing about your favorite book(s)?

Give fan fiction another chance and you might be surprised at the ideas you find people come up with. There are more than just fifty shades of creativity when fans take it upon themselves to expand a universe.

The whole idea behind this film festival: imaginationThis one is for the aspiring photographers and filmmakers out there: here’s your chance to be known! Actor, producer, and director Ron Howard is coordinating a set of ongoing film festival creations, which together are called Project Imagination. They’re sponsored by Canon, of course,  as the whole point of them is to gather photo submissions (which, if they show a brand, cannot show anything other than Canon) from the public to inspire a short film. Despite the shameless self-promotion, the project(s) is/are a great way to get your photography skills out into the world.

Last year the project was one titled “Project Imagin8ion,” and the criteria were simple: submit a photograph to illustrate one of eight themes: setting, time, character, mood, relationship, goal, obstacle, and the unknown (click on the links to see the winners for each category). The photograph that was chosen out of the eight category winners inspired a short film by Bryce Dallas Howard and Ron Howard, called “when you find me.

The most recent undertaking, titled “Project Imaginat10n” (I’m seeing a theme here), is very similar. There are ten themes, some are repeats from the last one, for which you could submit original photographs, and entrants were limited to five photographs per theme. There are ten celebrity directors for this contest, and at the end of the submission period they will select one photo per theme. These photos will inspire the films that follow.

The submission period for Project Imaginat10n is closed but the films have yet to be made, so be sure to keep following the contest!

Celebrities waiting to be inspired include Eva Longoria, Biz Stone, Georgina Chapman, and Jamie Foxx (imagine that!). If you’re still a little confused by all this, this video by James Murphy might give you a little bit more of an idea on how projects like this work.

The reason this yearly film festival is so interesting is because it uses collaboration across the Internet to break down the barrier between the amateur and the professional, a barrier that’s in the mind as much as it is in reality. It helps talented, unrecognized photographers to realize that there’s a possibility to succeed in doing what they love; or, at the very least, it provides an exciting opportunity to show thousands of people something you are proud of. So if you are interested, even though submissions are closed for Imaginat10n, keep following Project Imagination itself. This is a film festival that I believe will keep coming back — if not, however would Canon advertise for itself? — and that means opportunities for you to show your talent. Imagine something great.

Three words: More Harry Potter

We all know how big a deal it was for the Harry Potter series to end. It was saddening enough to read the last lines of The Deathly Hallows, take a breath, and slowly close the cover, but we comforted ourselves with knowing that there were still some movies that needed to be made. We could look forward to those.

Then the last movie came out. People all over the world went to the premieres, then went back to theaters to see it again (maybe multiple times). But soon we couldn’t hold onto it any longer. There was nothing more to read, nothing more to see. Harry Potter was over. Or…

Maybe not.

Maybe we can find something to link us back to the wizarding world (short of running into train station pillars or stepping into public toilets, crossing our fingers, and flushing). Maybe there is a place for fellow Harry Potter fans to congregate, to explore, to learn spells and spend galleons and make potions and generally feel less like muggles.

That place would be Pottermore, no crashing or flushing necessary. And this place is here to stay.

Pottermore came out of beta testing on April 14, and it’s a huge success with Potterites everywhere. When you start, you have to walk through the first book to customize your account. You begin on Privet Drive and continue until Hagrid comes to tell Harry he’s a wizard. That’s when it really takes off.

Of course then you have to visit Diagon Alley to buy all of your supplies, including a wand (this is when I started to get very excited). After you buy all your supplies, it’s time to get on the Hogwarts Express and go to Hogwarts. And that means the Sorting Hat.

As an avid Potter fan, I agonized over every question the Sorting Hat gave me. The choices are not easily matched with a specific House, making it hard to tell where you’ll end up (though I secretly hoped for Gryffindor, of course).

After your House is assigned, you can make potions and duel with other wizards to win points for your House, though the main attraction is being able to follow the rest of the books. They’re being released in stages; the second book just opened recently, so there’s some time to go before all the series is available online. Even when that’s done, however, the beauty of the website is that it’s always changing and growing. There are forums, games, scavenger hunts, extra content on the books and characters, and more. The world of Harry Potter didn’t close when the books ended. There will always be something for us Potterites.

‘To feel and be felt,’ it’s the most fundamental, fundamental force that we’re all after. We can build all sorts of environments to make it a little bit easier but ultimately what we’re trying to do is really connect with one other person.

I’d like to take a bit of artistic license with Media Cyborgs’ mission today and explore a really unique person and his work, as opposed to a unique piece of media. The opening quote was spoken during a TEDtalk by a youtuber who goes by the name Ze Frank. I really hadn’t heard of him before a few weeks ago, but when he came to my attention I did a little research (AKA watched some of his videos), and what I found was very intriguing.


The projects that this man creates are all about connections between people. As his quote illustrates, Frank knows that life is all about these interactions, both large and small, and he recognizes — or rather, embraces — that electronic devices and the internet are playing a major part in them in the modern world. And he is doing his best to facilitate connections between people through his projects. Projects like:

  • Earth Sandwich — place two pieces of bread on exact opposite sides of the world at the same time (a team succeeded)
  • Youngmenowme — find a photograph from your childhood and re-stage it now that you’re older
  • From 52 to 48 with Love — (after the 2008 election) send in photos of yourself holding up signs about reconciliation between your political parties. i.e.
    “To 48, I promise to listen to you, to fight for you, to respect you always. Love, 52″
    “From a 48 to a 52: may your party’s leadership be as classy as you (but I doubt it)”
  • Angrigami — take origami paper printed with hate mail and make something beautiful out of it
  • Songs You Already Know — an ongoing project aimed at capturing specific human emotions

I think Frank’s motivation for doing these projects is twofold: one, because they’re whimsical, spontaneous, and amusing, but also, and more importantly, because he genuinely takes pleasure in facilitating human selflessness and bridging people together. All of these projects help us feel closer in our quirkinesses, happinesses, and insecurities, even if most participants never meet each other in person. And that’s a key point: that these numerous little interactions wouldn’t normally occur if not for the wonderful world of the internet.

In the TEDtalk, Frank talks about how he wondered what it would be like to live as someone else. So, naturally, he put out a call to his viewers asking for their Facebook usernames and passwords. I don’t know about you, but I myself probably wouldn’t send the username and password of my social networking account to a virtual stranger; however, in about a half hour between 30 to 40 people submitted their information to Frank, and that’s how “Facebook Me Equals You” started. Frank chose two people and got more information from them so as to gauge how to act as them on their Facebooks for a while. Something about that struck me, that so many people would so quickly entrust something (potentially) very important to someone they’d never met. It’s things like this that make me smile (or maybe cringe).

I want to leave you with something that always makes me smile, though. A woman wrote to Frank not long after “Facebook Me Equals You” asking him to write a song to help her manage her anxiety (in her words, “an audio-hug”). So he quietly began working with people all over the world. And the result was something amazing.

For the Writers

~
“touched his forehead. He thought, ‘Am I the
chosen one?’ The voice boomed across the stage.
‘TAG YOU’RE IT!’ and with a fanfare
of trumpets, the gigantic hand vanished.”
(link)
~

I am a huge fan of creative writing; both reading it and writing it. I’m not sure how the creative process works for other individuals, but I find that lots of times I go through periods of inspiration where I’m writing as often as I possibly can (this can last for hours, a day or two, or sometimes weeks), and then periods where I just don’t have the urge. Then, there are some times where I really want to write but once I’m sitting staring at the page, I don’t know how to start (or continue, in the cases where I’m picking up on a previous story).

~
“’I think it needs a little more… yellow!’ the brown-haired, dark-eyed boy offered.

I whirled around, brows knit. ‘Yellow?’ I hissed. ‘Are you crazy?’
Niall Hastings was far from crazy when it came to paints. He
was an artistic and musical genius, after all.”
“Niall Hastings”
~

In these writer’s-block instances, I find listening to music helps, and reading other stories. The problem with the latter is that when reading a story, I don’t want to take too much of the original author’s ideas (or any of them, actually). I want just enough information to start my own juices flowing.

~
“‘Chaz is that you?. You know my pseudonym is CrossAndFold
don’t you? Jimmny
Cricket! I really liked my fold too.
Why didn’t you consult SlimWhitman? Your
soul is in mortal danger!”
~

That’s where websites like Ficly and Folding Story are such excellent resources. Websites like these are meant to serve as a sort of writing collaboration/creativity challenge for writers, who can either contribute a short piece of their own to begin a thread or build onto contributions posted by other writers. I’m sure there’s an endless number of websites like this out there, but I’ve chosen to highlight these two website specifically.

~
“My head hurt. Hurt. I had thought that being there,
in a place of wisdom and peace, would straighten things out.
It hadn’t. Reality felt so … distorted.”
“(Rusty)”
~

Folding Story (excerpts are featured in lavender), as the website says, is a “storytelling game” that can result in some really crazy — and sometimes strangely cohesive — short stories. It works like most short story building websites, where you can post your own work and get access to any posts by other contributors to add lines. The catch: you only get to see the last two lines of the story to which you are adding, and you have three minutes to write. The full, final piece is only available to read once the thread has been closed to editing.

~
“Ironically, Katie was watching UP on her iPad and with
her headphones on hardly noticed our tent take flight.
This was just the tactical advantage I was looking for
& began dropping”
~

Ficly (whose excerpts are in turquoise) operates under a similar system, though it’s a little more conducive to submissions that you’d like to be longer than three sentences. The average submission is probably around two to three hundred words, and gives the reader the option to either write a “sequel” or a “prequel” to the current story or piece of poetry.

~
“She sat with soft, pale brown eyes fixed on me as I would inscribe my emotions

upon her heart. Her remarks, though not a common occurrence,
were tasteful and gently delivered
. On our countryside walks she stayed beside me,
caught happily upon my arm.
I suppose I didn’t realize how fragile she was. 
And I bled her dry.”
“Sophia”
~

In many cases with sites like Ficly, the overall quality of submissions can tend to be, shall we say, below par. However, what really struck me with this particular website is that the submissions (or at least the ones that I stumble across) are written by people who know what they’re doing, which is a refreshing change. It also, in turn, fosters a higher caliber of new submissions and creativity, which is an excellent environment for a budding writer.

~
“n for a pair of cybernetic enhancements. He was tired of the
stubby flippers. Dr. Octopus charged an arm and a leg but
when Muddymuddskipper sauntered into the Monte Carlo Casino”
~

If you’re looking for some inspiration, some good reading or just something to do, Ficly and Folding Story aren’t bad places to start. And don’t be intimidated out of contributing because you don’t feel witty or good enough; you only get better with practice, and on these sites, there are lots of other writers who are happy to help you out. For ideas on writing on Folding Story, check out What Makes A Good Fold?. For ideas for Ficly, try the Ficly Challenges page, or just browse around for stories to prequalize or sequalize (by the way, you can click on the title of any of the open stories that I excerpted to go directly to the page with the full story. Feel free to pre/sequalize those!).

Happy writing!

This version of the hitRECord logo was created by hitRECord contributor RoseVallentine out of portraits from hitRECorders’ profiles.

I love Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I think he’s handsome, a talented actor, a funny, nice guy, and, as I recently learned, generous. I learned this when my sister brought a certain website project called “hitRECord” to my attention, and I thought it was one of the coolest ideas I had heard of in a long time.

Mister Gordon-Levitt, who is the driving force behind the site and goes by the username RegularJOE, explains in his introduction video exactly why he created hitRECord: he believes that celebrities should not be the only ones to succeed in creative fields and have their works published. HitRECord is a collaborative project that brings together different talents to produce final products such as books, short stories, movies, and music that can then be put out into the world and, in some cases, turn a profit.

So, if you like:

  • Drawing
  • Singing
  • Playing an instrument
  • Writing
  • Acting / Voice acting
  • Editing
  • Remixing
  • Photographing
  • Photo editing
  • Filmmaking, or
  • Film editing,

then hitRECord might be something you want to check out. It’s a chance to stretch your creative abilities to the limit and work with other artistic people. Plus, there’s a potential paycheck in it for you as well. (Do I have your attention now?)

Sometimes pieces (once submitted to the site, they’re called records) will come to the attention of RegularJOE and his team, and that’s when it gets really interesting. Gordon-Levitt can use his position in the creative and film industry to publish the records that have the potential to make money. And when that happens, everyone who worked on the project gets a nice paycheck. They’ve published books, shown films at Sundance, put out music records, and had performances in all sorts of venues. Here are the specifics of how things work at hitRECord:

  1. People with all sorts of diverse creative talents publish their work on hitRECord for other members of the hitRECord community to browse through.
  2. If someone is particularly interested in the ideas put forth by a specific record, he or she then downloads the record and changes it, adding, cutting parts out, switching parts around, and turning it into something new.
  3. The remixer then re-uploads his or her new version back to the site for more remixing by other recorders.

A book of art and short stories

As you might guess, collaboration on projects is huge, and contributors from all over the world can work together. People will write plays, and then someone else will start up a project calling for voice actors and animators, and pretty soon a short film will be produced, much like The Man with a Turnip for a Head, which screened at Sundance this year and was narrated by Gary Oldman.

A recent work in progress I ran across is the Unicorn Collaboration. It started out as a short story (warning, it’s laced with profanity) from the POV of a girl who has just shot the last unicorn, and then the text was picked up by someone else, remixed a bit, got a voice reading, and the project is now in the midst of hunting for illustrators to, well, illustrate the short film.

A bona fide vinyl record containing music from all sorts of talented artists

And now for the (potential) downside to the site, which some of you may already have noticed: other people can take your work. They can’t upload it to the site under their own name and pass it off as their original work, but they can take what you’ve done and change it all they want. Lots of times, that can lead to some really great products. But some people might not be comfortable with their original works being downloaded by potentially countless strangers and changed. If so, then this site is not for you. HitRECord is all about collaboration, and accessing as much media and creativity as possible to create the best works possible.

If you’re at all interested after all this, I recommend you at least sign up. It’s free and fast; pick a username and password, enter your email, watch the terms of service (yes, watch. They do things a little differently on hitRECord. It’s exciting!) and you’re free to browse through crazy amounts of some pretty cool ideas. Who knows: maybe at Sundance 2013 it’ll be you sitting in the audience, listening to someone like Gary Oldman read your work to a huge crowd?

There are all sorts of webcomics out in cyberspace, but none (in my opinion) so witty, interesting, hilarious, and confusing as the site called xkcd. (I’ve included examples; you can click on them to get a bigger image.)And the possibility of lucid dreaming just makes it that much more fascinating.Originally, I knew about it because of a group of obviously mentally superior boys in my Intern/Mentor research program in high school. When they weren’t playing Settlers of Catan in free period or discussing algorithms for improving radar systems of submarines during lunch, they were on the computer reading comic strips from xkcd. I always thought the humor would be too sophisticated and/or scientifically minded for me, but in a fit of boredom one day I looked up the site. Now I read it all the time.

The bug report was marked 'could not reproduce'.The strips are simple, comprised of a few panels starring stick figure characters. They’re not of a connected plot line, just the musings of a physicist named Randall on “romance, sarcasm, math, and language,” as the tagline of his website says. Each comic also contains bonus “mouseover text,” which appears when, coincidentally, you mouse over the comic. The comics are updated several times a week, with the topics ranging from whimsical to darkly witty to simply nerdy.

But what about this webcomic merits a blog post?

Well, there’s something called “geohashing.” Geohashing was invented by Randall through xkcd, and the point of it is to literally bring people together. In his post called “Dream Girl,” the character mentions a string of coordinates and a date and time (all were real, and the date and time were not far from the day that the strip was published)  that were spoken to him in a dream. In the strip, the character went to the location at the aforementioned time, but nothing happened. In reality, however, on the right day, thousands of enthusiastic readers assembled at the location mentioned in the strip, where they met other xkcd enthusiasts and the creator of the webcomic himself. Since then, Randall has repeated this type of event with other coordinates and dates embedded in certain strips, with much success.A laptop battery contains roughly the stored energy of a hand grenade, and if shorted it... hey! You can't arrest me if I prove your rules inconsistent! It’s not the concept of geohashing itself that is so unusual—it’s the thought behind it. As opposed to other websites of this type (The Oatmeal, anyone?), xkcd does not just highlight the little quirks and ironies of the world. It actively connects people who like to see those things as well. There’s no specific reason Randall has for doing this; he just likes to.

Other webcomics and sites are passive (as passive as the internet can be), posting information for the audience to see, chuckle over, and then move on. xkcd wants interaction; it encourages people to alternately think playfully and think hard about, well, anything, really. Who couldn’t use more of that?

And as for what “xkcd” stands for… I have no idea.

Saying 'what kind of an idiot doesn't know about the Yellowstone supervolcano' is so much more boring than telling someone about the Yellowstone supervolcano for the first time.

Another Level

What do a well-known crime show and the soon-to-be-revealed subject of this article have in common? Three words (if you count an initial as a word): Anthony E. Zuiker. Fans of the CSI franchise may have recognized the name of the creator of their favorite TV show; those who didn’t, well, now you know.

Anthony Zuiker, along with Duane Swierczynski, released a book a couple of years ago called Level 26: Dark Origins. It’s a horror/thriller, everything you might expect from an experienced writer of a crime scene TV show. The premise: all murderers are rated by law enforcement on a scale from one to twenty-five, based on their levels of sadism (one is an inexperienced newcomer to the field and twenty-five is a twisted recreational serial killer). But there is one murderer who is so unpredictable, sick, and inhumanly untraceable that he isn’t even on the scale. He tortures and kills anyone with any method at any time, and he leaves no evidence. He goes by the alias Sqweegel.

Even his name is creepy.

This book is different from other horror novels. Some successful book series (Dark Origins is book one of three in the Dark Series) inspire forums or are released along with a companion website. Level 26, however, takes that extra interaction one step further, as the world’s first “digi-novel.”

A digi-novel, as explained on the Level 26 website, combines a traditionally written book with “cyber-bridges” — codes posted at the end of a chapter. These codes, when entered into the companion website, unlock professionally created short films with recognizable actors which pick up where the chapter left off. As Zuiker puts it: “It’s like getting a movie inside every book.”
You can even check out the trailer for it here.

Some readers of the first book weren’t fans of the posting of the codes at the end of every chapter to find out what happened next. The general consensus among this certain group of people was that it was sometimes jarring enough to knock the reader out of the intensity of the plot. In the second book, Level 26: Dark Prophecy, the videos and chapters are integrated in such a way that the book can be read straight through without having to stop and watch a video clip. In addition, when strung together,  the video clips constitute virtually an entire movie. I personally think that it would be more interesting to watch the videos as one reads, especially with the introduction of the Level 26 mobile device apps which make the online content even more accessible.

This idea of the digi-novel is innovative and engaging, attractive to adults living in an ever more digitized world. If you’re sure you can handle the experience this series has to offer, take the leap and track down Level 26: Dark Origins. Have your computer or smartphone at the ready.

Welcome!

Thank you for visiting! Whether you be artist or technology enthusiast, friend or foe, I hope you find something here at Media Cyborgs to interest you (though the artists, tech buffs, and friends will likely have the easiest time of it. Foes, please be kind while you’re here).

Feel free to browse around. This website is meant to highlight unconventional media and explore all the new and exciting ways traditional media is melding with the digital world (not to say that good old books and music aren’t just great on their own). You can read a bit more about the purpose of Media Cyborgs here. Please stay as long as you like!

~R