In this COVID economy, my students’ eBooks shine a light

This year too I am so inspired by the work that students in my computer class have produced. Their capstone project is a 24-page eBook, and this year I relaxed the guidelines and let them choose any topic. I wanted to see how they use this moment in time to come up with ideas, rather with no boundaries.

I wanted to see what has been brewing in the minds of young people. I was in for a shock! This semester, I noticed more fiction emerging than all the semesters before, combined. Even the non-fiction was telling. Topics include, “The most tragic events in history,” the solar system, and one on somewhat gruesome events of World War II. But the outpouring of fiction made me have to allow them to go beyond the 24-page requirement.

Here are some of the topics:

The Mind Traveler,” “The Girl Astronaut,” “A Vacation in the Woods,” “The Mystery Letters.” Two books on Softball as a backdrop to drama, two on dance techniques, a romance, one on the harmful technologies affecting young people, and one two on mental illness. There’s more….

My students design the front and back covers using only copyright-free images, they control margins, and on my insistence, ad nauseam, use plenty of white space. Take a look at these, and let me know if what we are seeing an explosion of creativity in 12 and 13 year olds. Perhaps this year with so many ups and downs has rekindled the urge to read, imagine and tell stories. I hope I am right.

It makes being a teacher so rewarding!

Click on the images and they link to actual eBooks.

In the Internet graveyard: RSS, USENET, CompuServe and GeoCities

You have to be of a certain age to remember that geeky feature known as ‘RSS” and why it was supposed to change everything.* Or to have been on a USENET group or a BBS to know that there were ‘discussion boards’ before Twitter and Discord. I still remember creating a ‘homestead’ in GeoCities, which was a precursor to, Second Life. Second what? This was a ‘massively multiplayer’ virtual hangout in which businesses spent millions of dollars creating virtual storefronts, hosting virtual conferences etc. This was all part of a frenzy to colonize cyberspace, as if real estate was about to run out. This was when we breathlessly talked about the clash between the bricks and clicks.

IBM’s meeting room in SecondLife

I have to admit I too went in for a land grab with a domain I registered called Brand Buzz. I was nearly sued by a big name ad agency that claimed I was trespassing on their ‘land’ and for awhile stood my ground. (Long story; I featured this in my book Chat Republic.) As a tech columnist for Communication World magazine I remember attending virtual conferences in Second Life, and wondering where this bizarre game-like experience was taking us. Could we be chatting with each other as (through) pixelated avatars in the future? Thankfully not.

There was also a time when we had 56K modems, and needed a CD-ROM from American Online (Who remembers ‘ROM’s and AOL?). I bring these up because we are now being submerged in new terms and new technologies claiming to be defining the future of the Internet. I occasionally broach the subject in my class to give my students some context to the tech hype they are being exposed to, as we were then. Like 5G. Here’s what the Electronic Frontier Foundation, (a thinking person’s guide to anything with or without wires and apps) had to say of 5G:

Without a comprehensive plan for fiber infrastructure, 5G will not revolutionize Internet access or speeds for rural customers. So anytime the industry is asserting that 5G will revolutionize rural broadband access, they are more than just hyping it, they are just plainly misleading people. (“Enough of the 5G Hype 2019)

We’re still drowning in hype, aren’t we?

* RSS is dead. But the protocol that it was based on to provide ‘feeds’ lives on. Second Life is still on life support.

Journalism on the ballot, in Bob Woodward’s expose

To be charitable, Donald Trump may have not read a single page of one of Bob Woodward’s previous books, let alone All the President’s Men. Or else, why in heaven’s name would he have even volunteered to speak to one of the journalists whose reporting caused Richard Nixon to exit in disgrace? The latest book, Rage, might reveal why the president seems to want a journalist’s attention, given that he rails against the media all the time.

But it’s not just Trump whose motives are murky. Why would Woodward not tell the American people that the president’s on-the-record interviews were contradicting his public statements –statements made, one must note, in front of Woodward’s colleagues? Sometimes weekly.

Trumpism is not the only thing on the ballot. Journalism is. Not the simplistic fake news variety, but journalism within the toxic political economy. The Sean Hannity’s of this world we get, and dismiss as journalism’s caricatures. Woodward didn’t have to seek Deep Throat this time in some shadowy parking lot. Deep Throat found him (apparently to “unburden himself”). This could have been breaking news – the kind that could save lives and could have spared a nation grief and ignominy. But the manuscript was tucked away until an opportune moment. Woodward, with his and partner Bernstein’s indefatigable reporting and risk-taking left us a legacy for what good, solid, timely information could do. But with so many platforms that ‘break’ the news for us now, Breaking News is broken. Tiny little shiny shards spat out of a wood chipper to settle down all around us. We flick them off our sleeve and move on.

Will this crisis, a horror story not of Rage but indifference, also pass?

Chat Republic revisited

Angelo Fernando - Chat RepublicI came across post of interview I gave back in February 2014. It was interesting to recall how I was really anxious about the downward spiral of social media, then.

Read the full interview here.

Two of those questions were:

PB: How did you come up with the title for your book?
AF: I was always amused hearing people repeating the phrase “If Facebook was a country” as if it was a thing to revel in. I have also been fascinated by the power of conversations and the spoken voice that, minus cameras and other distractions, conveys much, much more.

PB: What is the main message you want your readers to understand?
AF: My overarching message is that we risk losing what makes us human by being so distracted that we prefer to scan headlines in 140 characters, rather than dig deep into the issues. We risk losing the art of listening because we are busy thinking how we may craft the next ‘tweet burp.’ After reading my book, I hope my readers reconsider what goes on in the name of marketing communication, PR and corporate communication.

Fascinating titles as students publish eBooks

As a final project to wrap up their mastery of layout and editing tools in Microsoft, my students created a 22-page book. Each book was published as an eBook.

To kick it off, they brainstormed themes for their book. Followed by a unit on creative book titles, I was fascinated to see them come up with titles such as these:

  • Is Amelia Earhart Dead?
  • Oh, the Creatures You’ll Find!  – Mythical creatures
  • A Helping Paw   – On dogs that risked their lives for humans
  • The Ultimate European Bucket List – no explanation needed
  • A Pigeon’s Eye View of Europe
  • Johnny B. Goode Tonight   – Classic rock songs
  • Tragic Waters   – The most disastrous storms
  • Geek out with Dragons – For readers with a serious Harry Potter obsession

More than a 100 books are being uploaded today and tomorrow! Here are two. Click on images to launch the books!

‘Weapon of Mass Instruction’ – Where did a Library lead you?

This week, April 8-14 is National Library Week. It’s a given: libraries have transformed our lives. Whether it was a sparsely equipped school library, or an uncle’s bookshelf, there’s a chance that a ‘library’ or a book that you randomly picked led you to this career.

So how did a library change your life? 

I am asking this question from as many people as possible, and will post responses here. Do send me your mini stories!

 

WEAPON OF MASS INSTRUCTION: Created by a photojournalist, this moving library, a ‘tank,’ is a converted 979 Ford Falcon that holds up to 900 books.

PROJECT GUTENBERGR, an Internet archive of 11 million boks and texts, and 4 million audio recordings of writing. You could find and download for free a book published prior to 1923! Gulliver’s Travels? Hamlet? It’s free!

 

Are we living among Bots?

It sounds like great opening paragraph for a sci-fi novel – a rhetorical question inserted into the throughts of someone fighting off some bad karma.

Are bots occupying spaces in our lives where we least expect? Our news feeds, our social media likes, even the ‘information’ we use to make decisions on investing, purchasing, and what to read etc. A recent article in Fortune states that malicious bots account for nearly 20% of all Internet traffic. Their list of insidious bots include those scripts steal content from commercial websites, influence ad metrics and ticket prices, and infiltrate forums. The main report from Digital Trends (they put the number at nearly 30 percent) notes that  48.2 percent of all traffic was sent by humans that year. The other 51.8 percent were bots. 23 percent were form good bots.

We now hear of ‘bot farms’ that trade in followers – one can supposedly buy thousands of Instagram followers for a few thousand bucks. Oh, my! No wonder some websites’ authentication makes you click on “I am not a bot”!

To think the premise for my 2013 book was about ‘being human 1.0 in a web 2.0 world.’ 

On a related note, IABC –the International Association of Business Communicators – has a forum discussion on Trust in wake of the 2018 Trust Barometer report. The bot discussion surfaced here too. Which shows that not ject tech folk worry about and plan ho to counter such an Internet cancer. Comms folk involved the reputations of companies and the information they share have to be cognizant of living among bots. Yes there are ‘good bots’ and bad ones, and there could be a battle royale being waged on the networks we use, hidden in plain sight.

More material for that sci-fi novel, huh?

Remedial Reading for Brutal Dictators

I’m not sure what books Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is supposed to have read while he was in medical school in Damascus, but I’m itching to blame his professors in London for not giving him some compulsory reading.

Or what if Robert Mugabe had read Robert Frost? Or Joseph Stalin had read Joseph Conrad? Would it have changed the course of history?

Just asking!

Actually my April column in LMD is on this. And I got some recommendations from some literary types here and in Sri Lanka. The Remedial reading list for brutal dictators includes:

If you want to know why, you’ll have to read the article – here.

Online textbooks could be fun (or completely annoying)

You’d think I would applaud the trend to digitize textbooks. After all, I’ve winced at the sticker shock of trying to busy a book for a college level class.

But the other day my daughter explained how ‘lame’ it was to have to jump through multiple hoops online just to get to a few pages she had to read for a class. The time spent would have been better spent elsewhere, she said. I had to agree. Sometimes to make things more ‘convenient’ and deliver them in a digital skin, we hide them in confounding folders, hidden behind firewalls that even the Russians my have trouble getting to.

The goal of reading is help students discover ideas and find meaning. Not to be able to check a box on a progress report. Books made from pulp have been a ‘technology’ many want to disrupt. The Nook and the Kindle made a few inroads, but could go only so far. We humans still crave the feel of paper, the tactile experience derived from objects that convey meaning.

I just ordered a book on Amazon. Indeed I read the reviews in the digital realm, but did not buy the Kindle version. Don’t get me wrong. I love reading material on the Kindle app. Just not books anymore.

If you like to read more about The Reading Brain, there’s an excellent Scientific American article which explains how paper sometimes triggers brain circuitry in a way that screens cannot.

Creating an eBook from a PDF – Cool tool!

I am testing a book creation tool called YouBlisher. The goal is to learn how it works so I could teach my students next year how to ‘publish’ in more ways than one! Test it out and let me know what you think.

Click on the icon to view a digital book that lets you flip pages. Then read below the pros and cons:

eBook Experiment - YouBlisher

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What’s good about Youblisher:

  1. It’s free, so I don’t have to download any software.
  2. The content has to be created on a local computer, and not on the provider’s website.
  3. You need to convert your document into a PDF to upload it. Which means you create your book as a Microsoft Word doc, or Publisher. Alternatively, you could create a photo book using Photoshop or Powerpoint. As long as you save it as a PDF.
  4. The pages flip like a professional ebook.
  5. YouBlisher gives you a link to embed (which is not what I did here – I just linked an image of the cover, back to the site.) They also give you a Facebook embed code.

What I wish was possible:

  • A way to download the entire ebook, and save it on any device
  • A custom URL would be terrific! Right now it’s www.youblisher.com/p/1391665-Full-STEAM-Ahead. But hey!
  • I wish the links within the content worked. There may be a way to fix this…

Note: The content for this eBook was culled from several posts on this blog. It took me just 20 minutes.