On our anniversary [#52weeks]

Screenshot 2013-03-11 at 6.20.41 PMThe eighth day of this month marked the end of my second year living here, and the beginning of my third. I’m not sure what the rules are about these things, but I’m pretty sure that it’s safe to say that San Francisco and I are definitely a thing.

When I moved here, I do so with a heart very much broken by tragedy, a shooting that upended my life and took away the lives of thirty two others. Some days, I thought that I’d never recover from it all, but this place– this beautiful, maddening place with its frustrating weather and its brilliant people focused on making the world better for all, this infinite city full of breathtaking views and boundless energy– this place and the life I have built here with very dear friends, a roommate who has literally cut people for me (this is a mutual thing, y’all), and my most dearest [darling], this place healed me, this place brought me to life and brought me to a life that I could have never, ever imagined for myself or thought possible. Here I have loved more fiercely and passionately than I ever knew possible; I’ve overcome so very many obstacles that before felt insurmountable, I’ve survived heartbreak and loss at any other point in my life would have shattered me to bits. I’ve moved mountains and worked harder than I could have ever imagined to be able to make the world a better place. This place has transformed me into a person, into a woman I’m very proud to be and for that alone I cannot thank it enough.

I wish I had something more fitting to say about my adventures with this dear city, but I do not. For the twenty five years and change preceding the day that I got off that fateful Southwest flight, I had felt as if I had been waiting for my life to begin. When I came here, when I chose the Bay Area and San Francisco as my home, my life began.

I think, perhaps, that there’s a song that says it best– “I belong with you, you belong with me. You’re my sweetheart.”


The Tangled Web We Weave [#52weeks]

[This post is one of many that have been relegated to my drafts folder for no apparent reason. Originally written by hand in my Moleskine journal, it never quite made it to publication during my two week experiment in tablet computing.]

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Every time that I’ve sat down to write this week, I’ve ended up writinng about two very important things going on in my life right now: dating and tacos. In a bid to stop the madness, I’m literally writing this week’s post.

(If we’ve never quite met this way before, hi, I’m Jessy and this is how I write, Handwritten script is one of my very most favorite things in the world and despite my love for technology and digital media, I will defend the need for handwriting to be taught to everyone until my very very last breath.)

Not very long ago, my most favorite of social networks released a little iOS app called Vine. If you’ve yet to encounter it in the wild, Vine is an app that stitches together six seconds of video footage into something rather similar to an animated GIF with sound. A product of my most beloved of all things on the internet, I downloaded it immediately. As the rest of the internet went rather mad over it, I couldn’t help but find myself a little clueless.

I’m boring, you see. I’m an art historian at heart, y’all, and if an image moves, I’m not quite sure what to do with it or how exactly to navigate my way through it. My visual vocabulary is very much based on static, fixed images and I’ve never been able to reconcile my comfort with still images with that whole motion thing that has been happening since, uh, video art became a thing. This is probably why that YouTube thing is lost on me, and why I’m not usually a huge movie fan and why my browser(s) together have never had to do much work in the arena of video display. Did I mention that I really, really don’t “get” video?

Okay, back to Vine. Or, well… not really.

I’ve been on a bit of a technology/blog hiatus as of late– did you know that if you leave the internet, everything is pretty much in the same place that you left it when you come back?!– because I’m still in mourning over the passing of Rexie, my pre-unibody Macbook Pro. I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the process of content creation and content consumption that takes on the web. At times, I admit, I feel like I don’t even “go here” despite having rather uninterrupted access to the web since the age of about twelve years old. How, exactly, am I supposed to create content in a medium with which I do not always feel confident? How do I create without really feeling I understand what is going on with every “OMG can’t live without it!!!!1!” thing that comes out on the web.

I should probably mention that I think too much, at times, and that sometimes I make things a bit harder than they should be. This is a six second video app we’re talking about, not a film being submitted to the Sundance Film Festival, and yet I’m dropping a bajillion words on WordPress while stressing about it.

Yup, you guessed it: I’m going to go all web literacy on this business in 3…2…1…

I speak about it more than I had ever really expected I suppose, but that is really because I find that as a society, we need it more than ever. Perhaps daydreaming about a little app that creates six second of OMG PICTURES THAT MOVE isn’t the most opportune occasion to start, but more people than ever in our history have access to the web, and that number is growing exponentially in smaller and smaller windows of time. More people than ever are creating content for the web, and more content than ever has made content discovery a problem that much of the Valley and the world is attempting to solve with search and algorithm. But the real problem here isn’t that there is more out there than ever, rather that we are not as a society armed with a suite of critical thinking skills specialized or honed enough to help us navigate this other multimedia place– a simulacrum of the society in which we live built in endless programming languages and has been optimized in seemingly every way possible– that has so quickly become so important to use that some have begun to consider access to it a fundamental human right.

(Slow down, guys– it’s 2013 and there are still people in this world without running water, sanitation, or many of the components of the heirarchy of needs. Access to the internet is important, and the digital divide is nothing to sneeze at– but #firstworldproblem much?!)

I’ve long been a proponent of teaching visual literacy as critical thinking, though with the endless other crises on education’s table, well… we’re not exactly going to see every high school student be legally mandated to take an art or history of design course, are we? We’re awfully busy these days navigating both a virtual and an actual society– much of that virtual society, by the way, is increasingly visual (Pinterest, Instagram and the ubiquity of cameraphones I’m looking at you here!) and we have fewer tools than ever to unpack the endless imagery in front of our own eyes. What happens  then, when we’re inundated with more multimedia content  video  audio, moving image, whatever that has been designed and optimized to capture and hold our rapt attention for as long as possible?

Where are we going with this thing we call the web? And how did we find ourselves here? Sure, my six seconds of a late Saturday afternoon cocktail aren’t the end of the world as we know it, but it only took a day for the first “How to Use Vine in Marketing” webinar to pop up and after dealing with thousands of web and media illiterate college students who are unable to spot simple things like bias, I can’t help but be a bit worried. Where do we start drawing lines and really discussing what we’re up against when it comes to all of our webs, the inter- and outer- ones? Surely we’ve been building them long enough to take a step back and to do a little preventative untangling for this rather large series of tubes we’ve interwoven for decades now, but who is going to start?


Why I Don’t Code (Yet) And What I’m Doing About It [#52weeks]

I’m a Codecademy dropout.

If ever there were a year for me to learn how to code, last year was it. Every month, new startups aiming to teach the uninitiated how to code launched across the Internets. Each week, I got a polite email from Codecademy reminding me about the Code Year challenge that I took to learn coding during 2012. (I feel really, really bad for whoever had to monitor the open rates for that weekly email: ouch!) All of the MOOCs– Udacity, Coursera, MIT– offered some sort of intro to computer science or coding course at launch last year, and yet I completed nothing. In late July, I even found myself in the middle of pretty much every security engineer ever at a hacker convention in Las Vegas, surrounded by people behind some serious web shenanigans and fight for the future of the Internet as we know it. The enthusiasm and creativity– yes, y’all, engineers and hackers ARE creative– made its way back to the Silicon Valley with me, and I even made a pact with [dude] (he’s no more) that I’d work on Codecademy every day until I finished my Code Year challenge.

And yet… I still can’t don’t code.

Across the board, MOOCs, open courseware and open education resources suffer from low completion and adoption rates. Sure, some of the failures of MOOCs and free curriculum resources have to do with continuity and instructional design– What do you do after you’ve taken CS 101, and there’s no follow up curse? What happens when your MOOC falls apart?- but I’m sure as hell not going to jump on the bandwagon of haters, most of whom condemn the site entirely for its pedagogy, as if pedagogy were the only determinate element of education responsible for learning. (Hint: pedagogy isn’t everything.) Attrition rates in free educational opportunities aren’t a pedagogy problem, a marketing problem, or a community problem — they’re a passion problem.

When it comes to coding, I don’t have the passion and the dedication it would take to learn something that has at times frustrated me so very much. (Seriously, have you SEEN the things you have to do with punctuation marks to make code work?!) What am I going to do about my coding problem, then? Absolutely nothing.

I’ll just go find and learn something else to take its place. Or as [darling] would say, “On to the next one.”

The Death of the Desktop [#52weeks]

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that my dearly beloved (we are gathered here today to mourn the passing of…) Rexie, the Macbook Pro that has been my constant companion since 2008, passed away during an ill-advised attempt to upgrade her OS. To say that I feel as if I’ve been in hell until today feels like hyberbole and massive understatement at the same time.

For the better part of the past year and a half, I’ve read endless advocacy of mobile computing. Tablets and phones are the future, says Our Lady of Silicon Valley (h/t to Dan Meyer for that jab), and desktop computing is SO over. As almost everything I do behind a machine is web-based, cloud-based, or has its own app, I thought perhaps that I’d be able to transition into a tablet-only existence sans issue. I could do almost everything that I needed to do from my iPad, right?

WRONG. Here are a few of the limitations I discovered while trying to live a tablet/mobile existence over the past couple of weeks:

  • Most of the web isn’t optimized for mobile devices. This means that many, many sites render incorrectly or are inaccessible due to relying on technology that isn’t supported on tablet devices. A great example of this: restaurant websites, which very frequently run on Adobe Flash. It’s unbelievably frustrating to find what appears to be a great restaurant on Yelp while out and about during the weekend, only to find that its site inaccessible by phone or tablet because neither support Adobe Flash. Alternately, much of the web looks hideous when viewed through the Retina display of my iPad.
  • Not all mobile-optimization is created equal. While many sites can auto-detect the browser you’re using to access them and direct you to a mobile-optimized version of a site, bugs are prolific. Buttons that don’t work, text boxes render incorrectly, and some of the best features of a tool or product are omitted entirely from the mobile browsing experience. When doing my taxes just the other day, I tried accessing an important student loan document via iPad, only to find that the PDF generated by the site couldn’t display the information I needed in Safari or Chrome. (Naturally, it opened like a charm on a non-mobile browser.)
  • There aren’t enough truly great apps– and the constant push for apps adoption of web-based services sucks for everyone. Though I’ve changed the settings in both Safari and Chrome to block pop-up notifications, there’s no way to block the “Download our app!” banners and boxes that pop up every. single. time. I visit certain sites. Sometimes, though, I just want to access a site during a casual perusing of the internet, or better yet, I want to visit on my own terms so that I can drop it into iMessage, email it, bookmark it, save it to Pocket, send it to Instapaper, share it on Twitter or god knows what else. Sure, there are more APIs (application programming interfaces) than ever connecting apps and tools to one another, but some platforms are getting more defensive of their APIs and the tools I love the most usually don’t talk to one another in this way. What is the point of downloading yet-another-app that may not have the same functionality as the full-web version or limited-mobile version of a product?
  • Don’t even get me started on whether mobile devices encourage content consumption over content creation. Wondering why I haven’t been very productive as of late? It has been im-freaking-possible for me to respond to a long email on an iPad or an iPhone, much less write a blog during the mobile experiment. Sure, I could access social media– but contributing to a chat? holding a conversation? Forget it. While I did adopt a new little video app recently released by Twitter, and Instagram /all/ the things as usual— I’m not convinced that smaller screens and touchscreen keyboards are powerful or useful enough to contribute to the writing part of contributing to the read-write web.

As I’m never one to back away from a challenge, I thought that I’d take the passing of my Macbook as an opportunity to make lemons out of lemonade and experience something new. What did I discover? That tablets and mobile devices really aren’t good for anything but light tasks, and that it’s next to impossible to get anything worthwhile done on a tablet. But what do I know?

Desktop computing is dead, long live desktop computing.

Reflections on Kickstarting for Education

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Of all of the crowdfunding sites, Kickstarter is the leader of the pack– it’s the biggest, most visible, most successful platform out there, and it because of it, a plethora of incredible projects have come to life. In 2012 alone, over two million people successfully funded 18,109 projects. For many, Kickstarter is to crowdfunding what Kleenex is to “tissue,” though there are many other platforms that have popped up to support the crowdfunding model.

Over the past few months, I’ve contributed time, money, and insight to two specific Kickstarter projects, both of which were funded with only hours to spare. The first, an interactive comic book app, the brainchild of John Boyer and Katie Pritchard, was built for the Plaid Avenger’s unforgettable World Regions class (and the community built around it) at Virginia Tech. The second project of which I was part was Outthink Inc’s “Tornado Maker,” an educational app that, upon completion, would be the only app in the entire Apple App Store designed for preteens.

Continue reading “Reflections on Kickstarting for Education”

#52weeks: Meet our writers, new and old.

It’s been a big week for that little project I kicked off with some Twitter friends.

No, we’re not internet famous– yet?– but our ranks have doubled since we declared our intentions to write /ALL/ the things once a week for the next year. I’m jumping up and down in my seat with excitement essite as I type this, because I’m very much thrilled to introduce you to the three newest members of our #52weeks community, Emily, McKenzie, and Kristian.

Yesterday, Emily contributed with her first post, and I connected with it almost instantly. Her words embrace the concept of the growth mindset, the idea that our abilities are not tied to natural talent but on hard work.

” This coming year is about breaking that mold and taking some risks. I’m ready to focus on the things I want to accomplish that I’m not sure about. The things that don’t come naturally, that might frustrate me, things that I may initially believe I’m not good at. Because real rewards come with real risks.”

This morning, I was completely bowled over when Kristian (KayTeaWhy) threw her introductory post into the ring. I’ve never met her before, but I connected immediately with her feelings about confidence and connecting with others.

I know that I have a voice, and thoughts and opinions, and a life, just like the rest of you.  I’ve just never been so confident to share all of that.  I’ve always longed for a connection with people, but it’s always been a game I’ve lost. And I really don’t like losing.

I’ll be updating this post to include Kristin’s first post when it appears.  In the mean time, here’s a link to Dan’s first and second posts, and to Phil’s first post in which he describes a new life journey. Want to join our adventure? Tweet any of us. We’d be honored to have you.

It may take a year, but I’m determined to get my writing back. #52weeks

A few weeks ago, I approached my Twitter friends Dan and Phil with an idea. It was incredibly simple– dudes, let’s challenge each other to write a post at least once a week for 52 weeks– but I was nervous that they wouldn’t be receptive to it. I knew that without them, and the system of commenting, cross linking, and participation that I had imagined, I would fail. I’ve tried on my own to write more, and for a million reasons it has always failed.

Long before this year even started, I knew that it had to be different. Because I lost my love for and my confidence in my ability to write– and I want it back. Because I’ve consumed so much from the web, but I haven’t fully experienced its read-write spirit. Because I’ve learned so much from the communities of which I’ve been a part, but I don’t feel that I’ve truly given back to them in a meaningful enough way. Continue reading “It may take a year, but I’m determined to get my writing back. #52weeks”