Winter Travels, Home Improvement 101, Thesis: Defeated! and Brown Bag Podcasts

Travis Ross’ Amusement Park Adventures

While most of us spent winter break trying to dodge the snow and stay warm, PhD student Travis Ross got to be a kid again.  He spent six days with his family, enjoying the Disney World and Universal Studios amusement parks.  They woke up at 7:00 am every morning to take on the day’s attractions.  And they weren’t the only ones.  Thanks to crowds from the annual Capital One Bowl and Disney Marathon, records were set for attendance at Disney World two of four days Travis and his family were there.  One of the highlights included the 3D Toy Story Ride, where a pair of riders, wearing 3D glasses, fire a cannon to shoot baseballs at plates, darts at balloons and throw pies at faces.  Travis accomplished something to be proud of – he set his ride car’s high score for the week.

After Disney World, Travis and his family went to Universal Studios, where the highlight was the Harry Potter attraction.  Spending time in Hogsmeade, the town portrayed in the Harry Potter novels, and drinking butterbeers made for amusing experience.  Travis explained, “The butterbeer was cream soda flavored with butterscotch… I didn’t really like it, but it was interesting.”  Travis was further impressed by the detail of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizadry replica.  Since the Harry Potter attraction is so new, actually less than a year old, people were waiting in line two to three hours just to get in.  “Looking back, Disney World was crazy with all the people and all the walking we did.  It was too much.”

Now that Travis’ parents have moved to Houston, they have been looking for ways to remain close.  Winter break provided the perfect opportunity for the family to take a trip and spend some time together.  Travis’ mom was the organizer this time around, booking flights and hotels for everyone.  Now, plans are being made to take trips to different places every few years in order to stay in touch.  “My parents are adventurous and like to try new things.  I’m really lucky.”

Lindsay Ems in Germany

When PhD student Lindsay Ems was in high school, she spent a year as an exchange student in Meilitz, Germany. Over winter break, she spent 9 days reconnecting with her host family and friends during the heaviest snow accumulation the region had

The ice village Lindsay constructed with her host-brother

seen in 60 years. This was her third visit back to Meilitz over the years, and traveling wasn’t a large part of the agenda. “We spent most of the trip eating, drinking, talking and catching up on the events of each others’ lives. These were pretty common activities when I lived with them as well,” Lindsay says.

Though the journey to Meilitz did not include sightseeing this time around, the trip was still an important experience for Lindsay and her host family. Her host father passed away unexpectedly last summer,

Lindsay and her host-mother in Meilitz, Germany.

and this was the first opportunity for Lindsay to return to the family to share memories and stories. “The trip was motivated by an unfortunate set of circumstances, but it was absolutely fantastic to be back in the village where I lived and reconnect with the people who make that place so special to me,” she says. Much of Lindsay’s time with her host family was spent taking advantage of the unique weather conditions: playing in the snow with her host-brother’s daughter, building a miniature ice village, and navigating the little-plowed roads.

Lindsay hopes it won’t be very long before she reunites with her host family again. They’re trying to convince her to make the trip once more this upcoming summer, as the women’s soccer World Cup is in Germany at that time. “It would be absolutely phenomenal if I could work it out to do this,” she says.

Home Improvement 101: Rob Potter and Bryant Paul

While the grad students were away over break, two faculty members decided to trade their research tools for craftsman tools. Professors Rob Potter and Bryant Paul both tackled various home improvement projects during the holiday recess and lived to tell the tale. We caught up with them this week to see how the renovations changed them, how they changed the renovations, and how to use media to install a toilet.

Rob Potter’s idea for two separate renovation projects came about when he returned from his sabbatical in Australia with an urge to transform his house into a greener, more efficient living space. Rob first installed three low-flow toilets. A second project, more complicated than swapping out toilets, says Rob, involved insulating the crawlspace underneath their house to make the entire place a little warmer. The crawlspace project found Rob underground for 5 days wearing a gas mask as he placed insulation and added a vapor barrier sheet. “There was extra vapor barrier left, and this is where my personality really kicks in,” Rob explains. His proclivity for order made him contemplate removing the crawlspace’s original vapor barrier just because it was a different color than the new one. “It drove me absolutely nuts that I had a 2-tone crawlspace,” he says. For now, Rob still has time to think about it. Rising temperatures on the 3rd day of the project revealed water leaking into the area, and installing French drains is next on the to-do list.

Professor Rob Potter

Rob is acquiring his expertise in the art of crawlspace insulation and French drains through the use of his phone. “I use my cell phone to snap photos of parts and items, then I take my phone to the hardware store,” he says. When he doesn’t know how to do some part of the projects, he simply searches for a how-to video on YouTube. And how does Rob like the cozier house with its newly insulated crawlspace? “It’s still colder than Australia,” he says.

Similarly, Professor Bryant Paul spent nearly every day of break renovating an entire bathroom. “I put new everything in it, and I worked until the day before classes started,” he says. The project involved tearing out drywall, installing new cabinets and shelving, and putting in new tile. Working alone on the project, Bryant spent much of the time kneeling on the floor working on the tile. Looking back, he admits the biggest mistake may have been not to invest in a $4.95 pair of kneepads. “My hands and knees still hurt,” he says later in the week.

The project gave Bryant new insight into the world of construction. “People who do this for a living probably don’t get paid enough,” he says. “It’s nice to build something tangible, and there’s still another bathroom to be done in the future.” Bryant is satisfied with the final project, due in large part to his tedious attention to detail. “When you set me loose on this stuff, it has to be perfect,” he adds. Check out the video below to see how the project evolved:

Thesis: Defeated!

In the closing days of fall semester, two graduate students successfully defended their MA theses. We took some time to speak with both students – James Ball and Katie Birge – to hear their reflections on their work.

Corresponding via phone from Louisville, Kentucky, James Ball explained how a final paper from his first semester slowly evolved into his thesis (Quantifying the Claim that Nixon Looked Bad: A Visual Analysis of the 1960 Presidential Debates, Committee: Erik Bucy, Chair, Mike McGregor, Rob Potter). “We were doing a focus group on different political gaffes, and I saw Nixon and noticed that it wasn’t just about what he was doing all the time (his poor performance), but it was also about what the production people were doing,” James explains.  From there, James developed this idea into his thesis, which examined both body language and production values in the Nixon/Kennedy debates.

For James, his approach to studying the debates in this way were a reflection of his interest in both production and political communication research. “I had a skill set that allowed me to look at this in a new way, and a content analysis seemed like a good fit for my knowledge base,” he says, also adding that a content analysis of the debates had not been done in such a way prior to his thesis.

James says the experience was a positive one, but he’s thrilled to be finished with the thesis. “The fact that it’s defended is possibly the best ever,” he says. “It’s a weight off of your shoulders.” Planning to move to Los Angeles over the next month, James plans to use his newly acquired knowledge of production values in the debates to teach production techniques while continuing his production career.

Katie Birge took time to chat about her thesis (Framing Politics in Science Fiction: Problem Solving Through Altered Time and Space; Committee: Harmeet Sawhney, Chair, Erik Bucy, Mike McGregor) over coffee during the first week of classes.  Her thesis examined how science fiction television shows frame big political issues in ways different from the contemporary news dialogue.  She argued that science fiction provides a unique venue for testing out new ways of thinking about the political topics by suspending the boundaries of time and space.  Using Star TrekBattlestar Galactica, and V as case studies, Katie demonstrated that science fiction can offer a dynamic forum for framing political topics in unique ways.

The inspiration for her thesis was sparked by friends who are big science fiction fans.  After a class discussion about Trekkies as early adopters of technology, Katie brought the phenomenon up to one of her sci-fi friends.  He explained that science fiction is all about the language of possibility, as in, “boldly going where no man has gone before.”  Once the idea struck, Katie pursued her thesis through a political framing approach.  “While framing is becoming a popular way of looking at politics and how audiences receive and interpret political issues, little has been done on framing outside of the news and none of the prior research has examined actual media genres like science fiction.”

Looking back at the process, Katie explained that the hardest part about writing her thesis was the unfamiliarity she had with the actual science fiction shows she researched.  “I spent a lot of time familiarizing myself with these fictional worlds . . .  It took several viewings of the original Star Trek episodes to really understand the Star Trek universe.”  Now that she has completed a major accomplishment in her academic career, what’s next for Katie?  “I’m interested to see how audience members interpret the content of these science fiction shows.  I’m conducting focus groups this semester to see if the politics present in these series are overt enough to be understood by an observer who isn’t necessarily paying attention to such cues.”

Brown Bag Presentations

The first T600 Brown Bag Presentation of 2011 was a split-session that featured two PhD students from our department: Sung Wook Ji and Matt Falk.

The Effects of Cable Clustering on the Flow of Cable Programming Networks

Sung Wook Ji

Abstract:  A “clustering” in the cable industry refers to a combination of geographically contiguous cable systems.  In their early history, cable systems grew simply through the addition of new systems as opportunities arose and, as a consequence, the holdings of cable systems were typically scattered across the country.  By the early 1990s, however, the cable TV industry began moving toward regional consolidation (in other words, “clustering”), with specific companies carving out large parts of the country within which to group their systems.

Several studies have asserted that the clustering activity of incumbent cable system operators might be motivated by both the pro- and anti-competitive effects of clustering. On the one hand, clustering may increase the efficiency of cable systems, mainly because of the economies of scope and scale thus achieved.

On the other hand, clustering may have an anti-competitive effect on the multi-channel video programming distribution (MVPD) industry. In particular, previous studies have focused on the effect of clustering on the vertical foreclosure of regional programming, especially regional sports networks (RSN). They examined how cable clustering increases a clustered MSO’s market power within a given area, and, thus, strengthens the vertical foreclosure of a rival regional cable network. As a consequence, a clustered MSO has anti-competitive effects on the competition within a regional programming market. However, no single study has, as far as I know, systematically examined the effects of clustering on the flow of national cable programming networks.

The proposed study will examine the effects of clusters on the Multi-channel Video Programming Distribution (MVPD) market and, in particular, on the carriage of national cable networks, thus filling a gap in present research concerning the effects of clustering. It is hypothesized that, although cable clustering positively affects the probability a certain cable network will be carried (the pro-competitive effect), when the clustering effect is combined with vertical integration, vertical MSOs’ incentives to favor carrying their own affiliated cable network increase and, at the same time, the incentives to foreclose a rival network increase (the anti-competitive effect).

Listen to the full audio here: Sung Wook Ji

Habituation of the Orienting Response to Auditory Structural Features

Matt Falk

Absract:  Previous work has shown that several auditory structural features of radio broadcasts cause cardiac orienting responses, an indicator of the automatic allocation of cognitive resources to message processing. The current study was designed to further investigate whether repeated exposure to the same structural feature causes habituation, or a loss of the cardiac orienting response, over time. Listeners (n=91) were exposed to three repetitions each of a jingle, a production effect and silence in a simulated radio broadcast. Physiological data were collected time locked to the stimulus. Results confirm earlier findings that auditory structural features cause cardiac orienting. Heart rate data indicate that production effects and jingles begin to show habituation by the third exposure. Skin conductance data may indicate that subjects have a defensive reaction to the third exposure to jingles.

Listen to the full audio here: Matt Falk

Random Observation

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 3,000 times in 2010. That’s about 7 full 747s.  (source:  Team + Stats Helper Monkeys)


Nicky Lewis:  Travis Ross’s Amusement Park Adventures, Thesis: Defeated!, Brown Bag podcasts

Katie Birge:  Lindsay Ems in Germany, Home Improvement 101, Thesis: Defeated!

Special Thanks

Travis Ross:  Disney World and Universal Studio pictures

Lindsay Ems: Germany pictures

Rob Potter:  Snowy toilet picture

Bryant Paul:  “Evolution of a Bathroom 2” video

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