Sine Qua Nonsense

The Untold Story of the Original Telecom Grad Blog

As the Department of Telecommunications morphs into the Media School’s Communication Science and Media Arts & Production units, the Telecom Grad blog is also changing. Before we move forward, we must look back. Let’s explore the little known origins of the blog you are reading right now.

The Telecom blog was founded in the fall of 2010 by Director of Graduate Studies Harmeet Sawhney and the first bloggers, Nicky Lewis and Katie Birge. Their idea was to revive a tradition from the very first Telecom Department in history. Oxford University established its Telecom Grad Scroll in 1201. Since e-mail was a few centuries away back then, DGS Harrold Seaford, Duke of Texturia, would send Graduate Criers to faculty, staff and graduate students’ castles every Monday morning.

The grad scroll was groundbreaking for focusing on people’s hobbies rather than their research and official duties. It was especially innovative considering the fact that the notions of hobbies and leisure time weren’t even a thing during the medieval era.

“Hear ye, hear ye! Assistant Professor John Whitesmith enjoyeth forging his own swords during his spare time,” read a Crier from one early scroll. “Sayeth he, ‘it sootheth me while I worrieth about my chances of getting tenure. Also, it scareth the faculty members who may think of voting against my promotion.’”

In the 13th Century, stories about Intramural Battleship were very common, though post-game interviews with the players were rare. Let’s just say that college sports were very dangerous back in the day, even more than football.

The Grad Scroll was discontinued in 1228 by decree of the king, a graduate of the rival School of Mass Communication at Cambridge. “My alma matter shall remain the coolest of Comm departments,” he declared. “No more stories about extracurricular pipe organ lessons in Oxford!”

No king can decree to shut down the Telecom Grad Blog, but its fate is still up in the air, at least for ratings purposes, even if those behind the scenes know exactly what’s going to happen. The semester ends with a cliffhanger. Tune in in the fall to discover whether the blog will be permanently assimilated as the Media School Blog, wake up to discover this whole year was just a dream, decide to return to the island with Jack, find out who shot JR and Mr. Burns, or meet an untimely death!


Sine Qua Nonsense

Pros and Cons of Joining Our Program

April 15 is fast approaching. For most Americans, that’s the deadline to file tax returns. For accountants, it is a little known holiday called the Festival of Finally Getting Some Sleep. In academia, it is the date by which admitted students need to decide which universities and programs to attend. As a service to potential graduate students deciding whether to accept the Media School’s offer of admission, let me point out our strengths and weaknesses.

Our main pro is our excellent faculty. As I near the end of my own program and start thinking about the letters of recommendation I will need when I go on the job market, I realize how absolutely brilliant our professors are. Their research is the very best in the field; their teaching style the most engaging. They are all smart, beautiful, kind, and have been blessed with a great sense of humor. Have I mentioned that I’ll need letters of recommendation?

Another pro is that the Media School is so new, nothing has been set in stone. Want to study something crazy like the effect of live-tweeting while you bungee jump on your heart rate? “That approach is so old Telecom/Journalism/Communication & Culture,” tell anyone who says we don’t do that kind of research here. “We’re the new Media School now. We think outside of the box.” The con is that the IRB is still the same IRB. It may not allow you to throw research participants off a crane.

The new classes here are another pro. We will be more interdisciplinary, bridging the gap between critical-cultural studies and social science. It will be an epistemological, ontological, methodological, and entomological extravaganza. If you don’t yet know which of the words in the last sentence doesn’t belong, don’t worry – all will be revealed by the time you finish your first year, if not your first semester.

A major con of coming here is that we will be located in Franklin Hall, right on Kirkwood Avenue, next to Bloomington’s best bars and restaurants. You will be forced to socialize with fellow graduate students due to geographic proximity. If you dislike people, fun, and/or unhealthy food, beware.

Of course, graduate programs are all about fit. You will have your own set of pros and cons. For instance, if you are a fan of this blog, having the privilege of meeting Mona, Niki, former bloggers, and myself, is a consideration that the weirdos who aren’t members of our fan club would never think of.

For more useful information that might help you decide whether to come study here, download Yik Yak, come to campus, and hope somebody anonymously Yik Yaks something personally relevant to you while you’re here.


Sine Qua Nonsense

Spring Break Destination Guide

Cancun is for undergrads. Florida is for underage drinking. California is for students who never heard the sound of a dial-up modem. We adults, faculty, staff, and graduate students alike, need our own places to go during the one week vacation celebrating the end of winter. It still isn’t too late to make plans for March 15-22, so I present some recommendations for you.

For quantitative researchers who aren’t looking for warmer climates, the best Spring Break destination is Alpha Ridge, Alaska. The temperature never rises above 0.05 degrees at this hiker-lovers’ paradise and sedentary folks’ hell. Take your significant other!

It would be a cliché to recommend Hollywood to our TV and film production students and faculty, some of whom actually worked there in the past. Instead, they should travel to New Zealand to see the breathtaking locations of films such as the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies. The only problem is that since they would be traveling to the southern hemisphere, this would turn into Fall Break, which at IU is just a three day weekend.

The Telecom staff especially deserves a week off for putting up with all the rest of us. I’m not sure where they should go, but I know where they shouldn’t. Don’t go to Dunder Mifflin headquarters in Scranton, PA. Just stay as far away from The Office as possible.

The Telecom running group should visit Marathon, Greece. For cheap airfare and lodging, negotiate with your travel agents. Don’t let them give you the runaround.

Those of us hard at work laboring over a dissertation, thesis, or other big projects may not have time for a vacation. You should travel to the North Pole, where it is cold and dark and you would not be tempted to leave your hotel room, where you can work all day long. On second thought, the scenery may be too beautiful. Better yet, look up the most dangerous cities in the United States to choose your destination. If you want to work on a long flight, look up the worst cities in the whole wide world.

Since St. Patrick’s Day is during Spring Break, you may want to travel to Ireland. If you do, please do not attempt an Irish accent. It will probably sound terrible, somebody may punch you in a pub (not necessarily an Irish person), and a leprechaun will put a curse on you.

Finally, remember that there is always the possibility of a staycation. The best staycation destination for Bloomington residents is, by definition, Bloomington. If you want a semi-staycation, travel to Bloomington, Illinois, a few hours away from here. On the welcome sign at the entrance to the city, please spray the following message: “You sure you didn’t mean to type ‘Bloomington, IN’ into your GPS app?”


Sine Qua Nonsense

Special “Jon Stewart Dramatic Departure” Edition

On last night’s episode of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart announced that he will be leaving the Comedy Central satirical powerhouse later this year. I was very saddened by this news as a viewer, researcher of political humor, and the self-proclaimed Jon Stewart of Telecom (for what is Sine Qua Nonsense if not The Monthly Show with Edo Steinberg?).

I would like to offer myself up as the next host of this brilliant program. As a person who is both Israeli and American, is technically one quarter Canadian, had ancestors in three different Eastern European countries, and can see Africa from his parents’ house (okay, not literally), I would be the perfect leader of a show with such an internationally diverse news team. I also have a last name starting with S, so only one letter would have to be replaced on anything embroidered with Jon Stewart’s initials (don’t take this dream job away from me, Josh Sites!). The only problem is that I don’t have a middle name to use as my stage name as Jonathan Stuart Leibowitz did.

Okay, I realize The Daily Show with Edo Steinberg isn’t going to happen. Instead, let me pitch another idea that would be beneficial for everyone involved, especially me. Stewart will now be looking for a new job. Indiana University’s Media School should offer him a Professor of Practice position. Think of all the experimental stimuli we could design specifically for our satire studies! Also, imagine a production course dedicated to looking critically at the news in a funny way. To use a Bill O’Reilly term, stoned slackers from all over the world would flock to IU for such an opportunity.

Speaking of satirists teaching classes, Bill Maher would be perfect for T420. But I digress.

Of course, Stewart might have other plans. Do you think it is a coincidence that yesterday’s announcement came a mere 637 days before the 2016 presidential elections? I hear The Daily Show will air in Iowa tomorrow! Also, he and Brian Williams may be swapping seats, bringing much needed credibility to the NBC Nightly News and a flair for fake news to The Daily Show. The sidekick gig on the upcoming Late Show with Stephen Colbert is another viable option.

Whatever happens, the Jon Stewart iteration of The Daily Show will be missed. It will continue to live on in political communication conference papers and journal articles for years to come.

Note: Your regularly scheduled Sine Qua Nonsense will return in two weeks, unless I get a call from Comedy Central.


Sine Qua Nonsense

Collective New Year’s Resolutions

The first month of 2015 is almost over. Time to check in on the status of different New Year’s resolutions the various groups in our department came up with in December. Have they already broken down and gone back to their bad habits?

Let’s start with the audio people. They declared 2015 the Year of Sound, in which they will make communications researchers realize that there’s more to life than visuals. They’re still working hard, since they know that if they abandoned their resolution, they wouldn’t hear the end of it.

The rest of the ICR lab rats have resolved to change their nickname to something more appealing. “Rats are filthy creatures,” said one graduate student who wished to remain anony-mouse. “Besides, the lab rats are the subjects of experiments, not the ones running them. Can you imagine a study designed by rats? No, and that’s because they’re not smart enough to be scientists!” One month in, they’re still trying to change their nickname, but zap them a few times and they’ll stop.

The game designers and researchers in our department have resolved to play more video games this year, which is a standing resolution they make every year. “Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re sticking to it,” says one faculty member who sits on several students’ committees. “Their productivity and the quality of their work are too damn high. Go sit on your couches and kill some zombies!”

Our economists have come to the conclusion that making New Year’s resolutions is only rational if u(making a change)>u(not making a change). I don’t know what that means. They said that u(spending time of day explaining it to me)<u(ignoring me). I don’t know what that means, either.

In honor of our upcoming move to Franklin Hall, the filmmakers in our department decided late last year to make a movie about the Radio and Television Building. They wish to use the old cameras and microphones showcased near Room 169. It is still in pre-pre-production as they await permission to use the historical equipment. So far, they’ve only written the first line of the script: “EXT. RTV BUILDING – DAY”.

The satire researchers in our department have decided to stop watching new episodes of The Colbert Report. So far, so good. I think this is something we can stick to.

The Faces of NPR, Telecom’s improv group, has not made any resolutions. Planning ahead just isn’t the improv way.

Finally, the Department of Telecommunications as a whole decided to exercise more this year. This idea was ditched by most no later than January 12.

By the way, all the resolutions and quotes above are purely speculative. This custom of choosing to change your life at an arbitrary point in time is foreign to me. This means I did not make a resolution to actually go out and talk to people about their thoughts and feelings.


Sine Qua Nonsense

Thanksgiving Edition

Some readers may erroneously believe that Sine Qua Nonsense has nothing but a negative and cynical worldview. The last post before Thanksgiving is an excellent opportunity to prove those readers wrong by expressing gratitude for different people and things in the department.

First of all, I am thankful to the Telecom Grad Blog for nursing my narcissism. Where else would I have the opportunity to spew unsubstantiated claims? Sure, I can do this on social media and my research papers, but only the blog gives me the illusion that hundreds of people look forward to my words of wisdom every month.

I am thankful for the grad lab, which is a great place to overhear other people’s research, write it up yourself very quickly, and publish it before they do. See this as a heads up, teams currently working on a project for Betsi’s content analysis class.

I am also thankful for the grad lab’s whiteboards, another place to flame my narcissism as well as send out hidden messages in the guise of silly cartoons. Why did I call the boney bird in the Halloween drawing a skeleton owl rather than an owl skeleton and why did I draw Ebola Man? There must be deeper meaning to it all.

I am thankful for awkward conversations with Walt. You never really know when he’s serious and when he’s deadpanning. He pretends to be disappointed when someone doesn’t get that he’s joking, but really, deep down, he enjoys it immensely.

I am thankful to whoever stole a wall from the Museum of Modern Art and put it in the AI office together with matching tables. It allows for happy “me time” during office hours, those two hours a week when we make ourselves available to students and students make themselves scarce.

I am thankful for the fact that the sidewalk between RTV and the library has finally reopened. I don’t need to run a lap around the arboretum to make it to my bus anymore.

I am thankful to my fellow “Faces of NPR” improvisers for letting me make them do goofy things. It will pay off academically, according to the Chronicle of Higher Education!

Speaking of the improv group, I am thankful to NPR for not suing us for trademark infringement. Of course, they probably never heard of us. If they do ever find out about our motley crew of unscripted joke-tellers, we can defend ourselves by claiming NPR in our case stands for Nervous Pimple Reaction.

I am thankful for rarely needing to open my mailbox. When I do, I am thankful to Tamera for helping me after I fail a thousand times on my own.

I am thankful for the fact that Indiana winters eventually end. For that reason, I am thankful that Indiana University is not in Minnesota. “But that wouldn’t make sense,” you say? Tell that to Indiana University of Pennsylvania (which is not affiliated with either IU or UPenn)!

Finally, I am thankful for blog posts that don’t end suddenly.sine_qua_nonsense


Sine Qua Nonsense

Get With the Program (of Study)

In honor of Halloween, you should visit a fortune teller. Ask the seer to look into her crystal ball or tarot cards and find out what classes will be available during the years you will be at Indiana University.

“That’s an odd question,” she will say. “People usually ask me about financial matters or their love lives.”

“This has an impact on both,” you should retort. “My committee says the classes I take will shape my marketable skills when I’m looking for a job. Also, before I get this whole program of study thing figured out, I will not have time to go on any dates. If you were a real fortune teller, you would know this!”

Okay, maybe you shouldn’t say that last sentence. Insulting people who commune with the spirits of the netherworld may be dangerous. Just to be safe, I am always nice to Irene, Daphna, and Mona, because of their connections to a country with the word “nether” in it.

You are supposed to have your committee approve a program of study by the end of your second semester. This means that you need to predict the future as much as two years in advance. That is longer than most departments even plan ahead. Not only must you know which courses will be available each semester, you have to know they won’t overlap. By Murphy’s law, they certainly will. The program modification form is your friend.

In the PhD program, try to transfer as many credits from your MA as you can. If you’re continuing from an MA in this department, you will meet the least resistance. If you’ve studied elsewhere, especially abroad and/or more than seven years ago and/or not in a communications program, you’re in trouble. Haggle with your committee over this like you’re in a bazaar. “For every two courses you agree to transfer, I’ll take another stats class.”

Don’t get me started about stats classes (or lack thereof).

You don’t only have to come up with a list of courses, you also have to write a rationale. Here, you have to make clear that you know exactly what you want to achieve with your degree. In other words, lie through your teeth. By the end of your first year, you might know a bit more about your end goal than during orientation, but you’re far from being there yet. In choosing which fictions sound best, you might actually come to useful conclusions about what you really want to do.

Also, I am told that students might be asked about their program of study rationale when defending their dissertation proposal years later. Don’t write anything that will stump Future You. You don’t want the following question to come up: “a quarter of a decade ago you said that ‘Special Topics in Circus Arts: Clowns – Happy or Sad’ would teach you how to apply facial EMG electrodes on top of heavy amounts of makeup. How does this figure into this study?”

Most importantly, schedule your committee meeting as soon as possible after working on the program and rationale. If you wait three months, your memory won’t allow you to optimally defend your program. For instance, you won’t remember that “The History of Plumbing” fits with a program about internet policymaking because, as former Senator Ted Stevens described the web, it is a series of tubes.

Good luck with your program! May your prophecies that the coolest classes will be offered all come true.