Newlyweds in Telecom

By Mona Malacane

Having been to six (almost seven) weddings in the past 13 months, I feel like I can safely claim the title of “Wedding Guest Expert” for our department. At this point, I can pretty much smell a wedding from a mile away and I’m getting pretty good at spotting newlyweds! (Seeing updates on Facebook doesn’t hurt either.) They conveniently left this information out of their Monday morning introductions … but three graduate students in our department got married this summer! Ken Rosenberg, Ted Jamison-Koenig, and Josh Sites had zero chance of getting through this semester without me interviewing all three of them on their summer nuptials.

Ken and Ashley's wedding party

Ken and Ashley’s wedding party

Ken and his wife Ashley met in 2012 through fellow grad student (now visiting lecturer) and wedding day officiant, Russell McGee. Both Ken and Ashley were involved in planning their Star Trek-themed wedding, Ken explained. “We knew pretty much right from the get-go that we wanted to plan it ourselves, that it was going to be ours and it wouldn’t be a sort of a pre-packaged thing.” They took wedding pictures in Studio 5 – with the plan to edit to look like they are in scenes from Star Trek – and then met at the altar in the Fountain Square Mall Ballroom on June 20th.  The two continued the Trek theme with their honeymoon at the Star Trek Convention at The Rio in Las Vegas, where Ken received some useful marriage advice from actor René Auberjonois who plays Odo. The advice? “Switch sides of the bed every so often.”

Wedding pictures from Studio 5

Wedding pictures from Studio 5

ted and erin

If you’re seeing Ted’s face for the first time because of this blog post it’s because he and Erin were on a 10 day cruise through the Mediterranean Sea on their honeymoon while we were gathered in Studio 6 for orientation!

Ted and Erin have been together since the two met in high school in 2006. They were married back home in New Jersey on August 1st after a year and a half of planning. Ted entrusted most of the planning to Erin and was thankful when the day went off without a hitch, “The whole day I was bracing myself mentally for something to go wrong … and I was preparing myself to be ok with whatever was going to go wrong. But everything went pretty much perfectly according to plan.” Ted credited the smooth day to Erin’s excellent planning and also to heeding advice from family and friends, including Ken and Ashley whose recommendation was, “Make sure that you carve out time for yourselves and make sure you eat.” Ted and Erin completed another big life milestone before they left for their honeymoon: buying a house! Ted said, “The last couple of weeks I’ve done two or three of the biggest things people do in their life in rapid succession, but it’s been awesome.”

Josh and Alicia in Beck Chapel

Josh and Alicia in Beck Chapel

Josh and Alicia tied the knot on June 14th at Beck Chapel by the IMU. Not to pick on him, but of the three new husbands, Josh was the coolest cucumber and least forthcoming with details! He explained that his favorite part of the wedding was when it was over because there was nothing more to worry about and he could just relax. The two shared the planning over their three years of engagement, so it is definitely understandable that he was looking forward to life after the wedding than the actual day. Josh did, however, give me a great nugget of advice to share for anyone in the early stages of planning: if at all possible, avoid telling vendors that you are planning a wedding because the price for goods will increase at least 25%. In fact, renting Josh’s tuxedo cost more than Alicia’s dress! They honeymooned at a resort in Sedona, Arizona, spending a lot of time enjoying the amazing scenery.

Honemooning in Sedona, Arizona

Honeymooning in Sedona, Arizona

All three gave the encouraging answer that getting married in grad school isn’t actually that terribly difficult. Each one told me that the key to not going crazy was prioritizing, managing your time, and taking advantage of the flexibility you have in the summer. When I asked if life has changed after marriage, I was a little surprised to hear definitive no’s from all three. In fact, Ted summed it up nicely when he recounted his answer to a friend asking “how does it feel to be married?” His answer: “slightly heavier on the left side.”

A Man of Many Hats

by Teresa Lynch

Just as it becomes the make-yourself-feel-crazy busy season here in terms of workload, we at the blog are winding down. This semester we have recounted to you a few of the many wonderful stories playing out in and on the fringes of our department.  Hopefully, our efforts have given you some insight into what some of the folks in Telecom are up to these days. Perhaps our blog stories have even prompted you to chat with them about something they shared with all of us.   That, after all, is very nearly the entire point. But, as we come to a close of another semester, we will also be bidding adieu – at least in blog terms – to my co-contributor at the blog, Ken Rosenberg.

As the new gal on the (blog) block this semester, I had the chance to work alongside Ken. His deep dedication to the blog and the spirit of the blog is unparalleled – except perhaps by Harmeet’s. Reflecting back to when I started contributing for the blog, I remember Ken saying that the best thing about the blog was the opportunities it opened up for getting to know people. Not getting to know them the way you might in class or working on a study, but getting a glimpse of what makes them tick. If I can borrow from Harmeet – getting a feel of their texture. Ken was certainly right and I will agree that this is one of the huge perks of our job.

Ken is a man of many hats (literally). He’s known for his signature caps, his love of the Beatles, and his undying enthusiasm for video games. But, if you’ve been around our department at all and paying attention, you probably associate one thing with Ken – tea. You definitely wouldn’t be wrong to make that association. He sets up the tea at the brown bags, he provides tea for the blog meetings, and he’s happy to chat with anyone about the leafy beverage. He even brought me a bag of tea I had off-handedly commented on liking a week ago. What might not be readily apparent, though, is that in Ken’s weekly tea offerings is a sincere and serious generosity.

red shirt (low-res)

Writing for the blog is rough business… it messes with your head.

This quality of Ken’s character has made him an asset to the blog team over the past year. Now, he’s taking leave of his position as a blog writer and setting his sights on other endeavors. Monday morning blog meetings this semester have often consisted of Ken and Harmeet joking about things I didn’t quite follow. Not necessarily because of any necessarily esoteric quality of their humor – although, that was sometimes the case. But, more so because both of these fellows have marvelous senses of humor, finding laughter in many things. They click. They have worked well together. And, more importantly, they have a tremendous respect for one another. It has been a pleasure getting to know both of them better as a member of the blog team this semester.

In some ways, it was very much like any of the interviews that I have had with many of you. But, spread out. And, of course, with tea.

Hello, Goodbye

Of Mondays past, by Mike Lang

Bleary-eyed, I climbed the stairs leading up to the third floor on my way to the first grad blog meeting of the semester. “Hi Rob, ready for the new semester?” I muttered, passing by his office. “Gotta be,” he replied. Ain’t that the Truth. After a winter break where the only part of morning I had really experienced was the ‘midnight to 4 am’ part, Monday at 9 o’clock hurt.

I opened the door to Harmeet’s office to the sound of water boiling merrily in the electric kettle next to the computer. A plate of City Bakery croissants, a stack of napkins, and three coffee mugs adorned with ornate blue elephants on matching coasters sat neatly on the desk. Without thinking, I sat down in the chair farthest from the door and took off my coat. Settling in as Harmeet filled me in on his break, I reached into the yellow box of spicy herb tea which customarily cuts through my Monday-morning brain fog and spotted the variety tea tin where the French press loaded with freshly ground coffee beans normally abides. The first blog meeting without Nicky, and already the tea touters had turned the tide. Without Nicky to uphold the old guard’s preference for coffee, the French press was tucked away in some lonely spot. I guess a few subtle changes are inevitable.

Ken entered the office and took the seat to my right. Well aware I could no longer rely on Nicky’s notes for meeting minutes, I pulled out my tablet. I’ve never been self-conscious about my note taking before, but after witnessing a semester of Nicky’s notes, the kind of notes featured in commercials for office supply stores as the exemplar of how a notebook can change your life, I was a little worried. However, the worry extended beyond just note taking. Nicky has always been the model of organized efficiency. Once we needed to reschedule the blog meeting so Nicky could attend a conference. We moved the meeting from 9am to 8am, and when we concluded Nicky had 15 minutes before departure.  Never wasting a minute she bounced over to the grad lab and managed to post the write-up for that week’s brown bag. I often think that she is pretending to be human.

Like most Monday meetings, the discussion began with the upcoming blog post. Ken looked to me the same way I had looked to Nicky in August, when I first started on the blog team. Ideas normally flow quickly and naturally, but finding the right story and the right angle takes some time. In prior semesters, Katie and Nicky tirelessly worked on establishing the blog’s mission and  style.  In a department as big and diverse as ours, the range of research interests and sheer number of people make it difficult to have close relationships with everyone. The blog seeks to remedy that fragmentation. As Nicky says, the blog facilitates conversation. It gives folks in the department something to talk about other than the weather. As such, the goal of the blog has been to capture the department’s human side, to create a space for individuals to share stories about themselves as human beings. When talking about how to approach a story, or illustrate a point, the terms “texture” and “layers” tend to work their way into conversation frequently.

After a semester on the blog, I can attest to the extra sense of dedication Nicky would often allude to when talking about her blog work. A few tweaks here or there can make an opening shine; a well-placed joke can bring a story to life. Most importantly, the stories we tell aren’t our own. They belong to you. We are honored to hear them and even more honored that you trust us to retell them.

With our blog post in mind, Ken and I gathered our coats, drained the remainder of our tea, and bid adieu to Harmeet. What better way to go forward, than to honor those who came before.

Looking back and thinking ahead, by Ken Rosenberg

Starting from the ground up can be intimidating, but continuing a legacy is perhaps even more frightening. Maintaining enthusiasm isn’t too difficult, but neither is dashing a reputation. Limitless, yet precarious – such is the dualism of change and potential. The future of the blog now rests on slightly different shoulders. Bereft of its founders, how will it continue? As Santayana famously stated, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” (not a bad thing, in case of our blog). Before I could remember, though, I needed to learn about the past iterations of the blog. Meeting at Soma (pictured above), we four bloggers (Katie, Nicky, Mike, and myself) decided to turn anecdotes into canon.

The blog has a relatively short history. But, for those two who forged this now-integral face of the Telecom department, the past two years have been monumental.

“I don’t think that even Harmeet could have seen what the blog would become,” Nicky said. “It’s ‘warm fuzzies,’” she remarked, grinning. Many weeks, long after the ten allotted hours had been spent on scheduling interviews and shooting video, Nicky found herself making final last-minute touch-ups. “That’s when the blog went from a job to being a joy.”

Katie recalled her feverish checking of WordPress over lunches on Mondays, the refresh button of the browser being pummeled into answering her request for the most current data on viewer hits (Most of the views show up on the blog metrics on the first afternoon after the publication of a new post).  The blog’s viewship numbers have been climbing.  They increased from “7 full 747s” in Fall 2010, when the blog started, to “7 NYC subway trains” in 2011.  These amusing WordPress metrics translate into 12,500+ views over the life of the blog.  For a student-run, part-time endeavor, that’s quite an accomplishment.

In the very beginning, though, it was difficult to envision any such accomplishment. As the theory of evolution explains, survival is one of the first objectives for any burgeoning form. The first assignment for Katie and Nicky was the 2010 graduate student orientation. In those very early days, “stayin’ alive” was more than a catchy disco tune – it was a thematic overtone for the overwhelmed bloggers. Every activity was mentioned, every session covered. In one week, they shot five videos in an attempt to provide, as Nicky put it, a “grand introduction to the department.”

“Orientation was hell,” Nicky recalled. Before the first class session – and well before any of their colleagues stepped into the classroom as AIs – she had put in more than twenty hours, most of them spent shooting and editing video. “The blog was very video-heavy in those days,” Nicky said. Even after that week, the issue of video recording plagued both her and, more broadly, the image of the blog. “I was carrying around that camera everywhere, and that was scaring some of the faculty,” Nicky said. “They weren’t pleased about being on video.”

“They didn’t want us to get up in their faces about it,” Katie said. Touring offices was one thing, but the invasive lens of a video camera proved disconcerting for some faculty members. Still, it was the stories from the faculty that sustained the blog for its fledgling posts, with a 3:1 ratio of coverage for faculty versus students. And, after some time, the faculty became the blog’s biggest supporters. “I claim a personal victory with Annie,” Nicky playfully touted. “In terms of the blog, we warmed her soul.”

Nicky and Katie worried that they were losing a balanced focus on the department, so they began to make more of an effort to contact students. Another topical boon was the department’s athletic troupe; the blogging duo lost count of the number of times they covered Telecom soccer team. Fortunately, talking to the team led them to more stories, like Matt Falk’s unique socks. While Faulk was the first student to make it into the annals of the blog, the honorific title of “student most covered” belongs to Travis Ross. “We must have covered him about ten times,” Katie said.

Video coverage declined, faculty enthusiasm rose, and a tone has been set; most obstacles have been surmounted. The reality is that as long as the blog’s staff roster remains fluid, some problems will never disappear completely. Take Katie’s assessment of the publishing tool: “For awhile, WordPress was the bane of my existence.” Then there were troubles recording the discussions at T600, the “brown bag” seminar hosted on Fridays. Equipment failed, and was replaced. Programs were learned; files were converted. And, at the end of an endlessly long Friday, Katie, devoid of both frustration and elation, recalled being filled merely with resolute satisfaction: “I did it. I saved the blog.”

With a newly-promoted leader and a brand-new partner, there is a renewed possibility of technical malfunction and human error. Fingers crossed, we will avoid repeating those tumultuous parts of history. But, with just as much hope (and even more fervor), there is a great bit of the blog’s character that should be persevered. While the names have changed and the tone will undoubtedly shift, the underlying motivation to contribute remains the same. “The little emails you get, the letter from the faculty, the thank-yous from students,” Nicky began . . . Katie continued, “people coming up to you and saying (now both, in unison) ‘That was really funny!'” They looked at each other and smiled. More than anything else, this seems to be the biggest reason that three –make that four – students agreed to wake up so early every Monday.

A Special Thanks, from Mike

We would like to extend our big thanks to Nicky and Katie for all their hard work. Their effort and determination laid the path that we now walk. I would personally like to thank Nicky for showing me the way. From tips and tricks, tutorials, calm answers to panicked emails, and the most incredible work ethic and sense of organization I’ve ever witnessed, she has made my blogging experience infinitely more manageable and enjoyable. I’ll do my best to pick up the slack left in her absence, but hers are big shoes to fill. If nothing else, I hope she enjoys the extra sleep on Monday mornings.

However, as students come and go, the blog machine continues to churn. Ken and I will do our very best to provide you with the quirky lunch break fare you have grown accustomed too.  We’ll try to reign in the sports, video games, and beer talk but we can’t make too many promises. Left in the hands of two nerds without a female presence the blog is a slippery slope away from Wayne’s World. We’ll make sure to get as much mileage out of Nicky and Katie’s hard work as we can before going down in flames. In all seriousness though, we appreciate your readership and look forward to providing you with another semesters worth of water cooler talk of the Telecom kind. Thank you for indulging our self-indulgence. We now return to your regularly scheduled programming.

Fox’s Tavern, Doctor Who Goes Gaming, Brown Bag

Sweet Spots: Fox’s Tavern

Nancy Schwartz Descends the Stairs into Fox's Tavern

Sweet Spots: Fox’s Tavern

In 2000 Professor Julia Fox got a sign. Out house hunting after officially joining the department, Fox found a house with a bar in the basement. Mounted above the bar a wooden sign read “Fox’s Tavern.”

Sold.

By sheer coincidence, the previous owners shared Fox’s last name, and when it came time to draw up the contract, the new owners of Fox’s Tavern requested that the sign remain in place.

Set up in the basement, Fox’s Tavern runs the length of the house; the simple wooden bar equipped with a sink and a mini-fridge overlooking the room. Little knick-knacks and a large picture of a fox with cubs add to the Fox motif. Two other pictures adorn the walls. One depicting Chicago, where Fox and her husband grew up, and one depicting Ithaca, where they met. To top off, Fox’s Tavern features a walk-out porch equipped with grill for warm weather barbeques.

While Fox’s Tavern has hosted numerous parties over the years, some are more memorable than others. A surprise birthday party for Annie Lang, Nancy Schwartz, and Bob Affe (whose birthday happened to be a month earlier) stands out in particular.  Assisted by party planner extraordinaire Susan Eastman, the tavern was covered in green. Attendants were encouraged to give presents wrapped in green paper to represent Lang’s love of gardening, while dollar bills hung from the walls to celebrate a big grant Lang had landed. Attendants were even given red bandanas, reflecting Lang’s red hair (Based on the pictures, most people just ended up looking like pirates).

For Fox, the party stands out for other reasons. Prior to the party, Fox had learned that she had cancer and had to tell her family. In addition, Lang had learned about the coming surprise. She was stuck between a rock and a hard place. Tell her family she had cancer, or tell Eastman that Lang knew about the surprise party. After telling Eastman both bits of bad news, Eastman, a cancer survivor herself, shrugged it off, “cancer-schamncer, we’ve got a party to plan.”

A few months prior to the birthday bash, Fox had hosted her husband’s 50th birthday party. The night of the party, Fox received a letter in the mail from the doctor’s office.  During her routine mammogram the doctors discovered an abnormality that could be cancer. It was Friday night and the doctor’s office wouldn’t be open again until Monday. Sick to her stomach, a houseful of people on their way, some from out of town, Fox decided that there was absolutely nothing she could do about it until Monday. She diverted her attention to the party.

While those stand in particular, Fox’s tavern has played host to numerous lab parties, graduation parties, birthday parties, New Year’s Eve parties, going away parties, and end of semester parties for spring grad classes (hint hint students still looking for spring classes).

When the bar isn’t filled with partyers, it’s filled with the sound of her husband and son’s music. Her husband plays the bass guitar while her son plays the electric guitar. Although both play well, it may be time to fill Fox’s Tavern once again with the sound of a lively party.

Russell and Ken’s Board Game Journey

It may have seemed that Telecom grad students Russell McGee and Ken Rosenberg have just been playing around over the past several months.  But, it’s not all fun and games.  Along with Theatre and Drama grad students Carle Gaier and Eric “C” Heaps, they are deep in the developmental process of a Dr. Who-inspired board game, the final project for Professor Ted Castronova’s Storytelling and Video Games course.  While the connection between Telecom students and game design is clear, what attracted grad students from Theatre and Drama to the Ted’s class?  Carle explains, “Games tell a story in a live and interactive way, similar to a theatre performance. The audience is involved and composes a crucial element of the experience, unlike other formats such as film.”  On the other hand, Eric was drawn to the course because he is a self-confessed game junkie – the fact that a course was offered on the topic simply justified his addiction.

Over the course of the semester, students formed groups in order to create and develop a game design.  Russell first came up with the game idea, which was supported by the rest of the group members, as a modification of a storyline of British science fiction TV program Doctor Who called War Games.  In the War  Games story, soldiers from the past are removed by an alien race from their respective time periods and pitted against each other with the goal of  the ultimate Army.  Doctor Who is out to stop it.  The corresponding board game design is a hex-based war-strategy game.  Eric explains that while many ideas were floated around, all members of the group wanted a card driven game, where the cards would add spontaneity to a rule based system.

Fresh off a trip to the annual Doctor Who Convention in Chicago to playtest the game, spirits of the game design team are high.  The group even got their names on the official program and held a play test for three hours.  Ken was thrilled with the experience.  “We had access to the right type of fan and demographic.  Everyone from 8 year olds to 60 year olds were able to play our game.”  Russell reflected on the convention as well.  “We really got a chance to talk to the audiences we are going after with this game.  It was a really great experience.”

Looking ahead, the best case scenario for the game would be to sell the design to BBC or receive a percentage of the licensing.  This is where some of the group members have different perspectives on where they would like to see the game goo.  Carle is not looking to make money off the project.  “Creative control is important to me and I’d be afraid to sell the design otherwise.”  Ken, on the other hand, would like to see it go as far as it can.  So far, the group has been in contact with BBC’s licensing department but has not yet heard back.

Reflecting back on their experiences over the course of the semester, they all agree that the group dynamic was extremely important.  Carle states, “Having a concrete deadline reinforced the idea that this is a doable task – a group can design a game from scratch within a reasonable time frame.”  Indeed, Ken knows that he could have never done this alone.  To see something take shape as a group while learning to let go of certain things as an individual is part of the give and take that occurs in collaborative projects – an important learning experience. Russell seconds that the frustrations you go through at the beginning become rewards at the end and to experience this as a team is really special.

So, what’s the end goal?  For Carle, seeing it on the shelf at a board game store would be the ultimate achievement. Ken is excited about the potential fan community that could grow around it, while Eric explains that this project has a much longer shelf life for him than participating in a play.  “Once a play is over, it’s done.  This is different.  I can get this thing out and play it again and again.”  And as for Russell?  “I think Ted should give us an A.”

Brown Bag

This week’s Brown Bag Presentation featured visiting speaker Thomas Malaby, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.  His research focuses on games, practice, and interderminacy.  You can listen to the full audio of the presentation here: Thomas Malaby

Title: Digital Anthropology, Games, and the Cultural Logics of Modernity

Abstract: Anthropology is currently turning toward a new engagement with what may have been Weber’s central question: How do people come to understand the distribution of fortune in the world? Such a question troubles productively our discipline?s recent and fruitful examination of the uses of the past to ask how stances toward the future, in all its indeterminacy, are both the product of cultural logics and the target of institutional and market interests. In this paper I compare the instrumentally nonchalant stance toward the future found in Greek society with a markedly different disposition, one of individual gaming mastery that is architected into the digital domains of human experience, though quite pointedly in the virtual world Second Life. Through them we can glimpse how and why institutions today have become so interested in contriving games and game-like experiences, and in what ways cultural subjectivities are implicated in them and also transformed by them. I close by considering why the cultural form we call game has come to be the primary site for such contests, and how its importance may come to be comparable to that of ritual for digital anthropology.

Signing Off

I hope you enjoyed the feature on Ken this week; you’ll be hearing a lot more from him as he takes over my writing position with the blog.  To have the opportunity to chat with so many different students, staff members, and faculty of the Department – individuals I may not have otherwise – was really wonderful.  Thanks for reading.  And, for those of you that I kindly stalked for blog content over the past year and a half, I’m sure I’ll be getting what’s coming to me.  Ken has already sent out a warning: “Now that you’re off the blog, you’ll be on the blog!”

Nicky

Credits

Nicky Lewis:  Ken and Russell’s Board Game Journey and Brown Bag

Mike Lang:  Fox’s Tavern