Mike’s Metal Life, Blog Report Card, Blog Book of Sayings, 10 Minutes on Monday

Mike’s Metal Life, by Ken Rosenberg

Before we grow up and discover our own aesthetic sensibilities, we are acculturated by our parents. For young Mike Lang, this meant training as an audiophile: high-quality equipment and, thanks to all the ‘80s rock, spandex—lots of spandex. Neon guitars and ostentatious hip thrusting was not for Mike, but the love of thrashing and long haired rock gods would endure. Around sixth grade, Mike began to develop his own taste in music. While his dad would “flirt with metal,” Mike was destined to settle down and marry the genre. “For about a year straight, I binged on Metallica,” Mike said. Then, “it got to the point where I was finding bands myself,” he said. Of course, taking those first steps is always a bit awkward. There was some punk, even some rap—but, with metal, Mike was stalled for some time. Despite knowing Ride the Lightning like the back of his hand, he was hesitant to go further.

“Metal is deep,” Mike explained. “It’s a question of how far down you are willing to go. You can’t just dive in and expect to hit the bottom—you have to work your way through.” Once, when grounded from the computer, which effectively limited after-school interaction, Mike decided that he wanted to learn how to play the guitar, just like his girlfriend at the time. Angst, fandom, and a girl: all the components necessary to transform a high school kid into a garage band rock star. Soon, he made another music-minded friend, Mike Sholty, and they formed a band.

Back then, life was easy. The band needed a name. They practiced in a basement on Mayor Drive and became, fittingly enough, The Basement Mayors. Then, the two Mikes needed a drummer. Mike found a cheap set at a garage sale and threw another friend onto the drum throne. They needed to record their jam sessions, so they dredged up an old ‘70s tape deck with a basic record function. What music would they play? Sholty’s love of Weezer pushed them toward plenty of covers but, eventually, they began to write their own music. “I wish I still had those tapes; we were really awful, but it was a good way to learn. We were just bunch of kids cutting our teeth on musical instruments, seeing what it was like to be in a band.”

One of the pitfalls of childhood friendships is the likelihood of growing apart. As his friends’ tastes went down the path of indie rock, Mike felt metal calling back to him. “I kept wanting to go heavier,” he said. Still, at this point, Mike hadn’t really moved past Metallica into harder metal, what Mike dubbed “The Land of Harsh Vocals and Screaming.” He made a new friend, Kyle, who gave him a metalcore mix tape and taught Mike metal-writing sensibilities: how to write catchy riffs, how to get a feel for the scales and rhythms, and how to piece things together. “The band was good for teaching me how to write,” Mike said, “but also how to really listen to metal, to go beyond the aggression—that wall of sound—and figure out core structures, themes, and moods that we wanted to get across in our own music.” The result: When Legends Die, a traditional metalcore band that was all about the guitars. “Everything was super riffy,” Mike said. “We were two guitar players writing music. We wrote for ourselves and filled in the blanks with the other parts of the band.” They let their band mates play almost anything they wanted. “We had a vocalist, Derek, but—even today—I still have no idea what his lyrics were about.” Only with metal could that happen so easily.

Metalcore is a specific subgenre that, according to Mike, features “some pretty important sonic signatures.” Beyond that, though, there are plenty of Christian overtones; common in the Midwest, it is essentially “death metal for Jesus.” The “-core” suffix identifies the hardcore influence—or, at least, it did. Now, it’s almost derogatory among metalheads. “Most of the Hot Topic folk you see with the swoopy haircuts and tight jeans, they’re metalcore. The community at large tends to shun them.” In terms of fashion, Mike compromised, wearing baggy jeans and studded wristbands—but no swoopy hair. Actually, Mike found a way to eschew the norms of both the system and its rebels. Two to three days a week, he would go to school wearing a suit. “It was my version of ‘f*** the system’,” Mike said. Ironically, as a nonconformist, he started a trend of his own and ended up with a couple of followers. “Suit days,” as Mike referred to them, were independent of other scheduled events. If there was a gig that day, he would go in a suit.

As a key member of When Legends Die, Mike played a bunch of shows around Kokomo, Indiana, the town where he went to high school. On one occasion, they played at the armory—something that was anticipated as a particularly “metal” performance. “Being around all of those guns would have been so metal,” Mike said, “but we ended up in the gym, just a room with bad acoustics where kids play basketball.” Contrary to convention, they also played at a lot of churches. At the high-school level, metal was about angst, identity, themes of brotherhood and, of course, girls and love—nothing darker than that. “Midwestern metal culture is so non-threatening, it’s ridiculous.”

Because of all the clubs and activities he had signed up for to build up his resume for college applications, Mike’s senior year of high school frequently necessitated sixteen-hour days on campus. That took him away from metal. After that, though, Mike had an opportunity to delve even deeper into metal. Once again, the girlfriend factor would fuel Mike’s growth as a musician. His then-girlfriend, now wife Mel, pushed him toward a metal-loving underclassman, Bryce. “We clicked really quickly and became really close friends,” Mike said. “We were all about discovering new bands. When I came back home for Christmas, I dumped about 70 gigabytes of music on him.”

Together, they formed Deschain (the last name of the protagonist in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series). For Mike, previous efforts at music creation were more about riffing in a garage and hoping everyone would remember their parts. As a member of Deschain, though, he began to learn composition on Guitar Pro and even began working on drum parts, as well. The switch in bands also came with a shift in aspirations. “I really wanted to play melodic death metal,” Mike said. Their first album was to be about a pirate lord and his explorations. “It was our way to deal with death and all those other metaphysical issues that 18-year old dudes think about.”

Life, such as it was, pushed Mike away from writing music; it was another year away from metal. But, then, Bryce joined Mike in Bloomington. “That was where it all really took off for me” Mike said. “I thought I had hit a plateau but, really, I was just walking into the gate.” Bryce found them another guitarist. Under Mike’s guidance, they formed The Metal Underground, an IU-based club for metal fans. The goal was to get recommendations, hang out, and go to concerts together—everything you would expect to have in a good music scene. That’s where they met Jeff; he introduced Mike to black metal, a subgenre with long track times and low production values that “goes for atmosphere, more than anything.” Black metal goes back to Norway; its roots are colored by church burnings and explicit anti-Christian attitudes. For Bryce and Mike, who are both Christian, “it was wall number two. Musically, it was rough to listen to and, ideologically, it wasn’t ‘safe’ anymore. This is the threat people talk about when they speak about the ‘dangers of metal.’”  Regardless of the history, Mike was hooked by the sound.

While “still a very melody-minded person,” his desire to write black metal gripped him in much the same way as his previous enthrallment. For a class project, Mike recorded a demo for a black metal song, that was his first foray into recording, something he now does regularly for his band. “I don’t claim to be great at it,” Mike said, “but it’s something I really like to do and it’s fun.” Once metal was injected into his curriculum, Mike began to apply it everywhere he could. For a video game culture course, he wrote a paper on the similarities between the cultures of early hackers and metal fans. Then he signed up for credits in independent study—and focused on metal. Eventually, through office-hour visits with other scholars, Mike met fellow metal enthusiast Mark Deuze. “We really hit it off,” Mike said.

Also around this time, Deschain released their first album Upon the Open Throne. Then, over the following summer, Mike mixed and mastered their second album, which evidences more black metal influences.

“The borders and boundaries of metal are so interesting to me,” Mike said. “What is and is not considered metal is such an interesting process of negotiation. People get really into drawing all these lines but, in the end, it’s all sort of arbitrary.” His first paper for Mark looked at different exemplar metal communities, analyzing how people forge identities and what makes a music scene. This was a precursor to working on space- and place-related research. Mike’s latest work is a longitudinal study of Viking metal; he attempts to analyze how, via the Internet, global influences affect the construction of spaces that were previously defined more by geography. Many media scholars find joy in bridging the gap between hobbies and research. As a scholar of space and place, studying metal communities is simply Mike’s lens of choice. “There are a million lenses one could choose, but metal is what brought me here. It’s natural for me to adopt this perspective.”

Mike will be moving to New York to attend NYU for his doctoral studies and he is excited about the metal scene there. “There are shows every night in New York; there’s a great metal scene in the city,” Mike said. “New York death metal is renowned and there’s a burgeoning black metal scene, too. It’s going to be a whole new world to explore.”

It’s a great opportunity, but it does come with some sacrifices. Recently, he helped pick his replacement for Deschain. “One of the things that’s really cool about metal is that there’s a fluidity in the membership of bands,” Mike said. “Just because you don’t have one of the founding members anymore, doesn’t mean the band is dead—at all. As long as you’ve still got people who accurately represent the sound, you’re okay.” Mike will still help with audio production, which is easily done remotely. He will also pursue some solo projects, something which is not uncommon in metal; lots of black metal bands are one-man affairs. “This will give me a chance to explore some ideas I’ve had” Mike said, “to do some things I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise.”

After six years in Bloomington, it is certainly time Mike gets that chance. Everyone in the department knows of his scholarship. Anyone who goes into Tracks, one of the local music stores (on Kirkwood), will see Mike’s influence in the metal albums he selected while working there. The Bishop, a venue downtown, still has a Deschain poster. Dozens of students had their time in Bloomington enhanced, however briefly, by The Metal Underground. “It takes a lot of work to get into metal,” Mike said. “You have to work to find the bands. You have to work to get over those mental blocks. You have to work to become a part of the community—and you have to work to become skilled at playing.” Thanks for all that work, Mike. Bloomington wouldn’t be the same without it.

Blog Report Card, by Blog Writer Emerita Nicky Lewis

This week I was given the assignment to submit a ‘blog report card.’  Revisiting the posts of the past semester has been a real treat. Looking back at what we’ve done as a blog team over the past two years has been a true joy. All of the stories we’ve done, all of the people who have shared parts of their lives; it serves as a great reminder of how interesting and diverse our department really is. In turn, it has made the jobs we have as blog writers that much easier.

With Mike and Ken at the helm, the tone has changed and so has the writing style, but the content is what always shines. I couldn’t bring myself to ‘grade’ the blog and its crafters since I left my writing post. The blog is its own entity now, and isn’t married to a particular writer or style. It belongs to the department and the faculty, staff, and students that continue to make it great.

With Mike moving on, another writer will come in. The structure and story themes may change, but hopefully, it will continue to be an informal and intimate look into our wonderful graduate community. Great work this year Harmeet, Mike, and Ken… here’s to you and long live the blog!

Grad Blog Book of Sayings

Every now and then during our discussions we have crystallizing moments when a principle that has been guiding the sensibilities of the Telecom grad blog gets articulated.  One such moment occurred on April 16 and the spirit of that day got us thinking about a grad blog book of sayings, an unadorned compilation of articulations of grad blog sensibilities.  We will capture them when they are articulated or re-articulated in free flowing discussions, as opposed to reconstructing them from memory.  We will not attribute the sayings to particular individuals, as they arise from conversations over time.  But we will make an exception this one time because it is Mike Lang’s last blog post and his articulation on April 16 sparked the idea of starting a grad blog book of sayings.

10 Minutes on Monday,  by Mike Lang

My radio squawked as I shoved the last canoe into the current for the evening float trip. “Mike Lang, you have a phone call on line one, Mike Lang, you have a phone call on line one.” Knee deep in the Tippecanoe River, I plodded back to the truck, soaked shoes swooshing and squishing beneath me. “Thanks, give me a few minutes to get to a phone.”  The evening air was thick with heat and humidity, and a layer of sweat and grit clung to my body like a second skin, my summer skin, my camp skin.

For four years I’ve spent my summers hanging out with kids at YMCA Camp Tecumseh, teaching them to build fires, play guitar, identify plants, and make friendship bracelets. However, as any camp director will tell you, activities come second to personal growth.  If fun is your only objective, take your kid to an amusement park.  As such, embedded in every activity is a subliminal purpose that ranges from facilitating friendships, to developing patience, to overcoming fears. We call them second level skills, and at the end of the week when the armada of minivans and SUVs descends on camp, most of the campers have developed them without ever knowing it.

I climbed into the beat up Ford Ranger and rumbled up the hill to the lodge. The phone’s line one light blinked steadily as Professor Harmeet Sawhney waited on the other end to offer me a job. I could count the amount of interactions I’d had with Harmeet on one hand prior to that call, all of them enjoyable, but most of them taking place in the cocktail party environment where you smile and laugh and keep conversations long enough to seem polite, but brief enough to avoid saying anything substantial. I picked up the receiver and pressed the flashing button. “Hello.” As expected Harmeet explained in his polite and thoughtful way that Katie Birge was leaving and the blog needed a new writer. I’d be working alongside blog veteran Nicky Lewis, we would meet every Monday to come up with story ideas, and we would write stories that captured a certain sensibility. There was also a 10 hour a week RA assignment in it for me. As Harmeet filled me in on the details, my mind wandered to my students from T101 the previous semester; the inside jokes, the creative projects, the office hour chit chats. I entered academia with an eye towards teaching. Did I want to give all that up to write for the blog? I tuned back in as Harmeet asked, “So Mike, do you think you want to write for the blog.” It’s now or never.  “I’ll do it.”

Over the course of two semesters I’ve somehow managed to write 40 stories. I polled the incoming class on which weapon would best suit their needs in case of the zombie apocalypse, and defended beer in an epic beverage showdown. I’ve talked skateboarding, basketball, and cougar encounters with Paul Wright, and learned the ins and outs of the Rugby World Cup. I’ve made videos, taken pictures, and spent hours conducting interviews. In many cases, the blog brought me to unexpected places. My interview with Rob Potter on geocaching eventually led to a final paper for one of my seminars. The blog gave me an excuse to finally visit the farmer’s market, and the blog introduced me to a man I wish I could have known. In other cases, the blog gave me an opportunity to learn. I learned about audio engineering (twice!), mountain climbing, saving money, and independent game design. In many ways, the blog has kept me plugged into the department during the weeks of thesis writing when I had no one but my computer for company.

We have been incredibly fortunate to have never missed a deadline, but it hasn’t always been easy. I’ve lost stories to hard drive failure, and interviewees have flaked out on me. Nearly every Sunday this year has been devoted to the blog much to the chagrin of my wife, and in many cases, the desire to teach rises up on occasion to scorn me. The stories on the T101 and the T205 AIs were the most difficult. Envy gnawed at me as I listened to their stories of AI camaraderie, student creativity, and hilarity and hardship that accompany every class. Every time I walked past the T101 AI meetings in Mark Deuze’s office, a little part of me would rise up to rebel. Why did I choose this over teaching? Why did I take this job, only to slave over stories week after week that most of the department would only spend 10 minutes with on Monday morning? Is any of this even worth it?

Sitting here, writing my last post, I find myself asking the same questions, but the answers are coming more clearly. At the staff meeting before the start of every week at Camp Tecumseh, our executive director reads evaluations written by parents of campers who had just been to camp. Like pros, the parents read right through their kids’ excited descriptions of their weeks, writing in glowing terms about their child’s personal growth. As a staff, we get pumped up when the kid who selfishly hoards food stores so ridiculously large they could restock the Kroger snack aisle decides to share the wealth with the cabin on his own accord.  We get even more excited when a parent writes to tell us that that same kid is now sharing his Xbox controller with his little brother and they are bonding like never before. As a writer, I’ve worked my tail off on these stories and get excited when they turn out well. However, in many ways, the stories themselves aren’t as important. It’s that second level that really matters. In numerous cases I’ve sat in Harmeet’s office talking about the blog’s sensibility, the department’s ‘signature’; and the factors which make Telecom special and unique, and this is the second level conclusion I’ve come to:

The blog breaks down the stuffy professionalism of the academe and infuses the department with personality. We are blessed to have a faculty loaded with leaders in the field, and graduate students who will no doubt take their place, and while the world celebrates them for their achievements, the blog celebrates them for their humanity. The blog doesn’t treat the department as a group of individuals, but as a group of friends. I haven’t worked all year for 10 minutes of skimming on Monday mornings. I’ve worked for the conversations the blog facilitates, the laughs it generates, the opportunities to meet people it presents, and the quirkiness it inspires. Our department is special because we aren’t afraid to be human.  We may be giants, but we aren’t too big for our britches. We may be smart, but we aren’t afraid to laugh with one another. We may be busy, but we aren’t too busy to help each other out.  In my mind, the blog is a fundamental piece of our department culture, and from that perspective, two semesters of AI work is a small price to pay all the fun I’ve had.

In the fall I’ll be starting my PhD program at NYU and somebody else will be taking over my blog responsibilities. As such, I’d like to thank Nicky Lewis for showing me the way, holding my hand as I learned the ropes, and establishing the precedent that made my life a million times easier; Ken Rosenberg for his brilliant ideas, wonderful conversation and constant desire for improvement, even when the wall seemed too high to climb. I’d like to thank everyone who lent me their time and their stories, hopefully I did them justice. Lastly, I’d like to thank Harmeet Sawhney, not only for taking me on as both a blogger and a research assistant, but for everything in between. I couldn’t ask for a better editor, mentor, and friend. Thank you.

Signing off,

Mike Lang

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.

Rachel Bailey’s Kicks, Bryant Paul: Rock Tumbler, Mike Lang’s Album Release, Chris Eller’s Brown Bag

Rachel Bailey’s Collection

Grad student Rachel Bailey has a small obsession hidden in her closet . . . around 250 pairs of shoes.  How she accumulated this massive collection of footwear is an interesting story.  It began between her freshman and sophomore years at University of Missouri, when she took a job in a child psychologist’s office.  Once Rachel began working in a place where she could wear nice things, her shoe collection began to grow.  Then, she took a position as an assistant to the UM’s Vice Provost of Enrollment Management.  Still, more shoes.  “In high school, I only had an interest in functionality.  I owned maybe one pair of heels.  Then, I started getting fun shoes to wear when I dressed up.” Now, Rachel’s massive collection includes boots, dress shoes, casual shoes, and some workout shoes.  She has one closet devoted solely to her footwear, which includes two shoe racks and several dividers.  She has them organized into sections as well: casual, nice, and really nice.  “I keep the really nice ones in their dusters, bags or boxes.  The boots?  They just kind of go wherever they fit.”

A major adventure for Rachel was moving her shoe collection to Bloomington.  “I moved from Austin, Texas to Missouri and from Missouri to here within a couple of weeks.  I’ll never move so much stuff again.  Well, I say that now . . .”  Rachel has a new appreciation for flats since coming to grad school, since walking around IU’s campus in heels isn’t easy.  She justifies her underlying passion for footwear by explaining that clothing trends wear out faster.  Rachel believes that shoes have a bit more staying power.  In fact, the oldest pair she owns are a pair of Nike flip flops from high school.  More importantly, she doesn’t let her clothes define her footwear choices.  “I just like fabulousness.  If I see a pair of shoes that speaks to me, I will figure out what to wear with it later.”

Bryant Paul’s Rockin’ Hobby

As a bright-eyed 4th grader, Bryant Paul was mesmerized by the polished stones his teacher brought to class, and he begged his mother for a rock tumbler – the machine that spins and churns rough pieces of rock into small polished marvels. He got his wish, started his first batch immediately, and (because he didn’t read the instructions) promptly broke the tumbler within a few days. The dream could have ended there.

A batch of Bryant's freshly tumbled stones

Luckily, when Bryant was going up for tenure here at IU, he was on the lookout for a new hobby when his parents sent him a serendipitous birthday check, and he remembered his short-lived rock tumbler of his childhood. Deciding to take another stab at rock tumbling, Bryant used this money to buy an updated version of his childhood toy. “I needed a hobby, so I got a rock tumbler,” Bryant explains. This time around, he researched the basics of rock tumbling before making his purchase, learning that it’s more complicated than simply throwing a handful of rocks into the machine. “With my first tumbler, I just put a bunch of rocks in it without grit or polish, and that’s why it broke,” he says. Many of the rocks are either really strong or incredibly fragile, and both present a challenge. Some stones, like agates, can take as many as 5 months of tumbling before they are ready for the next level of grit, the abrasive substance added to the tumbler to wear away at the stone.

Bryant’s next step on the pathway to becoming a master lapidary (the official term for a stone artisan) is to learn how to shape

One of Bryant's pieces of polished agate

and polish cabochons, the circular or oval-shaped pieces of stone used for jewelry. “Here’s the thing about cabochons: jewelry makers are always looking for them,” Bryant explains. The cabochon-making process requires different equipment to cut and polish the stone. Byant hasn’t purchased the new equipment yet, but it’s becoming a likely future purchase. “I am a tumbler enthusiast,” he says of the craft. Bryant is part of an online community of rock tumbler hobbyists who sometimes post their work on the website, and when he needs help or has a question about some of his rocks, he goes online or, in some cases, attends rock shows (gatherings where tumblers and jewelers present their wares for sale and viewing).

Bryant purchases most of his stones online from websites dedicated to the art, though he has tumbled a few pieces of local rock. His favorite stone so far is malachite, but he cautions that it’s a potentially

Bryant showcases a piece of agate

dangerous rock. “I killed a tree in my backyard working with malachite,” Bryant warns. “I threw the grit out there and the tree started not looking so good . .  . and then it died.” He also advises against throwing used grit down the sink. “It’s basically like cement, so don’t do it,” he warns.

Dangers of the craft aside, Bryant enjoys rock tumbling because it doesn’t require constant attention and commitment. “It’s a really low maintenance hobby. The tenure process was long, and picking up this hobby was good for making me learn to wait,” he says. Bryant has also shared his hobby with his daughter, bringing rocks to her class and giving pieces of polished agate to the students, hopefully inspiring one of them to someday beg for a rock tumbler.

Mike Lang Releases Album

Mike Lang has more than just a passing interest in metal music.  Along with Professor Mark Deuze and Massakren lead singer Parker Weidner, Mike led one of the most talked about brown bag presentations of last semester. While he takes his scholarly research on extreme metal and scenic capital very seriously, Mike also explores metal in a more applied way . . . by playing it.

Now, Mike and his band, Deschain, are celebrating the release of their own album.  It is available for purchase through MySpace or by contacting Mike directly. Congratulations Mike!

Listen here: Deschain

Brown Bag Presentation

Chris Eller, MS student and Senior Systems Analyst at IU’s Advance Visualization Lab, gave last week’s brown bag presentation.

Developing a 3D Advanced Production Class – What’s it like to Teach on the Bleeding Edge

Abstract:  3D movies have come, once again, into the public eye. Modern 3D technology has overcome many of the shortcomings present in the last Golden Age of Hollywood 3D circa 1955. We are now in a position to develop 3D movies that can stand on the merits of storytelling and cinematic craft without 3D problems hampering the success of the production. The technology of stereoscopic production has come a long way since Sir Charles Wheatstone published his paper concerning stereopsis in 1838.

Now, 173 years later, Hollywood and Indie productions are finding fresh success at the box office while at the same time discovering that precious few people actually know HOW to make a good 3D movie or TV show. T452 was conceived of and designed to address this knowledge gap and equip our students to successfully compete for jobs on 3D productions after graduation.

Follow these links to Chris Eller’s Brown Bag Podcast and the slides from his presentation. You can also check out his website here.


Nicky Lewis:  Rachel Bailey’s Collection and Mike Lang Releases Album

Katie Birge:  Bryant Paul’s Rockin’ Hobby and Brown Bag Presentation

T101 Redux, Steve Krahnke’s Award-Winning Films, Betsi and Lelia in the News, PhD Prep

T101: Highlights from Media Life

It could be pretty easy for Professor Mark Deuze to structure T101: Media Life as your average 100 level introductory course.  With over 400 students enrolled, it presents major challenges in how to keep the students engaged.  With help from his Associate Instructors (AIs), Mark has revamped T101 into a highly participatory and exciting class.  Associate Instructors Peter Blank, Lindsay Ems, Mike Lang, Gayle Marks, Lelia Samson, and Daphna Yeshua-Katz not only lead their respective discussion sections but also help with course development.

Instead of a grading system based on attendance, discussion activities, and written papers, Mark has developed a new method for grading – Social Representative System.  Similar to YouTube star rankings and Ebay seller rankings, students are responsible for building their reputation in the class by participating in lecture and discussion activities and by contributing to the class Twitter feed.  AIs distribute experience points to students based on their performance on written papers and discussion activities.  Students are responsible for keeping track of own their attendance by assigning personal star ratings for themselves.  The in-class attendance exercises are related to the topic discussed in the lecture that day.

As a result, students are more involved in the course.  The T101 twitter feed has been extremely active this semester.  Under the t101medialife tag, both instructors and students openly post content for discussion.  You can check out T101’s twitter feed here: T101 Media Life

Tuesday’s lecture  focused on past technological innovations, current smartphone technology, and predictions of what the next technological innovation will bring.  The attendance exercise required students to get out their cellphones and participate in a massive ringtone display.

Steve Krahnke’s Films Receive Awards

Recently, two of Steve Krahnke’s film productions were named recipients for awards. Blacking Up, a film about race in the hip-hop music industry, was selected as one of the 2011 Notable Videos for Adults by the American Library Association, an honor bestowed on 15 films selected every other year by the organization. Harp Dreams, a documentary about the international harp competition on IU campus, has received a CINE Golden Eagle Award for Fall 2010.

Steve’s work as executive producer for Blacking Up began more than 7 years prior to the film’s completion. “When we started the project, Eminem was a breakout artist,” Steve explains. The  film was also in production during Janet Jackson’s infamous wardrobe malfunction, meaning the footage had to be edited even more to be “cleaned up” for airing on public television stations. Blacking Up was produced with the aid of former CMCL graduate student Robert Clift, who helped craft the narrative. Steve advised him to tell his own story during the process. “I told him, ‘anybody can say anything they want about hip-hop, but you have to own this for yourself and tell the story your own way,'” Steve recalls. The award received from the ALA for Blacking Up means the film will soon be found in most libraries across the country.  Watch the trailer here: Blacking Up

Harp Dreams, a more recent production, was produced with the help of several undergraduate students who spent considerable amount of their time collaborating with executive producer Steve and producer Susanne Schwibs of CMCL and Radio Television Services. More than 100 hours of raw footage were shot for the project, and the editing work was slow-going. “It’s a tedious process,” Steve explains. “In some ways, it’s like making bread by grinding your own flour.” The final product had the honor of airing nationwide on PBS last June and now is a recipient of the Golden Eagle Award.

Betsi and Lelia’s Study Garners Media Attention

A study by Professor Betsi Grabe and PhD student Lelia Samson has hit headlines in a number of news outlets this week. Originally published in a top journal Communications Research, the experiment measured recall and credibility perceptions from audience members viewing neutral or attractive female newscasters. The study found that male viewers were significantly less likely to remember news content when the female news anchor’s appearance was more sexualized, and men found the attractive version of the news anchor to be less credible when covering political and economic news stories.

Of the recent press attention, Lelia notes that it’s rewarding to see their work make an impact outside of the research realm. “It’s impressive to realize that people actually care what we do. It’s good to know that people who aren’t academics are reading it,” she says. “We’re in a little bit of a media frenzy right now,” Betsi adds. The study has received additional attention from the Poynter Institute over the past week.

For Betsi and Lelia, the publicity is nice, but the most important outcome of the recent coverage is that the implications of their findings have gotten to women in the news industry. “This study helps female journalists understand the pressures from their organizations to sexualize themselves on air. If the study provokes debate and attention, it’s doing something,” Betsi says. Lelia explains that it’s likely the study got picked up by media outlets for its social relevance. “It’s surprising to see the comments on the websites discussing the study and the conversations started because of the research,” Lelia adds.

Betsi and Lelia, along with other graduate students, are working on a follow-up study that examines female audience reactions to sexualized and non-sexualized female anchors. From their initial findings, Betsi posits that it’s likely women feel more competition with the sexualized version of the female anchor, and their upcoming work will delve deeper into this issue. For now, Betsi cautions that the findings aren’t meant to solve problems for women in the news industry. “There aren’t solutions in the study. The best advice is to use these tiny insights for empowerment,” she offers.

For more information, check out some of the news coverage of Betsi and Lelia’s study:

Miller-McCune, The Star, Forbes, Politics Daily, IU News Release, Wall Street Journal

Brown Bag Presentation

In a panel discussion moderated by Rob Potter, members of the Search Committee (Nicole Martins, Annie Lang, Barb Cherry, and Ted Castronova) shared insights from the recently concluded search.  Here is the description that was included in the announcement for the brown bag:

Abstract: This colloquium is intended for PhD students who are considering a career in academia. This seminar will offer specific advice for those students who intend to enter the academic job search this year but also to students whose job search resides several years in the future. Members of the recent Department of Telecommunications search committee will be on hand to address questions such as: what makes a candidate a good “fit”; what information should be included in a personal statement; and what a strong CV looks like, to name a few. Students planning to attend this T600 are encouraged to come with questions to ask the search committee.


Nicky Lewis:  T101 Highlights from Media Life

Katie Birge:  Steve Krahnke’s Films Receive Awards, Betsi and Lelia’s Study Garners Media Attention

Special Thanks

Elizabeth Crosbie: Photo Credit for Lelia Samson

Mike, Mark and Metal, Sharon’s View from the Lab, Matt Falk’s Lucky Purple Socks

Mike Lang and Extreme Metal

Grad student Mike Lang admits that he was listening to Metallica when he learned how to walk.  Now, he’s conducting research on extreme metal.  After his undergrad studies here at IU as a Communication and Culture and Political Science major, Mike planned to go on to law school.  But, something happened in his junior year that changed all that.  He took a course on video games and discovered that there were similarities between video game and extreme metal culture.  Mike began work on an independent study, leading him to Professor Mark Deuze and ultimately to becoming a MA student in our department.

Mike explores the dynamics of metal culture.  People find identity in extreme metal, which for many people is not just a musical genre but a lifestyle.  His current research focuses on the dynamics of extreme metal and virtual space.  Mike explains that regional sensibilities have started coloring metal culture and they are much appreciated.  Earlier they were seen as a negative.  Now where one comes from can act as a badge of honor.

Mike currently serves as president of the Metal Underground, an organization on campus devoted to metal culture.  This is where he met Parker Weidner, lead singer and guitarist of extreme metal band, Massakren.  When Mike first met Parker, Massakren was just forming.  Mike explains that he has been able to see the progression of the band as it has grown.

What does Mike’s new bride think about all of this metal stuff?  “Actually, my wife hates metal, but the fact that she deals with me is pretty incredible.  She’s really supportive of my work.”

See extreme metal band Massakren’s music video, directed by Telecom undergrad students Lorne Golman and Edward Wu here: Threshold

Brown Bag Presentation

This week’s brown bag presentation featured grad student Mike Lang, Professor Mark Deuze, and Parker Weidner, lead singer of extreme metal band Massakren.

Media Life, Extreme Metal, and Scenic Capital in a Post-Geographical World.

Abstract: In our presentation, we offer a history of extreme metal in terms of what we call ‘scenic capital’ – the discourses and resources that produce and reproduce the boundaries of scenes – moving from locally articulated scenes in the 1980s to boundaryless or post-geographic scenes in the 2000s. We discuss the implications for communities of practice, the formation of identity, the nature of participation, and the continued importance of place for extreme metal scenes. As a case study, we will present the history and ongoing development of Indiana-based black metal band Massakren.

Check out the highlights:

Sharon’s View from the Lab

In her almost four years as the lab manager of our department’s Institute for Communication Research, Sharon Mayell has worn many figurative hats. As one of the mainstays of the department’s experimental research wing on the sixth floor of Eigenmann, Sharon has assisted in studies, managed the subject pool, played the role of a test subject, and helped with grants, among other day-to-day tasks. “My hours are all over the map,” Sharon explains, adding that she goes wherever help is most needed. “It isn’t routine, which is why I like it.”

Sharon has collected some great stories from her desk and around the lab, which can run anywhere from 600-1500 subjects per year. Sharon recalls one study where a subject kept falling asleep during the experiment, and she also remembers several instances when subjects have sought life advice while waiting for the experiment to begin, including tips for attracting members of the opposite gender. Another perk of her office is the view of grad students working across the hall. “I’ve watched several dissertations cranked out at the last minute,” she says. “The tension is palpable. And of course, they always complete it.”

With an MA in Communications Management and a love from her undergraduate days for psychophysiology related classes, the lab seems a perfect fit for Sharon. One of her favorite parts of the lab culture is the collaborative effort involved. “There’s a lot of helping and hand-me-down knowledge,” she says. The studies cover a wide range of interests, and the crew holds weekly lab meetings to discuss what everyone is working on. “Work from the lab can be a painstaking process for new grad students,” Sharon explains, “but the ‘pushing’ that takes places gets them to new intellectual heights.”

Matt Falk Explains Purple Socks, Test-taking Rituals

On the morning of PhD student Matt Falk’s comprehensive exams, he carefully planned appropriate attire, down to his lucky FC Telecom purple socks. The socks, Matt explains, are not just a superstition—they have a history. “An important part of soccer is a well-matched kit,” he says, “so when the soccer team got lavender jerseys, I bought purple socks and started wearing them.” The team improved in the socks’ debut season, and members of the team joked, “It’s all about the socks.” So, when Matt was piecing together his wardrobe for the exams, the socks seemed to be the natural choice. “Besides,” he adds, “with those pants and shoes, they look like dark dress socks anyway.”

Matt arrived hours ahead of time on exam days and spent the time trying out different techniques to remain calm. “I got up and paced a bit, and I talked to myself,” he says, adding that he completed numerous laps in the basement of the building. His coping mechanisms for the stress extend into his test-taking also, as Matt has been known to pace and talk out loud to work through difficult ideas.

To prepare for the exams, Matt spent weeks talking to advisors, creating reading lists, and compiling notes that were written and rewritten numerous times in the process. The week before, though, Matt didn’t read anything new. “The actual week of the exams is kind of a deer-in-the-headlights kind of time,” he says. “It’s an intense process, challenging but relevant to the future.”

Matt, who actually got sick in the three weeks between his exams and his oral defense, used the time to reread through his answers and figure out what he would change. For him, the exams were an important way to figure out how all of his knowledge acquired from his classes fit together. “After three and a half years of learning, you have these exams and you finally see it all before you and realize, ‘Wow. This is my knowledge,’” he says.

As for his purple socks, Matt believes they’ve helped the soccer team, and he’s confident they’ve helped him too. He plans on keeping them around for now: “In the end, they turned out lucky, I think.”

Random Photo of the Week:

Professor Andrew Weaver and grad student Katie Birge, both DePauw University Alum, at Yogi's watching their alma mater's annual Monon Bell Classic football game.


Katie Birge:  Sharon’s View from the Lab, and Matt Falk Explains Purple Socks, Test-taking Rituals

Nicky Lewis:  Mike, Mark and Metal, and Brown Bag

A Top Paper, Mark and the Janissary Collective, the Third Dimension, and the Market for Eyeballs

This week’s edition brings an array of happenings from all ends of the department:   conference honors for Travis Ross,  Wednesday meetings of  the Janissary Collective in Mark Deuze’s office,  Chris Eller’s 3D project “An Ancient Pond,” and the brown bag featuring Ted Castronova’s quest for the elusive eyeballs of video game players.

Travis Ross has a Top 5 Paper at Meaningful Play 2010

Doctoral student Travis Ross has received recognition with a Top 5 paper at the upcoming 2010 Meaningful Play conference.

PhD student Travis Ross and co-author Jim Cummings received top paper recognition for the upcoming Meaningful Play 2010 Conference. Photo Credit: Travis Ross

The paper, entitled “Optimizing the Psychological Benefits of Choice: Information Transparency & Heuristic Use in Game Environments,” was co-authored by Travis and IU Telecom grad alum Jim Cummings. Jim, who completed his MA here, is currently pursuing his doctoral studies at Stanford University’s Department of Communication.

Travis and Jim will present the paper at the conference, which will be held October 21-23 at Michigan State University. With regard to the top paper honor, Travis says, “I’m really excited. I knew our paper had some potential, but I thought it would lead to an empirical study, not an award.” The paper, along with the other 4 top papers, will be compiled into a special issue of the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations on meaningful play.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of writing this paper, according to Travis, is the opportunity to work with Jim, a former classmate. “Although writing the paper was time consuming, I really enjoyed it,” he says. “Jim is a great co-author, and it isn’t everyday that you get to produce academic work with someone you also consider a close friend.”

Mark Deuze and the Janissary Collective

If you happen to walk by Professor Mark Deuze’s office on Wednesdays around lunch time, you might notice a small group of students and faculty inside.  It is a constant flow with people popping in for minutes or hours at a time, crowded on the couch or sitting on the floor.  What they talk about varies from week to week, but it often revolves around works in progress, current research ideas, and life in general.  The meetings often include some variations of caffeine and sweets and the discussions range from popular culture to philosophy.

Mark explains that the group began last year, with just Laura Speers and Peter Blank coming to his office to chat.  Eventually it grew to the size it is today, with a core group of around 10 people, coming from several different departments on campus.  In addition to both graduate and undergraduate students from Telecom, the group includes students from Learning Sciences, Journalism, Informatics, and Communication and Culture. Professors Mary Gray (CMCL) and Hans Ibold (Journalism) also drop by regularly.

Recently, several  students from the Wednesday meetings collaborated to write a chapter for the upcoming Routledge Handbook of Participatory Cultures under the pseudonym The Janissary Collective (evoking the spirit of Ottoman warriors against theories, paradigms, and methods that dampen free thinking). This chapter focuses on developing a definition of participatory culture and situating the individual in it. The group is also collaborating on future writing projects, including an essay on authority and digital media in the British fashion magazine Under The Influence, and a chapter in a forthcoming NYU Press anthology on social media and dissent.

Last week’s meeting covered a wide range of topics, including: concepts of online identity, the idea that being delusional can lead to happiness (according to Woody Allen), and notions of what makes a culture unique.  Participants of last week’s meeting included: Siyabonga Africa, Mark Bell, Peter Blank, Watson Brown, Lindsay Ems, Mary Gray, Hans Ibold, Mike Lang, Nicky Lewis, Jenna McWilliams, Nina Metha, Brian Steward, Mary Gray and Daphna Yeshua-Katz.

See a clip of the discussion on the possibility that we all exist in our own Truman Shows and how the concept of delusion may hold an answer:

3D at IU Telecom

“An Ancient Pond,” a stereoscopic 3D short film project by MS student Chris Eller, wrapped up its filming over the weekend. The project’s shooting finished on Sunday with cast and crew recording final scenes in the IU Arboretum and in Telecom’s own Studio 5. “It’s a film about power, assassination, revenge, and innocence,” says Chris, who is filming “An Ancient Pond” as part of his final project, which will eventually include two other shorts in 3D. “This is the first project that Telecom has really been involved in. This has been in pre-production for three months.”

In addition to shooting his own work, Chris is also helping Professor Susan Kelly teach T452: 3D Storytelling. The course,

Chris Eller edits 3D video footage for "An Ancient Pond."

a pioneering one in the country, immerses 12 students in semester-long advanced 3D production work. The students were selected on the basis of an application process, and the high demand led to the addition of another course in the spring.  Chris is hoping to develop a course design for future 3D production classes through a special T540 project this semester.

Chris says that producing 3D film is really interesting because it presents unique challenges. “There’s the added complexity of the 3D camera rig. The two cameras have to work together,” he says. From a production standpoint, Chris says he’s gaining a new awareness for the techniques involved in capturing the magic of 3D. “You have to be much more conscious of how you frame. You have to reconceptualize everything, but then there’s a new sense of realism,” he says.

The finished product of “An Ancient Pond” will be viewed in the soon-to-be completed IU Cinema, which will be 3D-ready when its renovations are finished. Chris is also helping IU Cinema gather 3D content through both grad and undergrad projects. The IU Cinema’s grand opening gala will be in January.

Grad student Chris Eller makes adjustments to the stereoscopic 3D camera.

For the future, Chris has several other 3D projects planned. On the agenda for upcoming months are a thriller/comedy involving zombies and a documentary on the art of bookbinding.

In addition to talking with us this week, Chris was interviewed for a pair of 3D-themed stories in the Indiana Daily Student for the Weekender section. You can view one of the stories through the IDS website here:


Brown Bag

Professor Ted Castronova was featured in the T600 Brown Bag Presentation this past Friday:



Much has been written about the Attention Economy, yet there are not many conceptual tools for thinking about it in terms of Communications.  How does a game designer know how many monsters to put into a Facebook game?  Adding monsters costs money, yet more monsters – to a point – are needed to capture the eyeballs she needs to make a profit.  What is this market for eyeballs??  In this talk I start with a model of limited cognitive resources and end with a model of supply and demand for attention.  In other words, I walk the long, arduous, dangerous, difficult road from Annie to David.  I’ll need help on the way, so come with me!

Take a look at some of Ted’s presentation here:


Nicky Lewis: Mark and the Janissary Collective and the Market for Eyeballs

Katie Birge: Travis Ross has Top Paper and 3D at IU Telecom