The Secret of Tamera’s Mystique: A Combination of Smoke, Mirrors and Magic

By: Niki Fritz

Last semester, I walked into the departmental office and before I could even do one of those faux cubicle knocks, Tamera turned around to greet me, knowingly handing me the “change of committee” form I needed. In awe, I thought to myself, “Tamera is magic.”

I know it is an experience we Telecom grad students share. We have all witnessed Tamera’s magic.

Although I don’t want to crush everyone’s secret fantasy that Tamera actually is some sort of kindhearted sorcerer or benevolent witch, it is my grad-blog responsibility to reveal the secret behind Tamera’s knowing ways. There is actually a mirror in the upper left corner of the office that shows Tamera who is entering the office. (To be fair, the mirror is no secret. It is actually a fairly large, obvious mirror that I have just always been too distracted or self-absorbed to notice.)

The story behind the mirror though illuminates just how Tamera’s apparent sorcery works. Yes it is a story about smoke and mirrors, but mostly it is a story about team work and how the right people fitting together can make magic happen.

The front office is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. every school day. This is important to Department Chair Walt Gantz who notes that students are just starting to wake up by the time front office secretary, new Telecom staff addition Taylor Conrad, is ready to take lunch around noon. Some departments close the office for lunch but to make Telecom more accessible, the front office stays open while Taylor takes her break. This means it falls to Tamera or Reed to greet any lost students or guests.

A lot of people come through the office door, and while most know where they are going, it often fell to Tamera to turn and look behind her, whenever the office door opened. This led to some frustration and a sore neck.

Then about a year and a half ago, the team started to joke about getting a mirror. Walt decided that a mirror was actually a great idea. “I said yes, let’s get a mirror. I don’t care what it costs. Buy it.”

The infamous mirror

The special mirror.

Tamera jokes that Walt actually notices that each turn to check the door was knocking 1.3 seconds of productivity off of Tamera’s work. But Walt insists it was just for the health and benefit of the team; something relatively simple that would ease the strain on Tamera’s neck and making Tamera appear magical was just a welcomed side effect.

Still I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something mysterious about Tamera’s powers. After all she always seems to know what forms grad students need and she can get a room reserved in Woodburn with lightning fast speed. I was pondering this as Walt and I walked over to Tamera’s desk. Before we rounded the corner, Tamera turned to greet us without the powers of the mirrors.

Tamera says knowing these things just comes with the territory. She’s gotten good at sensing where people are and what they need.

Walt notes though that it isn’t just the mirror. There is still some mysticism working in the office, magic that can be seen through the dynamic of having the right team members in the right position.

“Tamera is magic anyhow. And Reed is magic. They both are. The mirror just discloses one of their sources of power,” Walt explains. “There are many others we have pledged not to divulge.”

Tamera and Habitat for Humanity, Steve Krahnke’s ‘Zines, Intellectual Circuit: Cog Sci, and Steve Krahnke’s Brown Bag

Tamera and Women Build 2011

Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County works to build homes for those in need.  For the past 10 years, one of their most successful building projects has been the Annual Women Build.  Every year in May, all-women volunteer teams come together for nine days to construct a home for a local family.  Graduate Program Administrator Tamera Theodore is now gearing up for her fifth one.  Habitat for Humanity’s Women Build program promotes the involvement of women in the construction process, providing them the opportunity to learn about home construction in a supportive environment.  Building a simple, healthy, and affordable home for a local family in need takes 225 volunteers, 1600 hours, and $65,000. This year the Women Build will be completing two homes.

Most Habitat for Humanity projects have major corporate sponsors, but the Women Build relies on each builder to raise funds to secure a volunteer spot for one day of the build.  On Tamera’s build day, along with 34 other members of her team, she will work on the construction of a new home.  One reason Tamera loves to work with Habitat for Humanity is that they accept anyone who wants to participate, no matter what their skill level.  “It is a humbling and rewarding experience.  You really do learn about yourself and others.  I believe I take away more from the experience than I give.”

This year, Tamera’s volunteer work for Habitat for Humanity is taking another form.  She is now volunteering as a t-shirt designer as well.  This all came about when Habitat for Humanity’s County Executive Director Kerry Thomson found out about Tamera’s passion for drawing and painting.  While a graphic designer usually volunteers to design Habitat for Humanity t-shirts, this time, Kerry approached Tamera to come up with some design ideas for their latest t-shirt.  After presenting several designs, one was chosen, printed on t-shirts, and given to volunteers at their annual Just Desserts reception.  Also, Tamera just received word that another one of her designs will be used for the Women Build t-shirt.  “It was really cool to see my design.  I am better at drawing than building, so it was rewarding to be able to volunteer my services in another way.”

Tamera is currently in the process of raising funds for the upcoming build.  While each builder’s fundrasing goal is $250, Tamera’s personal goal is $500.  “Since most of my friends already participate in the build, it is sometimes a challenge to meet my fundraising goal so I truly appreciate the support of faculty and staff from the department.”  So, what happens after all of this hard work?  It doesn’t end there.  After Tamera’s build day, she hosts a party for her team with plenty of good food and drink.

For more information on the 2011 Women Build and Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County, go here: Habitat for Humanity of Monroe County

Steve Krahnke’s Magazine Collection

If you walk past Steve Krahnke’s office on the second floor, you may notice something.  The table outside of his office is covered with magazines.  Steve’s interest in quality writing draws him to intellectually engaging magazines.  Also, as Director of National Program Development for WTIU, he is always looking for new ideas for documentary projects.  Describing  himself as relentlessly curious, his collection includes magazines like The New Yorker, Harper’s, The Atlantic, American Heritage, and Discover.

Steve encourages anyone who wishes to borrow a magazine to help themselves as long as they return them.  He reports that awhile back someone was stealing the National Geographics.  As for who it was and what happened to them; the mystery remains unsolved.  Another secret?  The magazines – US Weekly, Entertainment Weekly, and TV Guide – in the waiting area near the administration office also belong to him.  “I’ve got to keep up with the times.  It’s important to know what shows students are talking about.”

Intellectual Circuits, Part One: Cognitive Science

Our graduate programs have an unusual degree of openness. The students are encouraged to use the entire university as their intellectual playground, as long as there is an intellectual coherence in the course selection, which has to be articulated in the rationale for the overall program of study. Correspondingly, Telecom students have treaded diverse and interesting pathways across the campus, which we call intellectual circuits. This movement of grad students brings new perspectives into our department. This is the first in a series of interviews with students on each of these circuits. To kick off the series, we asked some of the graduate students with minors in cognitive science about the ways in which their minor added to their Telecom studies.

What is cognitive science? For many of us, it’s an abstract label applied to the study of the brain. Telecom PhD students Rachel Bailey, Travis Ross, Matt Kobach, and Soyoung Bae, who have taken cog sci courses, provide a more nuanced understanding, especially on how it relates to our own field.

Rachel says, for her, cog sci is “a broader study of thinking, the brain and the mind, and what I do is apply those kinds of philosophical standpoints and theories to how people interact with media.” Coming from a very practical master’s program in marketing, Rachel looked to cognitive science as a new way of thinking about what she had already learned. She takes delight in the depth of her new understandings.

Travis, who is completing a dual degree in both the cognitive science and telecommunications departments, also values cognitive science for its new perspectives, but for him, the math and logic related to cognitive science are the big attraction. “In cognitive science I am exposed to a lot of very quantitative, somewhat math-heavy concepts that we just don’t cover in T-com,” he explains. “It’s helped me get a good grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of mathematical modeling and simulation in combination with the more verbal conceptually driven communication theory.” Soyoung finds that her cognitive science courses help her and others at the cutting edge of research on information processing by the brain. “Things progress faster over there. We borrow a lot from them – so it’s good to keep up with the new advancements and methods happening in cognitive science,” she says. For Matt, who uses what he has learned from cognitive science to better understand the relationship between media and evolutionary psychology, says cognitive science critical to his research. “It’s impossible to study the process of media without thinking of a cognitive component,” he explains. “Our brains develop adaptively, and they haven’t evolved to catch up with technology.”

As a complement to process-based courses within Telecom, Travis thinks cognitive science is for anyone looking to exercise what they’ve learned and become more flexible thinkers. “I would recommend it to anyone who is interested in social science and wants to work in a field that is doing really interesting and groundbreaking things with behavioral theory,” he says. For Rachel, courses in cognitive science can cater to all kinds of interests. “As I said before, it is a really broad field. So many things can be considered cognitive science –psychology, communication, informatics, robotics, AI . . . the list goes on. Your learning benefits from those varied perspectives, and if you think you’re interested in anything related to thinking and what influences thinking and what thinking influences, you can find a home.”

Brown Bag

Steve Krahnke gave last week’s brown bag presentation.

Creating and Using Dense Rubrics in Student Work Evaluation

Abstract:  As classes become larger and “multiple choice” evaluation becomes less useful, instructors can be faced with hours and hours of grading work in order to provide adequate feedback to students. This workshop will provide direction in the construction of and practical use of an evaluation too I have come to call a “dense rubric.” This is a tool which I learned in education school, and which has served me well in the evaluation of students over the years. It is superior in many cases because it provides maximum feedback to students while requiring minimal extra work from instructors.

“Dense” rubrics differ from standard grading rubrics in that they include precise, detailed descriptions of expectations for superior student work, as well as indications of areas of improvement (as opposed to simple grading criteria) . Dense Rubrics are particularly useful in evaluating papers and projects, because they offer large amounts of detailed feedback without requiring extra work from the instructor.

There are several other advantages. First, because comments are written prior to projects and papers being completed, students can have no question of what is expected of them. Second, instructors can provide feedback which is consistent among students, leading to a perception of “fairness” within a class. Third, grading projects and papers can either be analog or digital in nature, remaining consistent throughout the grading process. Finally, if multiple projects are assigned, students and instructors can use successive dense rubrics as “data” which can be used to determine progress.

This workshop will provide an introduction (or refresher) in the creation and use of “dense” rubrics. I will provide examples of my own dense rubrics, and good examples from other faculty at other institutions. Time permitting; we will attempt to create our own dense rubrics as a “class exercise.”

Click here to access Steve Krahnke’s Brown Bag Audio

Random Email of the Week


The office here has a free pinball machine — and it does wonders to reset
your focus when you need a break from something. It reminded me of our
misbegotten idea to get a foosball table so I thought I would mention
it. Next to the machine is a whiteboard where everyone who plays,
records their high scores. So there’s actually some incentive to play.
I’m the fifth highest out of about 15 or 20 at the moment, yet to break
the 20 million mark… but nipping at their heels.

Definitely conducive to a creative environment.

(Prof. Bucy, on leave from IU, is currently serving as Vice President – Research for SmithGeiger LLC in Los Angeles and handling research for clients in local and national news, digital media, and the non-profit sector.)


Nicky Lewis: Tamera and Habitat for Humanity, Steve Krahnke’s ‘Zines, Intellectual Circuits

Katie Birge: Intellectual Circuits, Brown Bag

Special Thanks

Mary LaVenture:  For seeding the idea of a series on intellectual circuits

Rob Potter: Photo and audio of brown bag

Tamera’s Adventures in Cooking, IU Cinema and 3D Projects, Photos from the Ice Storm, and Norbert Herber’s Brown Bag

Cooking with Telecom, Part 1: Tamera Theodore

Polenta with meat sauce and reggiano

Graduate Program Administrator Tamera Theodore is the mainstay of our graduate program.  Students and faculty alike depend on her for answers to questions, help with applications, problems with paperwork, and troubleshooting in general.  In addition to her dedication to the grad students and the grad program, Tamera is also passionate about something else: local and organic food.

Quinoa stuffed poblano peppers

Tamera fully admits that she had no interest in cooking whatsoever until she had to start doing it on her own.  Her mother would try to get her into the kitchen as a child, but Tamera wouldn’t have any of it.  It was around the age of 25 that she realized she didn’t want to live on Hamburger Helper alone.  Her first creation was a batch of meatballs, courtesy of the Betty Crocker cookbook.

Chicken breast, grilled red pepper, tomatillo & pumpkin seed sauce with cilantro and avocado

Since then, her passion for food and food preparation has grown exponentially.  While she doesn’t admit to having a favorite food, she cooks with seasonal food whenever possible and avoids any processed foods.  This results in at least two grocery store trips a week.  “Bloomington is a great town to cook in.  With Bloomingfoods and the Farmers Market, even in the winter time, it’s easy to cook good food here.”  In addition to supporting local farming and food production, Tamera has taken interest in food presentation as well.  Thanks to programs like Top Chef, Tamera has gained an appreciation for presentation plating and the connection between food and art.  “Food should be a sensual experience – it should appeal to all the senses, not just taste.”

Mediterranean lamb kabob with red onion and soy bean salad

Tamera’s cooking adventures have gained some popularity in recent months.  At first, she took pictures as a personal memento of completed dishes.  Once she posted the pictures on Facebook, she received a number of comments and compliments from friends and family.  Her food has earned quite a following.  “At first, the pictures were my trophy case.  Now I need to organize them in an album.  I always tell people, ‘Come over sometime and I will cook for you.’  They don’t have to just look at the pictures!”

Braised lamb shoulder with root vegetables and whipped potatoes

For all of her successes, Tamera’s cooking experiences haven’t been without misadventures either.  “The first and only time I tried to make homemade bread was a disaster.  I even have video of it.  It was hard as a rock, you needed a chisel to cut through it.  It wouldn’t have fed anything.”  In the future, she plans on taking local cooking classes to enhance her culinary skills.

Tamera shared with us one of the recipes in her repetoire; a batch of cookies she made for last week’s graduate committee meeting.  While she doesn’t consider baking to be one of her strong points, these cookies were a big hit with the committee.  “Literally, this was the second time I’d ever made homemade cookies that were not Toll House.”

Crispy Cocoa Pecan Cookies
Crispy, oversize cookies with a hint of butterscotch flavor.
Makes about 16
  • PREP TIME: 20 minutes
  • TOTAL TIME: 5 hours (includes chilling time)
  • Ingredients
  • 1 1/3 cups all purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder (scooped into measuring spoon, then leveled)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 10 tablespoons (11/4 sticks) unsalted butter, melted, cooled
  • 1/3 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup sugar
  • 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons light corn syrup
  • 2 tablespoons whole milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup chopped pecans or walnuts
  • 1/2 cup bittersweet chocolate chips


  • Whisk flour, cocoa, baking soda, and 1/2 teaspoon (generous) salt in medium bowl. Stir butter and next 5 ingredients in another medium bowl until smooth. Stir in flour mixture, then nuts. Cover and chill until firm enough to scoop, at least 4 hours. Can be made 1 day ahead. Keep chilled.
  • Position 1 rack in top third and 1 rack in bottom third of oven; preheat to 325°F. Line 3 large baking sheets with parchment. Measure 2 level tablespoonfuls dough; roll between palms into ball. Place on prepared sheet. Using fingers, spread out dough to 3-inch-diameter disk. Repeat with remaining dough, spacing 5 inches apart.
  • Bake cookies 8 minutes; reverse sheets. Bake cookies until flat and beginning to darken around edges, about 10 minutes. Transfer cookies on parchment to rack (cookies will crisp as they cool). Can be made 4 days ahead. Store airtight at room temperature.
  • Place rack inside rimmed baking sheet. Place chocolate chips in small microwave-safe bowl. Heat chips in microwave in 15-second intervals until smooth, stirring occasionally. Place cookies on rack. Drizzle melted chocolate over cookies. Let stand until chocolate sets, about 30 minutes.

Note: Tamera substituted walnuts for pecans.

IU Cinema and Telecom 3D Projects

Last week marked the official opening of the IU Cinema, with the festivities kicking off on January 27th and concluding with 3D screening on the 30th. Over 200 tickets were issued for the 3D event. Telecom grad student Chris Eller, who studies 3D production in the department and assists with the undergraduate 3D production courses, said that the screening featured four original projects from students here as well as animation work from IUPUI and mixed live action/CG work from the Advanced Visualization Lab.

The cinema, which seats about 260 people, is equipped with 3D capabilities and viewing glasses for all guests. “The IU Cinema is, at the moment, the most advanced teaching cinema at a university in the U.S.,” Chris says. “It is only the 10th university-based cinema in the country to receive a THX sound certification.” The IU Cinema has a full calendar scheduled for the remainder of the school year. Click here for the complete list of what will be shown (and if you’re a basketball fan, be sure to check out the viewing of Hoosiers on April 8th!).

To learn more about IU Cinema, follow this link to the main page: IU Cinema

Photos from the Ice Storm

The ice storm that swept through the Midwest last week shut down IU’s campus for parts of Tuesday and Wednesday. PhD student Lindsay Ems took some photos while running on Wednesday morning. Here are some of the images she captured from the aftermath of the ice storm:

Brown Bag Presentation

Professor Norbert Herber shared his audio endeavors at this week’s T600 seminar.

First-, Second-, & Third-order Cybernetics for Music and Mediated Interaction

Abstract: Implicitly or explicitly, Cybernetics plays a role in works of Experimental, Ambient, and Generative music. This talk will introduce Amergent music, a genre that draws from these musical traditions and creates a third-order cybernetic stipulation in works of technoetic and media art. Drawing on the work of Maturana & Varela and Martin Heidegger, Amergent music establishes a new relationship between listeners, generative systems, and the musically mediated environment that is created in the course of interaction, play, and presence. Some recent projects, including Londontown and Dérive Entre Mille Sons, will be used as examples of this approach in the music of virtual worlds and mobile device applications.

You can listen to the full audio here:

Norbert Herber Audio

And check out the visuals here:



Nicky Lewis:  Cooking with Telecom, Part 1:  Tamera Theodore, Brown Bag Presentation

Katie Birge: IU Cinema and Telecom 3D Projects, Photos from the Ice Storm, Brown Bag Presentation

Special Thanks

Tamera Theodore:  For photos of her culinary creations

Lindsay Ems:  For photos of ice clad IU