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.”

Walter Gantz’ Blue Nail

By Tamera Theodore

When I met with Walt to get the scoop on his blue nail (see previous blog entry here), I was a little relieved to find that he hadn’t dyed his hair black, hadn’t gotten his ear pierced, and wasn’t displaying new skin ink (not that could be seen, anyway). He wasn’t undergoing some kind of radical transformation after all; his new “look” was confined to a pair of brown shoes and one shoddily painted fingernail. And yet, that nail begged for questioning.

Walt’s first introduction to the world of nail polish occurred sometime last year at a family gathering. When his twin granddaughters asked if they could paint his nails, Walt said that he simply couldn’t decline, although he did insist on limiting the scope of the job to just one nail. He recalled that the color choice was a rather garish red and that it had been applied not only to the nail but all around the nail. “It was a terrible paint job,” Walt chuckled, “but it was done by 7-year old girls! It was to be expected!” He said it took him no time at all to remove the polish; he chipped it off by the time he returned home.

But something happened when his nail was painted for a second time about a month ago. He decided to just let it be. He thought “I’m leaving it on. I like it. This is something my granddaughter did. There’s no need to fix this.” Walt said it served as a very physical reminder of his connection to his family.

Walt's fashionable blue nail

Walt’s fashionable blue nail

Interestingly, for someone who rather just stumbled into the world of nail art, Walt seems decidedly particular about his nail polish practices. For example, only one nail may carry polish at a given time and never the middle finger (even though the gesture sometimes associated with that finger is not one he personally uses). Also, nails on his left hand are off-limits because of the wedding band he wears whenever he’s not swimming. One is left assuming that he has an unspoken rule about limiting adornments of any kind to just one per hand.

In regards to reactions, the polish hasn’t gone unnoticed. Walt has observed some peripheral glances, double takes, and even some wide-eyed stares from colleagues and students. An occasional brave student has asked about it and after hearing Walt’s response, exclaimed “Oh! I thought maybe it was a Band-Aid or a bruise!” One recent work-related meeting with an attorney turned to laughter when the lawyer leaned in inquisitively and said “I’m sorry, I have to ask…is that nail polish?” to which Walt offered a short explanation and then leaned in and said “And I have to ask about your polish — would that color work well for me?”

It has been about one month since Walt’s nail was last painted and about a week since this photo was taken.  Day-to-day activities have taken their toll and it has become clear to Walt that nail art requires a certain amount of TLC. Luckily, the family is gathering this weekend for the girls’ 8th birthday celebration, just in time for a reapplication. There was some concern that the girls might be too busy with birthday activities to redo the polish, but Walt said he’ll drag them away from their fun for a few minutes if he has to.  Here he held up his hand so I could get a better look and said “I mean, look at this! It’s getting to be embarrassing!”

Walter Gantz is a Little Blue

By Tamera Theodore

There’s something different about Walter Gantz these days. People are beginning to notice. First, he started sporting shiny new brown shoes — not a huge deal, but notable. Then, in an act of unprecedented disregard for the clock, Walt allowed Grad Orientation to begin eight minutes late. And now this — blue nail polish. That’s right, the nail on the ring finger of Walt’s right hand is painted a kind of aquamarine blue (actually, it looks like he’s the recipient of an unfortunate hack touch-up job as there are clearly two different shades of blue going on and the finish is a bit textured). There’s a story here and we need to get to the bottom of it.

Potter Avoids Muggles, Tamara’s Research Endeavors, Brown Bag

Potter Avoids Muggles: A Geocacher’s Life for Me

“I love geocaching,” read the stickers plastered to the vehicles shuttling swarms of boy scouts across the IU campus. Oblivious to the term, Professor Rob Potter dismissed it as some “dorky scout thing,” before forgetting about it completely.  In only a few short weeks, he would be on sabbatical in Perth, Australia, away from IU, away from his intensive freshmen seminar, and away from all those invading boy scouts.  His wife was already over there.

Before she left, they had talked about purchasing a GPS in order to navigate the land down under, but they decided to wait and buy one when they arrived. That was before Potter got a message from his wife. “Electronics in Australia are too expensive. Buy a GPS before coming over.” With little knowledge about GPS devices, and little time, Potter took to Twitter to ask for recommendations. Based on those responses, he bought one, and in a moment of realization (considering he believed Twitter to be rather worthless), acknowledged Twitter’s usefulness and thanked those who had provided their recommendations. Then it happened. Mary Beth Oliver from Penn State left him a reply.  “Rob, congratulations on figuring out which GPS to buy. You seem like someone who would really dig Geocaching.  Australia is really into it. Check it out.” Geocaching, the same dorky activity advocated by those pesky boy scouts was now being advocated by a colleague. After a little bit of internet research, Potter was in. “It was just geeky enough for me to try.”

Geocaching, in essence, is a high-tech treasure hunt. Armed with a gps unit geocachers plug in coordinates where a cache is hidden and then go find it. The cache, a container varying in size and very often cleverly hidden, normally contains a few items, and a log of all those who have found it. When a cache is found the person that finds it signs the log, takes one item out of the cache, and replaces it with an item of his own. In some cases the items are trackable. By entering a tracking code found somewhere on the item online, the geocacher can find out where an item has been and how long it has been in circulation.

Due to the public nature of geocaching, certain rules must be followed. Caches can only be hidden in public places and in private places with the landowners’ consent, they cannot be buried, and they cannot deface, or cause the searcher to deface the landscape. However, geocaching is very much an underground/alternate reality activity. Geocachers often refer to those not geocaching as muggles, and geocachers must complete their activity without tipping off the muggles as to what they are doing.  While the designation adds a stealthy element to the game, the reasons for it are more pragmatic. People who find a cache and don’t know what it is may take it, steal it, throw it away, or move it, making the activity impossible for future geocachers.

While much of the work of geocaching is performed outdoors, the communal aspect of geocaching is performed online at the geocaching hub, On this site, geocachers can create a digital log of the caches they have found, participate in forums, track items found in caches,  find the coordinates of new caches, and submit new caches for geocachers to find. Premium members of the site gain access to even more features such as statistics, favorite ratings, and real time updates on new caches.

Geocaching is more than just a creative way to kill time. In the case of Rob Potter, geocaching provided a kind of crowd-sourced tourist guide to Australia. “The draw for me initially was very much based on Australia. I’m going to a place that I don’t know, where outdoor recreation is big, and I don’t know where to take my family. So it was a way of saying ‘ok Australians, tell me where is cool.’” The nature of geocaching requires geocachers to get down and dirty with, well, nature. Because caches are not meant to be found by those not looking for them, the geocachers must explore the landscape, often painstakingly so, in order to find the cache. As such, geocaching’s experiential yield is much higher than that of a guided walking tour. The subtleties of the landscape, from floral arrangements, to architectural refinements, to native flora all potentially contribute to finding a cache, but those whose view stretches wider than that of the prize are often rewarded with exposure to the wonders, both nuanced and grand, of local environments.

Now that Potter is back in Bloomington, geocaching has taken a backseat to the complexities of life. “I don’t have time to do it very much, now that my wife and kids have stuff to do on the weekends, and our weekends aren’t empty anymore, very rarely will I force myself to do a geocache. Now it’s a must schedule.” However, geocaching opens up new possibilities at conferences. Recently Potter attended a conference in Boston and took some time to log a cache. On the south side of Boston Potter found a nano-sized cache with a tiny, tightly rolled up log inside attached to the backside of a handrail ornament. Not a bad way to explore the city.

Caches are hidden everywhere (there are a number of them hidden all over campus, and the surrounding Bloomington area) and finding them is often fun and challenging. For those like Potter though, geocaching is more than fun and games, it open up new possibilities for discovering local environments.

For more on Rob Potters geocaching experiences in Australia, check out his post on geocaching on his blog here.

Tamara Kharroub Studies Effects of Arab Television

PhD student Tamara Kharroub has embarked on an interesting research path.  Her interests involve the effects of the transnational Arab television industry.  The industry has a market of 300 million viewers across two dozen countries that share a common language, but vary in their cultural, religious, and ethnic identities as well as their social, political, economic, and historical contexts.  The content of programs is shaped by a complex interplay of two factors.  On the one hand, Saudi viewers are considered commercially the most desirable, and consequently, content is produced with their conservative tastes in mind.  On the other hand, there is a growing trend towards the creation of a new regional television identity that appeals to viewers across various Arab countries, such as historic genres.

Tamara first got interested in this line of research as a result of her work experience and passion about issues related to social justice.  She is particularly interested in media portrayals of women and minority groups and their effects on viewers.  Arab television is one of the most ubiquitous forms of media in the region, with 538 transnational Arab television channels available free via satellite.  However, the effects of this industry have not been studied quantitatively or transnationally.

Tamara has used coursework in the department to develop a cohesive literature review of theories relevant for this research. Over the summer Tamara completed a quantitative content analysis of serial drama shows, containing a sample of programs from various countries and subgenres.  Currently, she is developing a study that examines viewers’ social identification with diverse television characters.  This is to be followed with studies exploring the formation of identities and beliefs.  Tamara will eventually look into other genres of content and mediating factors.  By all accounts, this looks to be a truly promising line of research.

Brown Bag

This week’s brown bag provided quite a history lesson about how the relationship between Journalism and Telecommunications at Indiana University-Bloomington evolved over the years.  It featured a panel of current and former faculty to discuss history, research programs, and directions for the future.  From Journalism, former Dean Trevor Brown and Professor Owen Johnson provided an overview of their past experiences.  From Telecommunications, Professors Ron Osgood and Herb Terry shared their stories from over the years.  Professors David Weaver of Journalism and Walt Gantz of Telecommunications  served as moderators of the forum.

One interesting story to come out of the session involved the identity of Telecommunications, which was earlier called Department of Radio and Television, and Journalism, which was earlier a department in the College of Arts and Sciences. When both departments were in the College, before Journalism became its own school, courses from Journalism, Radio and Television, Home Economics, and Social Work were not counted towards general education distribution requirements.  They were deemed to be skills courses.  Since then, we have seen the Department of Telecommunications and the School of Journalism become two driving academic forces on the Bloomington campus.

This storytelling session uncovered some of the mysterious aspects of the relationship between Journalism and Telecommunications.  Over the years Telecommunications and Journalism have both collaborated and competed at times.  Once Journalism left the College and became a school of its own, the patterns of interaction between Journalism and Telecommunications changed.  Now looking to the future, all on the panel were in agreement that for the relationship between the programs to strengthened, a new, shared building must be constructed, providing facilities and opportunities for open discussion and collaboration among faculty and students.  As media production and research continue to constitute a major part of IUB’s identity, these issues and concerns are ever present and open for debate.


Mike Lang:  Potter Avoids Muggles

Nicky Lewis:  Tamara Kharroub Studies Effects of Arab Television, Brown Bag