Week 2 Summary

This was a great week! Although it was challenging, I appreciated the task of finding time to sit, watch, and listen to this week’s DS106 content.  It’s not often we take time to really reflect on what it means to practice listening and to think about how we listen.  Evelyn Glennie’s TED Talk was a great way to start the week reflecting on how we listen.  I also enjoyed the course content on layering media.  I’m sure it will come in handy over the next few weeks.

I was pretty excited about this week’s first assignment, to listen to a radio program.  I love listening to NPR programs but I usually listen to them while I’m cleaning the house, getting ready in the morning, or basically anything I can do while listening.  While efficient, that’s certainly not the best way to really experience a radio program.  This week I hunkered down and really listened to an episode of This American Life.  I actually pulled up the transcript from the website, pasted into a word document, and took copious notes so I could remember what I was thinking/feeling/hearing.  The transcript helped me stay focused on the program and my notes helped me remember what to write in my blog post.

Our second assignment for the week was quite fun.  I blogged about the 2014 Kia Soul commercial as a short film.  Not only is the commercial fun and entertaining, but I totally got a kick out of spending an evening writing about hamsters.  Through watching the commercial several times and dissecting it, I was able to pull out a lot of really interesting qualities that contribute to it being such a great commercial.  Looking at it in :5 sec. increments certainly gave me a greater appreciation for the work of the people who put together 1:30 commercials.  There were many layers – no small task!

I also spent some time commenting on the work of my classmates/colleagues.  It’s really interesting to see how others are interpreting our assignments and what stories they are infusing into their work.  I get the sense that this class, in both content and delivery, is very much outside everyone’s comfort zone (myself included).  It will be interesting to compare our early work with our later work as I’m sure everyone will learn a lot.

Lastly, I came up with a new idea for storification; taxes! Don’t worry,  I’m cringing too.


Tax Season

I think I found something else in need of storification.

My husband and I have an appointment to do our taxes tomorrow.  Ugh.  It seems like every year there is more ‘stuff’ to add to the list of documents we have to sift through.  Buying a house and having a baby certainly don’t help you streamline the process.

In looking through our tax documents, a lot of them come with a sort of ‘instructions’ page.  How nice of my bank to send instructions along with my 1099-INT statement! But seriously, they’re really hard to follow.  You have to read through each line to pick out the action items, which may or may not apply to you. Here’s what the form looks like:

1099-INT instructions

1099-INT instructions

I understand it’s probably the best we can expect to come out of the IRS (no offense!) but when most taxpayers have an iPhone (or other smart, touch phone) it’s safe to assume they’re expecting something a little more intuitive and user friendly.  I’m imagining a website or an app that allows you to enter your story of the year, and then it spits out customized tax instructions along with tips and tricks.  Doing your taxes is a really personal task and it makes you reflect on the year you’ve had and helps you plan for the year ahead.  I think someone could really capitalize on this reflection and make people excited about interested in filing their taxes.

Cool Hamster

For this week’s assignment, I chose to look at the Kia Soul Hamster commercial.

(A natural pick. I love this commercial!)

This commercial plays off of the Kia Soul’s first marketing campaign which featured ‘super cool’ hamsters driving around being cool in their ‘super cool’ Kia Soul.  Well, the Kia Soul underwent a redesign and so did the ad campaign, and the hamsters.  In this commercial, we start with the hamsters who’ve always been on the chubby side but are now clearly overweight.  The first shot is of them running on the beach in sweats, clearly ready to get back in shape.  Lady Gaga’s “Applause” plays in the background.  Below is a breakdown of the full commercial, in five second increments.

1 0:00 – 0:05 We see three overweight hamsters running along the beach in sweats.  We first see them from a long shot and then we see them closer up, running towards the camera.  Lady Gaga’s “Applause” starts to play from the beginning in the background.  We can also hear the hamsters breathing heavy as they run.
2 0:06 – 0:10 The slightly smaller but still overweight hamsters are now in the gym, hitting the elliptical machine and lifting weights.  This is where the mystery sets in.  Why are they working out so hard?  What is their goal?
3 0:11 – 0:15 Our view is flipped to that of an automotive designer, in a studio, working on a new car design on a touch screen computer.  He bobs his head to the song – which has switched from non-diegetic to diegetic sound.
4 0:16 – 0:20 We’re back to the hamsters and the audio is back to background sound, looking a little thinner and getting a little more active.  They are back in the gym taking classes and jumping rope.  Mystery builds – what are they up to?
5 0:21 – 0:25 One of the hamsters is in his coolest gym outfit on the treadmill and gets checked out by two cute girls – only to fall flat on his face from the distraction and excitement.  This provides a little comic relief.
6 0:26 – 0:30 We see a close up of one of the girls who makes a face about the hamster’s fall in a direct address to the camera.  There’s more gym action from the other hamsters but then we are taken back to the designer who is now working on a clay model.  He bobs his head to the music again.
7 0:31 – 0:35 Cut to one of the hamsters on the starting block in a pool.  He bobs his head to the music just like the designer did and gets ready to jump into the pool while the music comes close to its crescendo.
8 0:36 – 0:40 Just as the music reaches its fever pitch, the hamster dives into the water and the audio tone changes to sound like it’s being heard underwater.  The hamster swims directly towards us.
9 0:41 – 0:45 The hamster swims underwater for a moment and then we’re back to the designer, back to regular sounding audio.  The designer is sitting in a car playing with an iPad and tuning the car stereo to Lady Gaga’s “Applause.”
10 0:46 – 0:50 Back the hamsters, looking svelte and working out harder and faster in the gym.
11 0:51 – 0:55 More of the hamsters and the gym, they are getting slimmer, faster, and stronger.
12 0:56 – 1:00 Cut to the three hamsters sitting in a row of hair dryers.  Everyone around them in the hair salon is bopping along to the song.  We zoom in on the hamsters in the hair dryer chairs and they are all bopping their heads to “Applause”.
13 1:01 – 1:05 Cut to the car – neon green, newly designed Kia Soul.  It drives down the highway. Music continues as we get a good look at the front, top, side, and back of the car.
14 1:06 – 1:10 The car stops in front of a theater with a red carpet and fans waiting outside. Fans scream as the hamsters get out of the car looking super sharp in sleek tuxedos.
15 1:11 – 1:15 The three hamsters do a quick synchronized foot shuffle to the beat as they begin their trek up the red carpet. They are super svelte, wearing cool shades, running their hamster paws through their hair in slow motion – they’re way cool.
16 1:16 – 1:20 Hamsters are hamming it up with fans on their way into the theater; signing autographs, taking selfies.
17 1:21 – 1:25 “Totally Transformed” flashes on the screen with an image of the neon green Soul.
18 1:26 – 1:30 “All new Soul” displays on screen along with the Kia logo.

To take a closer look at the design of this commercial’s story, I mapped it to the Story Spine

Once upon a time: Three overweight hamsters wanted to transform their lives.

And every day: They hit the gym.

Until one day: Their bodies started to transform. They gained confidence and speed.

And because of this: They needed a make-over, so they hit the salon.

Until finally: They were ready to showcase their new look on the red carpet – which they did, with great success.

And ever since that day:  They were the coolest, most sought after hamsters on the block.

So not only is the Kia Soul transformed, but so are the hamsters.  This ad campaign literally grew up with its product and I think was a really interesting way to approach this transformation/redesign. The most interesting thing I discovered while watching and listening to this commercial several times, in increments, was the way that it plays with sound.  I was a film minor in college and in some of my film classes we studied diegetic and non-diegetic sound.  Diegetic sound is any sound that is part of what’s happening in the film – the character’s voices, what they hear, etc. Non diegetic sound is anything the viewer hears, and is outside the realm of the film.  This commercial plays a lot with the “Applause” as it flips back and forth between diegetic and non-diegetic sound.  Sometimes it’s just background music that the viewer hears while watching the hamsters working out.  But then, we see the graphic designer bobbing his head along to the song, so clearly, he hears it too.  The best part is at the end when the hamsters get out of the car and at the same time, in perfect sync with the music (as if they are hearing it) make the same little half step and start walking up the red carpet.  The perfect timing of little moments like this and the play with the song make this commercial so fun to watch.


There’s No Place Like Home

I’ve already shared my affinity for radio programs such as the moth, and I also enjoy the occasional This American Life episode, also on NPR.  For this week’s assignment, I listened to the This American Life episode, There’s No Place Like Home.  Although they were disjointed, I was able to catch a few quiet moments to sit and listen to Ira Glass lead me through an exploration of what ‘home’ means.  I tried to pay close attention to the ways the program mixed in audio to enhance the stories.  The inclusion of audio, and the way in which it was done, created a rich listening experience.  I’ll share an example of how this was done.

In Act I, Ira Glass introduces James Spring who will explain an interesting activity that takes place in a small border town in Mexico.  Spring describes for us what he’s doing there; participating in a tourist event called, “Caminata Nocturna”  or, “Night Hike.” It’s a simulated border crossing, complete with border patrol officers and safe houses.

Simulated border crossing. Photo cred. US Travelers

Simulated border crossing. Photo cred. US Travelers

As Spring walks through his experience of the night he includes bits of audio that made me feel like I was there.  During the quiet time in the simulation, he plays the sound of crickets and it gives the sensation of being outside in the middle of a quiet night.  When the border patrol approaches the group he included the sounds of sirens, dogs barking, etc.  Those sounds conjured up a bit of panic and almost made me feel like I was being chased.  These bits of audio were pulled in to the story just as Spring would get to that part.  Sometimes he would pause speaking and let the audio play at a higher volume for a few minutes.  If the audio was still relevant to what he was saying next, he would fade it out and  layer his narration on top.  I think the pauses in narration, with a focus on the additional audio, allowed me to reflect on what was happening in the story.  It gave me a chance to imagine what it would be like to actually be at the Caminata Nocturna.  It was very effective.

The program uses the same techniques in Act II.  Whether it’s the sound of a young man rapping at a diner, or the sounds of patrons enjoying themselves at a toast bar, the different layers of audio mixed with the story narration really gave me a sense of what it would be like to be in those places, experiencing those moments.  In a time where we are inundated with the visual (television, Instagam, etc.) it’s nice to be reminded that we can feel and experience things through simply listening.


Week 1 Summary

This was an interesting week in DS106! It was a little overwhelming at first but once I organized my tasks into a nerdy little spreadsheet/checklist I was good to go.

I enjoyed think about the elements of stories this week and having the opportunity to share my thoughts on the topic.  I got my feet under me in WordPress by setting up my blog and writing my first post. The title of my blog is TBD but I’m sure I’ll come up with something good soon.  BCodelson will have to do for now.

I explored how the story of the star bellied sneetches lines up with Kurt Vonnegut, Pixar, and Kenn Adams’ ideas about the shapes of stories.

Seeing Ira Glass’s describe the building blocks of a story was pretty great and not just because I got to see and not just hear him for the first time.  Andrew Stanton of Pixar also had some words about stories and wonder that really resonated with me.  I got to talk about my love for NPR’s, The Moth, while discussing my ideas about what is a story.

Finally, I identified a particularly un-helpful item in my everyday life that could benefit from a digital story telling makeover.

This week was extremely interesting. I’m looking forward to what week 2 will bring!

So Not Helpful

The first thing that came to mind when thinking about something that simply didn’t work for me, I thought of this one piece of paper that I keep in a basket in the kitchen.  I got the paper from my daughter’s pediatrician at her 4 month appointment. It’s a “Guide to Solid Foods” and it’s really, really lousy.  It’s printed in all black ink with no graphics.  It’s been copied no less than 100 times and the information it contains is the absolute bare minimum that a parent would need to start feeding their infant solid foods.  The guide left me wanting for so much more. It was so not helpful.  I find myself having to reference it time and time again because none of the information ever stands out in my mind.  It was disappointing that one of the most trusted resources for parents (the pediatrician) hands out such a lack luster document on such an important topic.

I think this hand-out might be something I could re-work into an engaging and interactive resource.  I think there are several options of stories that could be woven into the content.  I’ve already got my main character – a baby!  I also think there could be a lot of ways to compile information about the solid foods to try, how to cook them, how much a baby needs to eat, etc.  This could be a really good subject for my final assignment and hey, maybe I’ll let the pediatrician take a look at it.

What is a Story?

It’s safe to say that I am slightly obsessed with NPR’s radio broadcast, The Moth.  My husband and I like to listen to it via podcast while we get ready in the morning (when we’re not playing Disney tunes to entertain our daughter) and it makes for an interesting start to the day.  I like to share the love, so I usually tell friends and family when I hear a good story.  I’m always a bit surprised when I learn that they’ve never heard of The Moth, which means that I now have to explain it to them.  So I tell them….well, I never know quite what to tell them.  I’ve realized that it’s kind of hard to explain.  It’s a collection of stories told by the people who lived them; that’s easy enough.  But what kind of stories?  Well, all sorts of stories. Sometimes they’re funny.  Sometimes they’re sad. Sometimes they tie up neatly at the end and sometimes they leave you wondering.  What’s the point of the stories?  Well, there isn’t always a point, at least not in the way you would think. they don’t all have a moral to offer and they don’t always have a happy ending. There’s no easy way to define the stories of The Moth just like there’s no easy way to define stories on the whole.  For me, stories offer a brief moment to view the world through someone else’s eyes.  You see what they see, smell what they smelled, hear what they heard.  They allow you to pause and think outside yourself and try to understand the world around you in another way. I liked the way that Andrew Stanton talked about stories as being able to deepen our understanding of the human experience.  I think that as individuals, we don’t have enough experience or insight to understand the world on our own, so we need to draw from the experiences of others to do it.  It’s kind of like that old “it takes a village to raise a child” saying.  I think something like that applies to stories.

And to make things even less clear, we can add the word, “digital” to storytelling. My understanding of digital storytelling has expanded exponentially in just the last 36 hours through DS106.  Just reviewing the New York Times articles that utilize different forms of media to enhance their stories changed the way I thought about digital storytelling.  There are countless ways of using media to enhance a story and that has the potential to make the story richer than before, having an even more profound and lasting impact on the consumer of the story.  Thinking about The Moth again, I can only image if some of the stories came with animations, or interactive imagery – those would be pretty cool tools to help me connect with the story and ultimately, the experience of the storyteller.

The one thing that really resonated with me in this week’s class videos was what Andrew Stanton said in his TED talk.  He talks about wonder being the secret ingredient to a good story.  He says that the greatest gift one human can give another human being is to give them the feeling of wonder, “to hold them still for a brief moment of a day, and have them surrender to wonder.  When it’s tapped the affirmation of being alive reaches almost to a  cellular level…..the best stories infuse wonder”.  I love this.  I wholeheartedly agree with Andrew Stanton that a sense of wonder is a great gift that you can give someone and it certainly explains why Pixar (and Disney) films are timeless and ever-popular.  This will stick with me and I hope I’ll be able to infuse wonder into all of my stories; spoken, written, digital, or otherwise.

The Shape of the Sneetches

Did you ever read the story of the star bellied sneetches by Dr. Seuss? It’s a lively, tongue-twisting tale about the sneetches with stars and the sneetches with “none upon thars”. The story begins where the Sneetches with “none upon thars” are being ill treated by the sneetches with stars.  The way I see it, this story has an interesting and unique shape.  With two main characters (the two types of sneetches) there are really two story lines that cross over one another.  The star bellied sneetches begin with good fortune, being the star bellied elite.  The starless have the ill fortune of being the shunned.  Once Mr. McMonkey McBean shows up with his star on and star off machines, things get interesting.  The Star-On machine makes the star-less the starred, thus lowering the status of the original star bellies.  Once the originals have their stars removed, the process starts over again and each group yo-yos between being the best and being the social outcasts. Eventually it all gets so messy they realize that stars were never all that special and they wind up accepting a bi-starred culture and they all find themselves together in the end, sharing their good fortune.


Story Shape: the Star Bellied Sneetches

When I look at the story withing the context of the 22 Rules Pixar Uses to Create Appealing Stories I thought that rule #14 was most applicable to the sneetches story:

14. Why must you tell THIS story? What’s the belief burning within you that your story feeds off of? That’s the heart of it.

The story of the sneetches carries the underlying theme of, “underneath our stars skin, we’re really just the same”.  I feel certain that as Dr. Seuss wrote this story he wanted to entertain children, but also teach them to be kind to others no matter what they look like on the outside – a really important lesson for children to learn.

Now let’s look at the story in another way, through the lens of the “Story Spine”.  The story of the sneetches falls neatly into this formulaic approach to storytelling.

Once upon a time there were star bellied sneetches and starless sneetches who played on the beaches.

Every day, the star bellied sneetches snubbed the starless sneetches.

But one day, Mr. McMonkey McBean showed up, promising to cure the woes of the starless by sending them through his star-on machine.

Because of that, the starless sneetches now had stars on their bellies.

Because of that, the star bellied sneetches couldn’t tell themselves apart from the other sneetches.

Because of that, the star bellied sneetches went through McBean’s star-off machine.  Then the other sneetches followed.  Then it was stars on, then it was stars off….

Until finally, the sneetches were so mixed up they didn’t know who was who or what was what.

And ever since then, they never worried about stars again.


This Blog

So far, I like this blog.  It’s been easy to create and I already like the ease of use of the blogging tools.  I have a personal blog that I love to play around with.  That blog is kept private and primarily serves as a repository for my family’s photos, recipes, and even a few special stories.  I look forward to filling this space with stories as well!