When Karenne Sylvester wrote recently about the frequency of blogging, on Janet Bianchini’s blog it made me think. Initially, I disagreed… I would rather have an occasional, top quality read than a regular second rate one. But then I realised that some bloggers are delivering frequent, good quality content. Shorter, maybe, but good quality nonetheless. Quality and quantity are not mutually exclusive. I also notice that there has been quite a slowing down in my google reader of late.  Although the hardy veterans (Alex Case, Karenne herself, Jason Renshaw and a few others) are plugging away giving us the good stuff, many of the second and third waves of bloggers certainly seem to be posting less.  Is this seasonal? My June and early July are pretty hectic, in this is reflected in my posting frequency. Now I’m in the lull between last classes and exam marking, so I’ve had time to write a little more (although no one read my magnificent archetypes piece… a real labour of love, that one!).

Does it indicate the fading of the flame, a natural burn off after the initial spark of enthusiasm?

I have a slew of interviews lined up (and these are very much the centre of this blog – anything I write myself is to fill the gaps in between) but I also want to stock up for the busy months ahead. I have a long, lazy summer planned… plenty of time to work like a blogging ant! How about you? Do you have anything in the tank? Are you getting tired of blogging? Or do you just want to kick back and recharge your batteries for a couple of months?

In the first, a tousled woman peers out of a darkened room into the bright sunlight, martini glass in hand, sunglasses shielding her eyes from the glare, stocking hitched, a bored socialite drenched in ennui. Her children will populate the early Bret Easton Ellis novels of the 1980’s, deadened by money, neglect and sex.

In the next picture, we see a beautiful woman on a city street. She looks concerned. Maybe she has $30,000 in her briefcase, ‘borrowed’ from the office safe. She might be worried about her lover (James Stewart, perhaps?) who has been acting strangely recently. It’s possible that she is being followed by a portly gentleman with a distinctive profile. Whatever, she’s a smart woman in trouble.

These are 8 x 10 stills from B-movies you have seen before. At least, you’ve seen films like them. You won’t have seen these particular films because they were never made. They are a part of a sixty-nine frame series created by the artist Cindy Sherman in the late 1970’s, each of which she starred in herself as heroine, starlet, woman in danger, sex kitten, sophisticate, ingenue…

Sherman has continued to use herself as a subject, transforming herself into ridiculously-breasted virgin mothers, sinister clowns and fairy tale goblins. This not-quite-first series, however, is her simplest and most direct – both visually and thematically. The artist is an actress, and she plays ‘types’…. vaguely familiar, known but unknown.

Korean artist Nikki S. Lee has gone a step further in her immersion, as a guerrilla method actor, like Sherman not a photographer but an artist who uses photography to capture her conceptual or performance art. She places herself entirely into her context and collects snapshots as an archetype archaeologist.

That’s archetype rather than stereotype. Whilst the stereotype is cliched, oversimplified, tired, the archetype is the quintessential embodiment of an ideal. The archetype represents a universal, instantly recognisable to anyone. One might say it’s just a question of positioning. Nevertheless, archetypes are common features in literature, in psychology, in cinema, as shorthand to help us understand and connect to narratives. The Child, The Shadow, The Devil, The Sage, The Mentor.

Lately, I’ve noticed archetypes emerge in my classroom. I have been teaching some of the same classes for three years now, and although the students change every year…. in many ways they don’t. Classes from the same department have a familiar charater and chemistry year on year. I am wary of allowing this to become a self-fulfilling prophecy, but as far as curriculum development goes (the narrative of teaching) I can work my story around certain archetypal characters before they actually arrive in my care.

Is this dangerous? Are there archetypes in your classroom? What are they, and do you use them to your advantage?

Xtranormal is a site I have championed around the blogosphere before. It allows users to make animated movies by clicking and dragging icons, and converts text to voice in a variety of computer generated accents. If you have time, it is a great way of creating skits with students. We can work on body language, study the relationship between spelling and pronunciation, explore topics which are hard to talk about face to face, or just have a lot of fun!

A guy working for Best Buy in the US made a video about dumb iPhone users, which has now been seen by more than a million people. It’s rather rude (so don’t watch it if you don’t like swearing).

I was excited to see the tool used to make a big hit like this. The site is running a little slower due to all the extra attention generated by this video, and good for them! It’s a great idea, and in the past has always worked well. This has been a great opportunity for them to pull in a lot of new users.

But unfortunately, in the parlance of the internet, they seem to have gone for the epic fail. In their recent site updates, they have made the site more difficult to use and more difficult to understand. So what do I want?

1. Make it searchable

It used to be. But the search functions – movies, users… and even help forums, are all gone. How am I supposed to find the best videos to show as examples? How can I dig out my students’ videos? How do I find an answer to my particular question? Even this blog is searchable. Who ever heard of a site that wasn’t?  There are a lot of xtranormal videos on youtube, but most of them are pretty filthy (it is pretty funny to make cartoon rabbits do Lil’ Wayne tracks in computer voices, I admit). Filtered searches onsite would help educators and students. As one of my students said when presenting the tool to the class last week ‘We can’t show you an example because they all have bad words in’.

2. Make it easy

To be fair, xtranormal is ridiculously easy to use. The final product you see above probably took very little time to make, and the more familiar one gets with the application, the quicker it is. However, at the moment the user is offered three options at the bottom of the screen when it comes to saving the movie – preview, save or publish. What is the difference? Well, that depends on which of the packages you have signed up for… to make it even more complex, the ‘quick tips’ guide refers to the ‘action’ and ‘it’s a wrap’ buttons, which no longer exist. Five options for saving a movie?

3. Make it payable

I am very grateful for all the hardworking developers out there who make basic versions of their work available for free. If I use them enough (like vimeo and flickr) I am happy to upgrade and pay for premium functions and storage. That seems to be the standard model, and no one can complain. But when a site suddenly changes it’s pricing policy (as ning tried to do) a lot of people get irate. So imagine how irritating it is when a site keeps their pricing policy totally hidden. I am signed up for a free text-to-movie package with xtranormal but it wasn’t until I tried to publish a movie that I discovered I would have to pay. A new screen pops up telling me I don’t have enough points to publish, and that I should buy a bundle. There is nowhere on the site (that I can find) to explain exactly what the pricing package is. If you have to ask, you can’t afford it, right?

4. Make it friendly

Reports are that people attempting to pay at this point are experiencing great difficulty. Customer support is perfunctory, with pretty flimsy answers to my questions so far..

I feel a bit mean picking on one particular application, but unless it improves I will be looking around for an alternative next semester. I’ve written about technology checklists in previous posts – any of you have feedback on this particular story?