Category: miscellaneous

These stats, assembled by We Are Social, may not be exact, but certainly seem plausible.


This is a guest post for the Sweetland Digital Rhetoric Collaborative’s blog carnival on data and tools.

This semester I am teaching a graduate seminar, Techniques in Information Visualization, and although my classes never enroll only cinema students, this one includes graduate students from five disciplines, at both the MA and PhD levels: English, Education, Journalism, Public Planning & Development, and Architecture. This diversity makes class both extremely rich but challenging to plan and lead. In short, it helps all of us get outside of our comfort zones. The lack of a shared vocabulary, for instance, means jargon must be reexamined and either justified or abandoned.

So what does this have to do with data and its management? First, there is no better topic for the type of defamiliarization inherent in a class like this, than that of information visualization. As numerous posts in this carnival have pointed out, thinking differently about what constitutes a datum and how it leads to information is incredibly important. This is true in all fields. Humanities researchers frequently feel their work has little if any data, while many “hard” and social scientists feel that the inclusion of a survey mechanism adds a statistical element to a project, as though self-reporting is transparent and always accurate.

After deciding (and disclosing) what the dataset will be, I find there are two main uses for information visualization: discovery and representation. The very act of visualizing complex data sets can be illuminating—it is often the only way to see connections and trends among results. But once these insights are gleaned, any visualization needs to be “cleaned up” so to speak, in order to emphasize the insights to be conveyed. Sometimes this means excluding outliers and sometimes this means simplifying certain aspects, but it should always be a rhetorically savvy act, one with intentionality. Both activities—the discovery and the representation—are extremely useful ones. As more of the world is data driven, we must interrogate the basis of the dataset as well as its representation. To this end, I will briefly discuss a tool and a method for visualizing data which can defamiliarize it in the process.

Logo for Processing programming environment. See

Logo for Processing programming environment. See

The first is a tool, but it’s actually so much more: Processing. As the Processing site notes, it is “a programming language, development environment, and online community.” Processing lives at the intersection of math and the visual arts, rendering and displaying data dynamically. Perhaps one of the most prominent projects is We Feel Fine by Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar which scours the internet every ten minutes looking for blog posts that have the phrase “I feel” and “I am feeling” and then displays this data dynamically, making it visually quite stunning.  Processing has been used for rapid prototyping in addition to full scale projects and there are numerous examples on its site.  It is free and open source with excellent documentation and some great tutorials. There is also Processing.js extension for flexibility and HTML5 integration. We have been slowly rolling it out in our curriculum (the Media Arts + Practice Division of the School of Cinematic Arts) and it’s been exciting to play with the possibilities. At the very least, Processing can foster algorithmic literacy and allows one to dive in with very little coding. In so doing, it can expand the possibilities for working with both data and code.

Similarly, the method I turn to can also function as a bridge between the sciences and the humanities. My current research, the Large Scale Video Analytics (LSVA) project, brings the power of supercomputing to bear on massive video databases (this includes digitized films as well as natively digital video). Not only are most image-based repositories incompletely tagged, there is a loss inherent in any transfer between one semiotic register (image) and another (word). As such, my team is attempting to enhance machine-read image queries by deploying several of them in a single search across thousands of videos, while also allowing crowd-sourced tagging.

One of the team, Dave Bock, is a visualization expert at the NCSA (National Center for Supercomputing Applications) and he normally works with chemists and physicists visualizing their data. In talking about the LSVA, I often use the mantra “Video is the big data issue of our time,” thought it’s remained more of an abstraction to me: a concept that seemed as though it would help the supercomputing people understand the importance of this work. But Dave began treating the moving images as actual data and began visualizing it using the same methods he employs to visualize scientific data.

Novel visualizations by Dave Bock for the Large Scale Video Analytics project

Novel visualizations by Dave Bock for the Large Scale Video Analytics project

The early results are amazing in that they have help us to clearly see similarities and differences in things like color timing, shot angle, edit lengths, et cetera, across videos and across archives without the nagging impulse to focus exclusively on the content of the video. The difficulty with filmic media is that it always seems to be capturing something real, some aspect of the material world. It seems objective, a mechanical rendering of the world. Its constructed nature is often difficult to stay aware of, and yet to film something is to frame it, and to frame is to exclude all else. Moreover, editing footage is also a rhetorically sophisticated act, one that is not ideologically neutral.  But treating footage like data de-emphasizes this level of the film, and we can begin to speculate about the cumulative impact of these screens that bombard us daily. Also, by establishing a “barcode” of sorts for one film, we can compare it across thousands in a way that viewing simply would not allow: when there is more video produced each day than a human can view in a lifetime, we simply must find different research methodologies.

As with Processing, the benefits of this approach are not immediately, nor straightforwardly apparent, though the benefits are many. To visualize image-based media, and to spatialize time-based media is a bit trippy, but I am confidant it will be the source of new insights and help us form more sophisticated research questions about all data, image-based or not.

This short piece was made for a panel at the 2013 Computers and Writing Conference. The panel was organized by Naomi Silver (of U-Mich) and included a wonderful group of colleagues: Cheryl Ball, Kristine Blair, James Purdy, Joyce Walker.

Embrace and Ambivalence, Academe
On Digital Scholarship and my digital dissertation.

Scholarly Tools: Filmic Texts and the Rise of the Fifth Estate, IJLM

These assets issue from the Writing With Video Workshop at the 2013 conference of the Society for Cinema and Media Studies. See also Catherine Grant’s  post about this event at Film Studies For Free.

Chair: Virginia Kuhn
Participants: Vicki Callahan, Catherine Grant, Cheryl Ball, Michael Lachney, Virginia Kuhn
First, the prompt to which we responded:
Video is an increasingly ubiquitous mode of authoring brought about by the rise of consumer grade video cameras and other mobile devices (smart phones, iPads, flip cams) on the one hand, and improvements in graphics processing units for networked editing and cloud-based video hosting on the other. These technologies allow both the recording and the dissemination of video in ways that are utterly unprecedented. But what exactly are the possibilities for writing with video? Will the onslaught of “amateur” video merely reinforce current genres, lending credence to Peter Greenaway’s contention that, to date, cinema has been little more than 115 years of illustrated text?

Video remix, for instance, can offer an especially effective creative and critical strategy as it challenges authorship, reconsiders formal parameters, and builds new communities through shared cultural, analytical, and practical knowledge. That said, as a scholarly tool, remix faces a number of challenges in that the current paradigm of intellectual rigor is established primarily through complex textual arguments, and multimodal argumentation is still uncharted territory with respect to scholarly validity. Moreover, much of the critical work in video to date has consisted of text-based scholarly argument, which is illustrated by clips. If put in critical conversation however, the registers of word, sound and image could illuminate each other, calling each other into question and challenging their seemingly transparent meaning.

Jean-Luc Godard argues that cinema combines research and spectacle. This mixture makes cinema—and now by extension, digital media—a “promise” of radical political intervention, a promise to imagine a new world, unchained by past ways of singular, essentially linear thinking. Yet this promise remains unrealized.

In this workshop, we will explore how writing with video may be mobilized in ways that fulfill the promise of cinema, moving us past generic conventions which render video both static and overdetermined, and into the realm of radical rediscovery.

Critical Cinema: Beyond the Theory of Practice, Clive Myer, Ed. London: Wallflower P. 2011
Roland Barthes. Image, Music, Text trans. by Stephen Heath. New York: Hill and Wang, 1978.
Jean-Luc Godard. Histoire(s) du Cinema, Gaumont, 1998.

Catherine Grant: My presentation to this workshop has a somewhat strange take on the notion of the capacity for “video-writing” to move beyond the “illustrated text”. The video it presents not only uses a good deal of text, but was also originally inspired by the idea of audiovisually amplifying, or supplementing, a long pre-existing written study of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1948 film ROPE.

What making it demonstrated to me is that, in scholarly settings, even the simplest videographic act of presenting an assemblage of compiled film sequences involves medium-specific forms of argumentation, for example, the selection and presentation of evidence, montage and mise en scene, titling, sound editing and other creative effects, all aiming to draw from “a broader notion of pathos, logos, and ethos than that which has been reified in the age of print literacy”, as Virginia Kuhn has put it.* The result is not only the creation of an audiovisual argument, however, but also, importantly, of an active viewing space for live co-research – a framed experience of participant observation which, particularly through its online distribution, dialogically invites responses (including rebuttals!) through forms of remix.

*Kuhn, Virginia. 2012. “The Rhetoric of Remix.” In “Fan/Remix Video,” edited by Francesca Coppa and Julie Levin Russo, special issue, Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 9. Online at

Film Studies and Videographic Assemblage from Catherine Grant on Vimeo.


Cheryl Ball: Networked Humanities Scholarship, or the Life of Kairos


Vicki Callahan on Collaborative Storytelling with Social Media Tools


Michael Lachney: Writing the World
Michael discusses the ways in which when we write with video, we write the world. Or we should do. His work with area youth should engage issues surrounding teacher strikes and other hard issues that inform the very programs in which these children participate. He asks, for instance, why, when Chicago school programs are closed, why media literacy groups do not take up the slack, allowing youth a voice. He shares links  regarding his media literacy/STEM work and another link referenced during the discussion regarding his work with classroom practices and new media.


Virginia Kuhn: Peer-reviewed video essays: she has edited two digital anthologies, the last of which was just recently published and, although the earlier anthology was done created using a Flash container, the current one uses HTML5. While we optimized for video, the journal editors had to put a note out to ask readers to be patient given load times.

Another digital publication includes the rubric for guiding student work. It can be found off the introduction page in the digital format: and here in its textual form:
















Finally, she shared some slides from a recent talk on multimedia project design and assessment which are embedded here.


The latest version of Reelsurfer, a video indexing and clipping application that I’ve been using for several years, is ready to go and has increased functionality. The bookmarklet is very cool.