A 16mm Education

16mm projectorMy elementary school days were the 1960s and back then seeing a film in class was a big deal. Those 16mm educational films often left a bigger impression on me than the books and lessons. A decade or so later and I was the teacher in the classroom and I became very good at threading those old 16mm projectors that often ate up the film.

Television as an educational tool was pretty rare. I recall my fellow students sitting on the floor of the gym in 1962 to watch one small television set as John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth.

A bit more than a decade later I was threading one of those 16mm projectors as a teacher to show my students films. Some teachers took advantage of using films a bit too often. We called them "plans in a can" and they were popular emergency plans in case you were absent without warning or on a day before vacation.

I was pretty frugal in my use of films, but I also taught a course on film and video production, so I think I had legitimate reasons to show films. Before there were home video players, 16mm films were the only way to do it.

The Sony Betamax hit the U.S. in 1975, and my school bought a VHS videocassette recorder (VCR) in 1977 when it was edging out the Betamax for the home video market. That VCR was something I used more and more, though my students were still shooting their own video on reel-to-reel VTRs (videotape recorders).

Sony changed that with their 1983 Betamovie cassette camcorder. My school bought a full size VHS camcorder and so did I. My first home movies of my newborn son were recorded with a video camera plugged into a VHS deck.

But I have very fond and surprisingly vivid memories of those old 16mm films that I saw a s a kid in school.

Many of them have emerged online. I assume that many of these films have had their copyright lapse, or maybe the companies that produced them have gone out of business or just don't care about their use any more.

I recall this film on "Lunchroom Manners" as one I saw in school. I also recall Pee Wee Herman using part of it in one of his shows. Watching "Mr. Bungle" in school settings today reminds me of my own school and the kids look like a lot I did then and my fellow students. Since I have no film and video of my own early days, these are like home movies.

I can imagine teachers in the late 1940s and 1950s showing in a health class films like the 1951  "Going Steady." (It doesn't portray going steady as a good idea.) And I'm not sure how teenagers in 1949 would have viewed the tips in Dating Do's and Don'ts. These were made by Coronet Instructional Films, which produced hundreds of films for the school market.

Public domain films from the Library of Congress Prelinger Archive and Archive.org can be a real trip down memory lane for people who came of age in the 1940s through the 1970s.

But the films I saw in school that left the biggest impression on me were the ones about science. Many of them were well made and from Hollywood producers and studios. I vividly recall "Our Mr. Sun," a film directed by Frank Capra who is best known for It's a Wonderful Life, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and many others.

That film launched the Bell System Science series. My father worked at Bell Labs in New Jersey then, so I thought then that he might have had some vague connection to these films (he didn't). It was the time time of the space race with Russia and an early version of STEM education that we all needed to know more about science. My father was determined I would be the first in the family to attend college and really wanted me to become an engineer.

With animation and live action, "Our Mr. Sun" was really well-made for the time. Capra had been producing documentaries for the Army during WWII such as the Why We Fight series and this documentary side business continued after the war. I know I saw that film multiple times in school, but this Technicolor beauty was originally telecast in 1956 and 1957 to 9 million homes and then some 600 16mm prints were distributed to schools and community organizations through the Bell Telephone System film libraries.

Another film I recall was on the atom. I grew up in that "atomic age" when the fear of nuclear war was very real. The film I recall was produced by Walt Disney Educational Media. Walt Disney began hosting his own television show for ABC in 1954. In exchange for a weekly hour-long Disney television program, ABC was funding some of the construction of Disneyland. The show was originally named Disneyland but went through later incarnations as Walt Disney Presents, Walt Disney's Wonderful World of Color, The Wonderful World of Disney etc. All in all they ran for an amazing 54 years.

The "Our Friend the Atom" was a pro-nuclear energy film but it did compare atomic energy to a genie in a bottle, both of which are capable of doing good and evil.

Not all the films were about hard science and another one I recall must have had some impact on my decision to go into the humanities and major in English. Another from the Bell Science series produced by Frank Capra was "Alphabet Conspiracy" which was the story of the science of language and linguistics. The premise was a plot to destroy the alphabet and all language and it featured the very odd Hans Conried.

The growth of television after WWII scared many parents and educators. Kids were watching a lot of TV and, like film and comic books before it, the fear was that it would rot their minds. The same cry was heard with videogames, the Internet and now with smartphones, which contain all those formats.

I wrote my Master's thesis on the influence of television on children in regard to violence and isolation. There is no doubt that all this media influenced several generations, but I'm not sure that it rotted any brains. I suspect it inspired many kids.

This post first appeared at One-Page Schoolhouse

Hey, Maybe Your Blog Could Be a Book

blog to bookIt's a dream/fantasy of many bloggers: that their blog can become a book - or maybe even a movie. I've thought about it, and I wrote a post about the idea on another blog of mine this month. Here is a version of that post:

When I started blogging in early 2006, blogging was already becoming pretty common. I started blogging as something to use both in my teaching at NJIT and as a way to get my ideas out there. I had been doing workshops and presentations on the still-new blogs, wikis and podcasts for a while and I was trying to get faculty at the university to incorporate them into their courses.

Then I was asked to do a presentation for business people on those topics. Though I was doing podcasts and had created a few wikis, I was not a blogger. One of my colleagues at NJIT, Tim Kellers, was my tech guru and he created a blogging platform for us to use in our presentation using software called Serendipity. Thus, Serendipity35, this blog about learning and technology, was born. And it's still going.

In 2004, the New Yorker had said that books by bloggers would become a cultural phenomenon, but I never gave that a thought in those days. Since that first blog, I have added 8 other blogs to my weekly writing. As a few friends like to remind me, "if you only channeled all that writing, you would have a few books by now."

Then came stories like that of Julie Powell and her blog about trying to cook the entire Julia Child cookbook in her New York apartment. PostSecret and Stuff White People Like are other blogs that became multiple incarnations of books, but Julie was the star student.  

Her original blog on Salon.com is gone, but is archived on the great Web.Archive.org site. The blog began in 2002 as she cooked her way through Julia Child's "Mastering the Art of French Cooking." In 2005, it became a book, Julie and Julia:365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen. In 2007, a film version was announced - the first major motion picture that started off as a blog.

Say what you will about the writing of Powell, she had an established readership and that is why a publisher knew that readership could translate to book sales. This is not new to publishing, TV or film - choose things (comic books, hit plays etc.) that have a built-in following and are a surer bet.

The film adaptation, directed by Nora Ephron, also titled Julie & Julia, was released in 2009. The film was actually based on both Powell's book and Julia Child's autobiography My Life in France. This was not a small, independent film. Amy Adams starred as Powell and Meryl Streep as Julia Child and Julia's husband Paul was played by Stanley Tucci.

But that is one blogger who got great deals out of many millions of bloggers. It is tough to find a number for how many blogs exist (active and archived) currently but just Tumblr.com's cumulative total blogs in July 2016 surpassed 305.9 million blog accounts. That makes the odds about the same as winning the Power Ball lottery.

Yes, Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody got a book deal out of her blog (not the one that led to her best known screenplay for Juno though).

Another success story is Tim Ferriss, whose blog, the Four Hour Work Week, was listed at number one on the top 150 Management and Leadership Blogs.

In 2010, photographer Brandon Stanton started a project to create a photographic census of New York City and his blog version (and Facebook page) of Humans of New York became the book Humans of New York: Stories and was a bestseller.

All of these are why you can find lots of blog posts about turning your blog into a book. For example, look at thebookdesigner.com/2015/06/making-the-leap-from-blogger-to-book-author/ and authorunlimited.com/turn-your-blog-into-a-book-effectively.

I still haven't moved any of my blogs to the print (or film!) world. I could see my poetry project at Writing the Day as a poetry collection. I'd like to think that Weekends in Paradelle and One-Page Schoolhouse have enough posts to produce a collection of essays. The same might be true of the several thousands post on Serendipity35, but I realize that many of my posts are "dated" in the time they were written. Editing would be a major part of turning a blog into a book. I believe that, despite tales of the death of print, an actual book still holds a special, higher place in our culture than a website.

Publishers: contact me.


The Vanishing Blogspot Blog of Dennis Cooper

June 27, 2016: Dennis Cooper is on his computer and his Gmail suddenly reloads and he is logged out.

He tries to log back in and instead of his inbox there is a message saying his account had been disabled.

He checks his blog http://denniscooper-theweaklings.blogspot.com/ that he has been doing for 10 years on Blogspot, Google's blogging platform. The blog is gone.

The only information he has been able to get since comes from a link that was there saying that the suspension was due to a violation of Blogspot’s terms of service.

Lost blog. Lost mail. What violation? No clue.

Cooper does blog about sex - also death, violence, male escort tales and abandoned things, plus a “GIF novel” made up of GIFs found online. Maybe he did violate some term of service. If so, where is the warning, or explanation, or opportunity to export his content? 

He hasn't gotten any response to queries. he even had a lawyer contact Google. I have several blogs on Blogger and I don't like this. Plenty of others are angry or would like an explanation. If this happened to me, I couldn't afford a lawyer to battle Google. I wouldn't get articles about me or in my defense from newyorker.com or nytimes.com or theguardian.com.

My own experience with Google doing some evil was when - without warning and without any way to get an an explanation or recourse (Sound familiar?) - my Google Adsense account was suspended "for life." (read my post on that)  Why? Our best guess was that because we had been hit with a server attack, they viewed it as some way of boosting our ad "hits." 

What happened to Do No Evil and transparency, Google?


Inventing Serendipity

On this Leap Day, inspired by an image and post onThe Paris Review , I retell a tale of serendipity...

Horace Walpole coined the word serendipity in a letter to Horace Mann, dated January 28, 1754.

In the letter, he explained the etymology of his new word. 

"I once read a silly fairy tale, called “The Three Princes of Serendip”: as their Highnesses travelled, they were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things which they were not in quest of: for instance, on the them discovered that a mule blinds of the right eye had travelled the same road lately, because the grass was eaten only on the left side, where it was worse than on the right—now do you understand Serendipity?"

It took nearly two centuries for the adjective form, serendipitous, to come on the scene. Its first recorded usage was in 1943.


Shouting Into the Internet Abyss

commentsComments. We don't have them turned on here at Serendipity35 any more. We were pounded over and over with spammers and so we turned them off more than a year ago

I thought about that as a read this piece on The New Yorker site that suggests that if the Internet were to receive its own Ten Commandments, one of them would be “Thou Shalt Not Read the Comments.”

The author says that there are "few online experiences more dispiriting, more arduously futile, than the downward scroll into the netherworld of half-assed provocations and inanities that exists beneath the typical opinion piece or YouTube video."

I miss our comments. The good ones, not the spam. I still think that part of the reason anyone should blog is to get some feedback from the world. But because this blog has such a long tail of posts, we became a target to spammers. last month we had 1140635 hits and that makes us a place a spammer want to put his link to Viagra and Beats headphones and Gucci bags and all the other crap that got sent our way. I have news for spammers and marketers: Tim and I post our own legitimate ads on this blog's sidebar to Amazon and such and they don't generate enough revenue after a few months to even get the two of a burger and beer at McGovern's.

I suppose I am shouting into the abyss with these posts if I can't even hear an echo of a comment.

That makes me think of when I was an undergrad at Rutgers and did some time at the college radio station, WRSU. We were just moving the station from AM to FM then and I got my FCC license and learned how to run the board and all that. I have always loved radio. But as a rookie, you got the unenviable time slots early in the morning or late at night and you wondered if anyone was out there listening.

LampoonAt the time we were running The National Lampoon Radio Hour which was a very funny series of sketches. It was Saturday Night Live on the radio (with some of the same people, like Bill Murray). It was created, produced and written by staff from National Lampoon magazine and it lasted for a little over a year back in 1973 and 1974.

It originally was a radio HOUR but at some point while I was on the air, they cut it to 30 minutes, supposedly because they couldn't afford or didn't have the time to put together enough material required for a one-hour show.

That first half-hour show made mention at the end that some wimpy radio stations were not going to play the second half of the hour because that was the part with all the dirty stuff. Of course, the show ended there. And the station got calls from angry listeners that were mad because they couldn't hear the second half and because the college station was too wimpy to play it. I was unable to convince these callers that there was no second half and that it was just another gag. It was one of the rare times I knew someone was out there listening.

9 Years of Being Serendipitous About Education and Technology

This blog has passed another anniversary (or is it a birthday?) today. Since the first post in 2006 ("Why Serendipity35?") as a test of blogging software, we have now amassed 3,133 entries. 

Sometimes posting these articles seems like throwing out a message in a bottle because I don't usually know who might find it or read it. Tim shut off commenting a few years ago because he got tired of the hundreds and (on some bad days) thousands of spam hits. But we have our stats and the blog with its wagging long tail still gets a lot of hits. Last month Serendipity35 had 1,024,502 hits, so even allowing for some spammers and bots, someone is reading.

So, I'll keep writing. I do want to hit double digits in blog age.