New Book Discussion Series!

Hey everyone! It’s been a while since I’ve posted, but school, work, and life in general have just been crazy. This post is just an introduction to something I’m calling the Book Discussion Series, where I’ll be blogging about my favorite books, from classics, to Harry Potter, to popular YA novels. You can find all these blog posts under the tab labeled, “Books.” These posts will provide my own insights into the books, including social, philosophical, and cultural significance, and I’ll welcome any further insight and comments on the books, or on my blog posts. I’ll also welcome suggestions for further reading and blogging – so if there’s a book you love that you want to discuss, by all means, post it in the comments! I’m always happy to receive more reading recommendations. ūüôā

My idea for this series came about last semester, when I took a course on children’s literature. We read some amazing stuff, including Tom Sawyer, Anne of Green Gables, The Chronicles of Narnia, and of course, what’s a children’s lit course without any Harry Potter? During that course, I’ve come to realize that true, classic children’s novels aren’t limited to the eyes of children; as adults revisiting these books, there’s much to glean from them as well. Although classic literature is known to have deeper meanings that enhance our understanding of human nature, I think that children’s novels have this same quality as well, although I won’t limit the series to solely children’s novels.

This past semester, I took a course called Harry Potter and the Epic Tradition/English Fantasy. Yes, it’s a real course, and yes, it’s just about the best course ever. I’ve loved Harry Potter since I first picked up the books when I was ten, and they continue to be my favorite books. This course has really gotten me to think about Harry Potter in a philosophical, a theological, and a social context, and these books are so rich in meaning and have so much to say on subjects like good and evil, free will versus predestination, love, death, the immortal soul, community, and the implications of war and division. Because of this, I’ll be starting the series off with none other than Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone! We’ll progress through the entire series, and I’ll even have some tidbits about the Tales of Beedle the Bard, as well as characters I may have glossed over, such as Draco Malfoy, Luna Lovegood, and Neville Longbottom. It’s going to be (at least, I hope it will be) a fun, enlightening journey, that allows us to find further meaning in the books we love!

I hope you’re just as excited about the new series as I am. I can’t wait to hear your insights into Harry Potter!

–Ariadne

Effective Website Design

As a part of my digital writing class, I’ve been working on a website for a small business to help create an online presence for that business. Having a website is a promotional staple among businesses, but an effective website design is just as important as the website itself. So that brought me to thinking, what makes an effective website? What design elements successfully draw the audience in? Here are some website building and design principles I’ve come to find are effective:

Uniformity/Repetition

Often, a user stumbles upon a webpage not through the homepage of a site, but through a search engine that takes him directly to that webpage. Having a website that makes use of the same design and layout on each page will help a user more easily navigate through a site and not get lost. For example, in the website for a local cupcake shop called What About Cupcakes, the website makes use of the same pink design, the same fonts, and the same layout to make sure that users know where they are and how to make their way around that site.

Navigation

Navigation is one of the most important principles in website design. Users who get to a specific webpage and browse through different pages in the same site need to know what specific page they are on. Highlighting or underlining the page like, as shown in The Next Web’s site, does a good job of this. As a user, I know that I am on the section that displays articles on Design and Development, and from there, I can easily go to different pages and make my way back to this page.

Links to Social Media

A strong online presence is important for maintaining customer awareness for a business. Often, a business will choose to build a website and create social media accounts to stay connected to their customers. An effective website provides links to these various social media outlet, as shown in the United Way website. The social media links are clearly visible, so upon visiting the website, users are invited to “like” the organization on Facebook, follow them on Twitter, subscribe to them on YouTube, and grab their RSS feed to stay updated. Having users connected through various outlets, including websites and social media, is an effective way to keep the interest of customers.

Simplicity

Users get turned off by a cluttered website design. Most of the time, simplicity is the best way to go. A simple website design that doesn’t require users to scroll down very much (or worse, scroll horizontally!), is an effective way to grab users’ attention and invite users to explore the website. Usually, a webpage has only a few seconds to draw the user in, so too many gaudy graphics that take long to load, or too many elements on a page that require a user to scroll down to get information, are easy ways to make a user click the “back” button.

Website design must be intuitive, quick, and convenient for the users. For more examples of what NOT to do when designing a webpage, check out http://www.webpagesthatsuck.com/. For more tips on creating an effective website design, check out the PSD page that offers a tutorial on good web design.

#Hashtags on #Television: A Merging of Media

Last night, while watching the premiere of the new season of Food Network’s “Chopped: All-Stars,” I noticed something at the top left corner of the television screen. That something turned out to be a Twitter hashtag for the show, #Chopped. This sparked my interest because seeing that hashtag displayed on the screen showed me how much television was embracing new forms of social media to help promote shows, bring fans of the show together, and have a direct channel for viewers’ opinions. Having the #Chopped hashtag in clear sight encouraged viewers of the show to voice their opinions of the chefs while the show was airing, through Twitter. The “Chopped” judges also shared some input by tweeting with the #Chopped hashtag. In addition, Food Network’s own Twitter account, @FoodNetwork, posted tweets about the show, including cooking tips that the chefs shared, so that viewers could apply these tips to their own cooking.

“Chopped” isn’t the only show that’s embraced social media, however. Another show that has become big on Twitter is one of NBC’s hottest shows, “The Voice.” “The Voice” encourages their viewers to share their thoughts and promote the show via the show hashtag, #TheVoice. While the show airs,¬†a small red bar at the bottom of the television screen is displayed, which features the show hashtag in addition to live tweets from show viewers. Through the show hashtag, viewers of “The Voice” can share their opinions on the singers and the judge’s choices on eliminating and keeping singers in the show. Additionally, the judges themselves share opinions on the singers’ performances by tweeting with the show hashtag.

Although it is no secret that many more television shows have begun embracing Twitter to help promote themselves, “The Voice” and “Chopped” are just a few instances that demonstrate this new merging of different media. Rather than being at odds with each other, television and social media are perfect compliments that both promote the television shows and encourage use of the social media site. Twitter is providing a way to connect viewers and fans to the show in a way that television cannot. Through using the Twitter hashtags, viewers do not need to know the television stars personally to be able to share thoughts on a show. Twitter hashtags provide a way to connect both fans and television show stars alike, and with television show hashtags being taken by storm, viewers now have a means to become a much more influential force in their favorite television shows. How cool is it to have a direct channel where everybody can see your own opinions on a show being viewed by millions? Through Twitter, viewers are being connected to their favorite shows in a way that can elicit real responses. With more and more viewers tweeting about television shows and using the show hashtags, more Twitter users are catching on to these shows, thus increasing ratings and getting more people talking about those shows. With more and more shows encouraging their viewers to tweet, devoted fans are adopting Twitter to help support their favorite shows. By taking the best features of these two forms of media, social media and television are creating a unique, innovative way to connect their viewers. These two forms of media are merging, and this merging of media is creating a wide range of possibilities for social media, television, and the fans and users of each medium.

Facebook as a News Source?

This past Thursday, March 29, the Rio Grande Valley faced one of the severest storms it has seen in years. Six inches of rain flooded the streets, and hail the size of golf balls and baseballs damaged cars and buildings alike.

The storm died out eventually, but the aftermath left clear traces of the storm’s presence the previous night.

The hail damage to the KFC building in McAllen.
The hail storm left the roads icy and slick.
Some of the hail that fell during the storm.

Being from the Valley, this especially worried me. I called my parents the night of the storm and learned that thankfully, their side of the Valley did not take the hit as much as other parts. However, my parents did say that their satellite wasn’t working, so they couldn’t watch the news to check for weather updates. The only means of communication they had, besides the phone, was the Internet. My dad was uploading some photos to Facebook while I was on the phone with him that night. Facebook was still up, running, and very active throughout the storm.

Many cable and satellite networks went out that night, so how did Valley residents stay updated on the storm? The local KRGV Weather channel staff kept up with the storm and updated the KRGV Weather Facebook page to keep Valley residents informed. Through the Facebook page, residents were able to learn about which areas would be affected the most, how severe the storm was in various parts of the Valley, and what measures Valley residents could take to keep their families and their homes safe. Additionally, through the KRGV Weather Facebook page, residents later learned that most school districts across the Valley cancelled classes the following day due to the inclement weather.

The KRGV Weather Facebook page did an outstanding job of keeping the Valley residents updated on the storm and helping to ease a lot of fear. Facebook was one of the few modes of communication still effective during the storm, and the local weather channel took advantage and used Facebook to pass on news about the storm. KRGV’s use of their Facebook page shows that social networking can be used in a way that helps others, much like using Twitter helped release Palestinian prisoner Khader Adnan. Using Facebook as a means to deliver news directly to citizens is just another way that social networking is quickly becoming an integral part of our lives. During a storm, cable and satellite can be glitchy, but social-networking sites such as Facebook are a dependable, effective way to connect to users across various locations and connect news and weather centers to residents.

What I especially liked about KRGV Weather’s use of their Facebook page was the fact that I could stay updated on the Valley storm as well. Since I am away in college and am not living in the Valley, I don’t have access to the Valley’s local news and weather channel. I do, however, have access to their Facebook page, regardless of where I am, so I was able to stay informed about the storm by continuously checking for updates on the KRGV Weather Facebook page. Through checking the Facebook page, I learned that the area where my parents were was not being affected as much. KRVG Weather’s use of social networking helped relieve a lot of my worries and reassured me that the people I cared about back home were safe. The many uses of social networking are quickly becoming apparent, and sites like Facebook are becoming important and useful to businesses, news and weather channels, and of course, people like you and me.

‚ÄúWe‚Äôre all publishers now, and the more we publish, the more valuable connections we‚Äôll make.‚ÄĚ -Pete Cashmore, Founder of Mashable

(Photos courtesy of the KRGV Weather Facebook page.)

Live Blog: Lady Bears Basketball Game, Baylor vs. Georgia Tech

For today’s post, I decided I’d do something a little bit different. As many of you college sports fanatics know, today at 1:30, the Baylor Lady Bears will be playing against Georgia Tech in the third NCAA Championship. As a devoted Baylor Bear, I’ll be watching and live-blogging the game. So, keep your eyes out for updates on this post, and share your thoughts on the game in the comments section! Check out the game updates below.

The Lady Bears put on an excellent performance during today’s game and bring home yet another victory, maintaining their record of having an undefeated season. ¬†Many players shined and made great contributions to their team, including Odyssey Sims, Destiny Williams, and of course, Brittney Griner. Griner scored 35 points, 10 rebounds, and six blocks throughout the game. When asked about her memorable two-hand dunk, Griner responded, “[When she passed it], I knew I was going to dunk it…I wanted to get a two-hand dunk.” Although the Georgia Tech scored 22 points in the last 8 minutes and kept all their starting players on the floor, Coach Kim Mulkey said she stood by her decision to give her starting players some rest on the bench and give other players a chance on the floor. Baylor nonetheless took home a momentous win, putting them on the path to another NCAA Championship game. During today’s game, the Lady Bears demonstrated an outstanding sense of team unity, Baylor pride, and passion for the sport they love, and in the end, their teamwork was reflected in the game outcome. Today is a great day for the Baylor nation, as we have a perfect season so far and are well on our way to making Lady Bear history. Will the Lady Bears claim the Final NCAA Championship victory? That remains to be seen, but with their stellar record and incredible players, the outcome is looking bright. Sic ’em!

3:30 pm РBaylor wins!!! Score is 83-68. Baylor is headed to the Elite Eight against Tennessee.

3:28 pm – Georgia Tech makes free throw, now at 66 points.

3:27 pm – Sydney Wallace of GT scores. GT at 64 points. Baylor makes 3-pointer. 83-64.

3:24 pm – Baylor makes one out of two free throws. 81-56. Georgia Tech scores, now with 59 points.

3:23 pm – Marshall of GT makes a double-double. Baylor in the lead with 80-56.

3:22 pm – Baylor makes two free throws.

3:21 pm – Brooklyn Pope at free throw line, makes first free throw, misses second free throw.

3:17 pm – Georgia Tech scores again, 77-54.

3:16 pm – Georgia Tech scores, score is now 77-51.

3:12 pm РGeorgia Tech gets rebound after Baylor misses shot. Griner has the ball; Griner DUNKS!!! She is only the second player to have two NCAA Tournament dunks. Baylor in the lead, 77-46.

3:10 pm – 8 minutes, 21 seconds left in game. Brittney Griner makes block against GT. Commentator: Everyone on Baylor team understands their roles and plays them to the best of their ability, and that’s what makes them so dangerous.¬†Griner at 33 points.

3:09 pm – Baylor scores, 72-46.

3:05 pm – Brooklyn Pope makes one free throw, misses second free throw. Commentator: Baylor is trying to match what they did in 2005, winning an NCAA Championship.

3:04 pm – Commentator: Baylor has done a terrific job handling the pressure.

3:03 pm – Georgia Tech misses both free throws. Baylor in the lead with 65-42.

3:02 pm – Goodlett makes fourth foul, now at bench. Griner makes free throw.

2:58 pm – Sasha Goodlett of Georgia Tech has ball, misses shot.

2:57 pm РWallace has scored 21 points, 3rd consecutive game where she has scored over 20 points. Wallace is still working to keep the competition up. Griner scores, spins baseline. Griner is averaging over 20 points per game.

2:56 pm – Griner now has made 27 points, Baylor at 63-38

2:55 pm – Griner has made 25 points, 10 rebounds, another double-double for Griner

2:52 pm РAnother triple for Sydney Wallace; GT needs to find a way to get a couple of defensive stops to top Baylor. Coach Kim Mulkey calls time out, asking for a foul. Sydney has scored 19 points for Georgia Tech so far. GT is behind, but still fighting for a victory.

2:51 pm – Williams has made 9 out of 10 shots, almost at her career-high. Griner scores, Baylor up 57-33

2:46 pm – Odyssey Sims (Baylor) scores a 3-pointer, Baylor in the lead 53-31. Lady Bears are dominating Georgia Tech on the court.

2:45 pm – Williams has scored a total of 18 points so far. Commentator: As the season has progressed, Williams has continued to develop offensively.

2:42 pm – Hayden (Baylor) gets the steal, passes to Sims, Sims misses, Griner scores

2:41 pm – 2nd half of game resumes, Georgia Tech has the ball. Wallace of GT scores.

2:40 pm – Commentator: Griner is such a dominating presence, too tough for Georgia Tech to handle.

2:28 pm РIn just the halftime, Williams has scored a game-high of 16 points, Brittney Griner has scored 15 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists. Baylor was out of rhythm for the first few minutes of the game, but once the players started passing the ball to Griner, they seemed to get back in it. Georgia Tech made 13 turnovers. So far, the leading scorer has been Destiny Williams, with Brittney Griner as the leading rebounder. For Georgia Tech, the leading scorer has been Sydney Wallace, scoring 11 points, with Marshall as the leading rebounder with 5 rebounds. Free throw percentage for Baylor so far is 71.4%, field goal percentage is 53.5%. For Georgia Tech, free throw percentage is 100%; field goal percentage is 30%.

Brittney Griner has been a standout player throughout the first half of the game. She has shown a range of skills, including point guard skills, rebounds, and blocks. The Lady Bears have been giving a strong performance throughout the first half of the game, and very likely, they are on their way to another victory and a near-perfect season.

2:23 pm – Destiny Williams: “Our guards did a good job.” Halftime, Baylor in the lead 42-26.

2:22 pm – Sims misses shot, Baylor shooting 55% in first half of game

2:19 pm – Commentator: “Odyssey Sims has set the tone for today’s game on the defensive end.”

2:18 pm – Makenzie Robertson (Baylor) alleyoop to Griner, Griner scores

2:16 pm – Griner blocks against Georgia Tech

2:14 pm – Georgia Tech fouls against Griner, Griner makes free throw

2:10 pm – Georgia Tech scores, score is 34-18

2:07 pm – Baylor up, 34-14, time out called by Coach Kim Mulkey

2:05 pm – two Baylor players have already scored double figures, pass to Williams, Brittney Griner shows point guard skills

2:01 pm – Georgia Tech’s Wallace misses shot

2:00 pm – Commentators: Brittney Griner got a chance to practice with some of the best players in the world this summer, helped her grow since her freshman year

1:59 pm – Brittney Griner makes two free throws

1:58 pm – Georgia Tech scores first 2 points in the paint

1:56 pm – Baylor in the lead, 26-10

1:53 pm – Second media timeout, Lady Bears up 23-10

1:51 pm – Destiny Williams (Baylor) steals and scores a lay-up

1: 50 pm – Odyssey Sims (Baylor) makes first free throw, misses second, Baylor gets offensive rebound

1:49 pm – Baylor up 18-10

1:47 pm – Griner scores again, spin over right shoulder, Baylor up 6 to Georgia Tech

1:46 pm – Griner scores two off the glass

1:42 pm – 1st media timeout, Baylor and Georgia Tech tied at 10

1:39 pm – Sydney Wallace of Georgia Tech scores

1:37 pm – Marshall (Georgia Tech) makes two free throws, Jordan Madden (Baylor) misses shot

1:34 pm – Griner assists to Destiny Williams

1:33 pm – Griner against Georgia Tech point guard, Griner draws a foul, makes two free throws

1:30 pm – Commentator, “Brittney Griner is the most recognizable name in Women’s basketball right now.”

1:28 pm¬†–¬†Georgia Tech Coach interviewed, shares her thoughts on how to block Brittney Griner (Baylor), “I think the only person who can stop Brittney Griner is Brittney Griner…just as good on the defense.” Outside shooting will be a key for Georgia Tech today.

PSA Reflection: The Media’s Influence on Girls’ Body Image

It’s been a while since I’ve posted, and between the time I posted my last blog post and now, I have been working on a video public service announcement. It’s my first time shooting a public service announcement (PSA), so it has been a really interesting, enjoyable learning experience. Composing the PSA has really taught me to use each mode of composition to the best of its ability–each mode of composition has unique properties that help communicate a message, and all these properties combined make for a very rich, enlightening, and effective PSA.

The topic of my PSA is the media’s effect on girls’ body image. I chose this topic because as a female living in an age dominated by the media, Internet, and celebrities, I understand the pressure faced by many women and young girls to look a certain way. Self-esteem and body image are long-standing topics, especially among females, and it is important to address these issues and teach women and girls that beauty cannot be defined by the media.¬†As I did research, I discovered that one of the reasons young girls were developing negative self-esteem was because of the way their mothers viewed beauty. Mothers are a tremendous influence on their daughters; a girl’s view on beauty is largely influenced by the way her mother views beauty. Shows such as Toddlers and Tiaras depict the negative consequences on daughters when a mother has an unhealthy,¬†obsessive¬†attitude towards beauty.¬†However, if a woman has a healthy body image and a healthy view on beauty (such as viewing beauty as something more than looks), this positive attitude is adopted by their daughters. Many existing PSAs on body image addressed the effects and the dangers of trying to emulate the media’s idea of beauty but did not directly address the cause and what could be done to help girls develop a positive body image. Targeting my PSA toward mothers and daughters would be one way to address the causes of negative body image. The media does not only affect young girls–it affects women, so it is important that women adopt a healthy attitude towards beauty, which in turn will influence young girls.

When I began writing the script, I wanted to include both the negative aspects of the media’s influence on body image, as well as what women, specifically mothers, could do to help young girls develop a healthy body image. I opened with the statement, “The media is everywhere” to show how the media is so pervasive and tells women everywhere that beauty is defined by being dangerously thin or having a Barbie-like body. The first draft of the script was very long, so the main challenge in writing the script was making every word count. I needed to keep my PSA under a minute and a half, so the script went through a lot of editing. I ended up keeping the bare essentials of my message–the lines in the script that got to the heart of my message. This included the statistics of women and young girls who faced self-esteem issues and eating disorders, the consequences that arise when mothers have a negative body image, and the positive effects on young girls when mothers have a healthy idea of beauty. Editing and condensing the script was a great way to help me learn to write more concisely. Having to communicate a message in just a few words made me choose my words more carefully and forced me to make sure each word contributed to the overall message of my PSA. This technique of writing concisely is something that I can apply to any type of writing I do. Clear, concise writing is an important skill to have, and writing and editing my PSA script helped me further cultivate that skill.

Choosing content for my PSA also proved challenging. I chose to make a video PSA because I thought it would best communicate my message. The message of my PSA was positive, so I wanted the visual content to reflect that. In my first draft of the PSA, I included video shots of young women taking diet pills, weighing themselves, and measuring their waists, to depict the measures girls take to look the way the media tells them to. However, when I revised my PSA, I wanted the video shots to be more cohesive and to show the effects of changing one’s body image as well. ¬†In the end, I chose to include girls of various ages, from young adult women to young girls, holding signs that read their own insecurities and perception of their appearance based on the media’s definition of beauty. As my script discussed the positive effects of mothers having a healthy body image, the visual content depicted these same girls tearing their signs. ¬†I thought that the general mood created by these shots helped to strengthen the message being read by the narrator.

Another challenge I faced when composing the shots was portraying “true beauty,” because it is hard to pinpoint what true beauty is. True beauty means something different to each woman, so I felt that the best way to depict “true beauty” was to have different girls holding signs that celebrated their own beauty, saying things like, “I am unique,” “I am smart,” or “I am beautiful.” Although true beauty is hard to define, it is universally known that beauty is about loving oneself. This challenge really made me think about a universal way to portray true beauty that would speak to many women.¬†I think that the process of planning, recording, and editing my video shots really showed me how to best communicate using this mode of composition. It made me think about the best way to use video images that would not only communicate the message of my PSA but also enhance the other modes of composition, such as the narration.

When it came to the audio for my PSA, the main challenge was cutting and condensing the recording to keep it at a minute and a half. As I familiarized myself with Audacity, I learned how to cut the recording and keep the recording smooth, and I learned how to apply effects that helped speed up the recording. Being familiar with Audacity and having a clear idea of what I wanted the audio to sound like really helped me make the most out of this mode of composition.

Overall, I learned a great deal throughout the process of composing my PSA. The peer review was very helpful, as it allowed me to address issues within my PSA that I may have overlooked. In addition, it helped me come up with solutions to problems within my PSA that I did not know how to address. Prior to composing my PSA, I was mainly used to composing through the written word. The composing process taught me how to take the best aspects of each mode of composition and combine them in a way that best communicates my message.