About J.E.B.

Six years ago I moved across the state to attend the University of Pittsburgh. I fell in love with this place and this city. But this blog is a little bit more than that - it's for all the people like me, who have passion and a thirst for exploration but don't totally know where they're going. I'm just trying to navigate my way. Life is an adventure, and this is my travel log.

The Remix as Schizophrenic

DJ Spooky claims that his remixes are collages of sound, “with myself as the only common denominator, the sounds come to represent me.” He is referencing Jean Baudrillard’s description of schizophrenia, which states that an individual with schizophrenia isn’t out of touch with reality but rather too closely in touch with every part of his/her reality that he/she cannot even attempt to process it all. From my very basic knowledge I’ve picked up in psychology class, I thought that this definition was a very interesting way of looking at remix and helped me understand it a bit better. DJ Spooky is saying that a remix essentially contains some of every piece of our reality (our archive, if you will), even if we can’t really process all of it or know what it all means.

In almost all cases, remixes, songs, writings, or works of art contain components that are heavily influenced by other works. Sometimes this is intentional, meant to evoke a similar feeling or idea as the original work. Other times it is accidental. As Adam said in his blog post earlier, many times we create works that are unconsciously influenced by things from the past. I think this is what DJ Spooky means by the concept of “the changing same.” Everything we create contains a little bit of everyone else’s reality or archive, whether we want it to or not. It’s the way we analyze and interpret these things that make it individual to us, the same way a schizophrenic’s inability to process extraneous stimuli make his or her experience much different from our own.

In moving forward in this class and creating our own remixes, I think that execution will be even more important now than with past projects. We will all be drawing from the same materials and using the same archive. The way in which we craft our remixes is essential to getting our point across, since we will all be using the same pictures and words to tell a different story. According to DJ Spooky, the order of our collages is what makes them unique. My question deals more with mechanics than theory: Will our stories be able to come across as unique and compelling?

J.E.B.

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The Legend of Zora

When I read the descriptions of each act in This American Life #508: Superpowers, the one that immediately caught my attention was “Act II: Wonder Woman.” According to the synopsis, it’ about a woman named Zora who dreamt of being a superhero as a child, and actually set out to accomplish a set of goals that would make her as close to a real-life superhero as possible. This story sounded too cool to ignore, so I may have skipped ahead in the podcast to listen to act two.

In many ways, Zora’s story tells itself. How can it not? Kelly McEvers, the narrator, is mesmerized by Zora and it doesn’t seem difficult for her to mesmerize the audience in the same way. Zora is such an interesting character, embodying every “cool” archetype from mystical new-age dreamer to hardened, crime-fighting badass. But the way McEvers tells the story, beginning with Zora’s most obvious attributes and working her way both chronologically through Zora’s life and delving into her more complex characteristics, makes Zora seem more realistic.

As always is the case in This American Life, the podcast as a whole is neatly organized into a prologue and several acts, with host Ira Glass announcing the change of subject at the beginning of each section. McEvers begins Act II by describing her very first meeting with Zora and subsequent trip to Vegas, giving a physical description of the woman and then a rundown of their conversation – Zora’s voice, mannerisms, occupation, and a general overview of her character. McEvers herself has a pleasing, feminine voice, which contrasts Zora’s deep, smoky tones and makes Zora sound even more mysterious by comparison.

The first time we hear Zora’s interview, she is talking about her recurring dreams since childhood of being a conventional superhero. This moment takes us back to Zora’s beginning, and also gives her a voice of her own which we can identify with her character. At this point we begin hearing about the list of required skills Zora focused on acquiring. We hear the sound of Zora flipping through her notebook; the scarcity of sound effects in the podcast means that this moment highlights the importance of what follows. Zora talks about the list and begins reading items from it, and continues in the background while McEvers narrates, creating a sense of depth to the sound which mimics the depth of Zora’s character. Since this list is a major influence on who she is, McEvers spends quite a bit of time talking about it and interviewing Zora about it before moving on to talking about her academic accomplishments. I like how McEvers discusses this part, instead of using an interview with Zora, because it pulls the audience back for a moment, out of Zora’s dreams and personal life, to basically list her resume, which is more impersonal.

The broader, more realistic view of Zora begins to show when McEvers introduces Zora’s process of interviewing with the CIA. The tense music adds to the drama of the situation, and its abrupt end when McEvers says she was rejected underscores the seriousness of the situation. Although her goal of becoming a CIA agent fits with her established, decidedly adventurous personality, the fact that she was not accepted highlights that she is not actually this larger-than-life superhuman she’s made out to be. Hearing Zora’s voice describing her despondency upon being rejected from the CIA is much more intimate than McEvers’ impersonal narration of the application process. The effect of this is to make Zora seem flawed, less “superpowered” and therefore more realistic in the mind of the listener.

This view is even more balanced when Zora tells about her private investigation case in Mexico. Her voice narrating, talking about the case, makes it seem very exciting and adventurous, but McEvers’ narration talks about Zora’s insecurity leading up to the trip. This is quite the opposite of what we’ve been hearing so far, with Zora talking about her more personal moments and McEvers detailing her accomplishments. The effect is a nice balance between Zora’s two emerging sides: the cliff-hanging adventure-lover and the regular woman underneath.

The act concludes with Zora and McEvers discussing her “new list,” again fleshing out details of her everyday life which make her seem more realistic and relatable to the listener. The music during this is lighthearted, easygoing, matching the tone of their conversation.

When I began listening, I thought that this woman can’t possibly be real, she’s way too awesome to be anything but a made-up character in a novel. But the sequence and sound manipulation in McEver’s storytelling made Zora really come alive and seem human, which speaks to the overall theme of the podcast: the concept of superheroes, and how people in real life interact with it.

J.E.B.

Transparent Colors in Dreamweaver

I wanted my website for this class to reflect my personality in its aesthetic design. I’m a fairly linear thinker; I like for things to be very organized and streamlined, divided up neatly into boxes and lists. For my website, I got the idea to use containers in CSS to make each heading and paragraph inside its own personal space, and color coded the containers on each page according to their respective colors on the navigation (Home) page. The About page is pink, the Photo page is purple, and so on.

I did this by making containers in CSS of the appropriate dimensions and specifying the font and size and everything. I chose the colors for each container using the color select option (for background-color) in Dreamweaver:

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I did pink for the first heading on the home page and all the headings and text on my About page. I chose the color I wanted using the first and second sliders (color and lightness):

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But the third slider, I discovered, controls transparency. I adjusted it and made the pink boxes more transparent. Then I clicked on the RGBa option in the bottom of the color choosing box:

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This shows the amount of Red (255), Green (76), and Blue (0) coloring in my chosen shade. The last number is the opacity (.70 or about 70% opacity). Then I copied and pasted the color code into the CSS objects/containers for all of my headings and everything that corresponded to the About page (which I wanted to be pink). Then I did the same thing for all my other pages, choosing different colors for each page but 70% opacity for each.

The result looks really cool. It gives a little bit of depth and dimension to the page while still keeping the elegant, streamlined design I wanted. It was really easy and it kept my page simple while not being too plain.

J.E.B.

Feel What You Are: Website Analysis

I initially stumbled upon this awesome website by searching for “web design gallery” on Google, as Professor Campbell suggested. My first result, Best Web Gallery, yielded a page full of designs so beautiful, it was hard to pick just one. I clicked on the first thumbnail, a site with a large picture of a mountain for its homepage, and was instantly drawn in. After much examination I discovered that it is a website for a custom jewelry line. I chose to analyze this website through the lens of my marketing knowledge, since this website is marketing a product in a very interesting way.

What U R, located at Feelwhatyouare.com, is a Barcelona-based manufacturer of silver pendant necklaces with insignias on them that represent different extreme sports (surfing, snowboarding, mountain climbing, etc.). However, the site itself doesn’t attempt to sell the jewelry so much as to sell the lifestyle that the product entails. While it does not have e-commerce capabilities (you can’t buy the necklaces online), there is a “Catalog” that shows all available products and notes that the online store “will be available soon.” There is also a link inviting site visitors to become distributors via a contact form. The interesting thing about this site is its emphasis on the “brand,” not just the product or the logo but the lifestyle of the intended customer. The rhetoric appeals to the emotions of these athletes who participate in these extreme sports.

(Note: the site is based out of Barcelona, and is entirely in Spanish; however, there are also English and French versions available. Some of my screenshots are in English while some are in the original Spanish.) 

Home Page. When I first navigated to the page, the top of the screen was a simple brown background with the company logo spinning around while the page loaded. Within a moment, the brown background faded into a picture of a huge curling ocean wave. This background image switches back and forth every few seconds between the wave, the mountains, and a sunset over a bay with some windsurfing sail things resting on the shore (I’ve never been windsurfing in my life and have no idea what the correct terminology is). The photos are breathtaking.

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There is a navigation bar at the top of the page listing “Home,” “What U R,” “Catalogue,” and “Contact.” The text stays fixed at the top of the screen when I scroll down. After I scroll past the background image, a navigation bar re-appears for the text to rest on, since it is no longer overlaid on the image. I like how the navigation bar is stationary with respect to the image. It makes me feel like the background is an actual part of the landscape of the website, not just a superficially imposed photograph splashed onto the page. This makes the people of What U R seem genuine, entrenched in this adventurous lifestyle, as opposed to just trying to make a sales pitch.

When I scroll down further, there is a brief description of what the site is all about, but the paragraph focuses mostly on the feelings of unity with nature that someone might feel when visiting those places shown in the background photos:

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About. The page entitled “What U R” begins with another strong emotional appeal to extreme sports athletes and enthusiasts, followed by a row of beautiful pictures of such athletes:

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It isn’t until I scroll down that I finally get an idea of what the actual product is. There is a map of Spain indicating Barcelona, a very brief description of the actual jewelry wrapped up in another description of the extreme sports lifestyle. The bottom of the page also includes picture of the gift boxes I assume the necklaces are packaged in:

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Catalog. Now I come to the “Catalogue” page, where the actual products are listed. We begin with more changing background photos:

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Below that is an image which lists the “Ingredients” of the product as “water-resistant silver, wind, fun, and you.” I’m not sure if this is really necessary other than it seems to be a creative way to describe the product, as the water-resistance is an important feature to the intended customer, the extreme athlete.

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Next, the actual products. There are 8 necklaces total, each with a different symbol to represent a different element or sport: kite, waves, mountain, paddle surf, snowboard, surf, wind, and windsurf.

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When I hover over each necklace, the image changes to a picture of what the necklace describes, overlaid with text describing the specifications of the item. This is an example of the first one, Kite:

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Contact. This page is very straightforward and simple, which shows me that What U R is de-emphasizing the business aspect of their operation.

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Overall effects. The What U R website is much more about the brand than about the product it promotes. I would describe the What U R “brand” as nature-loving, exciting, and full of the romance of adventure. The site emphasizes the pictures much more than the words, and the pictures of nature are much more strongly emphasized than the pictures of the actual products. The choice of colors also lends itself to this brand; the brown and cream hues evoke a sort of natural warmth. I also liked how the site was always in motion, with the pictures changing constantly on a timed basis or when I hovered my mouse over a link. This lends a feeling of constant movement I associate with extreme sports and adventure. The site was fairly easy to navigate, and I think that the Catalog and Contact form being listed after all of the emotional appeals reinforced the brand image. My only real criticism is that the English version of the site didn’t seem to be translated very well; however, this is something minor that can be fixed. Also, there seems to be some slight discrepancies in the name of the company. The logo reads “What U R,” but the title page in my browser spells out the full text, “What You Are.” The URL is “Feelwhatyouare,” but the tagline on the home page lists the full text as  “What you feel is what you are.” For the sake of brand consistency I would strongly recommend picking one version of the title and tagline and sticking with it. But overall, I loved the design and feel of this site and think that it very strongly promotes the brand. What U R isn’t selling silver necklaces. It’s selling a lifestyle, a lifestyle of adventure and rugged beauty.

J.E.B.

From Semi-Cool to Spooky Using Photoshop CC

For this DIY blog post, I wasn’t sure what to focus on since everything I was hoping to learn how to do has already been covered in class and the tutorials. So I decided to play around in Photoshop and see what I could come up with. The result ended up actually being pretty cool, and it involved using some of the adjustment layers that I wasn’t familiar with.

I started with this photo I took a couple years ago. One night I looked out of my bedroom window and saw the coolest, eeriest looking full moon emerging from behind the clouds. Of course I took a picture, but my camera didn’t fully capture the awesomeness of this scene like I had hoped:

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The first thing I did in Photoshop (after I saved a new .psd file, of course) was play with the brightness and the contrast, like so:

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Then, I adjusted the curves. I didn’t really know what curves were, but a little research told me that it is a method of adjusting the tonal “inputs” and “outputs,” which as far as I can tell is a fancy way of saying light and contrast. Curves are similar to levels and can help achieve different effects like exposure. I played around with the curves until I liked the result, which brightened up the clouds even more and amped up the contrast around the edge of the moon.

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It looked like this:

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Which was pretty awesome, but still missing something. I explored the selective color tool in the adjustment layers, which gave me a dialogue box with different sliding scales for all the colors. I lowered the Cyan one just a tiny bit, and raised the Black one a little bit more, and the end result was this:

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Creepy! Much more like the moon I remember seeing out of my window when I took the picture.

J.E.B.