Monthly Archives: October 2014

Link Party: 10/27-10/31

There's this really great fountain tucked in the corner of the courtyard  at Kellogg House Pomona. The detailing is beautiful.

There’s this really great fountain tucked in the corner of the courtyard at Kellogg House Pomona. I had never seen it on before, so I had to snap a photo.

Happy Halloween! Here’s what I read this week:

1. Sweden has its own national font now, which I think is creepy and a bad idea. The Blackletter font became synonymous with the Third Reich, and I don’t think that’s a good thing to follow up on.

2. I’m not part of a sorority, but this article on the price of being in one was fascinating. I’ve always wondered how generally expensive it is, and now I know.

3. Eight things recruiters notice about your resume at first glance (and four things that don’t matter.)

4. This man’s neighbor shot down his drone. I can’t say I’m surprised, since the word “drone” doesn’t have a good connotation in this country.

5.  Museums are adapting to the digital age, which makes me very happy.

And a bonus: not an article, but a link to a product that is currently changing my life.

Did you read anything interesting this week? Tell me about it in the comments.


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Think Tank: Instagram Likes

As part of my duties as student assistant extraordinaire, I help run Cal Poly Pomona’s Instagram. On my way into the office at 1 p.m., I snapped a photo of the CLA Building, edited it a little bit, and posted it to the account. By 5 p.m., it had nearly 400 likes.

The photo in question.

The photo in question.

While I was monitoring the photo this afternoon, I started to think about what makes a photo on social media so successful. There have been a couple of photos we’ve posted that barely graze 200 likes. I  know I have a horrible habit of looking at a post and either making a comment to myself or scrolling past it. So why do people like the posts they do? It it because they’re familiar with the subject, like the colors or just think its good photography?

Of course, I went to Google.

I didn’t find any substantial data, since a lot of the studies I found gave me no information about sample sizes and methodologies. (Ever since I read this book, I can’t trust a statistic until I know exactly how the study was conducted.)

Via a Time article, I did find a research project conducted by some MIT researchers. They gathered date from a little over 2 million photos on Flicker and came up with an algorithm. The formula supposedly takes the actual image into account, and the aesthetics too: color, texture and gradient. The algorithm then predicts how popular the photo will be, based on the subject and the context of the photo. You can test your own photos on their website.

However, I’m not completely sold. The algorithm said that the same photo would only get about 21 likes per day, It didn’t ask me upfront for any information about my audience (2,500 people), whether or not I had visibly edited the photo (yes) and if I had used hashtags (Only one: #calpolypomona.) Their research paper, which is interesting to skim through, did discuss those factors a little bit. But they only made one solid deduction that I thought was kind of obvious: for Flickr at least, better-looking photos equal more followers.

It seems like cold, hard science hasn’t encroached on the realm of Instagram research yet. So I’m opening up this Think Tank to you too. Why do you like a photo on Instagram? What compels you to leave a comment, notice the photo editing or read the caption? You guys are better than science, anyways.

Leave your comments below.




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Gold Star for the Internet: Serial Podcast

I’ve always wanted to be a podcast or books-on-tape person. I’ve tried to find  programs and become a regular listener, but they don’t keep my attention for long periods of time like a physical book does (I’d love to discuss that, but that’s another post for another day!) When I listen to music, I’m usually writing, reading or working on homework. But with spoken word, I tend to zone in and out and miss huge chunks of story.

But now, I’ve found Serial.


I can’t wait to get into bed tonight so I can listen to the next episode.

Serial is a new podcast from the people who produce This American Life, which is also a very good program on NPR. Serial takes one nonfiction story and unravels it over a whole season. I don’t want to give too much of the story away, but if you love a novel like The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo or a show like “True Detective,” this is the podcast for you. The basic plot is that a man is accused of a murder he says he didn’t commit, but it’s so much more intricate than that. I hesitate to discuss the details because a) you might not have listened to it yet and b) I didn’t know anything about it before I read the podcast description and that made it so much better. In a world where something new is being published every day, whether it’s a television show or a book or a blog post, spoiler-free zones are rare.

Sarah Koenig has the best voice, and I’m going to have to take a pointer or two from her on interview technique. But what really grabbed me was how fantastic the writing is.  In just the first few minutes of the premiere episode, I was instantly hooked. The first episode opens with this great postmodern commentary on the relationship between time and memory, and how it’s impossible to account for every single minute of the day. That relationship heavily factors into this season’s story, and I think you all know by now how much I love postmodernism and exploring postmodernity.

And for all of that, I’m giving Serial the biggest gold star you can imagine.

As of tonight, there are five episodes available. New episodes come out every Thursday, and I’m expecting 10-15 episodes in total. There’s even a Podcast app for iPhone, so you can listen to it wherever.

Let me know in the comments when you’ve listened to the first few episodes, and if you want, we can talk about it over email. No spoilers, of course.

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Undergraduate Adventures: 7 Seinfeldian Moments

Me, 90 percent of the time.

Me, 90 percent of the time.

It’s not that big of a secret that Seinfeld is one of my favorite shows of all time. I’m essentially Elaine Benes, but this quarter especially, there have been a couple of times where I’ve wondered if I’m in the middle of an episode.

1. There’s this running joke on The Poly Post editorial staff about the word “lifestyle.” We say it in basically the same ways that Jerry says “hellooooooo,” and it’s one of my favorite things.

2. Someone I went to high school with and never acknowledges me on campus is in one of my classes. For the midterm on Monday, he asked me if I had an extra Scantron. I almost pulled a “I haven’t got a square to spare,” but decided to be nice.

3. In “The Good Samaritan,” Jerry gets upset when he lets other cars into his lane and doesn’t give him a thank-you wave. I feel the same way when I hold the door  to the administration building open for people and they don’t acknowledge me.

4. At least twice a week, I forget where I parked and it takes me a solid 15 minutes to find my car.

5. I caught myself dancing like this (at home, but still, it happened.)

6. Someone I know revealed last week that he has a gigantic wallet, just like George.

7. And I have a similar conversation with my best friend nearly every day.

Have you had any Seinfeldian moments this week? Let’s talk about it in the comments.


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Link Party: 10/20-10/24

I didn't draw this, but it was my inspiration for the week.

I didn’t draw this, but it was my inspiration for the week.

Here’s what I read this week:

1. Rei Kawakubo is fascinating.

2. Apparently, the oceans could lose $1 trillion in value because of acidification. I don’t really understand how they quantified that, but maybe if we attach a financial cost to something like this, people will pay more attention to what we’re doing to something we can’t replace.

3. This discussion/review on Not That Kind of Girl doesn’t necessarily make me want to read Not That Kind of Girl, but it did make me more interested in Lena Dunham’s cultural trajectory.

4. Analysis of the comprehensive map of faith in America. If the researchers  keep it updated like they say they will, it could be an incredible sociological tool.

5. The Percy Jackson problem. I’m not sure I’ll ever be sold on young adult fiction.

And the crown jewel: Don DeLillo “reviews” Taylor Swift’s “Track 3.”

Have a great weekend!



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Culture Connoisseur: Joan Didion

I love this whole series of photos. When I have my own office, this is definitely being printed and hung in it.

I love this whole series with her and the car. When I have my own office, this is definitely being printed and hung on the wall.

As an English major, I’ve read a lot of books. There have been books I thoroughly enjoyed (Infinite Jest or Absalom, Absalom! for example), books I thought were just okay (Animal Farm and Of Mice and Men) and books I really really really really disliked (Huckleberry Finn and The Fault in Our Stars). And although I can wax poetic about David Foster Wallace’s genius or William Faulkner’s complex narrative style, there’s really only one author that I deeply connect with.

Her name is Joan Didion.

It’s difficult to delineate just what Joan Didion means to me. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed her books that I’ve picked up, but it’s more than the “that was a great book” feeling. Her essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem planted the seed in my head that I could do something with journalism besides hard news, which changed my life. I hope to master the art of writing as well as she has.

If you’re interested in writing that is raw and articulated with the utmost precision, Joan Didion is for you. I don’t want to spoil you, so I won’t post any of my favorite quotes. I recommend starting with the mind-blowing On Keeping A Notebook, the uncanny Goodbye to All That, or the incredible The Year of Magical Thinking.

Today, I donated money to a Kickstarter that will fund a documentary about her life. It has 29 days left to go, and they’re already almost there. I am so excited to receive behind-the-scenes material and a digital copy of the movie.

This makes me so inexplicably happy.

This makes me so inexplicably happy.

Are there any authors whose work has made a significant impact in your life? Let’s talk about it in the comments.



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Undergraduate Adventures: Style Guide

Corrections are wonderful.

For the academic year, I’m the student newspaper’s copy editor. It’s actually quite a bit of work: after the editors take a look at submitted stories, I comb them over for inaccuracies and grammar errors. When the editors lay out the pages, I look at proofs to catch any last errors before the paper goes to print. I look at about 30 stories every week, and I look over each one at least twice.

The other part of my job is to make sure that the newspaper follows a coherent style. For the most part, I look to the Associated Press stylebook for help. But there are things that are specific to the university that AP doesn’t cover: how to spell the name of the baseball field, for example, or who the dean of the library is. And from what I know, no one had written (or updated) a specific stylebook recently.

So I made one.

4 pages of beauty.

4 pages of beauty.

It’s a hybrid style guide and information sheet; for example, the AP stylebook generally doesn’t mention specific peoples’ names. I borrowed a lot from AP and the official university style guide, but now everything is all in one place for me, the editors and the staff writers. Otherwise, I would have to traverse the university’s website.

I learned a couple of things in making the style guide:

Using style doesn’t come first nature for a lot of people.

This isn’t meant to bash anyone, but most people are not detail-oriented.  A writer could have strong reporting skills and be wonderful on-camera, but doesn’t care much about AP style basics. His or her brain just might not work that way.

This is completely okay, because it makes my job relevant and always gives me something to do. I have no inclination to be a television reporter, but I liked learning about style for work and AP style in Reporting I and went with it.

A style guide is a living document.

Part of the guide details how to spell different administrative officials’ names and their exact titles. These people will leave for other jobs or retire, so the guide will have to be updated to stay useful and relevant. Other things will have to change too: when we get new buildings that have acronyms for nicknames, if something moves or doesn’t exist anymore, etcetera.  I think it’s neat that something I’ve made will change as time goes on, but the framework will still be there.

Language has an evolutionary aspect to it, and so does a stylebook. This year’s editorial staff will add to the guide and eventually approve it, but the future generations might want to add something that didn’t exist before or do something different. Knowing that I’ve at least provided the basis of a resource is satisfying enough, and I won’t mind if they change the style to something that is mandated by AP or works better.

Making a style guide is very self-reflective.

The entire time I was writing the first draft of the guide, I was incredibly self-conscious of the style I was using and my grammar. In that way, it was a great exercise in reviewing the guidelines.

The guide will make me more aware of my own editing, which is always welcome, but it also gives me the chance to really think about the reasoning behind the style choices and the effects of those choices. Someone will probably ask me why we don’t refer to professors as Dr. So-and-so in articles, or why “president” is capitalized in some instances and not others. I’ll have to explain why we make those choices, and learn more about what those choices are doing to the reader.

And most importantly, it reminds me that I’m not a cyborg.

Next week we’ll have to print a correction, because I screwed up on an important historical date for the university. It wasn’t in the guide, even though I should have put it in there. If I was a truly perfect copy editor, I wouldn’t need a guide. AP wouldn’t put it out if students were the only people buying it, and I’m sure Theodore Bernstein needed stylebooks at his desk. And in all honesty, being perfect is a horrible way to live life.

I’m not beating myself up too much about it, because it didn’t make anyone’s life miserable. And now I’ll know for next time, and potentially save the next copy editor a major headache.

Sometimes even good copy editors screw up.

Had any good undergrad (or post-grad) adventures lately? Let’s talk about it in the comments.

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