Must Reads: Common Core, Credit Card Fraud, and One Incredible Game of Fetch

What were the best, most fascinating, exciting, puzzling, or inspiring things I read or watched this week? Some will be about technology, photography, or education. Some will not. Catch up on things you missed. Maybe I dug up a few obscure gems that are totally new to you. Check out the brief ones now and save the more lengthy ones for later. Share and share alike…here’s the Must Read list:

Text Dependency is Too Low a Standard

by Timothy Shanahan

Excellent, concise argument for why the “text dependent question” requirement of Common Core standards is redundant and too low a standard for rigorous reading and thinking.

Little Dog Playing Fetch With a River

via 22words

A cute video displaying some impressive dog intelligence!

Won’t Get Fooled Again

by Andy Welch

An alarming account (amusingly told) of a credit card hack using a loophole of old landline phone technology.

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See more of my Must Reads.

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Photos: Hot Orange Sunset Tonight

Here are a few pictures I took of tonight’s amazing summer sky. I did limited editing, only enough to accurately depict what I saw with my eyes, as best I could. It really was that orange! I only regret that I could not bring back the streaks of blue that exposed as gray in the photos. A beautiful and fleeting moment.

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Some days, I publish an original photo along with some of the technical information. You can see more of my photography on my Flickr page.

My photography is licensed under Creative Commons (see details below). In addition, I ask that if you use any of my images that you try to show me how you used them. I think it would be interesting to see and track how my images are being used. Thank you.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Newsies, and the Unique Experience of Live Theater

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Photo: AttributionShare Alike Some rights reserved by dedi

While visiting my family in New York this summer, we to a trip to Manhattan’s theater district to see Newsies, the Musical. The movie version was a favorite of mine and my siblings when we were kids, so going together as a family was a nostalgic and meaningful experience. I do not regularly visit the theater, but I often have such a full, enjoyable time when I am there. This time around I was really thinking about what makes live theater so full of emotion and excitement. With video entertainment so ubiquitous in our lives – quite literally in our pockets – what is it that keeps live theater alive and successful?

There is a power to a live performance, any live performance, that is not present on a video screen. Even video recordings of live performances lose that certain edge, as the audience knows there is the possibility of editing and polishing. On stage, there are no second takes. Mistakes are possible – almost inevitable – and the most skilled performers learn to react and move forward. This is one of the best lessons I learned from my early music training. If you make a mistake on stage, just roll with it. Don’t make it obvious to the audience, because you are probably the only one who noticed.

When I really started to think about the fact that there is no editing of material for the show, and that these performers have to be perfect night after night with acting, singing, dancing, moving of sets, and music from the pit, I was just in awe of everyone’s talent and expertise. Considering this element of the show forged a connection to the cast and crew, one that is usually subconscious for theater goers.

During intermission, I walked down to the stage because I always love to peek into the pit to the see the musical equipment and the people who are so essential to the performance and are never seen by the audience. When I looked back up at the second floor of the theater, I saw several black and white video screens mounted along the front of the balcony. There was an usher standing with me, so I asked her what those were for. “They are so the actors can see the conductor,” she said. Now, I could see where the camera was pointed. Brilliant! While connecting with the audience, the actors can still see the conductor for cues and tempo. So there is some modern technology that is useful to this oldest of forms of entertainment!

I began to reflect more on this issue of technology being used to enhance a Broadway show. The music from the pit was mic-ed and projected through large speakers to the audience. I know this is nothing new, but think about how much that impacts the experience of the audience. The sound quality was excellent, and people in every seat in the audience could hear every instrument. Much of the backdrops were projected, rather than constructed. I imaging this would be less expensive and less labor intensive. Also, this musical did include a use of technology that I have never seen before. There are several scenes where someone climbs up a ladder to write on a giant chalkboard for the price of newspapers. Rather than having the actor write, the action paused and the words would write themselves across the board, which was some type of animated screen. It was an interesting way to use the technology in the show.

I was afraid that using more digital technology would take away from the theater experience, but it did not. The audience comes to see a great performance, whether or not it includes technology, and all of the people involved are the ones who create that wonderful performance that touches the hearts and minds of everyone in the audience. More than any other trip to Broadway I felt surges of emotion throughout the show. I don’t know if it was because I was so appreciative of the talents of everyone involved, or the way the songs tapped into warm childhood memories, or the collective feelings of the live performance, or a combination of everything. Regardless of why, the swaying of overwhelming joy and excitement that I felt was something I could not have experienced in front of any screen. I suppose this is why so many talented actors are drawn to the theater and why audiences fill Broadway theaters every day of the week.

Twitter, The World’s Backchannel

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Photo: AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works by Scott Beale

I do not voluntarily watch too much TV, but sometimes it is on in the house. For most of the year, I am teaching during Good Morning America, but I happen to be in the kitchen while it was on one day this summer. They were introducing a pop star who was to perform a few songs in Central Park to a decently large crowd and a much larger one watching at home. At the same time, the producers introduced a Twitter hashtag in the lower third of the screen and proceeded to display tweets from the online chat. This is certainly not the first time I have seen something like this on TV. It has been a growing trend for the last two years. Typically, I am annoyed by this. It always seemed like a desperate attempt to be trendy and hook a young audience. Something that is new for ABC is including Twitter handles in each reporters lower third graphic, under their name and title. Television reporters on several networks have even been quoting tweets to add context to their news stories. It seems that ABC is really trying to integrate Twitter into the entire news experience. So what? Do they have some sort of partnership with the social network to help promote each other’s businesses? I am trying to think more about how Twitter, used in this context, can be meaningful.

While watching this artist sing and dance across the stage on a blistering hot New York City summer morning, sweat poring off his skin, I started thinking about what was really going on in the bottom third of the screen. This practice of streaming tweets during the performance was tapping into the voice of the audience. Isn’t that what a backchannel is for? It gives a space for live discussion, commenting, questions and answers.

I experimented with using TodaysMeet while watching and analyzing films in my video production course. The students were intrigued by the idea but did not really use it. I think if it is integrated as a part of the course from the beginning it will see more use. The site (and others like it) is used to set up what is basically a live chat room for student discussion. It could be used in many ways. I decided it could be useful during long films.

Twitter can certainly be used as a backchannel for individual events, such as the pop concert or for my video class. But it seems that more and more, Twitter is becoming the backchannel for the world. News events, professional development, pop culture, and more are being discussed all day, in real time, 140 characters at a time.

What do you think about this idea of Twitter as a backchannel? Discuss in the comments below or on Twitter, or course.