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Wolfville, Nova Scotia


Unmaking an Introduction

Chris Campbell

The past couple of years the Connected Learning MOOC (Massively Open Online Collaboration) has been conducted by Educator Innovator and the National Writing Project. It's a sprawling, fun collection of educators who spend six weeks connecting, making, sharing, and reflection about education and themselves in six cycles of making stuff. It's on this year and the first cycle is to "Unmake an Introduction." One of the things I want to do this year is to make more and think less, so I'm going to start right away with the first cycle.

The strange thing about this summer and the approaching Fall is that for the first time in over two decades I won't be teaching because I'm taking a Learning Leave from the Nova Scotia Community College where I teach. The plan is to research and reconnect with the filmmaking community that I'm from. The form that will take will be blog posts, a podcast, an email newsletter, and some videos that I'll be producing. It's a chance to use the skills that I teach to share what I learn. Today was the first day of my summer vacation and #clmooc is the perfect way to start this journ.

How do we portray who we are when we introduce ourselves? We construct ourselves by what we share and others construct us from those parts that we share. We find patterns and connections, similarities and differences, and have little identifiers that help us remember who they are. For many people via Twitter, I'm the person who tweets about having oatmeal every morning. For my learners, I teach them about making films. For my family I make Dad jokes and love cooking and watch a lot of films (usually at least one a day).

All these things are part of who we are and one of the neat things about knowing people for a longer period of time is the wonder of discovering new things about them. It's fun to share things that don't fit into the expectations that we have built up through conversations and experiences with them. So how to make an unconventional introduction?

I'm going to make a couple of lists, one for songs (that you can listen to), and one for films (that you could hopefully watch or have watched) and I'll lightly annotate them to provide some context and that will hopefully help you figure out a bit more about who I am.


(playlist on Soundcloud)

  • Colin Stetson and Sarah Neufeld - The Sun Roars Into View
    • One of the newest songs I've started listening to from an artist I discovered a couple of years ago when I saw Colin Stetson at Sappyfest. He plays various saxophones using a circular breathing technique to create a mesmerizing sound.
  • Basia Bulat - Wires
    • Basia Bulat has a beautiful voice and amazing songwriting skills that always connect with me. She's written some of my favourite songs and I was lucky enough to see her last year at Sappyfest.
  • Old Man Luedecke - Proof of Love
    • Another Sappyfest discovery has been Old Man Luedecke, who is not that old, but is a great singer-songwriter in the tradition of Woody Guthrie. I was lucky to meet him years ago and he's a grounded man with a gift for telling a story through song.
  • Julie Doiron - The Life of Dreams
    • One of the founders of Sappyfest and another singer-songwriter, Julie Doiron has a self-deprecating quality that is an integral part of her music and writing which is personal and beautiful.
  • Soronprfbs - I Love You All
    • The only performer on the list that I haven't seen live, but a song from a film that I deeply love, performed as part of the film Frank, by a band formed from the actors in the film with Michael Fassbender providing the vocals.


(list on Letterboxd)

  • Frank - Lenny Abrahamson
    • Forming a connection with the music list, Frank is one of my favourite films of the last few years. It's about the creative process and relationships and tensions between artists. Dark and sad and beautiful, it's a film I've watched many times and will watch many more.
  • Beauty is Embarrassing - Neil Berkeley
    • A fun documentary about artist Wayne White who defies categories and has had a unique and wonderful career as one of the co-creators of Pee Wee's Playhouse and continuing to explore things that interest him.
  • Stories We Tell - Sarah Polley
    • One of my favourite documentaries and a deeply personal film made by Sarah Polley where her siblings and family talk about their late mother who was an actress. Brilliantly constructed and powerful, it's a film that pushes the boundaries of the documentary form to make a lasting statement about family and how we build meaning through the stories that we tell about our lives and those we love.
  • 35 Shots of Rum - Claire Denis
    • Another fearless filmmaker who pushes boundaries, Claire Denis will explore almost any topic, but with 35 Shots of Rum the core story is about a father and daughter and their relationship. The performances are extraordinary and complex in a gentle film.
  • Somewhere - Sofia Coppola
    • An understated and casual film about an actor who deals with his daughter after being relatively absent from her life. A simple story with autobiographical overtones, Somewhere has improvisational elements and at times feels almost like a documentary.

Those are some fragmentary elements that hopefully give a bit of an introduction to me. The more I think about these lists the more things I want to add or change, so I will get this done so I can make more stuff and see what the other members of the #clmooc experience this year are making too.

Early Days of Online

Chris Campbell

With the electronic world we're intimately connected to each other and everything has shifted, so that's what appears normal to many of us. It can be a challenge to remember what we did before as the simplest things from meeting someone to remembering or sharing things are mediated electronically through our screens. For me Twitter is the primary social media connection now and it gives a personal, human connective tissue between people and the things that are on my screens.

The best things are the small, personal connections that we make. If you focus on the positive and stay away from the comments it can be quite special. Something as small and simple as favouriting a tweet can give a nice little boost in the day. It's validation, recognition, a virtual nod or smile at someone. I still get a small thrill when I see something I've written is noticed by people I admire. The usual hierarchies flatten and for a brief moment we're connected.

While listening to Benjamen Walker's Theory of Everything podcast miniseries of The Dislike Club (divided into parts 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 and a finale). I remembered the days before pervasive social media and thought about the first time I was entranced by a computer screen. It was in the Fredericton Public Library and it was a terminal using a system called Telidon. I don't remember the date, but I think that it had to be sometime in 1981. Every time I would go to the library I would look at it and use it and I don't remember seeing anyone else at the terminal.

You could look up information using the simple interface. It was slow and didn't have a lot to it, but I remember the graphics which were colour and slowly drew on the screen. Mesmerizing and the idea that it connected to the outside world was even more amazing. It showed what was possible. A couple years later I graduated from high school and went into Computer Science at the University of New Brunswick and was in the final class that used punched cards in the introduction to programming class. The cards and fanfold paper were a pain, but the electronic terminals were what was really exciting.

The first screen-based terminals I used had blue CRT screens, then some green ones, and amber. But the terminals that I loved were the big and heavy IBM 3270 terminals that had multicoloured screens (mainly green, red, white, and blue). The keyboard was big and solid with metal springs that made great, clicky sounds and gave your fingers a good workout. The programming assignments weren't as interesting as looking up books in the library and the information on USENET and I eventually dropped out of university for a bit before returning in the late 80s to complete a degree in the Faculty of Arts in English Literature. You had to ask for approval for access to the computers if you weren't in Computer Science. Apparently only graduate students were approved, but the English department thought I was a grad student and gave me access.

Connecting with other people was tentative and slow. Initially I'd connected through people I knew in the real world and had all of the information written down in a notebook. So many numbers and letters to connect through different servers and computer systems. During my brief academic foray into an MA in Communication Studies at Concordia University had me using my Toshiba T1000 to connect to USENET and other computer systems and email through an external modem connected to the phone line. In the 90s I had fun in the Postmodern Culture MOO and took an online course offered by Diversity University in their MOO where I collaborated with people from around the world using only text. I'd used IRC a bit, but loved the ways that MOOs created an imaginative virtual space with words.

Thinking about education online now, it's remarkable that people were doing so much innovative stuff with the tools back then. Using things like Slack remind me of the power of text to collaborate and connect with people. Simplicity and reduced friction are important to be able to construct safe and supportive online environments, and now the need to go to a computer to read, and write, and connect is easier as the computers are everywhere and things just connect in easier ways.

But now that everyone (or almost everyone) is able to be there, the small, outsider communities that were like secret places that only a few like-minded people knew about are rarer and rarer. That could be why some of us keep looking for new or old things like electronic secret handshakes that are a combination of retro-nostalgia with small technical barriers that provide a way to construct small spaces for shared memories. It's part of growing up and growing old as remember the things we did when we were young with fondness. We're able to reconstruct and reconstitute parts of our childhood and adolescence through the code that still exists and cheaper hardware that can put a whole Atari VCS into a joystick.

Everything is faster now and you don't need to study much to be able to use a computer or your phone. It's just there and is part of what we do. But the preservation of what we've written and created is important. Things can go away quickly, so backing stuff up is important. I'm so glad that I have my blog and that I've been able to migrate it through many systems (Blosxom, Typo), Wordpress, and now Squarespace) keeping it mainly intact. I'm also glad and thankful that the Internet Archive exists to preserve many things too, as I've been able to recover many things that I have written there from sites that have closed or disappeared.

As formats and storage media change there are things that disappear. I have all sorts of video and photos on old disks and tapes that I may never get back. Copying and maintaining an archive can be a lot of work. There are so many things that we write every day in replies and comments and email. I've got many email and social media accounts and move around between them. Sometimes it's a challenge to find something you've shared or found or commented on. It all blurs together into our days filled with small, casual interactions.

I avoid sharing things on Facebook and other relatively closed systems that don't give you an archive or the ability to get things out of the place once you put them in. With text it's relatively easy to back things up, but for photos and audio and video, it's more complicated as the files are bigger. I'm glad I've been using Flickr for so long and that it remains active. Now I have tens of thousands of photos there and it's even better now with automatic archiving of my photos, so while I've fallen way behind in sharing my photos there publicly, all the photos I take get backed up there.

But now I'm trying to figure out a good balance with all of this. I don't need to save everything as I don't have time to go through it all. I want to be present in the world and to consciously share things by going through them and picking out what is significant. It's good to let things go and to make memories both with technology and without it. For every generation this is part of what they are thinking. Whether it is someone thinking about how the telegraph changes the pace of life and changes how people write letters, to someone texting or people photographing their food, our technology changes who we are and what we do, but it's been that way for a very long time.

What do you remember from your early days of connecting online?

Time for More Biking

Chris Campbell

I love riding my bike. It's fun and great exercise as well. Last year I rode 1325 kilometres and my goal for this year is to get over 2000 kms. It should be possible and one of the trends I've seen is to ride a bit less, but each ride is a bit longer. While there are routes that I love to do, last year I tried to not repeat a route too often, but to explore some new routes, which is a lot of fun. The other thing that happened is more solo riding, which is a different experience from riding with other people. There is a contemplative and meditative aspect to that type of riding that I love.

Before going for a ride I'll think about where to go and how far. I'll look on a map to seek out new routes which sometimes works out well and sometimes does not. What looks good on a map may not be good on the ground with some roads being in pretty bad shape (which is how I got a flat last year after a stretch on a dirt road at the 25 km mark of a 50 km ride). Loops are fun and retracing steps are not as fun for me. Figuring out the best route to fit distance goals is a nice challenge.

This year I want to get around Nova Scotia a bit more and New Brunswick too. Riding along the trails in the Annapolis Valley from Wolfville up to Berwick was fun last year and I want to keep exploring that (and it looks as those they're connecting more this summer too). The trails on the South Shore are fun with the wonderful Aspotogan Loop as a route I want to get back on. In New Brunswick there are a lot of bike trails to explore too. Fredericton has an amazing collection of trails with many of them paved, which makes the riding smooth and comfortable. Beside Sackville, NB there is a trail that goes to Port Elgin which has been a goal of mine for a while.

While riding I keep it simple without a mount for my iPhone or with a cycling computer display. The only thing I see regularly is the heart rate display of my Polar heart rate monitor on the watch that lets me know if I am in the zone or not and the time of day and the time of the ride. It's great to be present and in the world while riding and keeping it simple is important to me. But while I'm in the moment for most of my ride, there is a lot of data that I collect on the ride to look at later.

My analytical toolkit keeps expanding. Over the past few years I've been using Cyclemeter to keep track of my rides. It uses GPS to keep track of the routes I follow and after each ride a summary gets emailed to me and the data shared with Strava. With a Wahoo Bluetooth Speed and Cadence Sensor there is more accurate speed data as well as a recording of the effort that I'm making while pedalling. I'm augmenting my Polar FT4 heart rate monitor with a Bluetooth H7 that will record my heart rate as I go which will be interesting to see.

The simplest way of tracking my rides is by distance and for years I've been using Your Flowing Data to keep track of that and still do. I'll send a DM via Twitter to record the kms I've ridden. But with the more detailed data collected by Cyclemeter, I can see my route on a map along with the altitude and with the Bluetooth sensors for cadence, I can see the effort I'm making in pedalling. By sharing the data with Strava there is a more social aspect to my workouts, and that feed goes into Day One as an entry and also gets saved in Zenobase.

My weight visualized in Zenobase

The other part of this journey to a healthier and documented life is that I've also been keeping track of what I eat along with the calories burned with the Lifesum app. My Fitbit is my constant companion to keep track of the steps I take and that syncs with Lifesum and I use the Sync Solver app to bring the Fitbit data into Apple's Health app. I weigh myself every morning with my Wii Fit balance board and by keeping track of my calories and exercise I've been able to lose 25 pounds since November. With all the data I'm collecting it's relatively easy to see how all those parts fit together, and that makes me happy and healthy.

Eating healthier and losing weight means that I'm in much better shape beginning biking this year than I even was at the end of last year. Yesterday I was feeling ambitious and took a 100km ride. In the first part of the ride I had some of my best times for some of the sections which is great because my goal was distance, not speed. The route that I took started out by going up a mountain and then it becomes mostly flat with a combination of back roads and trails. The highlights were a nice lunch at Tia's Kitchen in Aylesford (a tasty veggie breakfast burrito) and getting a growler refilled at Bad Apple Brewhouse with some tasty and rare Mosaic Double IPA. Having little rewards along the way make every bike ride a bit more special.

Text and Context

Chris Campbell

It started a year ago with the lead up to Podcamp 2014 and Battledecks. There was some playful boasting and jabs leading up to the competition. Battledecks is an improvisational presentation based on a topic and slide deck that is randomly chosen. I hadn't seen a competition before and it sounded fun, so I signed up and started interacting with the participants on Twitter. One of the participants was @KVTknits who is Katherine Victoria Taylor. At lunch at Alderney Landing just before the Battledecks competition I met her and was a bit nervous as she was funny and an experienced improviser.

In the competition I was lucky and went last which resulted in an audience warmed up by the other competitors. I got a high five from Katherine as I left the stage and felt good improvising to a receptive audience. It worked to my advantage and from the applause at the end it turned out I won. Afterwards I chatted with Katherine about comedy and improv and later followed her on Twitter (which I forgot to do earlier). Through tweets I saw other things she did that were part of her Twitter bio which reads, "Disabled bookbinder letterpress printer and improviser My mum has 9 cats but I only have 1".

In March of 2014 she organized a conference for youth leaders in the chronic illness community and she asked if I could conduct a workshop and I did a session on storytelling. The conference was inspiring, fun, and went well. It was neat to see a diverse group of people and connect with a community that I hadn't known much about before. The Twitter interactions continued throughout the year and as the initial rumblings about Podcamp 2015 started I thought that it would be good to do another session.

Michelle Doucette takes a picture of Tracey Boyer and Carman Pirie introducing Podcamp 2015.

Podcamp is a great event organized by committed volunteers that started in 2009 at Alderney Landing in Dartmouth in 2009. It's a great gathering of the tech community of Halifax to talk about social media and technology. At the first one I did a session based on a blog post constructed out of 140 character or less paragraphs (a seven tweet blog post) called small, specific, and real. I didn't make it to the 2010 event and in 2011 did a session about Twitter and coffee and oatmeal. In 2012 it was a session about creating a tumblelog, and in 2013 it was about Quantifying Yourself.

After four sessions solo it was time to do things a bit differently and I teamed up with my friend Kendra to do a session about managing who you follow on Twitter and Pruning Your Twitter Garden was a lot of fun and was energizing too. It's great to collaborate and work with other people to present and share things that they care about. For this year I thought it would be neat to think of something to do with Katherine and we started to brainstorm.

Collaboration is the key to filmmaking and many other things. It's a great way to work as you share who you are, your skills and add them with what other people bring. Then you do something that hopefully is interesting and starts a conversation or more collaboration. Social media does this well. We shared ideas, ate burgers, laughed, and a description and title emerged – "Text and Context." It was specific enough for a general idea and vague enough to allow for flexibility as Podcamp approached.

Katherine Printing in the Dawson Printshop

The Dawson Printshop is a wonderful part of NSCAD University that focusses on letterpress printing and bookbinding and they are the home of the Letterpress Gang, with Joe Landry as the leader of the gang. Katherine tweets about Joe often and it was so nice to go to a gathering of the gang on a Monday night in December to see the magic of printing with movable type. The workshop for Podcamp took a more tangible form with ideas for talking about words and Twitter and printing and books. Maybe we could even print some tweets that inspired us and bring a small parlour press for a demo?

The next planning meeting happened at Joe's house when Katherine invited me over. On a chilly day I warmed up and sat on Joe's couch as Joe and Katherine shared some of the rare books that Joe has collected over the years. We were handling them with our bare hands and it was kind of amazing. There was a book by Aldus Manutius which is five centuries old. A nifty almanac with a pencil in it and an amazing tiny book that is one of the Gnostic Gospels which would make it about two millennia old. Joe was allowing Katherine to share some of these valuable books from his collection with the session participants.

The final prep for Podcamp was a fun time for me in the Dawson Printshop with Katherine and Joe. Katherine set a tweet from her and a tweet from me and she was going to print cards up to give out to the participants. Printing is a skill requiring patience and attention to detail. It is great to see a craft practiced by those who care about it. After the type was set I was able to turn the crank a bit and print some of the cards too. Seeing the words on the page as the ink dried changes the context and the meaning. There is a sense of permanence in moving from pixels to paper.

Whether it is a tweet or a book or a letter, they are containers for stories that we share. Those stories reveal things about ourselves and connect us to each other. Words are strange and amazing things. Tiny marks on paper or a screen, we translate those marks with our brains and they can go right to our hearts. The small interactions that happen every day on Twitter can inspire and help us, give us a little boost when we are down and give us opportunities to help each other get through hard times.

Cards and beautiful, old books.

At the heart of any good workshop or session or story is something we care about and that is what we share. So for me and Katherine it seemed to be that the workshop would make the connection between words and the way that we share them and connect to each other. In our prep we thought about the ways social media are good. It can organize people and get them out to make a difference.

On August 14, 2014 Allison Sparling, Evey Hornbeck, and Katherine organized a positive response to a group of anti-choice activists who were holding up signs and protesting around the city. The campaign used the theme of "Pro Love" with the hashtag #prolove and used signs with positive messages and images of hearts. It got some great media coverage and more importantly got all sorts of people out and created a positive tone around the idea of women having choices about their own bodies. The signs were colourful and there was a burst of happy tweets and smiling faces around the whole event. This is the power of social media, words, and print in the world. It's inspiring and wonderful.

All the elements of the workshop were there with printed cards and a parlour press to print more cards on the day, we had a structure to improvise within. One of the fun things was that we had books, paper, markers, ink, and a press. No slide decks or more modern technology which was kind of liberating. Scheduled in the first slot of the morning, Katherine and Kristen (known as her bf on Twitter if you have been following there) brought the press and books in and set them up. The small room filled up after Podcamp kicked off and we had a great time talking about meeting on Twitter (and according to ThinkUp, Katherine is my "Twitter bestie" for 2014) and how amazing books and printing are. It was a lot of fun and I am so glad I had the chance to share in the experience.

Chris Campbell and Katherine Victoria Taylor

Best of 2014

Chris Campbell

2014 was a good year for cinema with many films that were moving and challenging and solidly made. To keep track of films that stood out I started a private list on Letterboxd about halfway through the year to add films to it. By the end of the year it had around 20 films on it and that's a good number, so as the end of the year approached I tweaked and arranged it to come up with a list of 20 films in a loose ranking with a top 10 and another 10 that are good as well. My 10 earlier blog posts are reviews of those films. The full list of 20 for 2014 is on Letterboxd and my top ten in order are:

  1. Frank
  2. Two Days, One Night
  3. The Grand Budapest Hotel
  4. Ida
  5. Winter Sleep
  6. Under the Skin
  7. Obvious Child
  8. Only Lovers Left Alive
  9. Mood Indigo
  10. Locke

The full posts give a lot more detail, so here I can give a bit more context for them. Six of the films were first viewed in a theatre and the other four were rentals or purchases via iTunes. I've seen six of the films more than once (with The Grand Budapest Hotel twice in the theatre and 3 times on video). Seven of the ten are films are in English, two are in French, one is Polish, and one is Turkish. Half of the films have female leads, and only one has a female director.

In picking out the films for a list one of the things that is important is the emotional impact and resonance of a film. The blockbuster films of the past year didn't have much resonance or memorability for me, but these films did. I thought about them for days or weeks afterwards and will probably watch all those films again. They all show different aspects of humanity and generally positive in tone. They all look distinctive and have great performances.

For acting the standout is Marion Cotillard in Two Days, One Night with her intimate and moving performance layered with complexity and subtlety. Her role is perfectly matched by the structure of the Dardenne Brothers give the film. Michael Fassbender transcends the mask he is within in Frank, and Tom Hardy sits in a car and carries the entire film of Locke as well. Newcomer Agata Trzebuchowska is mesmerizing in Ida with a vulnerability conveyed brilliantly by the black and white cinematography. The ensemble of Winter Sleep manages to create complex situations and tension out of their interactions all within visually stunning settings. The smaller casts of Only Lovers Left Alive and Obvious Child bring an easy comfortability to their characters and stories. The controlled visual constructions of The Grand Budapest Hotel and Under the Skin fit with ranges of the actors well, with the former having a huge cast, and the latter mainly focussed on Scarlett Johansson.

The ten runner up films are solid and interesting in different ways with seven in English, two in Swedish, and one in French. One is a musical and one is a blockbuster and the rest are indies.

Listen Up Philip originated on 16mm film and feels like it's from 70s. With an unsympathetic main character played by Jason Swartzman, balanced off by Elisabeth Moss it's a complex and challenging film that played against my expectations. Moss is also great with Mark Duplass in the strange indie The One I Love which has a different take on a romantic comedy with a Twilight Zone twist that exemplifies what is great about independent filmmaking.

Three of the films are coming of age stories with the Quebecois film Tu Dors Nicole, the Swedish We Are the Best!, and the Scottish musical God Help the Girl. Tu Dors Nicole follows the end of summer as a young woman tries to figure out what she wants to do with her life. We Are the Best! happens in suburban Sweden in the 80s as three young women form a punk band to make a statement and combat boredom. God Help the Girl is a Glaswegian musical about young woman during a summer with love and music with an unexpected darkness and drama balanced off by the songs.

Two of the films examine family relationships and how they change when they are under stress. Love is Strange is a beautiful look at a couple played by John Lithgow and Alfred Molina and how their marriage destabilizes their lives and the lives of their families. Force Majure is a darkly humorous look at how an incident causes everyone in a family on vacation in the Alps changes based on their reactions to an avalanche. The indie revenge drama Blue Ruin has a murky incident in the past that sets things in motion in a quiet, but inevitably bleak series of events that also has a dark and recessed humour to it.

The outlier and oddly ignored blockbuster Edge of Tomorrow was a lot of fun and the type of film that should be a success. Thoughtful science fiction with Tom Cruise and Emily Blunt perfectly paired together it has great action, interesting ideas, and was just long enough to be interesting and strangely didn't do that well at the box office.

It was a good film year and a year where I easily watched the most films in a year. The routine of a film a day is good and it is comforting to have a steady stream of images and sound from around the world in my life.

How I Watched

As technologies and viewing methods change it's good to track how things are seen. The preferred way to see films is on a big screen with an audience, but most of the films that we watch are on smaller screens. This is how my viewing looked on the screens that I chose.

The most popular device was my Apple TV with 143 films watched on it followed by the TV with 119 films (that includes cable and DVDs). I saw 64 films in theatres, watched 96 films on my iPad, and 18 films on my MacBook Pro.

I only watched 48 DVDs and most of my rental and purchased films were from iTunes with 70 films and for streaming Netflix gave me 131 films and MUBI 45. The other major source of films was Turner Classic Movies with 65 films from that TV channel. Comparing the numbers with last year I'm watching almost three times as many films on Netflix as the year before and half the number of films on MUBI.