From Genetic Code to Dress Code: It’s Just Instructions

After reading the introduction to Dr. Sample’s essay “Code,” I saw a lot of parallels to Casey Reas article “What is Code?” which is a part of his book Form+Code: In Design, Art, and Architecture. And the reason it is clear there is a connection is because each article gets to the core of code: that code is a set of instructions. So this blog post is going to be pretty off of the topic of video games, but the purpose is to de-fetishize code, as Chun describes it in the article, and show how code at its basic level is not a cryptic mystery.

Casey Reas breaks down code pretty well, saying that there is genetic code, health code, building code, bar code, Morse code, dress code, area code, secret code – and that all of these types of code are used for communication and clarity. He establishes that there are four basic truths to code (also called algorithm):

          There are many ways to write each algorithm.
          An algorithm requires assumptions.
          A complex algorithms is often simplified into modular pieces.
          An algorithm often includes decisions.

Coding is a just a different way of thinking. An example that demonstrates this way of thinking is the conceptual art of Sol LeWitt, who in his wall drawings series encoded his ideas for artwork in a set of instructions that he would give to artists to produces the work. LeWitt is proof of the lesson that “it is a mistake to think about code as always and only instructions to a computer” (Sample 57). An example of his work is Wall Drawing 797. The instructions were: “The first drafter has a black marker and makes an irregular horizontal line near the top of the wall. Then the second drafter tries to copy it (without touching it) using a red marker. The third drafter does the same, using a yellow marker. The fourth drafter does the same using a blue marker. Then the second drafter followed by the third and fourth copies the last line drawn until the bottom of the wall is reached.”

Images of Sol Lewitt’s “Wall Drawing 797“.

To be clear, LeWitt does not make the wall drawings himself. He just writes the instruction and other artists work on it, often in teams. This art can be reproduced by anyone who can follow the instructions at any point in time. While the art is temporary (because exhibits change, walls must be repainted), the idea and instructions are permanent. Back to the idea of coding: code is a language, and just like writing an essay, a person can have their own style of writing code. As Reas said, there are many ways to write each algorithm. While LeWitt provides the frame and guidelines for the art, the wall drawing is still subject to the varieties of each artist. In “Wall Drawing 797,” four artists are involved which means four different artist hands. Each component of the artwork is subject to human inconsistency. As complicated and scary as code can seem, when it comes down to it, it is just a language to be interpreted.

Works Cited

LeWitt, Sol. “Wall Drawing 797.” Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. 1995.

Reas, Casey, and Chandler McWilliams. “What is Code?” Form Code : In Design, Art, and Architecture. Princeton Architecturel Press, 2011.

Sample, Mark. “Code.” Debugging Game History: A Critical Lexicon. The MIT Press2016. p. 53-61.

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Lauren C.

Meet the Mother of the MP3

“The Father of the MP3” is perhaps more famously known as Karlheinz Brandenburg. He was a part of The Moving Picture Experts Group (MPEG) that worked to standardize data compression schemes, as mentioned in the article for today’s class. I was reading an article featuring an interview with Brandenburg, in which I learned about the  mp3’s history of betrayal. The article mentions questions of intellectual property and file-sharing, but this story from Brandenburg shows the relative ease of hacking this format:

In, I think it was ’97, some Australian student bought professional grade — from our point of view — encoding software for MP3 from a small company in Germany. He paid with a stolen credit card number from Taiwan. He looked at the software, found that we had used some Microsoft internal application programming interface … racked everything up into an archive and wired some Swedish side, [and] put that to a U.S. university FTP site together with a read-me file saying, ‘This is freeware thanks to Fraunhofer.’

Another interesting point in the article that was a little easier to conceptualize was the fact that the goal of mp3s were to compress audio files by stripping them of some audio layers, but keeping it at the level that the human ear could not identify the difference. This is where Brandenburg introduces the “Mother of the MP3“, Suzanne Vega.

An acapella version of her song “Tom’s Diner” featured Vega’s voice in the middle of the song with a little bit of ambiance and no other instruments – “a worst case [scenario] for the system as we had it in 1988″ (Brandenburg qtd. by Rose and Ganz). Brandenburg heard the song being played down the hall from his research lab and thought Vega’s voice would be the perfect template to improve the compression of his mp3 algorithm. Vega described Brandenburg’s initial testing results as “monstrous distortions, as though the Exorcist has somehow gotten into the system, shadowing every phrase” (qtd. by MacDonald). Eventually they fixed it so that it sounded like the CD, but the result is that when an mp3 player compresses music by anyone now, it is replicating the way that Brendenburg heard Suzanne Vega.

Similar to how Siri was formed on the audio of Susan Bennett, the interpretation of audio files on the mp3 was shaped around the specific sound of Vega’s song “Tom’s Diner“.  I wonder what the effects or correlations this caused, but since we can barely tell audio differences between original tracks and mp3 files, we will probably never know.


MacDonald, John S.W. “Suzanne Vega Is the ‘Mother of the MP3.’” Observer, Observer, 4 Dec. 2014

Rose, Joel, and Jacob Ganz. “The MP3: A History Of Innovation And Betrayal.” NPR, NPR, 23 Mar. 2011

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Lauren C.

If You Work With Garbage, You Will Get Dirty

An obvious but significant question that jumped out at me after reading Sarah Roberts’ “Commercial Content Moderation: Digital Laborers’ Dirty Work,” was what the psychological toll looked like after reviewing racist, homophobic, violent, or misogynistic content? The article said that “working in CCM means putting aside one’s personal belief system and morality,” but as the article showed (with the Max Breen example, p. 152) and as other interviews and articles demonstrate, this is not true. Another article by Sarah Roberts titled, “Behind the Screen: The People and Politics of Commercial Content Moderation” continues the story of Max Breen, and quoted him saying, “I can’t imagine anyone who does [this] job and is able to just walk out at the end of their shift and just be done. You dwell on it, whether you want to or not.”

The article on Wired, “The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed,” goes into more detail and personal accounts of the psychological weight that this job brings. The problem is that a lot of these outsource workers come from minimal education and experience, so a lot of them are hourly workers rather than full-time workers. If they are not full-time workers, then they do not receive health benefits and cannot receive help for the psychological issues the job instills. A New York Times article, “Policing the Web’s Lurid Precinct,” tells that co-workers rely on each other for emotional support. The article also tells about an industry group established by Congress called the Online Safety and Technology Working Group submitted a request to the national Telecommunications and Information Administration for therapeutic care to content moderators with long exposure to inappropriate content.

Screenshot of report by the Online Safety and Technology Working Group, 2010 (p. 91).

While this is a step in the right direction, it is specifically addressing workers who deal with images of child sexual abuse, and as we have learned, there is much more content than that. This report was filed back in 2010, and I couldn’t find any more recent updates than that, which speaks to the slowness of legislation and that this injustice to content moderators is not an urgent issue to the government. But without them, the internet would be significantly more disturbing.

*Title comes from a quote by psychologist Patricia M. Laperal of Behavioral Dynamics, as reported in Brad Stone’s New York Times article cited.

Works Cited

Chen, Adrian. “The Laborers Who Keep Dick Pics and Beheadings Out of Your Facebook Feed.” Wired, Conde Nast. 23 Oct. 2014.

Online Safety and Technology Working Group. “Youth Safety on a Living Internet.” National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), 4 June 2010.

Roberts, Sarah T. “Behind the Screen: The People and Politics of Commercial Content Moderation.” Open Transcripts. 2 May 2016.

Stone, Brad. “Policing the Web’s Lurid Precincts.” The New York Times. 18 July 2010.

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Lauren C.

Animated GIFs

Sports GIF





The first example shows how sports GIFs depict something amazing happening, whether it is a great play or a funny touchdown dance. People do not use sports GIFs of the teams letting the clock run out with no action. People pick sports GIFs to show the most interesting parts of a game, not the boring parts people don’t even want to watch during the game. The first example shows a Carolina Panthers and Tennessee Titans game, with three good plays from the game. The second is of an Oregon vs. Kansas State game, towards the end of the game in the 4th quarter with less than 50 seconds on the clock. Oregon is trying to run out the rest of the time so that they have a greater chance of winning. This GIF is boring.

Fandom GIF





Fandom GIFs are characterized by their tie to an index of pop culture, such as TV shows. The example of Homer Simpson is very clearly Homer Simpson and is tied to a specific episode (although I could not find which episode). But fans of The Simpsons might recognize the context of the GIF. The counter-example starts with a computer drawn Homer Simpson, then shows a Picasso parody of Homer Simpson, which morphs into Winnie the Pooh because they share the same yellow. It shows how cartoons share similarities and the ease with which they morph. But Winnie the Pooh and Homer Simpson are really not otherwise connected, and a person would probably never select this GIF.

Wobble GIF




[animate output image]


Wobble GIFs are typically two images that give the illusion that something is wobbling back and forth, such as the cat example. So the anti-wobble GIF is a GIF where the images that make it up are all the same. The counter-example is a scene from Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox, and the scene itself sets up the perfect content for a wobble GIF, with a strobe light effect that makes it easy to divide images. Even though the original context emulates a wobble GIF, this new GIF goes against the traditional back-and-forth characteristic of the wobble GIF.

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Lauren C.

Listacles Are Killing the Russian Doll of Cultural Meaning (…gifs)

The article “Is Google Making Us Stupid?” by Nicholas Carr explains that people, especially younger generations, are becoming more and more used to reading shorter texts because of online reading. Reading is not an instinctive skill, and as technology has replaced older forms of entertainment and information (books, newspaper, etc.), we have collectively lost the ability to read for long lengths and become distracted. Studies have found that the reading style that has replaced this is one similar to skimming. Rather than reading books to gain information, the answer to most things is just a few clicks away, and requires very little reading, or can even be fulfilled visually through television.

So the popularity of listicles is no surprise to me – visually stimulating with easy-to-comprehend bullets. GIFs have become heavily ingrained in listicles, popular on sites like Buzzfeed, Snapchat, and amateur blogs like Odyssey or Her Campus.

A recent Her Campus article titled “10 Signs that You Are ~Basic~ at Davidson” caught my attention, partly because of its direct impact on Davidson but mainly because it was so unsuccessful at being a relatable listicle. And the GIFs employed didn’t make it any more relatable.

Screenshot from Davidson’s Her Campus article “10 Signs that You Are ~Basic~ at Davidson”.

And I wasn’t the only one who thought so, according to some feedback it received on Facebook.


Original post on Facebook reacting to Her Campus article.

Comments under original post.






But what I want to focus on is the use of GIFs in this article. They did not help to make the article any more relatable. As discussed in “Never Gonna GIF You Up”, “the selection and presentation of GIFs are also a performance of cultural knowledge,” demonstrating “user’s knowledge of a certain text or cultural conversation through their choices” (Miltner and Highfield 6). Much of this article made GIFs into a form of high art (for lack of better phrase), such as with the layers of meaning, the polysemy of remix, and decontextualization. While I did agree with a lot of their argument, I found myself wondering if there is a new wave of GIFs, propelled by listicles, that isn’t so concerned about the “Russian doll of cultural meaning” but is simply visually stimulating (7). I do agree that GIFs are appealing because they have so many possible interpretations, but when reading this Her Campus article, there wasn’t much room left to interpret.

Because the GIFs were very loosely connected to the bullets in the listicle, it felt like these GIFs were picked arbitrarily through the use of a GIF archive. For example, the author typed “spin class” and picked one that clearly showed a spin class. Do GIF databases that allow GIFs to be searched for based on keywords take away from the “performance of cultural knowledge”? In this spin class example, the GIF is from the Fox sitcom New Girl. Which makes sense, since the audience is young adult women (I mean, I did get the reference), but the GIF didn’t add anything to the statement, other than some slight comedy.

Miltner and Highfield touched on the popularity of TV related GIFs, saying that “part of the reason that these genres are so prevalent is that the texts contained within them follow production tropes that make them eminently repeatable: over-the-top characters, dramatic editing styles, heightened gestures, and to-camera confessional asides” (7). Three out of the five GIFs in the article (to my knowledge/context clues) originate from TV shows. It is because of this point that I am okay with inclusion of the GIFs. Even if it didn’t make the content of the article more relatable, they TV related GIFs were familiar tropes and visually stimulating.

While this article is by no means the pinnacle of well-chosen GIFs, it is not the first time I’ve questioned the inclusion of GIFs in an article. Is it enough to say that an article benefits from GIFs because they are captivating or because the audience might recognize the origin? In cases where I don’t feel they add much to the site, it annoys me because the overuse of GIFs make my browser run slower. One of the questions that should be asked about GIF futures is will people continue to keep in mind the meanings of GIFs or simply use them as a way to grab the reader’s attention? In a technologically dependent culture, like how we have lost the ability to read for long lengths, will we become accustomed to the integration of images/GIFs and listicles before we get fidgety or distracted?


Carr, Nicholas. ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?” The Atlantic, Atlantic Media Company. 27 Apr. 2017.

Nortier, Leigha. “10 Signs That You Are ~Basic~ at Davidon.” Her Campus. 21 Sept. 2017.






Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Lauren C.

Hypervisibly Obscure

Image. Security. Organization. These are the three things that the data centers seem to emphasize. These focuses seem to distract from unveiling the mystery of data within the cloud. The metaphor that “infrastructures are like lenticular prints: they always come with a switch effect… they animate our view, make us shift our categories of what they are” stood out to me (80). Lenticular printing gives the allusion of depth or the ability of an image to change as it is viewed from different angles. This makes companies like Google and Bahnhof seem like the mouse while the consumer is the cat – these data centers reveal enough to make you think they are being transparent with you, but leaves you without all of the information so there is still the desire and awe.

This video about the Google data centers demonstrates this seemingly hypervisible-while-still-obscure phenomena. It is full of technical terms with clean editing and futuristic/safe music. It also confirms that these data centers incorporate an environmentally friendly tactic into their image. While the video doesn’t exactly show deer in the foreground as in Figure 3.5 on page 77, it does emphasize Google’s energy efficiency.

These data centers are very much planned marketing strategies with an agenda, like a public profile. The concerns raised in the second half of the article are not publicly broadcasted, which emphasizes the bureaucratic side of these data centers. They even seem to have marketing schemes, such as the metaphors relating to the cloud, which again seem to be helping the consumer to understand what is going on in “the cloud,” but still don’t reveal intimate facts on the cloud.


Security and Data Protection in a Google Data Center.flv“. Video uploaded by chandansaha101. YouTube. 24 April, 2011.

Featured Image: A central cooling plant in Google’s Douglas County, Georgia data center. Photo: Google/Connie Zhou.

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Lauren C.

Urban Projection Mapping

In class on Wednesday, Dr. Sample mentioned how in The Lumière Brothers’ film Arrival of a Train at La Ciotat (1895), the audience was afraid and ran out of the theater because they thought the train was coming towards them. This reminded me of Urban Projection Mapping – or projecting film onto buildings – which has a similar effect on the modern audience as the train did in 1895. Projection Mapping presents this same concept of something very recognizable and realistic presented through technology, but is affected by the technology in a way that is scary for the viewer. This article on The Coolist provides ten excellent examples of this, but the video below is specifically unnerving.

This is the Beurs van Berlage building in Amsterdam and is an advertisement for Samsung, who hired NuFormer to create the video, which shows the building being destroyed and overtaken by wildlife. The unsettling part is how it starts with the normal look of the building, and then you hear the crack of the foundation and it breaks down right in front of you, as if experiencing an earthquake.

Another video from that website has a similar disturbing effect, but the building is not destroyed – rather it is built.

This projection took place on the Aeroport nightclub at the 44th Karlovy Vary International Film Festival. In this piece, you get three different architectural versions of the building. The one that looks most like a raw blueprint is most unnerving because it is as if the viewer can see through the building and can see the skeleton of it.

Since Carolyn Marvin’s chapter talked a lot about society’s fears of technology, I was going to ask if projects like these cause any modern fears? But I feel like this kind of art causes more fascination. Maybe that’s because we are desensitized by technology now? Today, do we still experience that “any hint of technical complexity raise[s] doubt and suspicion” (77)? Marvin wrote that “essential markers of social distance were in danger, and that critical class distinctions could become unenforceable unless new markers of privacy and publicity could be established” (70). This is a public form of art, which furthers the deconstruction of classes because rather than paying to go to a museum, anyone on the street can watch. So while ‘electrical devices’ like the telephone affected communication between classes, art and film has pushed to reach all classes of people, not just the demographic that would go to a museum.


Macula, artist. Aeroport Mapping. Published by Vimeo, 2009.

NuFormer, artist. NuFormer, 3D Video Mapping (One Take) – Samsung, Amsterdam, the Netherlands – May 2010. Vimeo, May 2010.

Payne, Seamus. “When Buildings Come Alive: 10 Unreal Urban Projection Mapping Videos.” TheCoolist. 12 Nov. 2010.

Featured Image  from Lighting Sibiu 2016 International videomapping competition, titled “Mapping Sibiu’s Main Square”

Posted from Intro to Digital Studies by Lauren C.