May 202015

Some years back when I was trying to learn about creative nonfiction, I came across this description that compared it to a fictional quests, complete with obstacles to overcome and an external character arc that changes to internal as the character progresses. I think in a way we see this in certain styles of blogging, personal essays, and memoirs. It struck me as interesting, and I considered weaving that mindset into my own blog. I still sometimes think about trying it out.

I still have my notes from my reading in my general notes, and I came across them again while working on the personal learning environment blog posts. This was right around when I was experimenting with HabitRPG as a task management system and reading about education programs that were trying to rebuild a part of their curriculum to run more like gaming quests and playing Glitch, where I was fascinated by the skills development system. I had never played an MMORPG game before, and skill trees were a totally new concept to me. My inner curriculum designer latched on to the brilliance of that idea.

For those unfamiliar, it’s not unusual for MMORPGs to offer a skill development system that almost reads more like a branched story. You pick out your starting skills (for many games, this is the base skills of your class), and then you use it through a variety of gameplay and side quests until you’ve met the markers for mastery of that level. Then, you’re offered new skills to learn based on what you’ve already learned. If you haven’t learned a base skill, the advanced skill won’t be available to you. You pick your path through the available skills, creating a set of skills that’s all yours.

If you’re at all experienced with self-directed learning, informal learning, or sites like, this sounds a little familiar. You find something you want to learn, and then you find various projects and study resources to work through and learn. And then you build from there until you get to the skill level you want in that skill. In a way, we create our own skill trees outside of school. We pick our projects, our practice activities, our side quests. And we confront obstacles that we either choose to work through or we allow to stop us and shift us off to a different skill tree.

I have been reworking and rearranging my goals and the related training and practice activities I’ve picked to get me where I want to go. I had things scattered all throughout my to-do list. It was getting hard to manage, or even just to keep up. So, I was playing with the list the other night, when it suddenly hit me to create skill trees for each skill set I’m trying to acquire. Each target skill set now has a collection of study resources and activities, training resources and activities, and projects intended to help me focus on a single skill, organized to build on the project before it. It may sound large (it was more than I was expecting when I sat down to sort it out), but I now have clearly defined plans to reach many of my goals. (Being an informal educator with a strong interest in scaffolded learning, I did feel a bit silly that it took gaming and nearly losing my mind to put this together.)

Look at your goals and your projects. What can you do to incorporate a more focused, scaffolded approach to your learning to help you better learn your desired skill sets? How can you make your learning a quest? Figure it out, and then set it up and work through it.

May 142015

We all know history is invariably written by those who gained and held the power for any period of time, and we tend to tell our stories from that same place – focused on the side that won. Any social scientist will tell you that approach is problematic, though, because it removes the other side of the story and in the process potentially eliminates critical historical information.

Good news for conquerors. Bad news for the conquered.

As an avid reader and a lifelong hobbyist anthropologist, I used to think about this a lot – the story from the antagonist’s point of view. And then I read Dragons of Summer Flame, which tells a section of the Dragonlance history from the side perceived as the enemy through Dragonlance Chronicles. The main character is the child of two of the Chronicles characters, fighting on his mother’s side (the enemy) for what he was raised believing is right while coming to his own understanding of his knightly father’s oppositional beliefs.

The Avatar: The Last Airbender episode “Ember Island Players” centers around the Avatar and his friends secretly attending a show in the Fire Nation, generally perceived by the entire Avatar-verse as the enemy. The performers have put together a show recounting the Avatar’s journey from the iceberg he was found in through the Earth Kingdom and into the Fire Nation, generally portraying the group and the Fire Nation prince who has joined as buffoons. The play ends with a fight between the Avatar and the Fire Nation princess, where she overpowers and defeats him for the glory of the Fire Nation. While viewers know what’s really happened, and what will most likely happen in the upcoming fight between the Avatar and the Firelord, the play is Fire Nation propaganda, pure and simple.

The story doesn’t have to be anything so complicated or grand. It could be the scientist willing to to do whatever it takes to accomplish a goal she believes will benefit mankind. It could be the friend trying to mediate a fight between other friends without stopping to find out why both sides are fighting to begin with. (Felicia Day once pointed out that many stories and real-life conflicts wouldn’t exist if the parties involved had just sat down together and talked, and she’s not wrong.)

I think the reason we’re starting to see so many projects interested in trying to collect and preserve the voices of a minority group or a defeated group is because we’re starting to recognize the value of having a more complete story. The more complete story allows us to better identify the biases and alterations that have crept in to the narrative as a whole, and can potentially give us a better idea of how a situation blew up so that future people can identify the warning signs and try to make better choices.

It really makes you think, doesn’t it?

May 072015

A while back, fellow members of a Google+ writers’ group were discussing serial stories. Some of the indies were complaining about fellow indies releasing stories by chapter and then releasing the book in its entirety once it was done. Somehow, these writers were subverting the system, weren’t playing fair, or were just outright greedy.

And so I replied: Serial writing isn’t anything new. It’s just enjoying a comeback enabled by the nature of social media, our relationship with consuming online writing, and people trying to figure out how to make a living off their writing through nontraditional publishing.

One of the commenters went on to scream about how it’s totally different for novelists, how their situation is some sort of unique situation. And it really isn’t. Not if you think about the history of movies and movie houses. The precedent is there, even if there is only a small population who remembers that lifetime.

And honestly, releasing a work piece by piece isn’t confined to writing. How many of us have bought selected tracks rather than the entire album, or bypassed offered tracks while waiting for the entire album? Or contributed to a webseries’ development to get new episodes released, but then bought the DVD of the entire season?

Ultimately, offering people options to purchase just the stories they want versus the entire collection (for someone who writes or edits short story collections and anthologies) isn’t much different than musicians offering individual tracks versus an entire album. It’s giving people choices in how they want to own the material when it can be broken into component parts.

It’s pretty much a case of an old practice finding new life in the digital space.

May 052015

I’ve recently noticed an old post about taking an adaptation approach versus taking a transmedia (or crossmedia, as they say these days) approach gaining a lot of traffic (thank you). When I wrote that post, I was trying to learn everything I could about both adaptation and transmedia (crossmedia), but it was all reading and not a lot of practical application.

Nearly two years before I wrote that post, I was starting to work on an aspect of my story world, which led to my writing a lot of little scenes exploring netrunning and the more cybernetic aspects of the world. One of those stories, the vignette “Wired Out“, has found new life over the last month or so as I’ve recycled it a couple of times over.

It kind of started by accident. Last month, wattpad announced they had partnered with SoundCloud to allow writers to add sounds to their stories through the Android app. So, I decided to try it out and see what was involved. It was not easy. It was not intuitive. But if you check out “Wired Out” through the wattpad Android app, you can now hear me read it to you. (I’m still not even sure I set it up correctly. How’s that for sad?)

But just narrating a story as it’s written with no changes or embellishments really isn’t an adaptation. You’ve simply changed its form from text to audio.

Last week, hitRECord’s Comic Collective asked participants to to create a comic with a personified character. At first, I thought about a story I’m working on where elementals run a bit rampant. I thought about how elements are portrayed, their symbolism and associations, and it gave me a headache. (I’m more easily overwhelmed these days than I thought.) But as I lay there, hiding my head under my pillow, I suddenly had the thought: The data ghosts in New Glory’s net are energy personified. I had quite a few notes on how they worked…and I had a vignette where one of these creatures was wandering around.

So, I sat down and spent more time than I probably should have converting a scene of roughly 100 words into a six-panel comic script. It was an experience. I really had to think about how to convey what I see in my head so that someone else could do something with it (assuming they didn’t go their own direction with it). Effectively, the story has been split into its dialogue and its visual elements. To me, that feels more like an adaptation.

I’m going to keep looking for ways to change the form of some of my older stories. Who knows? I may even find another way to use “Wired Out”. It’s interesting to see what a story can become when you present it through a different medium.

May 012015

All right. Sorry for the long break. Things have been a bit off around here the last couple of months. But I’m slowly pulling myself together and getting things moving again, and one of the ways I’m doing that is the subject of this week’s Friday Five.

1. hitRECord is Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s personal project that brings together artists across a variety of media to create and collaborate together. Some of the work goes into the show, which starts its second season on Pivot in June. Some of it goes to other projects (books, albums, and a radio project). Some of it just is, and it’s a lot of fun. If you want a welcoming space to practice a craft or learn a new one, hitREcord isn’t a bad way to go.

What I want to highlight, though, are the four weekly collaboration projects designed to help get people creating. Each project is run by a curator (who changes every four weeks), who provides a weekly prompt or challenge, and then shares some of the responses in a weekly video.

2. Play Along is for musicians, vocalists, and anyone else who likes to make sound. Each week, the curator posts a sound record, and participants remix or respond to it. (This is the only one I haven’t participated in.)

3. Weekly Writing Challenge is, strangely enough, for writers. The prompts have covered everything from poems to memories to dialogue to genre pieces. One week, we were even challenged to respond to a music record. (I’ve used some of these challenges to help shake out personal projects I was working.)

4. The Lens Project is a new project aimed at photographers and video producers. So far, the curator has posted prompts centering around ideas or techniques, but I’m definitely looking forward to seeing future prompts. (I’ve been wanting to improve my photography and learn about video production, so I was excited when this one began.)

5. The Comic Collective just started, and it’s exactly what you expect. Writers and illustrators are challenged to create a comic strip. For the first challenge, we were given a topic and a restriction on the number of panels. It’ll be interesting to see how this one develops. (One of my goals is learning to write/script for sequential art, so this is a cool stress-free opportunity!)

The curators do a pretty good job of featuring work from site veterans, newbies, and undiscovered talent in their weekly video, so it’s pretty cool to see people being pulled in. Plus, it’s interesting to see how other people interpreted prompts. And it’s a great way to create without too much pressure, which is definitely what I need at the moment.

Apr 272015

Necessary Series Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The information presented in this series is based entirely on my experience as a creator and curator.

One of the benefits of living in a connected world is that we can enjoy creative work from not only our own country, but also from around the world without having to wait for someone in our own country to acquire a license to bring it into and share with our country (although this is still a very common way to legally experience books, music, television, and movies from other countries). But with this ability to experience all of this global work comes a whole new discussion on copyright.

You see, copyright is assigned at a national level by the nation where the copyright holder legally resides. Within that country, those wanting to use or share the artifact have to play within that country’s copyright laws. But when someone outside that country wants to use or share the artifact, it’s not so cut and dry. Countries would have to sort out whose copyright laws prevailed in matters of sharing internationally, up until conventions were established to facilitate sharing copyrighted materials across borders: the Universal Copyright Convention and the Berne Convention (which you have seen named on movies since the US joined in 1989). Note that there is no international copyright, just national participation in one or both of these conventions.

We encounter this in our lives especially on YouTube, where creators can decide to what degree they are willing to be protected. If they want only their own country’s copyright laws to be in effect, they won’t share the video internationally. If they are fine with it, then they will. Some companies and personalities prefer the often stricter protection offered by their national copyright laws, and so they will restrict distribution. Some creators (individual, personality, or company) will find they have numerous barriers to jump through, and will have to wade through international concerns to make their material available globally.

This is effectively what you’re running into when you hop on YouTube or a media site and are informed your region doesn’t have access. There’s often something going on in the copyright, either deliberately selected by the copyright holder or enforced by copyright laws.  The copyright holder may simply not have the right set of rights to make something available internationally. (I can’t confirm this, but based on my own experience as a YouTube creator, videos are internationally available by default. If someone has more experience with this, feel free to leave a comment.)

Apr 202015

Necessary Series Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The information presented in this series is based entirely on my experience as a creator and curator.

Today, we’re going to talk about orphaned works. If you’ve spent any time on Archive of Our Own, you may have seen this term as the site has set up an account so writers can break their tie to a story they’ve written, effectively abandoning their rights to it. In terms of copyright, an orphaned work is one that is believed to be under copyright (because we are currently in an environment where all works fixed in a tangible form are copyright protected, regardless of whether or not a copyright symbol is present), but the copyright holder cannot be determined for whatever reason.

As you might expect, trying to work with a work that has been deemed “orphaned” is a nightmare. Because there is no clear copyright holder, there is no one to approach for permission or licensing possibilities. That makes most orphaned works off limits in terms of derivative, transformative, and remix situations. There are conditions where you might be able to work out using an orphaned work, including due diligence to establish a clear copyright holder, acknowledging on the new artifact that part of the materials are orphaned, and making reasonable compensation to the copyright holder if they should suddenly appear. While there have been attempts to get the law modified to include an length of time on how long an artifact can be considered “orphaned” and protected by copyright, Congress has yet to actually sign off on any of them.

All of that said, an orphaned work can pass into the Public Domain the way any other copyrighted work does. If a year of creation can be established, then that year is used to determine when the artifact falls into the Public Domain. At the time of this writing, an orphaned work created in 1923 or earlier is in the Public Domain. (Aritfact’s creation date plus ninety years, to match copyright’s author lifespan plus ninety years rule.)

What this all really means is that if you want to use an artifact created after 1923 with no clear copyright holder, treat it like any other copyrighted artifact, do due diligence, and don’t make bad decisions.

Apr 132015

Necessary Series Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The information presented in this series is based entirely on my experience as a creator and curator.

Right around the time I was finishing up Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, I was watching an Extra Credits episode (I was a bad researcher and did not note the video’s URL.) where they used one of Tenniel’s illustration right next to a Disney clip. It made me wonder: How does anyone determine whether or not a movie or television show is in the Public Domain?

The obvious (to me) answer was: They’d go by the current copyright laws and the last known clear copyright holder.

The actual answer, it turns out is far more complicated, simply because of the changing nature of copyright law (although being unable to identify who holds the copyright free and clear also causes headaches. This is such a thorny issue, in fact, that there is no official list of movies or television shows in the Public Domain, and most legal sites who have made such an attempt or consulted on a site trying to make such an attempt have included a note that those looking to use a movie or television show thought to be in the Public Domain should consult with a lawyer.

Some movies have legitimately come into the Public Domain, their copyrights expiring according to the copyright law of the time. Any television show thought to be in the Public Domain (because major revisions to copyright law in 1976 and 1989 have really muddied this matter) are potentially in the Public Domain because the copyright was renewed improperly, dropping the show into the Public Domain, or because there was no copyright symbol on the show. (This is a great quick reference on the tip of this iceberg.) Interestingly, some shows are only partially eligible for Public Domain because some of their episodes contain elements that are still copyrighted.

Really, I think looking at how copyright laws have affected movies and television is a really interesting study in both copyright law and how it affects artifacts over time.

Apr 062015

Necessary Series Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The information presented in this series is based entirely on my experience as a creator and curator.

Because I have known open source devs and Ubuntu is my favorite O/S, I thought it might be interesting to take a look at how open source and copyright work together. Open source is actually a licensing mechanism developed to allow sharing of software within the constraints of current copyright law, but it effectively functions like a really permissive Creative Commons license.

Open source allows a software developer to release their software to be implemented, modified, and distributed free of charge by other developers and users. This can be great for getting more people to use your software (or operating system, in the case of Linux). It can also be great for collaborating loosely with other developers, as long as they operate within the parameters of the license.


Some great resources if you’d like to read more about open source

Mar 302015

Necessary Series Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer. The information presented in this series is based entirely on my experience as a creator and curator.

I’ve been throwing around a term that I keep promising to discuss, and today’s that day. We’ve discussed copyright, Creative Commons, and Fair Use. Now, let’s look at what I consider the fourth leg to this discussion: Public Domain. When an artifact is in the Public Domain, there are no copyright restrictions on it. You can modify, perform, transform to your heart’s content. You can even monetize your creation.

It sounds great, right? Where do I find these mystical copyright-free artifacts?

Well…it’s trickier than it looks. Because copyright laws change, Public Domain criteria change. Because copyright holders often have estates (or family), an artifact’s journey into the Public Domain can endure a few hiccups along the way. (In some cases, a copyright holder’s estate or family can legally extend a copyright.) Because that’s just how some copyright holders function, Public Domain can be abused or extended without a clear right. (Can anyone sing “Happy Birthday to You” in a performance situation? That’s still one of my favorites.)

I could try to offer you some sort of hard and fast rule, but the simple fact of the matter is: There isn’t one. The best place to start if you’re trying to determine whether or not something has entered the Public Domain is this rather long and hard to slog through chart. If the artifact appears to be in the Public Domain according to this chart, then actually go research the artifact’s copyright…just to be safe. (I’m a big believer in going above and beyond in your due diligence of pursuing whether or not something is in the Public Domain, just because it’s such a sticky issue.)

The one hard and fast rule I can offer is this (and we’ve discussed this before): Just because something is posted to the internet or published in a library book, that doesn’t mean it is in the Public Domain. This is perhaps one of the biggest myths about Public Domain. Remember from our earlier discussions that copyright is conferred at the moment something is fixed into a tangible form, including a digital form. If you’re ever unsure, err on the side of caution and just assume the material is copyrighted. If you’re desperate to use the material, contact the site publisher or the local library and find out. Never just assume. That way lies much agony. Don’t do it. (Is that enough warning for you?)

You may have noticed that the chart says the copyright holder has to have been dead for some period before the artifact they held the copyright for becomes Public Domain. That is often true, but some artists, especially when Creative Commons and remix culture were just beginning to gain traction in digital spaces, released a piece or two of their work directly into the Public Domain because they wanted to make it available to the remix culture and see what came of it. I believe Creative Commons has a section on how best to release something directly into the Public Domain if you’re interested in checking that out. Again, just because a living artist/copyright holder has released one artifact into the Public Domain, don’t fall into the trap of thinking all of their work is in the Public Domain. Copyright is assigned at the artifact level, not the creator/copyright holder level.

So, long story short: Artifacts in the Public Domain have no copyright restrictions on them, but the road to becoming Public Domain is a treacherous and tricky one. If you want to use Public Domain artifacts, do your homework thoroughly to make sure it is actually in the Public Domain. Always err on the side of copyright if you aren’t sure. Don’t invite disaster on your head. Fair enough?

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