Cash Back on Textbooks through Ebates

Starting Summer 2016, CUNY Queens College moved from to Textbookx as the textbook supplier for the college. After the college announced the new textbook supplier, I noticed that Textbookx is an Ebates store, which earns shoppers cash back for qualifying purchases. I’ve used this since last year and earned some cash through my various online shopping trips.

By shopping on Textbookx through Ebates, students can earn cash back, currently 2.5%, on course textbook purchases. Since I imagine that students would be interested in learning how to earn cash back on textbooks, I made a screencast.

Here’s how to earn cash back on textbooks purchased on Textbookx through Ebates.

  1. Go to

    Sign in to your account. If you don’t have an account, join through this link and buy something: we’ll each get a $10 bonus.

  2. Find the Textbookx shopping portal.

    Search for ‘’ on Ebates.

  3. Start a Ebates shopping trip on Textbookx.

    Follow the “Shop Now” button to start a shopping trip on Textbookx.

  4. Find the School page for Queens College.

    Follow the “Schools” link and search for ‘Queens College’

  5. Find your classes

    Search for your classes or log in to CUNYFirst to list all of your courses.

  6. Buy your textbooks

    You should receive cash back credit to your Ebates account within a few days. Make sure you add your Paypal account to your Ebates account so you can receive your cash back as soon as possible.

Of course, you’re welcome to buy your textbooks through any source, but since Queens College selected Textbookx as the official textbook supplier, you may as well save some additional cash through Ebates.

Get started on Ebates

The 1980s, One Song at a Time, in Reverse

Another tip of the hat to the staff at The Awl for pointing out something totally awesome.

The long-running MP3 blog Fluxblog has been compiling yearly surveys of music from the 1980s. They posted the first compilation with music from 1989 last September, and every couple of months or so later, another year in reverse-chronlogical order drops. Each survey consists of eight discs and about 150 songs from the decade spanning various genres. Last week, they released the seventh survey with songs from 1983.

I started listening to the first compilation last week, and in my own obsessive-compulsive way, I set a few ground rules for listening to each survey:

  • I listen to each survey in reverse order, just as the curators—if not nature—intended.
  • I listen to each song in full from each survey. No skipping songs.
  • I will not listen to songs from the earlier collections until I get to that year’s survey.
  • I reserve the right to “side bar” to other recordings from the era.
  • And, of course, I allow myself to listen to other things, including music made before or after the 1980s.

Six day in, it’s been an almost all-consuming experience and, yet, I’m only getting through the end of the 1988 survey. To make for a better listening experience, I even bought this pretty solid and inexpensive Bluetooth audio receiver to connect to an older Harmon Kardon HK550 Vxi receiver, which is fittingly from the same era as the music I’m surveying, and to listen throughout the house.

Listening to the 1989 survey, I was surprised to hear song after song that I swore came from the 1990s. I suspect that going backwards in time will put me deep in the quintessential 1980s sounds before I reach the fuzzy transition period of the early 1980s, where pop music simultaneously bore the traits of the 1970s and the 1980s.


The above link to Amazon is an affiliate links. Shopping through that link will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!

Ten Years Later… This is Still Not a Mint Julep!

Tomorrow is the first Saturday of May, meaning that some horses will be running in, like, the 945th annual Kentucky Derby. The Derby is such an all-consuming affair for the city of Louisville that the University of Louisville actually schedules its entire academic year around it. And beyond the confines of Churchill Downs, there are a bunch of traditions associated with it, including…

  • Derby Pie. A chocolate and walnut tart that can only be marketed by that name by a bakery in Prospect, Kentucky. A lawsuit awaits those try to do so surreptitiously.
  • Burgoo. A stew of beef, chicken, pork, and vegetables that is not served in Bushwick in the summer.
  • Mint juleps. A refreshing cocktail made from bourbon whiskey (Kentucky’s most popular export), sugar, and—yes—mint.

While the recipe for Derby Pie is a closely guarded secret and Burgoo apparently derives from throw-everything-in-a-pot approach to cooking, a mint julep is elegantly simple: three ingredients, a cup, and crushed ice.

Over the years, I’ve had various concoctions called mint juleps. The worst one I had was in 2004. A bar in Brooklyn was serving them for the Derby, but the bartender was using crème de menthe to make them. Gross!

Around 2006, just a year after YouTube became a thing, a video began to circulate that showed how to make a mint julep. It became popular because of how horribly wrong the drink was being made: “a mojito with bourbon, instead of rum” was the guiding philosophy.

Ten years later, this video still screams “made in Miami!”

The mint julep is to cocktails what playing first-base is to baseball: it’s easy to do, but it’s hard to do well. I once thought about making a mint julep with unoaked rye whiskey. By far, the simplest and best executed approach to making a mint julep is Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s recipe. Morgenthaler, who alerted the world to the “mojito with bourbon” video, described a mint julep like an “old fashioned with mint instead of bitters.”

Although I’m a little less excited about the julep cup frosting before his very eyes, I agree that this is how a mint julep should be made. No limes, no sour mix, and definitely no crème de menthe.

Mint Julep
Morgenthaler’s “old fashioned with mint instead of bitters” is a great way to conceptualize a mint julep.

T-Shirt Therapy for the Spring Semester

The end of the semester is a challenging and stressful time for both students, teachers, and administrators alike. It can be a very creative and productive time for most, but sometimes, it can be a frustrating as there might not be any immediate result to all that work.

Screen printing t-shirts can be a therapeutic, creative outlet where I get to work with my hands and make something tangible. Here are some shirts I’ve printed at the end of spring semester in anticipation of summer!

Kilo Bravo

With summer coming, I convinced the proprietress of Kilo Bravo that she should stock some t-shirts for their thirsty and overheated customers. The t-shirts are Gildan Soft Style, which is a blend of 65% polyester and 35% ring-spun cotton. She chose shirts in Heather Military Green, for the military theme that “Kilo Bravo” evokes (although it also stands in for her initials).

Kilo Bravo Military Summer 2016

The print is a single-color, white discharge ink that I thought would not be very bold because of the polyester fabric, but I was wrong. They really pop! In retrospect, I would have used clear discharge in hopes of getting the natural fabric color that would evoke the military color even more. Print and learn.

On sale at Kilo Bravo, 180 N. 10th St, Brooklyn, NY

Balls Deep

Easily one of the most “adult” logos I’ve ever printed, Balls Deep is a softball team founded by one of my oldest softball friends. As you can imagine, the logo has raised some eyebrows over the years, and some players have gone as far as quit the team rather than wear the shirt.

Balls Deep Softball 2016

This particular shirt is printed on American Apparel’s Fine Jersey all-cotton t-shirt in red. This t-shirt model is such a stalwart of the industry that you most certainly have one in your closet, if not wearing one at the moment. The print is nothing more than Holden’s water-based black ink.

Team Matchless

The manager of this softball team, sponsored by Bar Matchless in Brooklyn, has a favorite t-shirt. Printed for the Oregon Humane Society, she wanted to use that t-shirt for her team because it is so comfortable. She showed it to me, and I saw that it was an American Apparel Tri-Blend t-shirt in Tri-Athletic Blue. Wanting to do something different that the usual white print, she had me print the front logo and the back jersey numbers in water-based orange ink.

I even printed a couple for myself on Tultex poly-cotton shirts in a similar color.

Matchless 2016

The Tultex shirts look fine, but as I examine the shirt, I notice that the weave looks a little pixelated.

Tultex – "pixelated" weave

Nonetheless, for what both shirts lack in “pop,” they both make up in lightweight and soft-feel. It’s perfect for summer softball.


Having surrendered managing the Robots years ago, the current manager wanted to get jerseys made, instead of my usual t-shirt offerings. The jerseys haven’t materialized yet, but I made a t-shirt version of what I think he made for our team.

Gibson (Angry) Robots 2016

The t-shirt is nothing special, just a Gildan Soft Style 100% ring-spun cotton in black. But the print is discharge ink with red pigment.

Were I to do a full run, I would print on American Apparel’s sheer jersey “Summer Shirt” in black. That is, by far, the most comfortable all-cotton shirt I’ve ever worn. However, because they cost three times as much as this Gildan—and because they only ship from the Los Angeles–area mill, I would only offer it as a premium product for a sizable run.

Archived Bears

The Archive used to be a coffee shop and video store in the 2000s. Located off the Morgan Avenue L-train station and used to be considered a “far, far away,” the Archive also used to sponsor a softball team in our league: the Bears.

The Bears are still around, even if the Archive is long gone, and they wanted to print a new version of their shirt.

Archived Bears Softball 2016

This shirt is another Gildan Soft Style t-shirt in dark chocolate. The print is a water-based opaque yellow color that has a soft hand without the extra chemical process of discharge.


On a whim, I printed a couple of copies of the stalwart Librarians t-shirt. Unlike our usual shirt, I printed the shirts on an off-white shirt in black ink.

Librarians Reprint 2016

I’ll debut the shirt at our season opening double-header and, perhaps, maybe even take a few orders for a lighter alternative to our current black t-shirts.

Exam Copies Done Right

Despite being an unaccomplished and underachieving scholar, I still receive a fair-share of examination copies of academic trade books and textbooks. These are books that publishers provide for free for a “trial period.” Usually, the publisher doesn’t specify the length of the trial period so they are effectively free books, if not explicitly so. However, some publishers have explicitly requested that I ship the book back to them or else I will receive a bill for the book, albeit with an “industry” discount of 20% or so.

Publishers provide these books because they hope that I will adopt them for a course and require my students to purchase them. When I worked at UCSB’s college radio station in the mid-1990s, record companies would similarly provide free CDs for the music and programming directors in hopes that they would play the recordings on-the-air and, consequently, promote sales of the recording.

It seems like a great way to promote a book or a recording, but since everyone does it, the examination/promotional copies often become clutter. My music director used to give me a bunch of CDs that he knew I would like, and I have a pile of under-examined—or entirely unexamined—books on my desk.

Examination Copies that have gone unexamined

Examination Copies that have gone unexamined.

Done Wrong

In the academic world, the examination copies of books arrive in one of two ways:

  1. The publisher sends a print copy. They have done so for as long as I’ve been in the game. Although it’s not as many as it used to be, some occasionally arrive by expedited couriers, such as UPS and FedEx. I always thought that to be a huge waste of resources. Haven’t book publishers heard of media mail? The post office basically invented the service just for them. Also, this is a book, not a newspaper or a timely document. There’s no way that an extra day or two will “spoil” the content.
  2. The publisher provides an ebook.

The ebook makes a lot of sense for examination copies. It costs the publisher next to nothing to supply a bunch of interested readers the book. Moreover, it gets to the reader quicker than sending it by expedited courier. And, again, it costs a lot less.

However, most publishers are utterly terrified of unauthorized reproductions. They’re so frightened about it, in fact, that they burden the ebook with DRM that makes the book unreadable. The most common way they do this is by requiring you to use something like Adobe Digital Editions to read the book. That platform, and others like it, basically render the book and its words, into images of the book pages. In effect, you’re not reading, you’re looking at photographs of text. This makes it almost impossible for reading on small-screen devices, such a smartphone, because you can’t resize the text; you can only resize the page. No wonder phones are getting bigger and bigger.

Not only that, you can’t highlight text—only parts of the page. You can’t look up words by tapping or clicking on them because the computer doesn’t see text—it sees images. And, if you want to read somewhere without an Internet connect, such as a subway train or an airplane, you won’t because you can’t print pages or cache the entire book on your device. Bleh!

I don’t know how recording companies handle promotional copies, or whether they even provide them at all anymore. I would think that since the advent of the Internet, iTunes, and other streaming music services, they would provide radio stations with a digital file or some type. On the other hand, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they still shipped plastic disks via Pony Express. But let’s say for argument’s sake that, in the intervening twenty years since I worked at KCSB, the record companies started sending programming and music directors promotional MP3s. If these recording companies followed the footsteps of the book publishers, their digital offerings would be as follows:

The music director would be instructed to download a proprietary listening application specific for that recording company’s group. I suppose that’s one good thing about only three recording groups—Warner Music, Sony, and BMG—existing today. She would then download a version for each of her devices: i.e, personal computer, work computer, smartphone, and iPod-like music player (they *still* exist). The sound quality would be reduced through downsampling, resembling something like FM radio: serviceable, but certainly not optimal. The music could only be heard with a live Internet connection: go into an elevator, and you’re listening to the elevator music in the elevator. And lastly, as a final insult, the app would not allow you to change the volume.

Done Right

Earlier today, the University of California Press offered an examination copy of Precarious Creativity: Global Media, Local Labor, edited by two UCSB scholars: Michael Curtin and Kevin Samson. When I saw that I could download an ebook, I was expecting to see the book in Adobe Digital Editions or something similar crappy. Instead, I saw that I could download an EPUB, a PDF, or a MOBI file. Each of these work with different readers, such as Kindle, iBooks, and many other open source applications.

Download Precarious Creativity

I was further pleased to see the book was not crippled by cumbersome DRM and that it was the entire book for me to examine. Thanks!

epub of Precarious Creativity

This is definitely the way to go, and even if I don’t adopt it, the book will not be abandoned on my desk. And it didn’t cost the publisher anything to send it.

Media Technologies, Summer 2016: A Four-Week, Online Course

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As the school year winds down, some students are looking to get a jump on earning some credits over the coming summer.

I will be teaching an online version of Media Technologies at CUNY Queens College this summer. For four weeks in July, between July 5 and July 28. Much like the winter session course I taught in January, this course will be asynchronous and entirely online.

Media Technologies surveys twelve communication technologies. Rather than schedule lectures at a specific time that students watch online, I am emphasizing asynchronous, self-directed study.

For each media technology, students will…

  1. audition a short introductory lecture that explains the topic and emphasizes impacts of that technology on the society that adopted it,
  2. read a chapter from Irving Fang’s textbook Alphabet to Internet and a condensed version of an article from the fifth edition of the anthology Communication in History,
  3. complete a quiz on the material.

After covering four topics, students will be required to take a midterm exam.

Rather than use Blackboard or some similarly bloated learning management system, the syllabus is available on the open web. Anyone is welcome to audit the course, but submitting assignments requires a Queens College login to access Google Apps for Education and Google Classroom.

The winter course was a success, and using prerecorded video lectures has worked well in the spring sections. All the students completed the class: that doesn’t happen in the face-to-face courses where absenteeism is a problem. For the spring semester, I used the prerecorded online lectures to “flip” the classroom, and students have been very receptive and complimentary about the recorded slideshow presentations. For these reasons, I’m largely reproducing what worked in the winter session and spring semester for the summer course.

Finally, if you’re taking this course, you can get cash back on your textbooks. Shop through Ebates and buy your books from QC’s store to get cash back on your textbook purchases. Not a member of Ebates? Sign up and get a $10 cash bonus.

Visit the course syllabus

A Limited List of Queens Trivia Nights, Ranked

In reverse order of difficulty and obscurity of questions:

  1. Ridgewood Ale House, Thursdays, 8:00
  2. Sek’end Sun, Mondays, 8:00
  3. The Local Hostel, Thursdays, 7:00
  4. Astoria Tavern, Tuesday, 8:00
  5. Strand Smokehouse, Tuesday, 8:00-ish

To be fair, none of these trivia nights were especially tricky. I’m basically splitting hairs here.

Sadly, the Local Hostel in Long Island City has apparently stopped their Thursday trivia night. I went a handful of times in 2014, but stopped once I left the neighborhood for fear that I’d run into my ex. Also, I usually teach Thursday nights.

Honorable mention: Amity Hall, Wednesday nights, for being difficult but only warrants a mention as it’s in Manhattan. It relies on a broad knowledge base. Bring friends.

Bike Gear I Bought and You Might Like

Bicycling can be a spendy hobby, and every season is a new opportunity to blow a whole lot of money.

Although it’s fun to shop for new stuff, there’s some anxiety whether you’re getting quality goods, whether you need it in the first place, and whether you spent too much money. As someone who has scoffed at buying unnecessary bike gear, but only after spending thousands on stuff that now sits in a box, I’m here to save you a lot of trouble.

This is some of the cycling gear I bought over the last year that didn’t suck. Buy from Amazon through these links, and I’ll get a small commission.

  • Canari Cyclewear Men’s Velo Gel Padded Bike Short. I bought many of my bike shorts in the early 2000s, back when I first started cycling and back when Cannondale still made things in the USA. To their credit, those cycling shorts lasted a long time, but after thousands of miles and scores of machine wash cycles, the fabric started to thin and began to let the sun shine where it is not supposed to shine. I bought this particular pair of shorts on Amazon because it was really basic. Maybe someone really needs a 12-panel short, but I don’t. After a single seventy-mile–ride, it did the trick. I didn’t think about the short. That’s good because good cycling shorts should be like a good plumber: the best one is the one you don’t notice.

  • Knog Blinder Mob The Face Front USB Rechargeable Light. There are two kinds of bike lights: “be-seen” lights and “see” lights. Because I ride in a city with reasonably well-illuminated streets, I only need lights to be-seen. Over the years, I have bought about twenty different sets of bike lights, and all of them have some fatal flaw. The only “be-seen” lights that I liked were the Kong Blinder 4 series of lights. They offer the rare combination of bright illumination, portability, easy to remove without tools, cost, burn time, and USB charging. However, the straps would regularly break, rendering the entire light useless because the straps could not be replaced. In the last year, they have redesigned the straps and are much sturdier. And should they break, they’re replaceable! The new iteration of the Knog Blinder 4 fixed this fatal flaw. I can now recommend them.

  • Stainless Steel Swing Top Beer Growler – 1 Liter. Regular readers of this site know that I really enjoy a crafty beer after a long ride, especially one that ends at an area brewery. This stainless-steel growler is small—just a little bigger than a pint glass, but holds a full quart (or liter). It is very light so you can carry it in your backpack as you cycle for hours. But most importantly, because it’s made from stainless steel, it won’t break—and won’t cut you with shards of glass—should you crash. Best of all, they will even fill it in California. This might have been my most important cycling purchase of the year.

There’s a lot of other gear you’ll need if you’re just starting out, but if you’re dusting off your bike for the year, consider picking up these goods.

Understanding The Matrix

The Matrix series of films was a rare combination of complex storytelling and a financially successful film franchise, but an even more richly opaque Matrix is ITA Software’s Matrix Airfare Search.

In the right hands, the Matrix Airfare Search can be a very powerful tool for finding flights at the right price. Like the better known search engines such as Orbitz, Expedia, and Kayak, the Matrix allows you to search with a flexible date range, restrict airlines, and even select nearby airports for an origin and destination.

However, the Matrix also offers powerful tools for frequent travelers, such as restricting a search by an alliance, forcing connections at specific airports, and searching for available flights with availability in certain fare booking codes. I used it frequently during my mileage running days before earning elite status and, more recently, multi-city bookings became much more difficult.

Once you’ve used the Matrix, you might be ready to move on to the advanced functions it offers frequent flyers. Google, which owns ITA Software and its Matrix Airfare Search tool, published a guide for the advanced routing codes that will search for flights using a variety of criteria. I recommend checking it out. However, if you feel like you need a basic primer on using the advanced routing codes, the folks at Upgraded Points list tips for finding the right flight using the Matrix.

Both guides are very long and detailed, but knowing how to maximize the potential of this flight search tool could help plan the right itinerary for you. It helped me when I used to care more about flying frequently.

Los Sures at the Metrograph

Los Sures is a documentary about the predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood and produced and directed by Diego Echeverria. Used with permission, © 1983 Ellen Tolmie.

Los Sures is a documentary about the predominantly Puerto Rican neighborhood and produced and directed by Diego Echeverria. Used with permission, © 1983 Ellen Tolmie.

Did you miss the screening of Los Sures and the presentation of the Living Los Sures project last month at NYU?

Good news, then! Beginning tomorrow, Metrograph—New York City’s newest independent film venue—will be screening Diego Echeverria’s 1984 film Los Sures and shorts from the continuing Living Los Sures project. The theatrical release will run from April 15–21.

Los Sures is a 1984 film about the “southsiders” of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The film was reemerged in the last few years because it captured the Brooklyn neighborhood that has dramatically changed and all but disappeared—and not necessarily because I screened it in my New York Independents class back in 2006. Union Docs has been working on the companion Living Los Sures project as an oral history to document the current state of the neighborhood and its changes.

Update: Screen Slate has posted an interview with the filmmaker, Diego Echevarria.

Los Sures and Living Los Sures

  • April 15—21
  • Metrograph, 7 Ludlow St, New York
  • $15.00
  • Buy Tickets