Help Light Industry Fund Their Fall Lineup

Near the Projection Booth at Light Industry

Light Industry launched a campaign to raise funds to program their fall lineup. Donate at least $10 and receive passes for you and a guest to one of their upcoming events. So far, the Tuesday night events look promising. Already announced are the following events:

I have fall classes on Tuesday, except for September 11 and September 18, so I’ll try to make one of these events on those dates.

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My Fall 2018 Classes at Queens College and Pratt Institute

The weather in New York right now is very hot— the temperature has reached the mid-90°s on Tuesday and will continue through Thursday. And although it seems like I should be packing for the beach, the fall semester is upon us. This semester, I am teaching two classes: one at Queens College and one at Pratt Institute.

Contemporary Media

This class acts like a sequel for Media Technologies, where we survey various media forms. However, this class sets aside the mechanics and the history and instead focuses on the how contemporary media industries function. One theme that I hope to address throughout the term and across all the modules is digitalization and how that changes what we mean by “media.” It’s not like the record industry sells records, that people read newspapers on newsprint, and that television programs are necessarily watched on televisions.

I’m teaching this class on two separate days: Tuesday evenings and Thursday afternoons.

The syllabus is available at https://juanmonroy.com/contemporarymedia

There are two textbooks for this course:

  1. Straubhaar, Joseph, Robert LaRose, and Lucinda Davenport. Media Now: Understanding Media, Culture, and Technology. 9th ed. Boston: Cengage, 2016.
  2. McChesney, Robert W. Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. New York: New Press, 2013.

Documentary Film

This is the first time I’ve taught this class. When I was a cinema studies graduate student at NYU, I always wanted to teach a documentary film survey. Most of the classes that graduate students did were very narrowly focused—often closely related to his/her dissertation. I felt that this was a disservice to both undergraduates taking these class and the graduate students teaching them. It was unfair to undergraduates because they didn’t get a good foundation in cinema studies. And it was bad for us budding teachers because we didn’t get to develop classes that might be useful to teach after we graduated, especially if we didn’t get hired by a big film program.

Like a decade-and-a-half later, I finally get to do a survey of documentary film. However, as I’ve been working on this class, I can see why it’s tempting to avoid surveys. There is so much material to exclude. I literally have to prune my list of ninety-plus films to about twenty. I would feel a lot less guilty teaching a class like “Binging Truth: Documentary Films in the Netflix Age,” “Beyond the Interrotron: The Films of Errol Morris,” “WPA, FDR, and NYFPL: Interwar American Documentary and the New Deal.”

I remember an NYU professor teaching a whole semester’s seminar on the Hitchcock film Vertigo. Can you imagine how deep you could get with a topic like that? My class however is breadth over depth.

The syllabus is available at https://juanmonroy.com/documentary.

There is one textbook for this course: McLane, Betsy. A New History of Documentary Film, 2nd ed. New York and London: Continuum, 2012.

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7-Eleven Cold Brew, Reviewed

Earlier this summer, 7-Eleven introduced their own cold-brewed iced coffee beverage and priced it at the aggressive price point of 99¢, plus tax. (This is an introductory price, and it will cost $1.69 when the promotion ends.) If you take the long-view, it shows how far cold-brew has come since it was appropriated by third-wave coffee shops to create a sweeter, less acidic iced beverage. Cold brew is now literally as ubiquitous as a Slupree.

I ordered a 7-Eleven Cold Brew last week at the Greenwich Village location, on West 3rd Street, and sipped it as I walked to Washington Square Park. In my mind, there was a poetic irony of having a mass-marketed beverage at a neighborhood associated with bohemian coffeehouse culture. However, I then noted that the coffee at those places wasn’t particularly very good and that the bohemian days were over a half-century ago.

The beverage itself comes in two variations: one black and one mixed with some type of milky, fatty liquid. I pour the black cold brew into a cup of ice, paid my $1.08 using Apple Pay and headed out towards Washington Square Park in the blistering 90°F heat.

My initial reaction to the beverage was the smell. Unlike what craft, third-wave coffee roasters use, 7-Eleven appears to be using a dark-roast coffee. I could smell the roast, and it was as strong and off-putting as opening a can of Maxwell House. I didn’t grab a lid or a straw—because I’m not an Earth-Killing, Straw-Sipping Monster—and drank it straight from the cup. However, I wanted to know what the coffee tasted like without the smell, so I held my breathe as I took a sip of the coffee. The result wasn’t too bad. There was some light chocolate flavor, but it lacked any real tartness—no cherry flavors—that good coffees, in my opinion, balance between those flavors. It was reasonably pleasant, although a bit overly bold, as it they were really trying to extract coffee flavor out of their coffee ground. It’s not traditional iced coffee, but it’s not especially Good Coffee, either.

I’m not going to bemoan this as a sign of the death of cold brew or Good Coffee or as some wide-ranging cultural landmark. This is unlikely to get a critical mass of coffee drinkers who pay $4 for a cold brew coffee from a tattooed barista to switch to getting one at 7-Eleven. The beverage available at 7-Eleven is different product than what is available at the local coffee roaster, but it’s nice to offer not-too-fussy coffee drinkers another option.

As I’ve said before, it’s worth overpaying for coffee.

7-Eleven Cold Brew
Once you get past the over-roasted aroma, it’s actually not bad.

Making Frank and Claire Underwood Look Like Jed Bartlet

Last month, Zachary Pincus-Roth, writing for The Washington Post, reported on how The West Wing had become a way for liberals to escape the Trump era. He profiles a couple who, in 2018, produce a podcast about the series that wrapped back in 2006:

The Attrydes, both in their 40s, are apolitical, but still — these days, rewatching a show about idealistic wonks working for a Nobel Prize-winning economist president is “a little slice of heaven,” said Paul, wearing a gray “West Wing Weekly” sweatshirt. “It’s the president we all want but don’t have.”

The funny thing is that I seem to remember when the series launched in the late 1990s that the series was marketed as being about a presidency “we all want,” implying that it wasn’t one we had. And this was during the waning days of the Clinton administration, which admittedly was hardly a paragon of liberalism.

When the Trump presidency began to crystallize last year, I was watching the fifth season of House of Cards. As I was watching the calculating and diabolical machinations of the Underwoods, I often thought about how the Trump presidency made House of Cards look like The West Wing.

What I would give for Frank and Claire Underwood today?!?

Remembering Jonathan Gold

I’m not one to post remembrances of people I’ve never met, but I was surprised and saddened to learn of restaurant critic Jonathan Gold’s passing over the weekend.

Living far from Southern California for almost twenty-years, I enjoyed reading Gold’s reviews and poring over his lists, especially his annual 101-restaurant lists, to keep updated on the unique nature of the LA-area. If you are not familiar with Gold, he was the subject of a recent documentary, released in 2015, that you can stream on Hulu, among other places I’m sure.

As has been noted elsewhere, Gold’s writing tried to bond the city and its various ethnic communities together through food. His wasn’t the adventurous explorations that were popularized by Anthony Bourdain. It was as if he was trying to make everyone comfortable and familiar with what Los Angeles and its environs had to offer.

In an era when a food connoisseur is one who posts a beautiful photo of a lovely plated dish bathed in warm light, optimized for an Instagram post, he will be missed.

Finals Week Strangers

If you’ve taken a large college class, you’ve likely experienced the situation where your class looks empty for most of the term, but then, all of a sudden, at the final exam, the lecture hall is full again.

Back in December, I kvetched back about how many of my students in Queens College classes fail, and I aimed to take measures to improve the success (failure?) rate. One such measure was to require students to actually attend class. Here is what I was thinking about at the time:

For the new year, I am implementing a few new policies at Queens College to help make clear that attending class and participating in the day-to-day assignments, not just the written ones that count towards their final grade, is essential in succeeding in college and beyond.

One step is to implement two new attendance policies:

  1. Negative reinforcement: Students may not miss more than four weeks of class for any reason.
  2. Positive reinforcement: Students attending more than 12 weeks of class will receive a half-grade bonus to their final grade.

And that is in fact what I did. This past spring semester, in each of my syllabi at Queens College, I wrote:

For in-person classes, regular attendance is required. Attend twelve or more classes and receive five bonus points added to your final grade. Students missing more than four classes will not be permitted to take the final exam.

For hybrid courses, regular attendance is required. Attend seven or more classes and receive five bonus points added to your final grade. Students missing more than three classes will not be permitted to take the final exam.

This policy does not apply to online courses.

It might have worked, at least a little bit. In my Media Technologies class this semester, there was only one absentee student who showed up to take the exam. That student also walked in thirty minutes late to the final, something that the student did for the midterm exam. I directed that student to the written policy from the syllabus, and I did not permit that student to take the exam. Failing that student seemed like the right thing to do as that student’s absenteeism really did warrant retaking the class.

However, the 20% rule that I bemoaned in December emerged in another way. In my Media Criticism class, I added a policy that each student must meet with me—either in person or through an online call—over a two-week period to discuss his/her draft for the two written essays due in that class. Many flaunted the policy, and when it came time for them to submit their final drafts, I alerted them that I would not accept them, as stated in the policy on the syllabus.

Alas, just after the midterm exam, about 20% of the students enrolled in the class dropped because of this policy, suggesting that we as teachers are powerless against the larger social forces that CUNY students face.

ABC No Rio Print Shop in Exile, in Bushwick

ABC No Rio, a venerable arts and activism space in the Lower East Side, had been located in an abandoned tenement building at 156 Rivington Street since the early 1980s. In the 2000s, New York City sold the building and its land for a dollar on the condition that it renovate its building. Since then, the organization had raised funds and planned for a new building, designed by local architect Paul Castrucci.

In 2016, after its final art show, ABC No Rio left its space in 2016, and since then, the building has been demolished and the two-year construction project has yet to begin.

A photograph of the print shop at ABC No Rio’s building on Rivington Street.

Although I went to a screening that a friend produced around 2003, I became a regular user around 2008 when I started using the print shop to make shirts for my softball teams. The learning curve was steep and over the years, a lot of what I learned about printing shirts follows the DIY, punk-rock approach to printing than what most screen printers do. For example, I have almost never used a conveyer belt dryer because I print with water-based inks. I can hang the shirts on a line and allow them to air dry and cure with a trouser press.

My “technique” for drying water-based screen-printed inks.

When ABC No Rio closed, a lot of the activities stopped or relocated to other spaces. The all-ages Saturday matinee punk/hardcore shows appeared to have ceased, but the zine library moved down the street to the Clemente Soto Velez on Suffolk Street. About a year ago, the print shop opened a location in a basement on Evergreen Avenue in Bushwick, Brooklyn. This is just a few miles from where I live—and not far from Megan’s apartment—in an area that resembles what the Lower East Side was like a generation ago.

Entering the new space is a bit more inviting than one at the old location. The Rivington Street location was a pretty intimidating. You’d first encounter a decrepit tenement building and would have to navigate up three flights of the creekyiest steps you’ve ever climbed. One friend who went with me remarked how he felt he was in an episode of Law and Order at the moment when someone discovers a dead body. The new space, on the other hand, is hard to miss from the street and has some inviting printed material.

Last night, I went to the space and found a lot of the old space had been imported to this new space. The light exposure unit from the old space was there, bearing the face of someone that looks like Iggy Pop. Also, because this print shop espouses the DIY ethos, books and bricks are used to press the artwork against the screen. Close observers who used the old space will recognize the Learning Windows NT 4 book and copies of the Manhattan Yellow Pages wrapped in packing tape.

Another familiar item was the the four-color press, which was seated among similar detritus that was a feature of the old space.

And since this is a print shop that runs on fees from users, they also printed shirts to sell.

Yes, I bought one.

I didn’t have anything to print or a screen to burn, but it was nice to say hi to the veteran volunteer Garry and a regular user, Hardcore Shawn, who has been learning from Garry and has embraced discharge printing as I have. There was, sadly, no sign of Ray or Soccoro, the other volunteers at the print shop. I will certainly be back when I do have something.

The ABC No Rio Print Shop in Exile is located at 519 Evergreen Avenue, in Bushwick, Brooklyn, and is open Thursdays from 6:00–11:00 PM. Get the early and bring cash.

My Revised Online Summer Intensive Course

This summer, I’m teaching two online courses at CUNY Queens College.

  1. Media Technologies, between June 4 and June 27
  2. Contemporary Media, between July 2 and July 26

I’m following a similar structure from the past, which I have described before on this site. Each course includes twelve modules, and for each module students will have to complete the following:

  • read an assigned chapter from the textbook
  • watch a video lecture of a narrated slideshow
  • take an online quiz consisting of objective questions

After four modules, students will take an exam consisting of subjective questions that they will have five days to complete.

In the past, I used to release module consisting of a video lecture and a quiz for a course topic and would have them due the following day. But having read a blog post by Anastasia Salter about “Rethinking the Online Summer Intensive,” I rethought my own online summer intensive courses. I didn’t quite go as far as Salter who released all the modules at the beginning of the course. Instead, I wanted to strike a balance between giving students the flexibility of completing work on their own schedule but also provide some structure where students won’t feel overwhelmed.

I kept the daily release schedule but changed the daily deadlines for quizzes to a weekly one. Everyday between Tuesday and Friday, I will post a recorded lecture and a quiz. But instead of making them due the following day, I’m providing students some flexibility and allowing them to submit the four quizzes by Monday night. That gives students at least three days to complete their quizzes. They can either keep apace completing a quiz per day or they can procrastinate and binge the weeks’ material.

And I’m also setting up twice-weekly office hours via Google Meet, which I’ve only used once, but I think is a tremendous improvement over Google Hangouts.

I didn’t implement her other changes, such as the 100-point grading scale for the whole semester. I understand the appeal of a “progress bar,” but how would I account for getting ten quizzes and three exams to add up to 100 points? That would require granting students four points for a quiz of at least ten questions.

MoviePass and The “Robin Hood” Economy

Kevin Roose wrote in the New York Times about something that I pointed out a while ago, albeit from the perspective of the consumer. It’s a good time to take advantage of companies swimming in venture capital money to subsidize your life.

Roose notes, albeit hyperbolically, that the “entire economy” works like MoviePass. In that model, you pay a small monthly fee and get to watch a movie at a movie theater, once a day. It’s a great deal if you’re a consumer. But what seems different about MoviePass than other companies is that seemingly everybody scrutinized that business model. “How are they going to make money?,” is a question that I often get whenever I try to refer people to MoviePass. (Sign up through this link, and MoviePass gets a little more unprofitable because you’ll get a free month of movies.)

Roose correctly tells us that simple arithmetic dictates that at one time, “in order to survive, businesses had to sell goods or services above cost.” MoviePass—or any other company—can’t survive much less thrive by selling products below cost forever. But what Roose misses is that this is not unique to our era. The price-over-cost model is not, as Roose writes, “so 20th century.” We saw companies giving things away in exchange for user growth in the dot-com era. I reminisced about the dot-com era when I was writing about the online wholesale vendor Boxed.

Back in the late 1990s, there were a bunch of dot-com companies that were basically giving away the store in order to show sales growth. [Boxed] seems like one of those: a startup outfit that’s trying to rack up sales, even at a loss, to show their investors that they should keep investing.

Indeed, Roose explains why so there are so many unprofitable companies. He explains:

The rise in unprofitable companies is partly the result of growth in the technology and biotech sectors, where companies tend to lose money for years as they spend on customer acquisition and research and development, Mr. Ritter said. But it also reflects the willingness of shareholders and deep-pocketed private investors to keep fast-growing upstarts afloat long enough to conquer a potential “winner-take-all” market. You should take advantage and stock up on toilet paper before the bubble bursts.

This is like Robin Hood giving us free stuff at the expense of rich venture capital firms. We as consumers should take advantage of that, and I’m sure millions of us have. Have you sign up for a meal kit service and had cheap meals delivered to your home? And after you burned through the sign-up credit, did you sign up with another meal kit service? Great. Keep that up, and don’t forget to get one for your dog, too.

Roose sounds alarmist about the impending doom that will befall an economy that is so heavily based on future user growth. He’s right. This can’t keep up forever. As we’ve seen multiple times in our lives, after all, bubbles like these burst. And the bigger it gets, the more spectacular the crash will be.

In the meantime, it’s a party for us consumers. Even Roose scored a deal through, Beepi, the defunct used car marketplace that shut down two years ago. He revels that the company lasted long enough for him to buy “a car through the service for thousands of dollars less than its market value. Thanks, venture capitalists!” I’m with him on this one. Let the rich VC douchebags fund our movies, our meals, our pet’s meals, and our bulk toilet paper purchases. This won’t last forever so stock up and sign up for every money losing service you can.

And don’t forget to sign up through your friends’ referral links. They deserve more free stuff, too!

Update: There is of course one glaring exception to this model. That is Uber and the “ridesharing” industry. Last year, Uber lost $4.5 billion dollars subsidizing cheap rides for users, but unlike other startups here, it also depressed the wages of its drivers. For those who depend on these wages for their livelihoods, it can lead to tragic outcomes.

ATM without an ATM Card

Over the last few months, I’ve seen several Chase ATMs sporting a Cardless NFC logo just to the right of the keypad. Today, I noticed that an ATM in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village looked a little different than it did before. The screen displayed a similar “Cardless Access” logo, suggesting that the cardless feature had gone live. Excited to avoid fishing my Chase debit card out of my wallet, I decided to try and withdraw cash from this ATM without my ATM card.

I pulled out my phone and selected my Chase debit card from the Apple Wallet. I then placed the phone a few inches above the Cardless logo on the ATM and authenticated with TouchID. And then voila, the ATM allowed me to proceed without my debit card.

Everything else works like it always does. I still had to enter my PIN, and I still had the option to receive $5 bills for my cash withdrawal. Because I didn’t have to leave my card in the card slot, I didn’t have to take the card to retrieve my cash. Instead, the machine just let me take the cash.

I have left my ATM card in more than one ATM before. Before most ATMs used the chip on the card, I got accustomed to dipping my card into the slot and then pulling it out. On at least two occasions, I used machines that kept the card until I took the cash. The dip-and-pull ATMs trained me that retrieving my cash was the last step of the transaction. But at these strange ATMs, I pulled my cash and left the ATM vestibule, leaving behind my debit card.

Having fallen victim to such carelessness at least twice, I’m glad to see this technology will spare me from doing this in the future.