Categorized: Teaching

What’s Your Age?, How Old Are You?, When Were You Born?

If you ever participated in a research survey or a focus group, you’ve likely had to answer a question about your age. But have you had to answer three?

This is a screenshot of a survey from a major focus-group market-research company based here in New York. It asks for your age in three different ways:

  1. Enter your age in a text field.
  2. Select your age range.
  3. Input your date of birth.

In other words: what’s your age?, how old are you?, and when were you born?

It could be that they do this to ask so you don’t lie about your age. But I think they do this so they can filter the results in their spreadsheet and quickly find the subjects they want. For example: find people who were born before 1990, find people who are less between 28 and 34, or find people who reported to be between the age range of “28-34 years old,” etc.

Someone should show them that even in Google Forms, you can add calculation columns to help you find respondents within certain age ranges, respondents of specific ages, respondents who were born during certain years, or whatever combinations of these data. Honest. I’m not making this up. Isn’t Technology Great?!?

I won’t show them how to do it, but someone should…

But, hey, at least, this survey wasn’t as ugly as ones I’ve seen in the past.

Late to the OCR Party

I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t use OCR for converting documents into plain text as much as I probably should. It is a very handy utility, and it is one that computers have been doing for a long time. Indeed, I remember using OCR in college, at the computer lab where I worked, scanning a single page of print and watching the software read it and turn it into plain text with astonishing accuracy. It seemed like magic.

And what did I do with that magical text? I took that text, put it in a Word document, and printed it out.

Today, there’s many more useful things to do with OCR, particularly for scholars and academics. One example is to share the text of historical primary documents instead of an image files of the documents.1 For years, I have been sharing with my students readings as PDF files, but in the mobile-first era of the web, it makes much more sense to share a webpage that someone can easily read on a mobile device, instead of a PDF that they have to pinch-and-zoom—or even print out—to read.

Earlier this week, I began sharing with my students plain text files, instead of PDF scans, of readings not available in their textbooks. Doing this yields some benefits:

  • They can read the text on mobile devices.
  • Visually impaired students can use a screen reading device to “read” the document.
  • They can search the text.
  • They can resize the text, either bigger or smaller.
  • They can parse the text to read with a browser utility like Apple’s Safari Reader or a read-later application like Instapaper.
  • They will appreciate the much smaller file size, like 100 times smaller, especially for students using a mobile device.

If sharing readings as plain text instead of PDF files makes so much sense, what took me so long?

Honestly, I didn’t know what tool I should use. I can’t remember the software I first used in 1997, but it’s safe to assume it doesn’t exist anymore. Acrobat offers OCR, but I haven’t had a Creative Cloud license since the days of Creative Suite 3. Although I have a lot of apps that can scan and convert to text, such as the one for a Doxie scanner or PDFPen+Scan for iOS, most of these readings are in PDF already. I don’t want to print and scan them just to do OCR.

Lo and behold, Google Drive converts PDF to text. I just learned about this yesterday, and I like the results. To use Google Drive for OCR, follow these three steps:

  1. Upload your PDF file to Google Drive, if it’s not there already.
  2. Right-click on the file
  3. Select Open With > Google Docs

After a few minutes, depending on the size of your document, you can see the converted text. The results are pretty good. Obviously, the clearer and better your text, the more accurate the OCR will be. One cool feature is that it “respects” the pagination and hyphenation of your original document. If your document has page headers or page footers, those will appear. Since I’m interested in capturing only the text—not the pagination or hyphenation—of the document, I have to remove those from my final text document.

The nice thing about having a plain text document is that you can lightly format it as needed. Since I use Markdown, I recommend using a Markdown-capable text editor to parse the text. You’ll have a relatively unadulterated text file and can export it to any format you want from there. You can export to PDF, unstyled HTML, or RTF. And as I did with my first try at OCR in 1997, you can even print it.


  1. One of my big complaints about #kidstoday is that are keen to share screenshots of a website—or worse, a photos of computer display with the browser window—instead of sharing the URL of the site. 

Textbooks for 2017 Winter and Spring Courses

Are you enrolled in one of my courses for Winter 2017 or Spring 2017?

Here are the textbooks required for your class. Most of these titles are available in print and as ebooks and are also available for sale or rental. Buy early to ensure your best pricing options.

Please note that the course websites are still not live, but I’m linking to them now for when they are ready.

Contemporary Media

A survey of contemporary media institutions and their economic, social, political and cultural implications.

Media Technologies

An overview of media technologies, including early writing and the printing press, the rise of mass culture and electronic media, and the digital revolution

Film History

An historical survey of film from the advent of commercial motion pictures in the 1890s, the proliferation of national cinema movements throughout the 20th century, and the influence of each in the formation of a global film culture at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

History of Broadcasting

The history of radio and television broadcasting from the 1920s to the present. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the course focuses on broadcasting institutions, issues, research trends, and program format analysis.

The above links to Amazon are affiliate links. Shopping through those links will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!

New Website! Not That You Should Notice

Earlier this month, my web host since 2006 began experiencing extended outages. Normally, I wouldn’t care because I have been pretty inactive in posting to this site over the last few months. However, Downtown Host also hosts my professional site, at https://juanmonroy.com and because I post all my course syllabi on that site, uptime is very important, especially as midterm exams are nigh.

Back in the spring, I attended a workshop on Omeka as part of NYC Digital Humanities Week, and the presenter, Kimon Keramidas, recommended a web host built for academics, Reclaim Hosting. The latest outages forced my hand a bit: I signed up for Reclaim Hosting on Tuesday and began migrating my sites that day.

Easy Migration

My professional site was really easy to migrate. Because that’s site is state-of-the-art for 1998 web sites, it consists of just static HTML content and some Apache server side includes. I just copied the files and changed the DNS record with Hover. Within ten minutes, the site on the new host was working as it always on the old. (The process was similarly easy for the East Village Softball Association, which I also maintain using equally antiquated web technologies.)

Less Easy Migration

Because this blog is hosted on WordPress, the process was more complex. Most of it worked according to this guide, but there were some hiccups, due to having a multisite installation. Without getting into too much detail, here’s the basic steps I took:

  1. Downloaded the files from the WordPress installation from my old host.
  2. Exported the MySQL database.
  3. Uploaded the file to the juanomatic.net domain directory on my new host.
  4. Created a new MySQL database and imported the old one.
  5. Change the DNS records at Hover.
  6. Reusing the existing wp-config.php file didn’t work. I had to start from scratch. Thankfully, WordPress figured out that I already had an installation running and made me run through a database configuration instead of reinstalling everything.
  7. Reactivated Jetpack because that stopped working.
  8. Set up a Multi-site Network to resurrect the https://courses.juanmonroy.com blog.
  9. Added a courses.juanmonroy.com and *.juanmonroy.com subdomain with my new host.
  10. Reactivated the WordPress MU Domain Mapping plugin.
  11. Reactivated the WP Supercache plugin.

All of these steps basically got me back to where I was on Friday, except that the blog is now on a new host.

New, Same Old Site

So, after all that, I now have a couple of new websites, except that they should look like the old ones. But there are two distinct differences.

First, the sites seem to load a little faster, although that’s probably just a function of my imagination. After all this work, I might as well realize some improvement. The appearance to load faster might be that reward.

Second, the professional site and this blog now use HTTPS. The new host offered certificates from Let’s Encrypt, a free, automated, and open certificate authority that was launched to make securing web transmissions over HTTPS quick and easy. Now, transmissions sent between your browser and my sites are encrypted. A keen reader might have noticed a lock in the browser or that all the URLs in this post use https protocol instead of the insecure http. It’s very exciting.

A Quick Note on Lighting in Eyes Wide Shut

In Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut, which I screened earlier today in my Ways of Seeing class at Pratt in support of teaching mise-en-scène, I observed a use of lighting that I didn’t get to cover in class.

In the scene where Bill and Alice are in the bedroom and begin the conversation about the sexual appetites of men and women, the are shown in a single shot, embracing each other.

Vlcsnap 2016 10 04 18h00m42s538

The lighting cast on both Bill and Alice in this shot is the same. However, the background has two distinct colors to it:

  1. a warm light cast by an incandescent light in the bedroom, presumably from the lamp on the bedside table, and
  2. a very cold, blue light cast from outside, visible behind Alice, that washes over the bathroom in the background.

At this point in the scene, the two begin their debate which escalates to the point that Alice leaps up from the bed, away from Bill. The two continue their disagreement but now are framed in separate shots, stitched together through editing.

Bill is still on the bed and primarily lit by the warm incandescent light from the lamp. The entire shot glows like that light.

Vlcsnap 2016 10 04 19h02m22s124

However, Alice is now opposite Bill, over by the bathroom, and though she is still illuminated by the lighting cast from the bedside lamp, the shot glows in a much colder, blue color.

Vlcsnap 2016 10 04 18h01m11s026

The visual differences between warm and cool lighting illustrates the split that Bill and Alice have encountered in their relationship. This split will activate the crisis throughout the rest of the film and will only get resolved when they are both cast in similarly cool light after both sharing traumatic experiences.

Vlcsnap 2016 10 04 18h24m51s356

Office 365 for Students at CUNY Queens College, but Not Faculty or Staff

Earlier this week, I attended a group session about Microsoft’s Office 365, the productivity software and services subscription. Of the four colleges where I have taught, the suite has been offered at only one: CUNY Queens College. However, as far as I know, Office 365 is only available to currently enrolled students and, strangely, not available to faculty or staff.

In today’s session, the session coordinator and a number of participants, including many who also teach at CUNY, insisted that faculty and staff have access to Office 365. I was a little embarrassed to have been corrected in a semi-public setting like that.

After searching various help documents on the Queens College website, it appears that I was right and everyone else was wrong. Office 365 is not available to faculty or staff at CUNY Queens College, only currently enrolled students.

A response from the IT Help Desk at Queens College also confirms this as much:

The Office 365 is for attending students only. Faulty and staff do however have the Office suite on their campus computers. They can also download a copy of Office 2016 through the CUNYPortal e-mall for home use. https://cunyportal.cuny.edu/cuny_eMall/

This I knew. I have a local version of Office 2016 for Home and Business on my Mac, but I am most interested in the Office 365 cloud functions and its apps for mobile devices.

I suspect that the participants in today’s session can’t distinguish between Office 365 as a subscription service and Office 2016 as the downloadable software that comes with Office 365. However, because the participants seem very clear on what Adobe Creative Cloud is, I suspect that it’s partly Microsoft’s problem with explaining the Office 365 product and distinguishing it from the venerable desktop apps, like Word, Excel, and Powerpoint.

But I am still puzzled as to why faculty can’t get Office 365 like the students. My sense it that has to do with students use one email system while faculty/staff are another. Students use Office 365 accounts with qmail.cuny.edu addresses, while faculty and staff use Outlook and are “grandfathered” with the older qc.cuny.edu addresses. Authorizing the site license might only allow a single domain associated with each organization.

On the other hand, both groups have access to Google Apps for Education, even if QC students, faculty, or staff are unable to use Gmail.

Cash Back on Textbooks through Ebates

Starting Summer 2016, CUNY Queens College moved from eFollett.com 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 Ebates.com.

    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 ‘textbookx.com’ 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

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 Textbookx.com 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

Spring Breaks, Compared

The middle of March is upon us, and all around the New York area, many college students and faculty are preparing for Spring Break. The break is always welcomed because it “breaks” up the extended slog of the spring term, which usually lasts for four full months.

This semester, I’m teaching at two colleges: at Pratt Institute and at CUNY Queens College. For my film history class at Pratt, I was able to schedule the midterm exam today, on March 11, just before spring break starts on March 14. However, I couldn’t do the same for the students in my media technologies class at Queens College. Their midterm exam will take place on March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day), but their spring break doesn’t take place until April 28. That is a very late spring break, taking place between the twelfth and thirteenth weeks of class.

Here’s a comparison of spring 2016 semesters at four area colleges where I have worked (Pratt, CUNY, and Fordham) or studied (NYU).

Week NYU Pratt CUNY Fordham
Jan 18 Week 1 Week 1
Jan 25 Week 1 Week 2 Week 2
Feb 1 Week 2 Week 3 Week 1 Week 3
Feb 8 Week 3 Week 4 Week 2 Week 4
Feb 15 Week 4 Week 5 Week 3 Week 5
Feb 22 Week 5 Week 6 Week 4 Week 6
Feb 29 Week 6 Week 7 Week 5 Midterm Exam
Mar 7 Midterm Exam Midterm Exam Week 6 Week 8
Mar 14 Spring Break Spring Break Midterm Exam Week 9
Mar 21 Week 8 Week 9 Week 8 Spring Break
Mar 28 Week 9 Week 10 Week 9 Easter Break
Apr 4 Week 10 Week 11 Week 10 Week 10
Apr 11 Week 11 Week 12 Week 11 Week 11
Apr 18 Week 12 Week 13 Week 12 Week 12
Apr 25 Week 13 Week 14 Spring Break Week 13
May 2 Week 14 Studio Days Week 13 Week 14
May 9 Reading Day Final Exam Week 14 Final Exam
May 16 Final Exam ?
May 23 Final Exam

NYU and Pratt both schedule their spring breaks in the middle of March, just after Week 7 at NYU and Week 8 at Pratt. That’s ideal because you can schedule a Midterm Exam the week before and have it wrap up the first half of the course. Fordham schedules their spring break a week later but, because it’s a Jesuit university, it adds an additional Easter Break. For some reason, Fordham dictates that faculty schedule their Midterm Exams in late February. Whereas courses at NYU and at Pratt are divided into halves, the semester at Fordham is broken up into (unequal) thirds: before the midterm, between the midterm and breaks, and after the breaks.

The CUNY schedule, on the other hand, is a mess. As I’ve complained in the past, CUNY should stop scheduling spring break around the spring Easter/Passover holidays because it’s not conducive to learning. My students will endure twelve consecutive weeks of class before they get a break. Once the break is over and they will have emptied their minds of everything I taught them, they will have only two weeks to recover that knowledge before heading into the final exam. Moreover, the students in my class will also bear an additional burden: our final exam is scheduled for two weeks after our last class, despite Finals Week starting on the week of May 16.

My own undergraduate experience was quite different from that of these students. My university was on the quarter system, and spring break was the week between the winter and spring quarters. Once we finished our winter-quarter, final exams in late-March, we were off until classes started again in early April.

It was a true spring break.