First Semester’s Progress Report

In May of this year, I lost my job when my boss found out I was looking for employment elsewhere. She was my old freelance agent, and due to her encouragement I had taken a try at being a Creative Recruiter. Boy, what a mismatch of skills and personality requirements for me. I held on as long as I could, but try as I might I’m not Recruiter material. The writing was on the wall, and it looked like my resume to me and a pink slip to her.

C’est la vie.

Early summer saw me continuing the ‘hire me!’ dance, to no avail. No fish in the graphic design world were biting. None. A rich and vibrant freelance career which had served me well previously was no longer there to live off of. Well, not true. I did pick up gigs here and there, but nothing like when I first moved to Connecticut a decade ago. The jobs that were to be found were asking me as a freelancer to assume the same level of responsibilities and staying late, ownership of the jobs and projects, that I had been asked to handle as a full-timer. With a pay rate that has actually moved -down- over the past ten years (from $35/hr to $30/hr for the same work and a decade’s more experience), with the knowledge of how much my services were being billed by the agencies to their clients (generally speaking, agencies bill out production services at a rate of about $125/hr with most projects requiring 2-3 hours of work), and with the knowledge of how much money the companies were saving by not hiring me full time, I decided that it was time to move on. Graphic design was a dead-end career path for me. It had been a good ride, now it was time to turn in  the towel for good.

Has Been goes All In

With no money, no job, and no prospects I used my last $1000 to pay up my back student loans to the point that I could get new ones for grad school. Spending that money in that manner meant that I was sacrificing cable, phone, and internet services at home, and committing to books and tuition and twice the total amount I had borrowed over 5 years in my undergrad for a single year’s worth of grad school.  Has Been designer looked at the bottom line and said, “All in.”

I haven’t been disappointed.

Starting with Halavais’ class, I began to really feel my mind opening up again in grad school. I went to college 13 years ago, before ‘wifi’ existed, and I considered myself lucky to be able to go down to the two, count them, two computers in the dorm lounge, where I could get on the internet. I used a black and green 80-character screen terminal, slate blue with monitor and keyboard in one model. I was one of ten students in my dorm building who bothered with the internet, which at that time meant sending text chat back and forth to “rly@cornellc”, or ‘relay at cornell.’   I was accounted back then to be a mystical guru of nerdiness, even though a friend of mine set up my VAX account to allow me to use shortcut notations instead of typing out the full “to:rly@cornellc.edu <text>” by just typing “tor <text>”.

My how things have changed.

Mid Semester Progress Report

The internet has taken hold of our very society. I started going down this path originally so that I could establish a grad school GPA and then apply to Law School (probably not Quinnipiac’s law, but just because UCONN seemed cheaper). Instead, I found a program that’s already setting me up quite nicely.  Let’s take a look at the classes I’m in and post a midterm check in.

ICM501: Intro to Interactive Communications (Halavais)
Intro is quite fun. I was (rightly) concerned at the beginning that a graduate level seminar class with over 20 students would be hard to coordinate. As it is there are still students in the class that I rarely hear speak in class, despite the professor’s grading system that requires participation in class to a greater extent. The theory materials are tough in spots, but in a fun kind of way. And the breadth of knowledge has already helped me to speak like a ‘net professional. (Of course, with the death of professionalism, that might turn out to be a handicap yet).  This is the class that has gotten me thinking again, and has been expanding my mind to new possibilities. The rush of new information and the ideas stemming from them has slowed to a halt mid-semester though. My one main complaint is that we are forced to generate white sheet-level reports as part of a team. I’m a Gen X guy. I prefer to work alone. Collaboration on small projects is suicide to efficiency and interest, but I don’t get to make the rules, I just have to schlep along with the project. As it is my team is already getting antsy with me because I still have no computer nor internet connection at home due to the ‘all in’ for Grad school.

ICM504: Information Animation (Maccarella)
The title of the course is a little misleading. I was wondering how they would fill a whole semester of work on animating information. It’s pretty simple… we’re learning how to code in ActionScript for Flash. I’m still plodding along, but the cool thing about this class is that it uses all of the old skills I gained by coding in BASIC on the Commodore 64 after school and on the weekends. Sprites, conditionals, subroutines, all of that is slowly coming back to me from those sunless days on a computer that nowadays couldn’t match my DVR.  We’ve just finished the survey of the different component parts of ActionScript 2.0, and now the real effort comes in from starting to put them all together.

ICM508: Media Imaging & Sound Design (Tanski)
This class has just started to get really cool. We’ve learned how to mess with  audio mixing and production techniques, and now we’ve just completed our first project for mixing audio and video using Final Cut Pro.  The only real drawback to this class has to be the resource room.  Quinnipiac offers high-end equipment for student use, checked out for a period of 2 days from their on-location resource room. It’s up in Hamden, CT. For folks like me who work in Stamford, it becomes almost impossible to get to the resource room before its 7pm closing time during the week.  NOTE to future ICM508 Students: Before taking this class, realize that this class will bind you very closely to the campus, unless you happen to be wealthy and in possession of video and audio equipment of your own.  I have had to leave work early just to be able to complete my homework… a major pain in the butt. It can be worked around, but this class adds stress to a full schedule because even if you have the cameras and recorders, chances are you’re still going to need to go on campus to use Quinnipiac’s editing equipment.  But Tanski is fun, and the course subject matter is wonderful.

 ICM512: Online Development for Strategic Communications (Maccarella)
This is an online class, and my very first purely online class. I feel disconnected from my fellow students in class, and I really miss the interpersonal interaction with classmates from a physical classroom. I’m falling behind, I think. I’m not sure what week we’re actually on, because while I’ve got the syllabus and I’ve been working along as we’ve gone on, the class doesn’t make an impression with me. It doesn’t feel like a real class, so I only ever get to the assignments as an afterthought when I’m wondering why I’ve finished my homework so early. Unfortunately, I’ve got at least five more online classes I’ll have to take before graduation, so I’d better get used to them. The subject material for the course is fine… it covers usability testing and Information Architecture for planning and developing an online site. It’s part of what I’m doing for real now, so much so that I didn’t get a chance to do wireframes on my class project, so instead I submitted a copy of the wireframes I was working on for a client pitch at work. Did I mention yet that I really don’t feel any sort of ‘connection’ to this class *as* a class? Something I’ve obviously got to get over, because I am lagging behind apparently. Or maybe not. I still don’t know which week I’m supposed to be on, so I’m just going to try and use this weekend to do work a few weeks ahead just to be safe.

So them’s the classes.

ICM999: Personal Sanity  (Pacio)
This is an independent study class of mine. Basically, it’s my life this semester. I feel like I’ve bit off more than I can chew, but in a good way that stretches the realm of possibility, not in the way of getting swamped. I’m having the most difficulty with the online class, but then again, I don’t have access to the internet at home. How ironic is that? I’m studying Interactive Communications in grad school, and I can’t even access the net from my home. I’m just waiting for my refund to come in so I can reup my cable and internet subscriptions, and maybe get a laptop computer with the programs on it that I need.  Overall, it’s a good thing, but as we round the midsemester point I have to admit I’m beginning to get very tired. I just took a week “off” from worrying about school and just squeaking by, but with co-authors on the white paper I have no choice but to kick it back up into high gear. Writing a white paper would be bad enough, but writing a white paper while collaborating with other authors… that sucks. Not to malign my classmates who are working with me… I couldn’t ask for smarter or better spoken companions on this assignment. But collaboration in the arts of writing and research requires an astronomically disproportionate amount of effort to generate a passable result.  I begin to think Halavais set us up this way on purpose. Maybe some weak-minded Gen Y student complained last time that they had to do the white papers alone, and now my Gen X ‘does not play well with others’ independent stubborn streak is paying the price.  Bitching about it doesn’t make it go away, but sometimes the only thing you can do with the crap that the world throws at you is just pick it up and throw it back.

Wish I had learned how to throw.

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2 responses to “First Semester’s Progress Report

  1. What? You can’t just assume I want less grading? 😉

    It *shouldn’t* take a disproportionate increase in the amount of time–or rather, much of that time should be frontloaded. It *is* a creative process, and collaborative creativity can be especially difficult, but by recognizing this, and setting up mid-point goals that can be achieved independently, at least some of the hurt can be reduced.

    I don’t want to say “think positive,” but do think strategically about the kinds of things multiples can do that singles cannot.

    In practice, I find that spending some time brainstorming and outlining is really important. Then the project can be carved up and stitched back together. Then iteratively redrafted in round-robin style. There are definitely advantages to working solo, and it’s my preferred mode by far, but there are also substantial advantages to team-based projects–and the ability to negotiate those projects will stand you in good stead.

  2. I think you need a Sanity Clause in your independent study project. Seriously, though, I think the mid-stretch is where all of us who are of the not-so-young generation start to hit the wall a little. I’m glad you still feel it’s worthwhile. I do too. But I continually waffle between “How lucky am I to be doing this!” and “What the %#*^$@ was I thinking!”

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