Science Fiction, LMC3214, Summer 2014: Exploring Cultural Connections Through Haptics and LEGO

The Millennium Falcon circles Tech Tower.
The Millennium Falcon circles Tech Tower.

Before closing out the last class that I would teach at Georgia Tech as a Brittain Fellow, I brought a great big container of LEGO bricks to class for my students to explore and enjoy thinking about science fiction with haptics. As I had done last year, I invited my students to think of something from their experience of science fiction that emblematized what science fiction means to them. Put another way, I asked them to build a model of the thing that first comes to mind when they think of science fiction. It could be a robot, blaster, rocket, cyborg, computer, spaceship, etc. Whatever it was, I wanted them to use the available bricks to build an approximation of the thing, present their model to the class, and explain its provenance. I would add to each presentation of a LEGO MOC (my own creation) with additional SF examples and historical relevances.

The challenge to this assignment was that 2/3 of the class were taking the course remotely online. While I invited students to build something and share it on Twitter, few did or were able to do so before class that day. One online student joined us for the on-campus class, which added one more student to the mix and was much appreciated by me and his peers.

After giving instructions and discussing haptics, I gave the students about 25 minutes to find bricks and build their models.

Collecting LEGO bricks for their MOCs.
Collecting LEGO bricks for their MOCs.
Building their science fiction models with LEGO.
Building their science fiction models with LEGO.

Then, students were invited to come to the front of the class, place their model under the document camera for the benefit of online students, and tell us about their creation and its inspiration to them.

Matthew and his model of the Starship Enterprise NCC-1701-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
Matthew and his model of the Starship Enterprise NCC-1701-D from Star Trek: The Next Generation.

 

Jarad and his lightsaber from Star Wars.
Jarad and his Jedi lightsaber from Star Wars.

 

Aditya and his moon rover.
Aditya and his moon rover.

 

Lauren and her planetary rover.
Lauren and her planetary rover.

 

Tyler and his TARDIS.
Tyler and his TARDIS.

 

James and his spacecraft.
James and his spacecraft.

 

Peter and his flying car.
Peter and his flying car.

 

Roxanne and her spacecraft.
Roxanne and her spacecraft.

 

James and his Daban Urnud ship from Neal Stephenson's Anathem.
James and his Daban Urnud ship from Neal Stephenson’s Anathem.

 

Sang and his futuristic aircraft.
Sang and his futuristic aircraft.

I was proud of the creations and connections that my students made during this end-of-semester exercise. Despite a number of same types of SF emblems (air/spacecraft), each student assumed a different approach and had different points of origin for their inspiration. Also, no two models were alike. Each one is a expression of the individual using a three-dimensional modeling art and design form–LEGO.

Besides drawing on different kinds and ways of thinking for this exercise, I know from students comments that they appreciated having a creative outlet in the class beyond their analytical final papers, which are creative in other ways (argumentation, research, prose writing, professional formatting/design, etc.).

Some of them choose to keep their models while others let me keep their models to show future students.

LMC3214, Summer 2014 Class Photo.
LMC3214, Summer 2014 Class Photo.

Finally, my Science Fiction class would not have been possible without the technical support of Ted Skirvin, who worked with me to use the affordances of the room with my teaching style while accommodating the needs of online students.

Ted Skirvin of Georgia Tech's Global Learning Center.
Ted Skirvin of Georgia Tech’s Global Learning Center.

 

Second Donation to Georgia Tech Library Archive’s Retrocomputing Lab: Power Macintosh 8500

Me and the Power Macintosh 8500/120 in the Georgia Tech Library Archives.
Me and the Power Macintosh 8500/120 in the Georgia Tech Library Archives.

When I met with Georgia Tech Library Archives’ Department Head Jody Lloyd Thompson and Digital Collections Archivist Wendy Hagenmaier to donate three vintage computers (a Dell Dimension 4100, Apple Performa 550, and Apple iMac) and other computing hardware a week and a half ago, I noticed that they had room for one more computer, so I pitched them the idea of my making another donation to fill the gap between the Performa 550’s 68030 processor and the iMac’s G3 processor:  an Apple Power Macintosh 8500/120. They agreed to accept, so I set about preparing the computer for them.

IMG_5166

My Power Macintosh 8500 was in very good shape, but like many vintage computers with persistent clocks, it needed a new lithium battery.

To replace the Power Macintosh 8500's on-board battery (upper left corner of photo), you have to remove the motherboard.
To replace the Power Macintosh 8500’s on-board battery (upper left corner of photo), you have to remove the motherboard.

I replaced the battery, installed Mac OS 7.5.5, a number of different software titles (including Apple’s Plaintalk Speech Recognition–I threw in a Plaintalk powered microphone, Project X/Hot Sauce, and Cyberdog). I discovered that the plastic inside the case did not age well. The PowerMac 8500 has a lot of plastic components that are held together with flexible tabs or clips. When I applied a small amoung of pressure on the tip of these clips to release them, most of them would break. Luckily, the case ties together very well, so I only had to piece some parts back together with clear tape (the power button/light assembly) and metal duct tape (one drive plate cover on the front of the case). To help dissipate heat, I  added a rear slot fan made by Antec.

I made a video demoing the finalized system, which I’m including embedded below (I apologize for the flicker, but my digital camera doesn’t have enough adjustment features to match the refresh rate on the Apple 14″ Color Display).

In addition to the Power Macintosh 8500, I gave the Archives a box full of software and late-1990s/early-2000s video games for Macintosh. These might help facilitate more connections around campus (Computer Science, Media Studies, and Game Studies).

As I’m leaving soon for City Tech, I believe that we can do more together in our work with vintage computing. I floated the idea of a symposium, conference, or some other kind of connected project. Also, from what little I have learned so far, there’s a lot of investment and interest in computer technology in NYC (and Brooklyn in particular). I am looking forward to making new connections with others studying retrocomputing and New Media. I know that many opportunities await.

Inaugural Donation to Georgia Tech Library Archive’s Retrocomputing Lab

Wendy Hagenmaier, Jason W. Ellis, and Jody Thompson next to Apple Performa 550 and iMac.
Wendy Hagenmaier, Jason W. Ellis, and Jody Thompson next to Apple Performa 550 and iMac.

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of making the first donation of three computers to the Georgia Tech Library Archives, which is launching its own Retrocomputing Lab for scholars and students to use. The Georgia Tech Library Archives is already well-known for its significant Georgia Tech Science Fiction Collection and other holdings.

I met with Department Head Jody Lloyd Thompson and Digital Collections Archivist Wendy Hagenmaier to setup the three computers and talk about each machine’s provenance and current operation. We set the computers up on the right side as you enter the Georgia Tech Library Archives. This is a temporary location as the Archives makes plans for their use in Archives for the time being and possibly more in the future as part of the on-going Georgia Tech Library renovation project.

Apple Performa 550 and iMac.
Apple Performa 550 and iMac.

From my personal collection–which I am having to cull before moving to Brooklyn for my new job at City Tech, I donated three computers: an Apple Performa 550 (1994), Apple iMac (1999), and Dell Dimension 4100 (2001). Before donating the computers, I refurbished each to be in as factory-fresh condition as possible.

For the Peforma 550, I installed a PDS ethernet NIC and replaced the SCSI hard drive with one that was less noisy than its original one. Then, I installed Mac OS 7.6.1 and some software including the AfterDark Star Trek: The Next Generation screensaver and ClarisWorks, and utilities for working with files and disk images.

For the slot-loading, DV iMac, I replaced the motherboard battery and performed a fresh install of Mac OS 9.2.1. The optical drive suffers from a weak ejection mechanism. I made sure that the bottom plastic bezel fit properly, but reseated it had no effect on improving the drive’s ability to eject discs correctly. I warned the librarians about this, and recommended buying an external, Firewire optical drive and using the paperclip ejection method in the meantime.

Dell Dimension 4100.
Dell Dimension 4100.

For the Dell Dimension 4100, I installed a 3Com NIC donated by Mark Warbington. I installed Windows 98 Second Edition and painstakingly installed the drivers for the components in the Dell (this was a laborious process, because despite having the Service Tag number, some recommended drivers did not work on all of the components).

I provided two sets of speakers–one for the Performa 550 (it’s internal speakers had stopped working about a year ago) and one for the Dell Dimension 4100. In the event of future hardware problems, I gave them spare AGP video cards, optical drives, a 3.5″ floppy disk drive.

Also, I gave them some spare motherboards, controller cards, and hard drives that might be useful for displays in the Library.

The Georgia Tech Library Archives have big plans for making digital archival work and learning an integral component of what they do. If you have functional and working computer hardware or software, you should consider donating it to the Georgia Tech Library Archives, or if you have technical skills for working on older hardware and software, you can donate your expertise and time, too. Contact Jody and Wendy by email or phone here: Georgia Tech Library Archives contact information here.

UPDATE: I made these four Google Glass videos while working on the iMac DV:

Atlanta Science Fiction Society Talk on Teaching SF at Georgia Tech, Tomorrow

Atlanta Science Fiction Society logo.
Atlanta Science Fiction Society logo.

If you’re in the area tomorrow, you can catch my talk on teaching science fiction at Georgia Tech at the Atlanta Science Fiction Society meeting at the Sandy Springs Fulton County Library (395 Mount Vernon Hwy NE, Sandy Springs, GA). The meeting begins at 2:30PM, and my talk should begin around 3:30PM. I will bring copies of this handout to the meeting. My talk with focus on the history of teaching SF at Tech, my historical approach to teaching SF, and my emphasis on using SF as a way to develop student literacies in writing, new media, and haptics.

Recovered Writing, Brittain Fellowship, CETL Brown Bag, Writing the Brain: Using Twitter and Storify, Oct. 2, 2013

Slides from "Writing the Brain" PowerPoint.
Slides from “Writing the Brain” PowerPoint.

This is the sixty-second post in a series that I call, “Recovered Writing.” I am going through my personal archive of undergraduate and graduate school writing, recovering those essays I consider interesting but that I am unlikely to revise for traditional publication, and posting those essays as-is on my blog in the hope of engaging others with these ideas that played a formative role in my development as a scholar and teacher. Because this and the other essays in the Recovered Writing series are posted as-is and edited only for web-readability, I hope that readers will accept them for what they are–undergraduate and graduate school essays conveying varying degrees of argumentation, rigor, idea development, and research. Furthermore, I dislike the idea of these essays languishing in a digital tomb, so I offer them here to excite your curiosity and encourage your conversation.

In this Recovered Writing post, I am including two PDF files that I used in my presentation on “Writing the Brain: Using Twitter and Storify” for the 2 October 2013 CETL Brown Bag Workshop. The first is my PowerPoint presentation file and the second is my handwritten presentation notes. Normally, I type up a carefully written script for my presentations, but in this case, I wrote my speaking notes out by hand. While I was driven my a tight deadline imposed by several other responsibilities converging at the same time, I saw this as an opportunity to experiment with a way of presenting that I normally don’t do and I wasn’t completely comfortable doing. As I tell my students, we grow by challenging ourselves, doing new things, and experimenting with new approaches. This was one such attempt on my part.

Science Fiction, LMC 3214, Summer 2014: Proto-SF, Voyages Extraordinaires, and Scientific Romances

Since I will be out of town on business during Wednesday’s class, I made this lecture video for my on-campus and off-campus students. It is available as an MP4 on T-Square > Resources, too.

Besides covering proto-SF, Voyages Extraordinaires, and Scientific Romances, we are reading H.G. Wells’ “The Star” and E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops.” I am looking forward to reading what everyone has to say on Twitter using the #lmc3214 hashtag!

Next week, we begin discussing the Hugo Gernsback and the SF Pulps!

Science Fiction, LMC 3214, Summer 2014: Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (Day 2 of 2)

Georgia Tech: Engineering Great Minds.
Georgia Tech: Engineering Great Minds.

During today’s LMC 3214 Science Fiction class, I continued my lecture on the importance of the Biology of Mind to Frankenstein specifically and Science Fiction generally.

In the last lecture, I ended on a discussion of the empiricist vs. rationalist debates. Then, I turned to the questions, “How and why do we enjoy literature?” I discussed solving puzzles (finding solutions), feeding our imagination (the novum), deploying our theory of mind and observing theory of mind at play in the novel, recognizing how the brain is a virtual reality simulator (it simulates our experience of the world and our experience of imagined worlds in fiction–in both cases there is a divide between us and the world itself–even more so in the case of the epistolary novel form), and finally, understanding that each person’s experience of the novel will be different based on wiring, hormonal production/reception, memories, and associations (we discussed how we observe this in the novel and how it is important to Romanticism).

I ended the lecture on an etymology of hubris and nemesis and a discussion about how the novel is a critique of the Age of Enlightenment.

In the last half of class, I asked the on-campus students to lead the discussion and raise those points, passages, or questions that they were most interested in concerning the novel. Our discussion ranged from Jurassic Park connections to women’s biological rights to the Creature’s missed potential due to his undutiful creator.

There’s no class on Monday for Memorial Day or Wednesday due to a professional trip. Our class lecture for Wednesday (LS and QUP sections) will be available on T-Square under Resources as an MP4 video. In that lecture, I will discuss proto-SF, Voyages Extraordinaires, and Scientific Romances.We will continue our conversations on Twitter through this weekend and next week. We will resume normal classroom meetings and lecture recording on June 2.