> classes > cms workshop i, fall 2008

CMS.950: Comparative Media Studies Workshop I

Fall 2008

Instructor: Nick Montfort, nickm at nickm dotcom
TA: Talieh Rohani, talieh at mit dotedu
Class times: 2pm-6pm Mondays and 7pm-10pm Tuesdays
Location: GAMBIT, N25-375 unless otherwise announced
Nick's office hours: 12:30pm-1:30pm Mondays and by appointment, 14N-233; Nick is also available on IM/iChat (screen name writingnick) by appointment

Class format and participation

Mondays are studio meetings and will typically involve doing media practice in class, even when there are also some lecture, discussion, or screening items. Tuesdays are lab/screening meetings; what is planned for these varies a bit due to the schedule for the semester. On days when presentations and critiques occur (Tue Sep 9, Mon Oct 6, Tue Oct 21, and Mon Dec 8) you are required to attend and present your projects. You should also come to the whole class and be attentive as your fellow students present - you will lose 1/3 of your project grade if you choose to do otherwise. Medical, bereavement, or similar reasons for absence beyond your control, are, of course, acceptable; another time for reviewing your project will be arranged in such cases. On other Monday class meetings and a few Tuesday meetings (Oct 28, Nov 4), your attendance is expected and encouraged, both for your own sake and out of respect for the other members of the workshop community, but it will not be directly reflected in your evaluation if you do miss class. The four Tuesdays meetings that are "screenings" will supply us with material for discussion during those sessions and during the Monday classes; it will be hard to view this material outside of class, but it's up to you as to whether or not you want to attend. On the Tuesdays where "unstructured lab time" is indicated, you are free to attend or not, but you are encouraged to line this time out and reserve it for workshop project work in GAMBIT instead of scheduling other activities then. It will be the best time outside of Monday meetings to discuss your work in progress with the instructor, the TA, and your fellow students.


Each of the five projects counts for the amount of your grade indicated in parenthesis. During the last of the five projects, the music video project, you may complete a substantial revision of either your clock, your generated landscape, or your Web page for additional credit. A substantial revision requires a thorough reworking involving some change of concept, not just the correction of a few errors. The exact amount of credit available for doing work will be announced later.


This page was last updated on Monday, October 27. It may be updated throughout the semester. If a substantial change is made (for instance, to the schedule) I will let you know either in class, by email, or both.

1 · The Clock

A clock is a device that measures time; in our case it is a computer program that visually indicates the current hour, minute, and second. The supported system for creating clocks in workshop is Processing. (10%)

Mon Sep 8

Programming essentials, specifics of Processing, visual design of clocks, (mathematical) functions, writing simple programs and elaborating them; modifying complex programs; in-class work on and completion of clock projects.

Tue Sep 9

Presentations and critiques of completed clock projects.

2 · The Generated Landscape

"Landscape" means both the visual features of a geographical area and the depiction of these features in visual art. In workshop, we will create landscapes where the features (which do not need to be realistic) are generated by a computer program, which also allows the user to move around a large virtual space, seeing one window of this space at a time. The supported system for creating generated landscapes in workshop is Processing. (30%)

Mon Sep 15

Interactive programs; abstraction, representation, and simulation; more on Processing, generated landscape project description, in-class work on generated landscape projects.

Tue Sep 16

Unstructured lab time for work on generated landscape projects.

Tue Sep 23

Meet in 14N-233. Screening and discussion of demos (motion pictures, with audio, where the graphics are generated in real time by computers) and computer and video games.

Mon Sep 29

Terraforming, Super Mario Clouds and digital art, more on Processing, in-class work and consultation on generated landscape projects. For our meeting tomorrow, read "What is Computation?" by Ian Horswill.

Tue Sep 30

Discussion of "What is Computation?" followed by unstructured lab time for work on generated landscape projects.

Mon Oct 6

Presentations and critiques of completed generated landscape projects. During the last hour of our meeting, HTML, CSS, the use of the text editor, and the Web project will be introduced and online resources will be identified that will help you get started (or continue) building Web pages.

3 · The Web Page

A Web page is an HTML document available on a Web server for viewing in a Web browser. For this project, we will each create not an entire site but at least one Web page (probably more, unless the one page has a complex structure) that defines the structure of textual data and a style sheet (in CSS) that defines the visual appearance of the page or pages. All of the documents created, in HTML and CSS, are to be valid. All work is to be done in a text editor such as Text Wrangler. (15%)

Tue Oct 7

John Ashbery ("our universal poet, as Walt Whitman was before him" —Harold Bloom; "No figure looms so large in American poetry over the past 50 years as John Ashbery" —Langdon Hammer) reads in 32-123 at 7pm. After the reading, unstructured lab time for work on Web page projects.

Tue Oct 14

Unstructured lab time for work on Web page projects.

Mon Oct 20

Uploading files; more on formal languages and validation; regular expressions (advanced find and replace), further HTML, character sets, liquid design, cascading and further CSS, basics of site design, more on validation, in-class work on Web page projects.

Tue Oct 21

Presentations and critiques of completed Web page projects.

4 · From the Book to the Web

For our one group project, we will create a Web edition of a book. This involves many editorial and production questions which will need to be discussed and resolved as a group. All work is to be done in a text editor such as Text Wrangler. The project was actually introduced on Tuesday Oct 21 and initial discussion happened then. (15%)

Mon Oct 27

Organization and most production work should take place during this session and in the following session. The instructor and TA will be available for the group to consult with, but how the conversion is done and who does what will be up to the other members of the class.

Tue Oct 28

Lab time to work on book to Web project. Note that this time is not completely "unstructured" and may include some discussion among the group and some editorial decisionmaking.

Mon Nov 3

Discuss and assess the book to Web project, discuss hosting, publicity, and promotion options. Before class begins, students submit a short writeup explaining their role in the group project and briefly assessing what they think are the major successes and shortcomings of the project.

Tue Nov 4

Election day: No class.

5 · The Music Video

The music video is a fairly recent genre of short motion pictures in which a song, rather than being just the "soundtrack" for more important visual and dialog, is featured. The supported system for video editing is Final Cut Express. (30%)

Mon Nov 17

Montage, introduction to Final Cut Express, silent commercial editing exercise, introduction to the music video, description of music video project.

Tue Nov 18

Meet in 14N-233. Screenings of music videos (I).

Mon Nov 24

Video production exercise in pairs during class time, in-class work on music video projects.

Tue Nov 25

Meet in 14N-233. Screenings of music videos (II).

Mon Dec 1

Discuss music videos from screening, in-class work on music video projects.

Tue Dec 2

Meet in 14N-233. Screenings of music videos (III).

Mon Dec 8

Presentations and critiques of completed music video projects.

(Tue Dec 9)

(No class meeting.)

GAMBIT Policies for the Workshop Room

We are guests of the Singapore-MIT GAMBIT Game Lab. Thanks to GAMBIT, we have a much nicer classroom/lab facility than we otherwise would. GAMBIT has defined policies for the use of N25-375, which must be adhered to and which are as follows:

  1. No food or drink are allowed in the workshop room.
  2. CMS Workshop gets use of the room during scheduled class and lab time (Mondays 2-6pm, Tuesdays 7-10pm).
  3. Outside of the above hours, other CMS and GAMBIT students may use the computers (with first year students getting priority when the room is not otherwise scheduled for use). (a.) CMS Workshop students get their own login account for use during the class. (Username: CMS Workshop) (b.) CMS/GAMBIT are not responsible for data saved to the computer - backup all of your work to your own media (c.) If you do save temporary files to the local computer, log out at the end of use to ensure others don't have access to these files.
  4. Follow the MITnet Rules of Use: (a.) Specifically, do not use these computers for sharing of any materials for which you do not own the copyright (b.) Outside agencies (RIAA, MPAA, HBO, Better Business Bureau, Entertainment Software Associate) monitor filesharing activities from MIT - legal action can arise based on these activities.