My Digital Photography Portfolio

Small squirrel on a deck railing

As I wrote a couple of posts back, I took a digital photography class (MCOM216) at Briar Cliff this summer. This short post is simply to provide links to my portfolio+ now that I have the pictures in Flickr.

We used Photoshop to make an HTML portfolio as part of our graded exercises but it was truly horrible. I had been hoping that I’d simply be able to upload it to my domain space and link to it but no way I was doing that. Maybe our instructor had us use settings that generated an ugly portfolio or maybe v4 of Photoshop just sucked in that regard.

Anyway, I uploaded some of the many photos I shot during the time frame of the class and put them in one set and then I uploaded jpg versions of my final edited shots and put them in another. I put fairly extensive notes on them and linked back to their originals in Flickr.

Photos for/during MCOM216

MCOM216 Portfolio


Jacobs. The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

The pleasures of reading in an age of distraction The pleasures of reading in an age of distractionAlan Jacobs; Oxford University Press 2011WorldCatRead OnlineLibraryThingGoogle BooksBookFinder 


I read this aloud to Sara (and myself) from 22 May – 8 June. I quite enjoyed this book despite being familiar with some of the author’s argument due to reading his blog Text Patterns at The New Atlantis.  I recommend his blog.

Jacobs is the author of several books:

  • The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction
  • The Age of Anxiety, by W. H. Auden — a critical edition
  • Wayfaring: Essays Pleasant and Unpleasant
  • Original Sin: a Cultural History
  • Looking Before and After: Testimony and the Christian Life
  • The Narnian: the Life and Imagination of C. S. Lewis
  • Shaming the Devil: Essays in Truthtelling
  • A Theology of Reading: the Hermeneutics of Love
  • A Visit to Vanity Fair: Moral Essays on the Present Age
  • What Became of Wystan: Change and Continuity in Auden’s Poetry [See his tumbler for links to all of them: ]

I have a copy of Original Sin: a Cultural History from the library and am looking forward to reading it soon. Shaming the Devil and Wayfaring are also on my list to read. Perhaps I oughtn’t mention my TBR list as Jacobs’ has quite a bit to say about lists as he isn’t particularly a fan of them. His dislike goes more toward the lists of books that one ought read. I’m not so sure he’d be as anti to lists which are based on one’s own personal Whim and which remain fluid. Even if he is, I find my list to be quite useful for keeping track of things I am interested in. If by the time I might get to something I am no longer interested, or more likely less interested in it than in something that has come to my attention more recently, so be it. My list is nothing if not fluid.

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

The author’s “commitment [is] to one dominant, overarching, nearly definitive principle for reading: Read at Whim!” (15). Later in the book, he distinguishes between whim and Whim.

In its lower-case version, whim is thoughtless, directionless preference that almost invariably leads to boredom or frustration or both. But Whim is something very different: it can guide us because it is based in self-knowledge— …. (41)

The book is prefaced with a warning, if you will, to its potential readers.

Caveat lector : Those who have always disliked reading, or who have been left indifferent by it, may find little of interest here. But those who have caught a glimpse of what reading can give—pleasure, wisdom, joy—even if that glimpse came long ago, are the audience for whom this book was written ([vii])

I believe this is apropos. This book is for readers, especially those feeling like they have either lost their connection to reading or, at a minimum, are finding it difficult to concentrate and engage in reading in this day and age.

Many of the usual suspects are to be found here: Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, Nicholas Carr, Harold Bloom, Steven Pinker, Charles Dickens, Edward Gibbon, Rudyard Kipling, William James, Cory Doctorow, David Foster Wallace, Abbot Hugh of St. Victor, Clay Shirky, George Steiner, Ann Blair, W.H. Auden, and many others.

There are a lot of intriguing ideas to be found in this volume. For instance:

  • 3 lessons taught by humility for the reader: hold no writing or knowledge in contempt; not blush to learn from anyone; when has attained learning, not look down on anyone else. (Abbot Hugh, 92)
  • Deep attention reading has always been a minority pursuit (106);  teaching of vernacular literature in university only ~150 years old (106); “the reading class” artificially high from 1945-2000 (107)
  • the idea that one of the purposes of education is to instill a love of reading “is largely alien to the history of education” and of reading (113).

All in all, I found this an enlightening and entertaining read. While personally I feel a bit of the pull of distractions away from my pleasurable, long form, reading, I also know full well that the choice is mine. I can choose to step away from the technologically-generated “blooming, buzzing confusion” or not. I can choose to engage with the sustained thought of another or to allow myself to be psychologically conditioned to become unable to do so. I know which outcome I choose. Alan Jacobs makes an eloquent case for that choice if you find yourself as a reader needing some gentle help in making yours.

My main complaint is that I found his many asides/tangents distracting. Sara mentioned that perhaps that it was an artifact of the reading aloud. As in, reading to myself would be quicker and I would be able to keep the part prior to the aside/tangent in mind better so that it more easily matched up with the part of the sentence after the aside/tangent. Perhaps. Lord knows I use more than my fair share of asides/tangents in this blog and sometimes even in my academic papers.

So I’m not trying to be the pot calling the kettle black here and I did find that the asides/tangents often contained valuable information. It was just that the experience of reading through them distracted me and I often had to go back to the beginning of a sentence and reread it without the aside to make sense of it. I should mention that the book is written in a very conversational tone generally.

After looking back through the book, I believe that Sara is correct that it was my experience of reading aloud. She said she rarely felt confused by them and upon searching for specific examples I found it hard to find any good ones, although they seemed fairly prevalent while I was reading aloud. It seems the process of reading silently to myself while looking for them is an entirely different experience. Then again, I had read them once (and twice, often) already. Perhaps that is part of it.

A second minor issue I had is definitely my own fault. At the end of the book is “An Essay on Sources.” Now I should know enough to check the apparatus of each individual book before beginning it but I did not. Then again, a book that has footnotes seems like it would be clearer about its supporting apparatus. In the end, though, it is my own fault. Reading the source comments on each section as we respectively finished them would have been more useful than reading the comments for the whole book at the end. Perhaps I’ve learned a lesson.

Third, no index. I know not everyone uses or believes in indexes but they still serve a purpose; actually they serve several purposes. I have had need of one while writing this review (and my review is less than I wanted as I was unable to find what I was looking for) and no doubt I will have need of one in the future when I consult the book again. Even if this were an ebook it would still need an index. Full-text searchability would help but that is still not a conceptual index and can only find the strings that exist and not the concepts expressed via another string.


  • Yes, we can!
  • Whim
  • All in your head
  • Aspirations
  • Upstream
  • Responsiveness
  • Kindling
  • Slowly, slowly
  • True confessions
  • Lost
  • Abbot Hugh’s advice
  • The triumphant return of Adler and Van Doren
  • Plastic attention
  • Getting schooled
  • Quiet, please
  • Once more, with feeling
  • Judge, jury, executioner
  • In solitude, for company
  • Serendip
  • How it all started
  • An Essay on Sources

Summary: This was quite enjoyable; learned, yet casual, supportive and forgiving. If you are or, once, were a reader, you will find enjoyment and comradeship in this slim volume to help ease some of the anxiety you may be feeling in this age of distractions.

Lastly, for another, and a more ‘professional,’ review of this book see On the Desire to Be Well-Read by Timothy Aubry at The Millions. Honestly, professional or not, this is a sad little review and shows far more of the author’s personal issues with reading for pleasure than it serves as a review of the book Jacobs’ wrote. See the comment by Dan for a good refutation of the points in Aubry’s ‘review.’



I thought I’d bring folks up-to-date on what I’m doing work-wise. Since mid-September 2010 I have been working 5 hours/week as a feral cataloger at Briar Cliff University’s Bishop Mueller Library. Technically, I am an independent contractor, not an employee.

The majority of what I do is copy cataloging,  although I have derived a couple of records for different editions and have done a very few original records. I do miss original cataloging but I do not miss the inordinate  increase in problems to be solved.

BCU is undertaking a large-scale weeding project so for the last month or two I have also been removing records from our Sirsi catalog and holdings. Although I almost broke the annual record for addition of records to the catalog (and would have smashed it if I had worked a whole year), I have removed even more in a much shorter time frame. Yes, this collection needs weeding but the cataloger in me would much rather add records than remove them. Yes, my job is (to help with) maintenance and creation of the entirety of the catalog and I respect that. But. I prefer creating and adding bibs than removing them. Nonetheless, good work is being done and that is what matters.

As of a week ago, I was asked to undertake the actual weeding of the PZs. To support this extra responsibility my hours have been increased to 6/wk. I haven’t physically begun but I have been doing some research by browsing the collection, noticing some of the easy decisions on reclassing into (primarily) PR and PS (Dickens, Twain, Austen, Bronte, …) and some juvenile fiction to send downstairs to the Children’s Collection. I’ve also been reviewing assorted lists of “important” fiction (the little I’m not familiar with), and looking up authors/titles in our new ebrary collection.

I am looking forward to this as an opportunity to help BCU but also as a learning experience for myself. Once I finish the PZs I am hoping to slide right into the general science Qs. Science faculty have been helping with specific disciplinary materials but no one has looked at the Qs themselves. I am at least as qualified to make decisions on Qs as I am on the PZs.

So. The title of this post? The amazing Franciscan Sister that I work with/for is at a gathering of Iowa’s Franciscan sisters for a couple of days. So I am on “vacation” until next Wednesday. Back I go to the largish Summer to-do list. Not much of a vacation really.

At home I am also weeding; trying to remove some of the clutter of stuff accumulated over 50 or so years. I am also weeding my computer and migrating my photos from iPhoto to Aperture. There are loads of books to be read, book reviews to write/finish, articles to be entered into Zotero, things to be packaged and mailed to dear people, ….

I recently got caught up putting photos in Flickr. Last year I got stuck in the midst of putting up those from our vacation in the 2nd half of July and never got started again. I am now up to those I took for my summer digital photography course and I probably won’t bother putting many of those up although I would like to put up those from the portfolio I submitted.

And then I still need to do something about our wedding photos from May 2010. ::sigh::

Not much of a vacation, is it?

On photography

Just as I am excited about photography for the first time in a long time, Susan Sontag is killing my buzz.

I took a digital photography class this summer from the Mass Comm department at Briar Cliff. I was able to use my own camera and since we had to shoot everything on manual exposure, and build a varied portfolio, I finally learned to use my DSLR (Nikon D40X) that I got used closer to two years ago than I want to admit. [Thanks, Tracy!]

I had been shooting almost entirely on automatic even though I often knew what I needed to do to get better shots, or a shot, period. But I didn’t know how to make the setting in the camera. I used a Canon AE-1 for years (still have it) so I at least knew (once knew) how to partially control exposure on a camera. Actually, I know a fair bit about cameras and photography. I am just lazy when it comes to learning the complex features of software/electronics. I also learn these sorts of things orders of magnitude better when I actually need to use the feature and not by studying a book or manual.

Anyway. I now know a great deal about my camera, which is the primary reason I took the course, and even a little about Photoshop and the printing of color and B&W photos on Epson photo printers.

Now that I am effectively semi-retired (for the time being anyway) I have been contemplating taking my photography a bit more serious. I have no plans to become a professional but I’d like to step up my amateur game to the ‘serious’ level.

I have been reading a lot more about digital photography, perusing photo mags, lusting after things I cannot afford, reminding myself to use what I have until I reach its limits, and trying to figure out how I might get photos printed whether for myself or anyone else. I am also considering starting a photo blog with some of my better photos once I get my photo library migrated from iPhoto to Aperture.

How far any of this will go or how long it will last I have no idea. We (or I, anyway) will see.

So, Sontag? I came across a reference to her On Photography somewhere and I know that I read one of the essays a couple of years ago and thought it’d be a good idea to read all of the essays as collected in book form.

What a buzzkill! Thankfully I was already aware of much of her critique (so far. Am into the 3rd essay of 6.) so no big surprises. On the other hand, she is touching all of the right nerves with those critiques. While she is not citing any of them, she is using criticisms I have read (and agreed with) elsewhere, such as, from Jacques Ellul, Richard Stivers, and others, and from my own lived experience with photography.

The main thing mediating her critique for the moment is her rampant essentializing and over-simplification. While I frequently agree with her, I do not agree with her universal statements. While they are rarely written grammatically as universals they end up being so as they leave no room for disagreement, present no nuance, and make the claim that “photography is this, and it is that.”

I understand that by the 6th and final essay she had mitigated the views presented in the 1st one. I am hoping so. I feel that these critiques of photography are important. But. They must be fleshed out, contextualized and, above all else, nuanced.

One example is all I will provide for now. Perhaps if I write a review upon finishing I will quote her more.

“There is an aggression implicit in every use of the camera” (7).