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Josh Braun’s Blog // I have it written down somewhere . . .

Student Writing Award Aug 9, 2014

quillOnce again, I wanted to recognize one of my wonderful undergraduate students. Samantha Lizzio has won Quinnipiac University’s “Writing Across the Curriculum” award for her research project in my Theories of Interactive Media course.

For the final, she constructed a research blog containing reflections and ruminations on the ways in which music fandom and the music industry are evolving in response to the Internet. Each post was well researched, documenting various music trends through reference to peer reviewed sources and items in the trade press, as well as using these to bolster her own arguments and provide additional depth to her personal reflections.

Moreover, I thought Samantha not only chose her format wisely, but did a terrific job at using that format to her advantage. The changing face of music is, of course, an incredibly expansive topic that would be difficult to treat exhaustively in the span of a single class paper. By using the blog format, Samantha was able to break off pieces of this expansive subject and treat them individually as distinct observational posts. The blog format is also open ended in the sense that the author can ostensibly continue to add to it in the future, treating additional aspects of her topic of choice. (And, indeed, Samantha has informed me that she enjoyed the topic enough that she plans to transform the site into a personal blog and continue adding to it in the future.)

In the context of the class project, this allowed Samantha to write some well-informed posts based on her research, without taking on responsibility for exhaustively reviewing an area of media research that could otherwise have easily filled a dissertation. I thought it was an elegant solution to a problem frequently faced by undergraduates, who often ask really big and intriguing questions, but have difficulty breaking off manageable pieces of them that can be treated in a single term paper.

[Image Credit: Quill cc-by-nc Hullernuc]

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“As a rule, we use movies to dream and television, a home appliance, to sort out the details of our daily lives.” Aug 1, 2014

Colin McEnroe on the finale of Breaking Bad

I disagree with his thesis about the show, incidentally, but I love this quote.

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Simple Command Line Pomodoro Timer Jul 10, 2014

I’ve found Francesco Cirillo’s Pomodoro Technique to be a useful way of organizing my work and getting stuff done.  It involves breaking up your work into four 25-minute intervals (“pomodori”), separated by five-minute breaks.  At the end of the four work intervals, you allow yourself a longer break (usually 15 or 30 minutes) before repeating the whole process.

The alternation of predetermined work and break intervals improves my focus—the 25-minute work intervals are long enough to get real tasks done, and I can avoid succumbing to the usual distractions like checking my email or perusing various web-based time sinks when I know I have a break coming up.

Cirillo apparently suggests it’s important to make a list of tasks beforehand and says the ritual of setting a physical timer that ticks insistently at you as you work improves your focus.  But like many folks, I use a watered down version of the technique that forgoes the to-do list and makes use of a digital timer.

There are tons of little pomodoro timer apps, websites, and software programs out there to keep time for you.  Still, since I do a lot of work on the command line and appreciate its relatively distraction-free aesthetic, I wanted a command-line based pomodoro timer.  So I wrote a quick one in PHP and I’m sharing it.


To use it, you first need PHP installed on your system.  On Mac OSX, PHP is preinstalled, so there’s no need to do anything at this stage.  On other *nix systems, it’s simple to get PHP via your distribution’s package manager. Windows users using a Cygwin BASH or tcsh shell can also get PHP through Cygwin Ports.

Once you’ve got PHP up and running, download the ‘pomodoro’ file from SourceForge. Place the file in whatever directory you want it to live in, and ‘cd’ to that directory in your terminal application.

Next, make the file executable:

$ chmod +x pomodoro

Now, test the script to see if it works:

$ ./pomodoro

If the timer begins counting down, you’re good to go.  If not, then check the path to PHP given in the file itself to make sure it matches the path to PHP on your own system.  Specifically, in your shell enter the command:

$ whereis php

This will display the path to PHP on your system. Then open the ‘pomodoro’ file in a text editor and change the filepath following the characters ‘#!’ on the first line of the file to match the path given by the ‘whereis’ command.

Optionally, you may wish to add the directory containing the ‘pomodoro’ script to your PATH, which will allow you to start the timer by typing ‘pomodoro’ into your shell from any directory, rather than having to first browse to the directory containing the file, then typing ‘./pomodoro’ with a leading ‘./’.


Be aware of a few command line options I’ve written into the script.  For example, you can manually set the length of the “long break” that follows the four work intervals.  It’s also possible to tell the script to start at a work interval other than the first.  This is useful if  you have to step away for longer than intended during one of the short breaks and want to resume the timer at the next interval, or if you want to use the timer, but don’t have time for a full session of four work periods.

Like most any command line program, you can also pause the script (and hence the countdown) by typing Control-Z, and resume it by entering the command ‘fg’ into the terminal.

Here is the full usage information from the ‘help’ screen, which you can display with the command ‘pomodoro -h':

Usage: pomodoro [OPTION]... 
`pomodoro' is a simple command line implementation of a pomodoro timer.
More information on the `Pomodoro Technique' developed by Francesco Cirillo can be
found on Wikipedia:

  pomodoro -l=45            # Run the pomodoro timer with a long break of 45 minutes.
  pomodoro -p=2             # Start the pomodoro timer at the second 25-minute interval.
  pomodoro -p=3 -l=15       # Start the pomodoro timer at the third 25-minute interval
                              and make the long break 15 minutes.

Basic usage:
  -h, --help                Display help and usage information
  -l, --length=NUMBER       Set the length of the long break (default is 30 minutes).
  -p, --pomodoro=NUMBER     Specify pomodoro interval at which to start (default is 1).
      --usage               Alias of the `--help' option
  -v, --version             Display version and license information

Each time a work or break countdown ends, the timer will ring the terminal bell, emitting a brief sound or visual cue depending on your terminal application’s settings. Enjoy!

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“Hate is bad for people and other living things.” May 28, 2014

—Anonymous student(s) in Isla Vista, 2001

In 2001 I was attending UCSB when a disturbed student stopped his medications and ultimately ran his car at freeway speeds into a throng of pedestrians in Isla Vista, killing several of his peers. So much of what went on then is echoed in the recent news from the coast.  Above are the words that some anonymous tenants in Isla Vista painted on their picket fence back then, which was adjacent to the street on which the tragedy occurred.  Everyone who walked or rode their bike down that street that year remembers them.  They became a sort of silent anthem in a community coming together to heal.  I hope they get passed on today to whomever needs to hear them.

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“When a society’s organizations thrust a large number of its citizens into a condition of permanent survival-oriented tension, it would be remarkable indeed if the effects were benign….The responsibility of leading firms and other bodies with concern for the social consequences of the organizational developments they initiate is a major issue of our times.” Jan 1, 2014

—John Child and Rita Gunther McGrath, “Organizations Unfettered: Organizational Form in an Information-Intensive Economy,” 2001

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LaTeX Letterhead for Quinnipiac University Dec 4, 2013

qu-ltrI’ve been finding myself spending ever more time in Emacs of late, working on various projects.  As ever, you can do an immense amount of work and play from within this single program, from coding to browsing the web to checking email to reading news to perusing Twitter. It’s addictive.

I’ve also been doing a lot more writing in Emacs, getting more and more comfortable with LaTeX.  And as the season approached for writing letters of recommendation, I realized that I had no version of Quinnipiac’s official letterhead that would work in LaTeX.  I finally spent the time to create one, and as is my rule with yak-shaving tasks like this one, I figured I’d share it and hopefully help out the next person.

The letterhead conforms to the rules in the Quinnipiac University Graphics Standards Manual, as it was last revised in 2003.  The LaTeX is based on a similar University of Wisconsin-Madison letterhead by Sam Stechman, which was an excellent and greatly appreciated start.

That said, I’m far from a LaTeX expert, but I can still tell that Stechman’s original letterhead is mostly a personal project.  The markup is more than fine for individual use, but doesn’t have quite the elegance of widely adopted solutions like those available at Cornell, Stanford, or MIT.  I’ve cleaned up Stechman’s template slightly, and plan to continue to do so as my own knowledge of LaTeX improves. I also welcome improvements by others and will happily link to them or post them here.

Without further ado, however, here’s the link to download the QU Letterhead LaTeX template:

QULetterhead.tgz (7.1 M)

Please use it only in accordance with the Quinnipiac University Graphics Standards Manual. The package includes:

  • qu-footer-generic.eps // A graphic containing the footer information in the university’s official font and Pantone color scheme.
  • qu-footer-generic.psd // A PSD file of this footer, which can be edited to include an individual’s personal phone number, campus address, etc.
  • qu-logo.eps // A graphic of the university logo.
  • qu-ltr.tex // The actual LaTeX letterhead template, which incorporates all these other elements.
  • signature.png // A graphic containing a generic handwritten signature, which can be replaced with a scan of an individual’s own signature.

Happy letter writing!

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“[Late night] shows are promotional vehicles for the industry. They’re not talk shows, per se. … [They’re] pretty cheap, too, so until it becomes an unworkable business model, I don’t think you’ll see change. Same as the movie business. Until this thing implodes from within, which feels like it’s not too far off.” Aug 24, 2013

Jerry Seinfeld on the state of late night talk shows (in relation to his own online interview series, Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee)

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Kevin Spacey on Television Distribution Aug 24, 2013

Interesting comments from Kevin Spacey on House of Cards, Netflix, and the future of television distribution.

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Communication, Culture & Critique Article Aug 20, 2013


I’m pleased that my paper on online television distribution has now been published in the ICA journal, Communication, Culture & Critique.  The paper attempts to outline conceptual tools for studying the distribution of television and other media online. Better than anything I’ve published previously, I believe it captures my outlook and (hopefully) the value of my methodological strategy of tracing distribution paths from producers to end users.

Among other things, the paper gives a history of Boxee, a tech startup that prominently challenged traditional ways of distributing television and resisted domestication by content providers for a surprising period of time.  As a post-script to the story told in the paper, I should note that Boxee was sold to Samsung, pretty much the day after I approved the final proofs for this article.  Isn’t that the way it always goes?  Thankfully, this turn of events fits fairly neatly into the framework and narrative I delineate in the article, but it still would have been a nice dénouement to have included.

The citation info for the paper is as follows:

Braun, J. A. (2013). Going over the top: Online television distribution as sociotechnical system. Communication, Culture & Critique, 6(3), 432-458.

And for those without library access, a preprint of this article also appeared a while back on Culture Digitally.

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Social Theory Through Complaining Aug 9, 2013


Oh, this is brilliant.  My hat’s off to Kieran Healy, I would totally take this course.  The original is here, and Healy’s site is here.

[H/T Claudia Barriga]


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