Friday, December 01, 2006

A First-Time Blogger's Experience

I would like to begin by admitting that I was a bit apprehensive about enrolling in a technology based writing course. After fifteen years of learning how to successfully apply the rules of proper academic writing to my prose, I was concerned that the constraints of this drastic media change would be a difficulty rather than a relief. Upon completing this class though, I feel that I now possess a valuable and functional understanding of the advantages technology offers as a form of communication.

I chose to blog on the modern but narrowly recognized field of Culinology, basically a synthesis of the culinary arts and scientific experimentation. It was arduous at first finding valuable examples upon which I could model my blogs. Culinology is not a topic frequently discussed. Thus, my initial blogging experience was confusing and frustrating. Eventually, I learned the basic mechanics of linking web pages, inserting images and conducting advanced searches within blogger. These techniques helped smoothed the transition from academic writing to blogging.

The prompt for my second essay, a critique on the aesthetics and effectiveness of the Tazo Tea website, taught me a valuable lesson in consumer-related webpage design. Given various tools with which to evaluate form and content, I learned the most successful approaches to creating a dynamic product advertisement. I then blogged upon the experience I had while exploring the website and examined its overall style and achievement. This blog was the most enjoyable to complete as I had a wonderful time using Photoshop to redesign images from the Tazo site, making them appropriate to include within my blog. Furthermore, investigating various food-related websites was informative and interesting, considering my near obsession with cooking.

I found the final essay, a proposal for candidacy to a USC honorary degree, to be the most difficult to complete. My personal fondness of Paula Deen, whom I chose to write upon, colored my analysis and interfered with my ability to write a sound argument. I also had quite a bit of trouble with links. I was unsure of my citation approach; I did not understand which word or phrase was appropriate to link to its source. However, in my final re-revision of this essay, I have repaired these problems.

Overall, I have greatly enjoyed this course. As a testament to its value, I feel that my writing has greatly improved. This class has helped me discover that technology, as opposed to traditional forms of communication, offers a much greater potential for transmitting ideas to the public. Most importantly, I have learned how to use this contemporary power by creating appealing and informative blogs.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Paula Deen: Honorary USC Graduate

The goal of a university, is to provide students with the knowledge, skills and experience necessary to ensure a smooth transition into the workforce. A more philosophical approach to interpreting the purpose of higher education may yield a much different conclusion. Society as a cohesive whole is essentially the collaboration of each and every human being within the community. The concept of community is not restricted to cities, states or even countries. Instead, it may be expanded to encompass one continuous and unified world society which can be called humanity. Since the nature of humanity is colored by the character of each particular member of the populace, an idealized inference may assert that a change in the episteme of an individual may ultimately alter the structure and direction of society as a whole. It is by this theory, on a massive scale, that universities design and organize their purpose: producing “students who are able to integrate knowledge, communicate, collaborate,…understand other perspectives and be active participants in a democratic society.”

The central mission of the University of Southern California is a document clearly stating the university’s specific objectives with respect to the nature of the graduates it generates: “[T]he development of human beings and society as a whole through the cultivation and enrichment of the human mind and spirit.” In addition, it lists the primary methods by which these goals are achieved: “The principal means by which our mission is accomplished are teaching, research, artistic creation, professional practice and selected forms of public service.” Undoubtedly, the core principle of this mission is richly infused with a sense of the tremendous impact a singular being can have on society. By gaining knowledge, an individual becomes more socially conscious and thus, has an enhanced ability to change the course of humanity.

After four years of education, research, and practice, a student’s capacity to be a productive and powerful member of society is confirmed by a hard-earned diploma. This diploma signifies to the world that the recipient effectively exhibits all aspects of his particular school’s mission. Many schools, including USC, take part in an honorary degree program which, according the USC, is the “highest award that the University of Southern California confers.” This practice, according to James Freedman, finds its origins in ancient Greece and Rome when “crowns of laurel, and oak [were] bestowed…to the patents of nobility…recognizing the worth of rare and excellent men….” An honorary degree is given by USC to an established person within the world society who has proven himself, through his actions and enterprises, to embody the epitome of USC’s ideals. For example, in May of 2005, Neil Armstrong was given an honorary USC degree. As the first person to walk on the moon and a “brave and innovative explorer…dedicated citizen, educator, and war veteran,” Mr. Armstrong has unselfishly used his talents and knowledge of science for the benefit of society. He has clearly had an enormous impact on humanity as a whole, not only through space exploration but by giving people hope, passion and enthusiasm for the future.

One woman whom I earnestly believe is deserving of an honorary USC degree is Paula Deen. Growing up in Georgia, Ms. Deen married her childhood sweetheart with the explicit goal of “…[being] the perfect wife, [and] the perfect mother.” Unfortunately, her dreams were crushed seven months later when her father died. Shortly after, her mother passed away as well, leaving Ms. Deen alone with two babies, a younger brother and a husband to care for. Although Ms. Deen found support in her husband, this luxury was short lived. In 1978, her husband lost his business and fell head first into extreme financial difficulties. Not having the emotional capabilities or adequate support system to deal with such a devastating situation, Ms. Deen plummeted into a state of depression. She, in fact, explains that she became “scared…a nervous shell.” She developed agoraphobia, would not leave her home and would only get out of bed to eat. Clearly, this interfered with her life goal of being the perfect mother and wife to her family. Under duress, Ms. Deen decided it was time to start her life anew. She began by focusing on her children. In an attempt to incorporate her sons more fully into her new life, Ms. Deen launched the Bag Lady, a small catering venture. She relied on the recipes her grandmother had taught her and used them to create bagged lunches which her children, Jamie and Bobbie, would take to local businessmen at work. Ms. Deen has relied on the knowledge of her craft and passion for the well being of her family to propel her into success.

Listed by USC’s honorary degree committee, the number one motive for granting an honorary degree is to “honor individuals who have distinguished themselves through extraordinary achievements…” This qualification poses a bit of confusion, though; what constitutes an extraordinary achievement? Mike Martin, in his book entitled “Meaningful Work,” explicates what he believes to be the standards and motives of “extraordinary achievements.” Mr. Martin opens by quoting Adam Smith in his book, “Wealth of Nations.” He calls attention to Mr. Smith’s theory that that it is not from compassion that one becomes a successful business person, rather, it is from self-interest. Self-interest here is presented in the form of monetary gains and reputation elevation, the visible measures of one’s success. Judged by these standards, Paula Deen is an extremely successful businesswoman. She has turned her limited assets into a multi-million dollar production. Paula now has two shows on the Food Network, a popular cookbook, a flourishing restaurant, and most importantly, a reputation which surpasses her newly acquired wealth. She has, by Mr. Smith’s definition, been motivated by self-interest to accomplish many “extraordinary achievements” and is thus deserving of an honorary degree.

The fourth point the USC honorary committee discusses as an important reason for bestowing an honorary degree is to “elevate the university in the eyes of the world.” A degree not only proves each student’s aptitude and strength, but it binds the him to the university from which he graduated. In other words, it gives the university credit for any wonderful or ground-breaking endeavor he later accomplishes. Conversely, the university can also be recognized when one of its graduates acts in a destructive manner towards society. Thus, it is imperative for a school to put much effort into generating quality members of humanity in order to preserve its reputation. Although there is no certain method of choosing stable recipients of an honorary degree, a university can look at candidates' past actions to determine if his ethics and ideals are in synchronization.

A person’s morals are shaped by their past experiences and challenges. Paula Deen is a woman who overcame severe personal obstacles while beginning her career. However, the lessons she has learned from these experiences have convinced Ms. Deen to built her life around providing warmth and pleasure to others. Thus, enhancing society, the basis of USC’s mission statement, is also the foundation which has helped form Paula Deen’s career choices and successes. By the integrity of her personal accomplishments, Paula Deen’s association with USC by virtue of an honorary degree would definitely “elevate the university in the eyes of the world.”

Freedman emphasizes the relationship between school and honorary degree recipient as a long-lasting and important one. Recipients in the past have “become sources of summer jobs, career counseling…professional opportunities and…personal encouragement.” Most important though is the support and hope a student experiences from seeing a personal role model or successful participant in their respective field receiving the highest honor possible by their home institution. This confirms within the student’s mind that their passions are real, respectable and valued within society. In addition, it helps the student understand that he, just as his role model, can change humanity. Granting Paula Deen the Doctor of Humane Letters, Outstanding Citizen degree would be an opportunity for USC to give its many students, who have perhaps unorthodox interests such as the culinary arts, courage to pursue their ambitions. This type of encouragement is especially important to students interested in less traditionally academic arenas. Many individuals in this situation feel that their desires may be perceived as superficial and thus inadequate. Paula Deen, though, proves that enthusiasm, hard work and an empathetic relationship with society can turn any hobby, occupation or interest into a significant, humanity-enhancing venture.

Despite these many positive aspects in awarding an individual whose expertise does not lie in traditional academic fields, there can be negative consequences. For instance, Freedman suggests that graduates may feel that the integrity of their diploma is degraded by associating its principles with celebrities. A celebrity is any person who has amassed wealth or reputation simply on fame. This severely detracts from the diploma’s capacity to honor the hard-work, effort and struggle every student endures while attending college. True, Paula Deen is a celebrity and thus, her achievements may be perceived as trivial. Yet, Ms. Deen has proven that anyone, no matter where there passions lie, can be extremely successful and make a difference within society. These achievements give Paula the authority to be an exceptional role model for any student. Freedman asserts, in his closing argument, that, "each honorand’s character and attainment [should be] worthy of emulation and admiration." Paula Deen's triumphs transcend the culinary arts as her integrity enhances and provides hope and inspiration to humanity.

Through her achievements, Paula Deen has helped alter society by offering encouragement to individuals who can emphasize with her childhood and share in her passions. In addition, she has surmounted the despair of a broken family, the depths of depression and poverty to become a successful business woman and loving mother. Most importantly, she has accomplished these great feats while retaining her integrity and compassion. Today, Paula Deen continues to warm the hearts, minds and bellies of her friends, family and patrons with her delicious, southern, home-cooked meals. In light of these achievements, I believe that Paula Deen is deserving of an honorary USC degree.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Critique on Tazo: The Effectiveness of a Consumer-Related Website

Over the past twenty years, the internet has amassed countless consumer related websites which provide customers with persuasively displayed product information. In a study done on the trends of internet usage, the Pew Internet and American Life Project asserts that not only are there about 147 million American adults using the internet on a daily basis, but 78% of them are online to research a product or service before buying it. Even more staggering is information from Forrester Research, Inc. at The Network for Retailers Online which has found that online sales will surpass $200 billion during the year 2006. Companies can infer from these statistics that web design can be an effective and influential method of advertisement. There are different types of advertising, as outlined in Mary Ellen Gordon and Kathryn De Lima-Turner's scholarly article entitled, "Consumer Attitudes towards Internet Advertising." They have found that "some marketers attempt to make their Internet advertising entertaining to attract consumers...," while "other commercial messages focus on conveying information." The Web Style Guide, an authority on web design, explains that the most effective website is one which combines both while maintaining an emphasis on content and simplicity. Although the Web Style Guide claims knowledge in adequate web design protocol, the actual success and value of the website is ultimately decided by the consumer.

The preface to the second edition of the Web Style Guide explains, "[T]oday, the field of Web design is seen much more as a craft than an art, where function takes precedence over form and content is king." I believe that this is the basic tenet with which a website's quality is judged. Indeed, there are two notable associations which drive the importance of imagination tempered with functionality: the Webby Awards and the Web Awards. These web sites critique and evaluate multiple sites, ultimately announcing one as superior within its category. While browsing the winners of the 2005 Web Awards, I found one in particular which highlights the good and the bad of contemporary web site design: Tazo Tea. This site is the recipient of the Standard of Excellence award. This means that Tazo was awarded over 60 points within a rubric of 0-10 points in 7 categories: Design, Innovation, Content, Technology, Interactivity, Copywriting and Ease of Use.

Tazo presents the peaceful, yet exotic world of Tazo tea. First and foremost, the purpose of this site is to advertise Tazo's tea creations to the general public, making them seem desirable and unique. This site relies on the viewer's modern interpretation of Zen Buddhism, Shamanism, and Mysticism to convey an "other worldly" sense of spirituality and relaxation which the viewer can only experience through enjoying Tazo tea. This ambition is also achieved by incorporating spices and herbs found in foreign countries used by foreign peoples with whom Americans are unfamiliar. In addition, Tazo uses calming ocean sounds, drifting sand, exotic characters and earrth tones to increase the reader's impression of relaxation. This style of website offers the contemporary person a refuge from their hectic life.

The Webby Awards, an award site similar to the web awards, outlines good content as "engaging, relevant, and appropriate for the audience." The content of Tazo's website not only embodies these three qualities but is extremely credible as well. They incorporate the histories and principles of various foreign religions to enhance their plausibility. For instance, the writer explains that the word "tazo" means "river of life" in the Roman language, "fresh" in the Hindi language and the name of a magical, rejuvenating elixir in Babylonia. To further enhance their reputation, Tazo claims to have a master shaman who travels to various countries, sampling herbs and spices from their native lands. One element included within this site which does much to elevate its credibility and gain respect from its viewers is to make no claims on the health benefits of Tazo. Instead, the consumer is redirected to a website which possesses proper authority on the topic.

In addition to providing a wonderful array of informative content on the production, history and benefits of tea, Tazo proves that they are actively working to better the world community. This not only enhances their reputation and credibility, but further establishes them within the concepts of spiritual Zen ideology which permeate their website. As their product is derived from nature, they feel it important to give back to nature, which is a basic tenet of the various religions with which they identify. They interact with the Mercy Corps, a partnership for hope and advancement in India. This corporation improves the living and working conditions of the inhabitants of tea producing villages. This initiative focuses on "providing vocational and leadership training for youth; training community health workers to;and supporting social development projects." Tazo also takes part in the Ethical Tea Partnership, an alliance of tea companies who promote ethical sourcing of tea. Also, they believe in renewable energy from windmills, hoping to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. These are only two of their humanitarian and environmental efforts. Additionally, Tazo contributes to local charity campaigns such as Ethos, Inc., an educational program focusing on music; Schoolhouse Supplies, a non-profit store which gives free school supplies to teachers; and SCRAP, an organization that takes items out of landfills and sells them to be reused in creative ways.

Among the many positive design qualities found within the Tazo tea website, there are a few negatives as well. Most of which though, are due to over elaboration and creativity. The muted earth tones and ancient, etched handwriting is appropriate for this site, but the interface lacks the tranquility of the product being offered. For instance, the tea selector is designed in a circular, gliding, frictionless form, but it is difficult and frustrating to use. Furthermore, once one selects their favorite tea, one is bombarded with a short noise representing the tea they have just chosen. What might have been more effective is a longer, softer tune which relaxes the viewer into the next screen instead of a short burst of startling noise. It would seem that the web designer's desire for smoothness and relaxation has backfired somewhat into a very complicated mess of animated graphics and noises. Redeemably though, once the user passes the hustle and bustle of the flavor selector, he is presented with a cup of visibly steaming tea with the prominent flavors and aromas highlighted and easily accessible. Not only is the consumer told the flavors, but as he interactively scrolls over the each name, he is shown the country from which it originates along with a picture of that spice in bulk. This greatly contributes to the site's credibility and other worldly spirituality.

The Web Style Guide stresses the importance of clear navigation aids by explaining that "the main interface problem in web sites is the lack of a sense of where you are within the local organization of information." This is especially true in Tazo. It was not until my second visit that I could navigate freely and uninhibitedly through the network of complex graphics and animations. They also explain that "users are not impressed with complexity that seems gratuitous." Although the animations enrich the site, they provide nothing more than interactive ability and a measure of frustration. The Webby Awards judging criteria agree with the Web Style Guide, describing good navigation and structure within a website as being "consistent, intuitive and transparent."The clarity of navigation and overall effectiveness of the site would be improved by simplifying animations and navigation buttons. Consistency, another important element of website design which the Web Style Guide emphasizes, is impressively utilized. Through countless blends of tea, the structure of design is identical making comparison and comprehension simple.

Most importantly in the critique of a website is what the Webby Awards calls the "Overall Experience." Essentially, this is the impression that the sum of each individual aspect of the website such as content, userability, functionality, etc., leaves the viewer with. It states that "one has probably had a good overall experience if (s)he comes back regularly... or stays for a while, intrigued." unfortunately, Tazo does possess elements of the challenges contemporary web designers face such as over-animation and a confusing interface. However, while visiting this site I felt welcome and comfortable. I was so impressed with the animations that I later returned to the website to find new graphics and interactive images. Most importantly though, I was persuaded into visiting my local grocery store to purchase a box of Tazo tea. Clearly, this website has achieved its goal of promoting Tazo tea intriguingly, entertainingly and effectively.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Current Events in Culinology

The bright field of Culinology is growing at an exponential rate. With technology being at the forefront of modern world thought and food being not only a necessity but a universal comfort, it is clear why the amalgamation of the two is being met with much success and praise. I have done research, exploring various blogs on the topic of food technology and have found two to be particularly intriguing. One, by David Ponce, is entitled "Restaurant Sells printed Food." It is an introduction to Chef Homaro Cantu's Inkjet printer which he fills with fruit and vegetable "ink." He then inserts edible paper upon which his menu is printed. The second, "Moto (Chicago) - Lab Rats," is a thorough review of a restaurant, WD-50, which is known for its culinoligical leanings. It presents the question of whether or not technologically altered food is a actually an improvement to the culinary arts. I have addressed both topics and offered my opinions as comments within the blogs.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Warm Ice Cream: A Taste Sensation

I have yet to meet someone who does not adore the cold, thick, velvety concoction known as Ice cream. The delectable treat of sweetened cream has an appealing texture as its light, airy consistency slowly melts on your tongue into a cool, gooey puddle. Once gently warmed, it becomes an explosion of intense flavor which tempts you to another bite. How can ice cream, a perfectly choreographed taste sensation, be improved upon? Methyl Cellulose might be the answer. Wylie Dufresne, chef of restaurant WD-50, teamed up with Ron Jolicoeur, Thomas Klimstra and Mark Jarrad. Together, they discovered a ground-breaking use for this plant based cellulose: the key ingredient in warm ice cream.

Methyl Cellulose is a tasteless, odorless thickener whose unique properties allow it to melt in cold water instead of hot. Thus, the ice cream will remain viscous at higher temperatures while maintaining its characteristic creamy texture. The question remains, though; why would anyone want to eat warm ice cream? The answer is two-fold. Firstly, taste becomes muted in cold and frozen media. Thus, this innovation will give a chef more control over flavor nuances and provide the eater with a more intense and complex experience. Secondly, the novel mouth-feel sensation of warm ice cream is simply intriguing. In his article entitled, "The Scoop on Ice Cream,” Lawrence E. Joseph explains that although vanilla is by far the most popular flavor of ice cream in America, it has “little fragrance.” This is “surprising since vanilla normally has such a distinctive scent.” This frustrating reality owes its foundation to the fact that chilliness numbs sensation.

In addition to being used as a thickener, Methyl Cellulose also acts as an emulsifier which allows two incompatible liquids to combine and remain as one. This attribute is indispensable in ice cream production as it provides a catalyst, allowing milk fat and water to become a stable, homogenous mixture.

Methyl Cellulose gives culinary creators permission to let imagination be their guide. Subtle tastes such as florals now have the opportunity to pack a punch. Chefs can also include stranger flavors to highlight more prominent ones with out deterring consumers. For instance, a delicate and faint basil essence can be added to a strong strawberry ice cream. Hopefully, though, this innovation will not be used on such novelties as garlic or lobster ice cream; two unappealing flavors which I have recently tried and thanked their flavor dulling chill!

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Flavor Sprays: Are They Really A Dessert-Lover's Dream?

Imagine an attractively decorated spray bottle filled with a light, texture-less substance devoid of carbohydrates, calories and fat. This liquid, when sprayed on a fat-free and nearly calorie-free cracker, imparts the perfectly sweet and delectable flavor of cheesecake. David Burke, an acclaimed Culinologist and master of the culinary arts, has made this dream a reality. His achievements with these novel flavor sprays fall into the scientific field of Culinology. Culinology is newly coined term meaning the area of culinary creation which combines food science and gourmet culinary traditions.

David Burke explains that “we are living in a health-conscious society where people are constantly searching for a way to a healthier lifestyle – Flavor Spray is the solution.” This water-based solution contains only two other ingredients: flavorings, both natural and artificial, and preservatives. Natural flavorings, according to the U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, are “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence…which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit…vegetable…meet…dairy.” Meanwhile, artificial flavors are “chemically synthesized compounds…” The scientist in the back of the kitchen creating these flavorants is known as a flavorist. He studies the chemical reactions which take place on ones taste buds to produce what we perceive as flavor. He then locates organic or chemical products which contain these flavor-producing agents. The final product is taste-tested against the actual food the scientist is trying to emulate. For instance, a scientist has discovered a caramel flavorant which is now commonly used in packaged foods. Without going into the chemical properties of this equation which I can not even begin to understand myself, this compound is known as, “4,5-Dimethyl-3-hydroxy-2,5-dihydrofuran-2-one

The word, "Culinology" is so new in fact, that it is not even in the dictionary yet! Nonetheless, it is building a strong following among respected chefs such as David Burke and Stephen Kalil. Hopefully, with the aid of such celebrity chefs, creativity, scientific background, devoted weight-watchers and healthy eaters, Culinology will achieve their vision of being a “universally recognized discipline,” in 2010.