Build a Homestead

“With Hearthfire you can finally place a permanent mark on the world of Skyrim by designing, building, and maintaining your own home.”

In many fantasy roleplaying games, characters need to acquire a home or a base of operations as part of game play: in Lego Lord of the Rings, once a player gets to Rivendell, it becomes the place to view the trophies for completed minikits.

In Fallout 3, players can acquire a home in Megaton once they have defused the Megaton Bomb and then they can add storage containers, an infirmary, a workbench for repairing and upgrading equipment, and some other features–including a display case for showing off the bobblehead dolls you find throughout the game that give your player character perks.

Screenshot of "a renovated Villa Auditore" in Assassin's Creed 2 by Ubi Soft.

Screenshot of “a renovated Villa Auditore” in Assassin’s Creed 2 by Ubi Soft.

In Assassin’s Creed 2, players eventually gain the familial stronghold in the town of Monteriggioni, the Villa Auditore. As they complete quests the estate is restored from a dilapidated wreck to a gleaming castle, eventually uncovering hidden chambers that hold the keys to advanced gear and skills.

Domain

In Skyrim, there is an add-on game that is just about managing your home base, called Hearthfire. There’s a fairly elaborate guide in the Elder Scrolls Wiki on the steps involved: purchasing land, planning and preparation, building a small house, adding a main hall, adding specialized towers and wings, building out the area around the stronghold and adding personnel and animals.

In this class, you’ll be building your own homestead in the form of a domain of your own. Like in the games described above, in this class you’ll start with some basic components for your domain and then slowly add on additional specialized rooms to flesh out your estate or to aid you in acquiring new skills and perks.

 

I’ll use the same steps for building a Hearthfire estate to outline the steps for building your own domain. (Click on the titles below to display that step.)

Before you can begin building your homestead, you’ll need to own a plot of land to build on. Obtain the deed to your own domain by going to Emory Domains, signing in with your Emory NetID and password, and registering a domain name. You will need to pay $12 for the cost of registering your domain (it’s only $12 because the Emory Writing Program is underwriting half the cost by paying for the server hosting that you receive along with your domain name). Here’s a help page that will walk you step by step through the registration process.

Please do note that your domain name should not be tied to this particular class (we’ll get to that later, when you build your main hall). Think of your domain name as the land upon which you will build a sprawling estate–one building on that estate will be devoted to your first year writing class, but you’ll eventually have other edifices upon that land–so you want a domain that will allow you to grow. Either register a domain name that is connected to your own name (i.e., Jane Student might register janestudent.net) or that is a brief word or phrase that is easy to spell and fairly memorable but that connects with your long-term interests in some way (e.g., Tanine Allison, a professor of Media Studies here at Emory is finishing her first book, entitled Destructive Sublime: World War II in American Media, so she used that title as the domain name for her course sites.) You are not purchasing a web site! You are registering a domain name and server space, upon which you can build many other web sites, amongst other things.

First just think a little bit about fundamental style. What sort of homestead would you like? Proudspire ManorBatcave? The SSV NormandyCeras Lake CastleFortress of Solitude? An Onyx Modern HouseTitans Tower?

You might look around at other sites, maybe even check out the sites my students built last spring.

Registering your domain claims stake to that address on the internet. Now you need to build something on that space:

  • Install WordPress in your primary domain. Give your site a title that is not “My blog.”
  • Configure the settings on your site, making the front page static instead of a posts page.
  • Add a bit of brief language on your main page about yourself. You do not need to fully develop this page for right now.

Even though it’s your “primary” domain, it’s not necessarily where the bulk of your content will go. Look at the featured image at the top of this post (here’s that picture again) and think about your small house in similar terms as that one in Hearthfire: your primary domain is the small building you create first but which mainly exists as an entryway into the main hall, which in that image is still under construction so it’s just a foundation and a bunch of beams of roof joists. The main difference in this case is that with your cPanel and server space you can build as many many halls as you like, each of them connected together via that small house.

For now, your primary domain is most useful because it’s a single URL you can put on a resume or add to a social media profile or tell a friend to, which then collects together all the other stuff you’re doing online.

The main hall is the space that you’ll be using for this class. You can create as many subdomains as you would like on the server space you’ve acquired. Your class subdomain is a second web site, with its own address and its own dashboard, that will be devoted just to this course.

This help document walks you through the steps for building a class subdomain.

Create the subdomain folder

Your domain is really akin to a folder on your computer. When I point my web browser to davidmorgen.org, it goes to that address and looks in the folder of files stored in that space, finds an index file and loads it in the browser. So the first thing you need in order to create the class subdomain is to create a subfolder, which is the simple process of going to the Subdomains area in your cPanel and naming a subfolder. You probably want the subdomain for this class to be eng181 or maybe readwriteplay. When you click on the create button after entering the subdomain name, all it does is create that subfolder on your server.

Install WordPress

The next step is to install files in that subfolder, which you do by installing WordPress a second time. The second time you install WordPress, choose the subdomain you created from the location menu, and make certain you delete the /blog/ subdirectory that Installatron suggests.

Make certain when you install WordPress that you name your site something other than “My blog.”

Configure WordPress & Create a Menu

Just like you did with your primary directory, you need to configure your WordPress settings. In this case, I’ve got some additional directions to add though.

Just as you did with your primary domain, create two new pages–one will be your static front page and the other will be your posts page.

Once you’ve created those two pages go to Settings > Reading to make a static front page that displays the new home page and to designate the other as your posts page.

Next, go to Settings > Discussion. The first box at the top of the page says “Attempt to notify any blogs linked to from the article” and by default is unchecked. Make certain to check that box. Save the changes to this page.

Create_a_menuGo to Appearance > Menus and create a new menu. You can call it Main or Top or whatever you want. Once you’ve created the menu, you need to tell the site where to display the menu, so check the location box (different themes will have different locations available. The image shows the default theme for 2016, but if you’ve changed themes you might have other options). I generally advise that when you’re starting out, you automatically add new top-level pages, which you can always turn off later if you want more manual control.

Notice in the Menu area to the left, you have a palette of items that you can add to the menu. In the default setup, you can add Pages, Posts, Custom Links, or Categories. Pages, Posts, and Categories are just those items that you’ve created in the dashboard.

Custom_Links_in_MenuCustom Links allows you to add a link to anything on web in your menu. Add a Custom Link that connects to your primary domain by entering the address for your primary domain in the URL box and a title in the Link Text box.

Add another Custom Link, this time directed at the class page.

Save your menu.

(Later, go the dashboard for your primary domain, create a menu, then add a Custom Link for your class subdomain too.)

If they didn’t add automatically, make sure you add your Posts page and Achievements page to the menu as well. You should have a menu which looks basically like the one on the left.

Later, you can rearrange your menus however work for you and if you’re already comfortable with WordPress and want to arrange your menus in some other style or you’ve got a theme with other menu locations, feel free to do something different. But if you’re starting out with WordPress, following these steps will help you to make your subdomain usable quickly.

One last step remains for basic setup. In the dashboard, go to Appearance > Widgets and find the widget called Meta. Click on the title, then add it to one of the widget areas on your site. This widget adds some basic links, most importantly a link to the dashboard for your site. In the future, when you’re not logged into your WordPress account, you can pull up your site and click on the login button to get to the dashboard–there is no need to go through the cPanel to get to your site’s dashboard.

You should have a site which looks something like this now:

Eventually, I will definitely encourage you to try different themes and to customize your site. If you want to try very basic customizing of this Twenty-Sixteen theme, go to Appearance > Customize in the dashboard and try playing around with colors and/or add a header image.

Now we’re going to work with plugins a little bit. We’ll activate one plugin and install at least one more.

A plugin is a piece of code that some developer has written in order to expand the functionality of software in one way or another. Because WordPress is open source software it’s relatively easy for someone who knows how to code to write plugins to allow you to solve problems with or add capabilities to your site. There are many thousands of such pieces of code in the WordPress plugin repository.

If you’ve used WordPress.com or had a Scholarblog site, you’ve probably never messed with plugins because there’s not much you can do with them in that environment. Plugins allow you to customize your WordPress installation in all sorts of ways but most multisite installations of WordPress don’t allow you to install your own plugins because the administrators of those sites maintain control over plugins.

Activate Akismet

When you install WordPress through Reclaim Hosting, there are some plugins that are automatically included. If you log in to your dashboard and go to Plugins, you’ll see the list of installed plugins.

Note that some of these are already activated and working automatically. Cookies for Comments is a basic spam protection plugin and it comes pre-installed and activated. Akismet is a much better spam protection plugin which you probably also want to activate–it’s not automatically activated because you need to sign up for an account with them and enter they key they provide to you first.

Check the help document on Managing Comment Spam with Akismet and follow along with it, get your own Akismet key, then activate that plugin. You can leave Cookies for Comments on, too, since they won’t interfere with each other.

Install a Plugin

Now you know how to activate an install plugin (it was easy, wasn’t it?) but what if you want to add some sort of other feature to your site and you need a plugin that’s not already there when you first install WordPress?

Let’s walk through installing the Elementor plugin, which allows you to work on your WordPress site with a drag-and-drop editor.

From the Plugin page in your WP dashboard pictured above, click on Add New in the sidebar or at the top of the page and then type Elementor in the search bar. On the next page, underneath the plugin, choose “Install Now” and confirm that you want to install the plugin.

The next page will show the progress of downloading, unpacking, and installing the plugin. Once it’s done, you can activate the plugin and from the confirmation page, or you can go back to the list of installed plugins and activate it there.

Fleshing out the assignments for the course.
Managing commenting and the structures necessary for syndicating work for the class.

 

Podcast Series

Note this additional post with a bunch of nuts and bolts guidance on completing the podcast assignment!

Due: Fridays

This semester, as a class we’ll be producing a podcast series about games and gaming, in which we’ll share our thinking with each other and with listeners outside the class. Early in the semester, we’ll spend a class period developing a more specific plan for how we want to structure the series, coming up with a title for the whole series, and making some decisions about the process. We will also work together to record an introductory audio segment, which will go at the start of each episode of the podcast, and to design a logo and other visuals for promotion.

Read on for further details so you have a sense of what to expect.

Roles

As instructor for the class, I will be the Executive Producer for the series. In this capacity, it will be my role to consult with the individuals responsible for any given episode, to provide some guidance in order to ensure that each episode maintains the standards of the whole, and to provide feedback on the production.

Each student in the class will be responsible for serving as Producer for one single episode. The Producer initiates, coordinates, supervises, and controls all aspects of the podcast episode production process, including creative, technological, and administrative. A Producer is involved throughout all phases of production from inception to completion, including coordination, supervision, and control of all other talents and crafts, and publication and promotion of the completed episode. ((Adapted from the Producer’s job description developed by the Producers Guild of America.))

Each student in the class will also serve as the Assistant Producer for one episode. As the title suggests, the Assistant Producer helps the Producer to create a finished episode. Usually the Assistant Producer will come in after the initiation of the idea and will help to think through how to bring the Producer’s ideas to fruition, including providing assistance with storyboarding, recording, and editing. The Producer is responsible for final decisions and should be the primary coordinator for the entire process, with the Assistant Director serving to offer suggestions and feedback.

The Producer or Assistant Producer might ask other students in the class or outside of the class to participate in an episode by providing voice talents, being interviewed on a subject, or participating in a game session. Help out your fellow classmates when you can.

Publication

The Producer will publish his or her episode by uploading an MP3 to his or her own domain as a blog post designated in the category “podcast.” As with every other blog post you write, the post should include an interesting featured image that goes with the post in some way. The title of the post should be the title for this episode of the podcast. Your post should include a paragraph of text that describes and summarizes the episode in an intriguing manner. The Producer might also promote the episode through various social media channels such as tweeting a link to it or posting about it on his or her Facebook wall.

When you publish the episode to your blog page, it will be syndicated onto the main course site on the Podcasts page. We’ll use the RSS feed for that category to create our podcast on iTunes, which will allow each of us in the class as well as other listeners to subscribe and receive each new episode as we release them.

Episode Structure and Content

(We’ll discuss this topic as a class and develop guidelines for our expectations of each episode, so the following is almost certain to change.)

Each episode should be approximately 10 minutes in length and will begin with an introductory audio bumper that will repeat at the start of each episode. After the series introduction, there will be an audio introduction for this episode that will identify the title of the episode and name the Producer and Assistant Producer.

More coming as we make decisions together as a class…

Create an avatar

Now that you’ve created your subdomain, you need an image to represent yourself and/or your site for the class: a player character avatar. Your avatar can be whatever you want it be but try to create something that both reflects you’re personality and speaks to the topic for this class in someway.

Start by choosing one or more of your own photos as the basis of the avatar, drawing something yourself and scanning it, or finding one or more CC-licensed images on Flickr that you can modify. Make certain to keep a note for yourself of the URL for the photos you use if they are not your own.

Crop and otherwise edit the photo(s) in a photo editing application (like Photoshop or PicMonkey). You can create a layered or collage effect, if you’d like. Add your name on your badge in such a way that it’s legible. You might also include your domain URL, but that’s not required.

Your final badge should be square and at least 512 pixels wide and high.

When you’re done, you’ll need to put the image two places, with an optional third:

First, load the badge into your Media Library and publish it to your site in a blog post. Include information and links in the post about the source(s) for images included in your badge. Write a paragraph or two about why you chose those images, what aspects of yourself and your interests are represented in your badge, and/or what difficulties you faced in creating the badge.

Seconly, go into your dashboard to Appearance > Customize > Site Identity and load the image as your favicon/site icon.

Finally, if you do not already have a gravatar (which is almost all of you), create a gravatar account connected to whatever email you use when you comment on sites for this class and load your avatar there. From then on, your avatar will show up as your picture when you leave comments here and on other students’ sites.

Podcast Reflection

Once you have completed your podcast episode, you should write a reflection post, published to your own site. Embed the Soundcloud episode in your post (if I haven’t published the episode yet when you publish your post, just edit the post later to add the link once I have).

Your refection should be 250 – 500 words and should be in the form of an essay with complete paragraphs, not as a list of bullet point answers.

Reflection Questions

Include a brief description of your process for developing the podcast. How did you and your assistant producer divide up the tasks involved and how did you structure your collaboration? In what ways does your episode respond to the other episodes in the series — in other words, compare your episode to the ones before it, explaining how you gained inspiration from, adapted, or resisted something that your peers did in their episodes.

Please describe your primary goals with the episode that you produced and explain the strategies that you used to achieve them. You’re producing these episodes under a number of time and technological constraints, so it’s likely that there will be some goals that you just cannot accomplish within those constraints — address what challenges arose for you and the choices you made to meet them and/or describe what you would have done differently had you more time/resources available for your episode (in other words, what are some aspirational goals that were perhaps unrealistic given the constraints of the assignment but that you would have liked to have tried to accomplish if circumstances were different?).

How do you see your work on the podcast episode helping you to achieve the learning outcomes for this course? Link to the specific learning outcome posts that applied to your work on this assignment, and explain how you met that outcome with your work on this assignment.

Make sure you address the sets of questions above and then also consider some of the questions below and address them in your reflection (you definitely won’t be able to answer all of these, so go through the list and pick some that seem to be most of interest for you and write about them):

  • Were the strategies, skills and procedures I used effective for this assignment?
  • Do I see any patterns in how I approached my work on this episode? How was producing a podcast similar to or different from writing more traditional essays?
  • What have I learned about my strengths and my areas in need of improvement?
  • How am I progressing as a learner?
  • What suggestions do I have for my peers as they go about working on their episodes to come?
  • How can I apply the skills I used in crafting this podcast episode to future writing projects? Where can I use these skills again?
  • What are you most proud of about the episode that you created?

Podcast Nuts and Bolts

I’ve talked through some of the nuts and bolts issues with the podcast assignments with the first two groups, but now that the first episode is up and we’ve worked through some of the kinks, I want to put all this down in writing for future groups.

Equipment and Software

The Music and Media Library has a number of microphones available for checkout, including Snowball and Snowflake microphones. They aren’t on that list, but I believe they also have a box full of older iPod Nanos with microphone attachments that should work pretty well for recording voice too.

Audacity is a good, free, open-source audio editor (available for Windows, Mac, and Linux). There is a very good tutorial wiki for Audacity online — this basic page on mixing voice narration with music probably covers 90% of what you’ll need to do for your podcast. It’s not terribly difficult, but there is a learning curve to it and you should definitely make an extra copy of your raw audio files before you start mixing and editing them. Expect for it to take longer than you think it should to do the sound editing and build time for mixing into your plans. There are some students in the class who have a fair amount of experience working with Audacity — make friends with them and ask them for help (make sure to give thanks for their help in your episode credits!).

Exporting as an MP3: Note that probably the most complicated part of using Audacity will be configuring the MP3 encoder. Because of copyright laws, Audacity does not come with a native MP3 encoder so you can’t export as MP3 straight out of the box. You’ll need to download and configure an extra plugin to do so.

Student Digital Life also has lots of resources that should be of use to you with this project. If you want to use more advanced software, the Media Lab has the full Adobe Creative Suite, including Adobe Audition, available and student assistants who can help you in using it. The Tech Lab is also a great space for you to go to get ideas about how to approach these projects. There are also gaming consoles available in Cox Computing. If you want to do an episode on a console game and need a space to have your friends play and record audio with them, those might be really useful. Let me know if you need to reserve a particular time (gaming consoles are usually first come, first serve but for an academic use the SDL folks have indicated that they might be able to set up reservations — but you should probably run that through me instead of just going up to whomever is working the front desk and asking for a reservation).

Meeting

You should plan to meet with me a couple of weeks before your episode is due so that you can fill me in on your plans, we can brainstorm ideas, and you can ask me any questions that have come up. Try to come into the meeting with a paragraph of text outlining what you hope to achieve — think of it as an articulation of your hypothesis. You are the producers of the episode, which means you’ve got ownership of the it and make the decisions about how to get your episode together. I’m the executive producer, which means it’s my role to help you to achieve the goals you set for your episode while also ensuring that you meet the expectations for the series as a whole. These meetings should be collaborative negotiations.

Collaborating

You are allowed to bring in friends or other people from outside the class to take part in your podcast. If you ask someone from outside the class to appear in your episode, you should get them to fill out a media release form. Note that the form asks whether  the person wants to be identified by a pseudonym, first name, or full name — make sure that they let you know and then use whichever method they choose to identify them during the episode credits section at the end of your podcast. You can also ask fellow classmates to appear in your episode, either to be interviewed or to serve as vocal talent. I hope that most of you will serve as narrators of your own episodes but if you really don’t want to do so, you can script the narrative that you want and then ask a fellow student to record it for you (again, make sure to thank them in your credits!).

If I can ever get the achievements system fully working, I’ll award students in the class who aren’t producers on an episode but who provide vocal talents or other assistance with achievement badges for doing so.

Episode Structure

You are responsible for creating the audio for your episode, which includes an introduction that provides a title for your individual episode and the names of the two producers; the primary content of the episode itself, which should be about ten minutes in length; and a closing credit section for your individual episode in which you provide the title for any music that you have used and thank people who contributed to it.

You are encouraged to mix music, interviews, and sound effects or ambient sounds into your episode.

Turning It In

Once you’ve got the audio for your episode, upload the audio to Google Drive and then send it to me — preferably as an MP3 but if you have trouble exporting it that way, you can send the Audacity project file. If you have trouble with sending it, let me know. Include in your email a short paragraph describing the podcast and a text version of your comments. If you have someone from outside the class in your podcast, send me a copy of their media release form or give it to me as a hard copy during the next class session.

Send me the file by the Friday when your episode is due. I will take your episode and place it into the template for the series, adding on the series introduction and the series credit pieces. Then I’ll upload the episode to our Soundcloud playlist and include it in the RSS feed so that it pushes out to iTunes and to anyone who’s subscribed to the podcast. I’ll also publish a post to the podcast category page on the site with a Soundcloud embed.

Reflection

Once you’ve submitted your episode, each of the producers should write their own podcast reflection post on their own individual sites, with an embed of the Soundcloud episode at the top and then your reflection included below.

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