The Ultimate Photo Essay

During the first two weekends in April, MSU\’s men\’s and women\’s ultimate frisbee teams – the Burning Couch and Infamous, respectively – hosted tournaments in East Lansing. These tournaments, called Sectionals, were the first steps toward reaching the Ultimate Players Association\’s (UPA) College Championship, held on May 25-27 in Columbus, Ohio. This photo essay chronicles their quest to be champions.

[MS1] No-preference freshman Ryan Heffernan throws a hammer during warm-ups. Heffernan is one of 10 rookies on the 22-member Burning Couch. This influx of youth is a result of the graduation of more than half of last year\’s team that placed ninth at the 2006 UPA College Championships, or Nationals.

[MS2] Members of the Burning Couch run down the field after a pull – the throw that starts each point similarly to a kickoff in football. Ultimate is played on a field that is 75 yards long and 40 yards wide with end zones that are 25 yards deep, and games are played to a certain number of points instead of to a time limit.

[MS3] Human biology junior Phil Sommer throws a backhand around his mark in the Couch\’s game against YelloWMUstard, from Western Michigan University. Sectionals is the first tournament in the UPA Championship Series, which also includes Regionals and Nationals. Eight regional champions qualify for the UPA College Championship tournament along with eight other wild card teams.

[MS4] No-preference freshman Connor Grant, bundled up for the 20-degree weather, watches his teammates from the sideline. The fast-paced game of Ultimate Frisbee allows for only seven players per team on the field at a time, so a deep bench and fresh legs are important to a team\’s success.

[MS5] From left to right, Sommer, supply chain management senior and team captain T.J. Johnson and criminal justice senior Ricky Vogelzang warm up before the Sectionals finals against the Couch\’s rivals, MagnUM from U-M. These two teams have represented the Great Lakes Region at the UPA College Championship in 2005 and 2006, tying for ninth place in both years.

[MS72] Johnson, left, and linguistics junior Kevin Stowe go up for a disc against a YelloWMUstard player. The windy and cold conditions made throwing difficult and resulted in many high-floating passes left up for grabs for several players at once.

[WS1] Members of Infamous cheer before the first game of the day against Central Michigan\’s Ultimatum. Before hosting Sectionals, Infamous had traveled around the country to tournaments in Las Vegas, Nev.; Savannah, Ga.; South Bend, Ind.; and State College, Penn.

[WS2] Journalism junior Jessica Sipperley goes up for a disc against an Ultimatum player. Because this was the only tournament held in East Lansing, many friends and family members came out to support Infamous, touting signs and cameras.

[WS3] International relations junior and team captain Jenni Schmidt follows her team in line for the post-game handshake. Schmidt usually wears number 11, but constant wear and wash has reduced her to an off-center 1.

[WS4] Marketing junior Kristi Maynard cheers on her teammates in the Sectionals finals against intrastate rivals Flywheel from U-M. The teams had played three times earlier in the season, with Infamous coming out with a 2-1 edge.

[WS5] Zoology graduate student Allison Rober passes the disc to her teammate, animal sciences junior and team captain Kim Sabo, during the game against Flywheel. Predicted to qualify for the College Championships, Flywheel proved to be too much for Infamous, and the game ended with a score of 15-2.

[WS6] The members of Infamous gather to do a final cheer after their loss to Flywheel. Although cheering in appreciation for the other team may be difficult after a loss, the teams still exchange words, in a show of respect for a well-played match.

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Entering the Vlogosphere

[keyboard]I\’m a writer – at least I\’d like to think so. I write about a variety of topics, and like any other writer, the more interested I am in the topic, the easier the words flow. I\’m always searching for the right word or the appropriate sentence structure. I write because I have something to say, a story to tell.
Writers love attention in one form or another. We choose an audience and cater our words to it. Sometimes it\’s a small crowd, and other times we try to impress the entire world. Traditionally, writers write and readers read. In the past few years though, that trend has changed with the growing use of blogs.
A blog, a combination of the words \”Web\” and \”log,\” is essentially an Internet site where the content is a series of journal-like entries organized in chronological order with the most recent entry appearing at the top of the page. Blogs are part of the fundamental shift – often called Web 2.0 – in the use of the Internet. The Web has gone from a one-way information source (i.e. someone else posts content, you view it) to a forum of content based on human connections (i.e. someone else posts content, you view it and post more content). In essence, the Internet gets better, and more complex, with more users.
The Internet is now dominated by user-driven sites. Prime examples include social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace; media-sharing sites such as Flickr and YouTube; and, of course, blogging sites such as Blogger and LiveJournal. The common thread between all of these sites is that users create and maintain the content. That user-driven structure, not the content of the blog itself, creates the essence of a blog.
\”Blogs vary from extremely professionally done media sites written by professional journalists to Grandma Edna telling about what her cat did this weekend,\” said Ethan Watrall, a telecommunication, information studies, and media professor who has integrated blogs into the classes he teaches. \”There are as many kinds of blogs out there as there are people blogging. The hallmark of blogs is that they can be very personal to one individual, or they can be very corporate.\”
[plug] Web logs, which Watrall said began in the late \’90s, used to be just what they sounded like: a log of people\’s Web activity. They would be lists of sites – along with commentary about them – that people found interesting. Blogs have become another opportunity for people to voice their opinions, often about current issues, with links to other blogs. Technorati, which keeps tabs on nearly 72 million blogs, tracks these links and monitors the ever-changing trends of Internet activity through the interconnections of bloggers.
In Technorati\’s most recent State of the Blogosphere report, Dave Sifry, founder and CEO of the site, summarized the trends of the blogosphere. He estimated that about 100,000 new blogs are created every day and that users create more than 1.3 million posts daily. The number of posts, furthermore, often spike in reaction to world events, such as Hurricane Katrina and the Israel/Hezbollah conflict. The blogosphere\’s attention to current events has created a unique news source for those who live on the Web.
\”There are people who use blogs as a filtering tool to highlight information that would be of interest to them on the Web, saving them time and effort of sifting through this information,\” said telecommunication, information studies, and media assistant professor Nicole Ellison, who worked with Watrall to co-found Blogs for Learning, an online resource for those interested in the use of blogging in an educational setting. \”In a sense, they\’re finding a few blogs where the authors share their interests and using that as a gateway to the rest of the Web.\”
The fickle and editorial nature of the blogs – and the Internet in general – has always been a point of skepticism in terms of dependence on them as informational sources. With such little control and regulation of online content, the reader must be aware of what he is reading, especially as news sources.
\”There\’s always going to be a credibility issue with online information,\” Ellison said. \”But by the same token, there have been cases with traditional media where there have been credibility lapses (such as The New York Times scandal involving Jason Blair.) I think that people are a little more skeptical when they are assessing the information in blogs, and that\’s probably a healthy thing, as opposed to traditional media, where there\’s maybe an assumption that the information is credible, but that\’s not always the case. In some sense, that\’s an even more dangerous situation.\”
The evolution of technology and the Internet have made it very easy for average people to become bloggers. In only a few minutes, someone can set up a new blog and post to his heart\’s delight about any topic he chooses. Blog topics range from the typical personal diary to niche subjects such as the lowercase \”l\”. Blogs are not all about the writers, though. Through the use of comments, readers get a chance to react to the entries, creating a sense of community within the blogosphere.
\”The reader has a voice,\” Watrall said. \”It creates a far more community atmosphere as opposed to a passive situation where news comes straight from the source and you just digest it. The community aspect creates a feedback and sense of community that is lacking in traditional news. With traditional media, you don\’t get to speak, so a lot of people are turning to these sources.\”
[nora]Both Ellison and Watrall have tried to bring this sense of community into their classrooms. Each of them uses blogs to facilitate and stimulate discussion about certain topics. The blogs, set up so that each student can contribute to the collective content of posts, allow a more open forum for discussion of topics that might not fit into the time allotted for class. Because of the freedom blogs provide, students can bring in outside information that would be, while interesting, less relevant and less appropriate for the classroom setting.
\”Classroom blogs give the opportunity for people to contribute where they might not necessarily have been comfortable to contribute in a very large classroom,\” Watrall said. \”Someone can find a voice on the blog where they might not necessarily have a voice in the classroom. I gauge the successfulness of my use of blogs on the posts that students make that have nothing to do with the assignments.\”
\”I\’ve also allowed (my students) to write about whatever interests them, as long as it has some relationship to the content of the course,\” Ellison said. \”That\’s a really interesting way to find out about resources and information that they\’ve encountered. Hopefully, students will start to dialogue with one another through the site.\”
[cupcake]The natural evolution of blogs has made author-reader interaction more and more personal. Part of the appeal of blogs is that they give readers a sense of personal connection with the author. One way blogs have aimed to increase this personal interaction over the past couple of years is through video blogging, aptly known as vlogging.
\”The main difference (between traditional blogging and video blogging) is that it\’s a lot more accessible,\” said Justin Johnson, the site owner of Vidblogs.com where users create blogs that have video entries as their main content. \”A lot more people watch TV than read. It\’s a lot more immediate medium. You can immediately get a sense of a person. You see mannerisms. You see how they talk. You see their room. By virtue of that and the deeply personal (aspect), it becomes more compelling than simple type.\”
Vlogging can be a more efficient way of conveying information and personal connections because the idea is much simpler than writing: sit down in front of a camera and talk. The audio/visual aspects of vlogs also opens up new entertainment opportunities that written text cannot provide, such as music content and short vignettes. Johnson started vlogging while he was in San Diego in late 2003 and found there was a community of vloggers, but there was no organization and online videos were a mess.
\”A couple months later, I realized there wasn\’t any real repository for all these people doing these video blogs,\” said Johnson, whose site has more than 500 active vloggers. \”I wanted to create a home for that community.\”
The accessibility to these videos is the main difference between vlogs and video hosting sites such as YouTube and Google Video. The infrastructure of YouTube, for example, is such that the user must go out and find the content, which is often inefficient. YouTube has recently exploded in terms of popularity, especially among college students. Anybody with digital footage can upload a video and showcase it for the whole YouTube community: the content can range from weird fish to reckless activities, and the images can be grainy or shaky. In contrast, people who have found a vlogger with similar interests can depend on that person producing quality content in the same place.
\”YouTube is such a mess,\” Johnson said. \”There\’s no quality control. If someone\’s doing their own video blogging – and they\’re good – you can always go right to the source. It\’s an element of voyeurism: people are always going to be interested in other people. It\’s a matter of finding someone and attaching to that personality. But it definitely takes talent, and to find these people with talent isn\’t always the easiest thing.\”
While it is easy to argue most of the content on YouTube is posted for entertainment purposes, the video blogging community could be used as an agent for change. Because so many students log on to see the latest funny clip recommended by their friends, videos about local and global issues – issues about which college students are usually accused of being apathetic – can easily be uploaded. However, the production of such clips is highly dependent on the dedication of the vlogger and the available technology.
In terms of vlogs, technology is a constraint both in the type of content produced and when compared to written blogs. Quality video blogs are more time consuming and labor intensive than written blogs of comparable authority.
\”You can have a dude in his basement having an interview with his cat or something really slick and high-def, so production costs could be a concern,\” Watrall said. \”Also, digital video is larger in file size (than a text blog), and as a result, you require more bandwidth to distribute it and host it. Bandwidth costs.\”
Johnson believes the straightforwardness and simplicity of vlogs is the main reason for such a strong connection between the viewers and the vloggers. Maybe news companies could take a hint from them.
\”The biggest benefit is more personal interaction,\” he said. \”It\’s better than the flashy interaction (of some news outlets). Keep it simple. Keep it genuine. It will attract more views. Convey the truth in a way that isn\’t too pompous or way too over the top. It might be a way for big companies to regain some credibility.\”
The Internet is flooded with upstart bloggers, but the blogosphere, while an intangible entity, continues to be a strangely reliable way to keep a finger on the pulse of the world. Images and words can be uploaded in an instant, satisfying the public\’s insatiable need for information. Things in the world are always changing, and the Internet – which we control – morphs with it. We just have to find the right words and pictures to describe it.

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The Sound of (Local) Music

[one]Avoiding the chilly temperatures and accumulating snow, a small crowd of people gathers inside the dimly lit café to sip tea and coffee. It’s a Wednesday night at Magdalena’s Tea House on Michigan Avenue, and the stage is set for the weekly Open Stage night. The cold weather has abbreviated the list of artists – including comedians and poets as well as the singers and songwriters – but the Lansing café, with its stained glass lamps and warm colored walls, provides a cozy atmosphere for the few who trickle in.
The café, established in July 2004, is the culmination of Miko Fossum’s decades-old dream. Fossum founded Magdalena’s Tea House to be a place of community, something she felt the local music scene lacked. “I felt like there was a need for another music venue, one in which there is no smoke or alcohol involved,” Fossum said. “It’s really just an idea I thought would work. My whole premise was live music, performance art, community space.”
Fossum got the idea for the tea house from her travels in Europe about 20 years ago. She was inspired by the friendly cafés featuring independent artists in a relaxed atmosphere – a place for the performers as well as the audience. “I visualized what I wanted to create, and it’s developed beyond what I intended,” she said.
Venues such as Magdalena’s Tea House, The Green Door Blues Bar and Grill, and Ten Pound Fiddle Coffeehouse offer intimate settings for a wide variety of genres of artists. The distance from MSU’s campus – a mile or two past the Frandor Shopping Center – seems to isolate the students from the Lansing scene, according to Chris Dorman, a local singer-songwriter and volunteer at Magdalena’s Tea House.
“There’s definitely a barrier,” he said, referring to the lack of MSU students looking to Lansing for music and other shows. “Lansing is more saturated with passion and talent than I’ve seen anywhere else. [East Lansing venues] think that to make money, you have to have cover bands.”
Although (Scene) Metrospace and Green River Cafe provide performance space, most of the East Lansing venues are bars, where admission is limited to crowds of 21 and older. Rick’s American Café features Jedi Mind Trip, a cover band that plays rock hits from various artists ranging from Maroon 5 to Journey to AC/DC, every Thursday night. Harper’s Restaurant and Brewpub often has shows from local bands with some original music, but covers are often intertwined into their set lists as well. The October 2006 closing of the Temple Club, which hosted local bands as well as nationally touring shows accessible to 18-year-olds, and the 2006 departure of Mac’s Bar’s longtime booking agent Steven Lambert certainly hurt the local music scene’s diversity.
[tea]The age restriction of the bars also factors in to the number of venues at which local artists can play. Venues, in an effort to at least cover costs, look at the kind of following an act has before booking them. This can hurt younger bands that have a younger fan base. “A lot of the venues are bars, so it’s hard to get your friends in,” said Cori Bruder, an interdisciplinary studies in social science sophomore, adding a lot of the bands themselves might be under the appropriate age.
“When I was in the dorms, I wouldn’t spend any money except [on shows at] Mac’s Bar,” said Amanda Brewington, a communication and telecommunication, information studies and media senior and a co-host of Impact 89FM’s The Basement. “It used to be that I could catch lots of indie touring bands, but now it’s basically jam bands and hip-hop.”
In order to promote local artists, The Basement tries to bring local music to the Lansing area via the airwaves. Each Thursday night, the show features artists from Michigan. The artists either submit their own demos to the show or are discovered by co-hosts Brewington and third-year veterinary student Kate Brackney. “My favorite thing to do is to see a band I’ve never seen before and play them on air,” Brewington said, adding that The Basement tries to play what its listeners want to hear. “We try to take to hear feedback that is genuine. What we play is a reflection of what we know.”
Both Magdalena’s Tea House and The Basement see the Lansing area as a microcosm of the sundry music of Michigan, and recently implemented local noise ordinances have also stifled the local music scene. The East Lansing noise ordinances prohibit having a live band or disc jockey or other live entertainment under penalty of a $1,000 fine or a $500 fine and 72 hours of community service. Brackney said there are still many house shows in the student housing community, but they have to stay underground for fear of being caught by the police. “You have to adapt to what’s legal,” she said.
Despite the smothering ordinances and rampant influence of cover bands, there are still many local shows with local artists to see – it just boils down to the matter of finding them. A lot of times, promotion is the most difficult step for these young artists trying to establish a name for themselves, and small venues like Magdalena’s Tea House provide this atmosphere. “We also recognize the fact that people appreciate amateur bands being able to come and have a place,” Fossum said. “If they can bring out 20, 30, 40 friends, then they can play here. That’s different than some of the spaces in town that are strictly performance-based.”
The Basement, with its attitude of promoting local music, is another avenue for artists to use to make themselves known. “We try to announce as many shows as we can over the air,” Brackney said. “Michigan has more to offer than Eminem and Kid Rock. It has a genuine music scene.”
Though artists typically try to get their names out through the usual gigs and radio play, there is another option for local hip-hop artists. Code of tha Cutz, a hip-hop record store in East Lansing, began as the hip-hop stage in 2001 on the Vans Warped Tour. In 2003, Code of tha Cutz established itself in East Lansing as a hub for underground, independent hip-hop. “Anything hip-hop that goes on around [East Lansing], we promote it, and we set it up,” employee and Lansing resident Cameron King said. “Any hip-hop show is ‘Code of tha Cutz presents…’”
Code of tha Cutz, with its shelves full of hip-hop vinyl records and local artists’ T-shirts and posters, is the vision of well-traveled Jamie Wilkins, a.k.a. DJ Add.Verse, who has performed at the X-Games, on some of pro skater Tony Hawk’s tours and still performs at Warped Tour annually. Wilkins wanted to bring more than another genre of music to East Lansing; she wanted to expose the town to a new culture. “With the culture, you’ve got graffiti, you’ve got breakdancing, you’ve got being an emcee, and you’ve got DJ-ing,” King said, pointing to the in-store breakdancing pad and adding the store hosts weekly freestyle battles. “No one buys music anymore, so the music doesn’t even sell all that much. It’s more the hip-hop culture that everyone would love to see.”
While Magdalena’s Tea House, The Basement and Code of tha Cutz focus on independent artists, there is a closer venue to find more popular, mainstream shows: MSU’s campus. The Residence Halls Association (RHA) has brought many nationally touring shows to MSU. “We feel that we’re in a unique position because we can bring mainstream, national acts to campus,” said Grant Lyman, who has been the RHA Director of Special Events for the past three years. “One of our goals is building Lansing as a concert market. We’re at a point where agents are contacting us to see if room is available.”
Lyman agreed the closing of the Temple Club in Lansing created a void in suitable venues for the larger acts. MSU has offered its 3,500-person capacity Auditorium to acts with big fan bases such as Guster and The Fray. RHA also sponsors an annual Welcome Week show – the most recent Welcome Week artists include Jimmy Eat World, Dashboard Confessional and Howie Day – at the Wharton Center. “I really appreciate it because it’s not like the same bar scene,” Bruder said. “It’s clean. It’s nice. It’s usually free or cheap.”
[hip]These intimate on-campus venues allow students to get close to their favorite artists while not having to travel far or pay a lot of money to get to the show in the first place – some of the most influential factors for many college students. It benefits not only the students, but RHA and the artists as well. “Having two venues in the middle of campus is much easier for students,” said Lyman, adding that much of the time, students would have to travel to Grand Rapids or Detroit to see such shows. “It\’s a lot easier for us to reach students in the dorms through RHA. We have a much easier time marketing than those other venues do.”
This spring’s lineup features several artists making return visits to MSU. The alternative rock band Mae will take a break from its national tour to play at the Erickson Kiva on March 30 – the band’s fourth stop at MSU – and Ben Folds, who targets college audiences, will return on April 3 at the Auditorium. With Lyman’s growing relationships with the artists’ agents and the students’ warm receptions, MSU has established itself as a prime market for music artists and performers. RHA isn’t all about the national shows, though; the association tries to create chances for the smaller local acts. “[The mainstream acts] give us opportunities to book locals as support,” Lyman said. “It gives us a good chance to reach out to them.”
The local music scene – whether it’s the Wharton Center, a Lansing tea house or the darkest dive bars – continues to change along with its students and fan base. The venues are always adjusting along with their patrons’ tastes. One thing will remain constant, though: music will remain an integral part of a community always looking for an entertaining way to spend their evening, especially when it means staying out of the cold.

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