Thought I’d jump back in here folks because I’ve just returned from a wonderful, engaging, enlightening, and highly entertaining AAM 2012. As always the MUSE Awards, ably kicked off by that man-about-town Jack Ludden, was a highlight. You can find all the MUSE Award winners here.
But the real reason I thought I’d post today is I had several opportunities to listen to comments and constructive criticisms of the 20122 Horizon Report>Museum Edition. And it occurred to me that some of you out there might have some comments too, or a project that you want to share, or you might be interested in participating as part of this year’s advisory board.
Two ways to Tag Resources hzk11
Or you can nominate yourself for the 2012 Advisory Board
There’s also a MIDEA facebook page–friends us and share comments–or leave us a comment using twitter #NMChz #MIDEA
I’ve been meaning to blog on the video circulating of Kurt Vonnegut talking about the Shape of Stories. He describes the curves followed by popular stories like “boy meets girl” and suggests computers could even understand such simple curves. In Lapham’s Quarterly you can read the text of this lecture with illustrations. See Kurt Vonnegut at the Blackboard. In this version he asks about the value of such systems, a question which could apply equally to computer generated visualization,
The question is, does this system I’ve devised help us in the evaluation of literature? Perhaps a real masterpiece cannot be crucified on a cross of this design. How about Hamlet?
He concludes that the system doesn’t work because the truth is ambiguous. We simply don’t know in complex works (like Hamlet) if news is good or bad. Good literature is open to interpretation.
But there’s a reason we recognize Hamlet as a masterpiece: it’s that Shakespeare told us the truth, and people so rarely tell us the truth in this rise and fall here [indicates blackboard]. The truth is, we know so little about life, we don’t really know what the good news is and what the bad news is.
Many have noticed this amusing play on visualization including an infographic on Visua.ly, Kurt Vonnegut on the Shapes of Stories:
Prism is the coolest idea I have come across in a long time. Coming from the University of Virginia Scholar’s Lab, Prism is a collaborative interpretation environment. Someone comes up with categories like “Rhetoric”, “Orientalism” and “Social Darwinism” for a text like Notes on the State of Virginia. Then people (with accounts, which you can get freely) go through and mark passages. This creates overlapping interpretative markup of the sort you used to get with COCOA in TACT, but unlike TACT, many people can do the interpretation – it can be crowdsourced.
They are planning some visualizations of the results including what look like the types of visualizations that TACT gave where you can see words distributed over tagged areas.
Bethany Nowviskie explains the background to the project in this Scholar’s Lab post.
Jeff sent me a link to the beta TED Ed site where you can see how they are turning TED videos (and other animations) into simple lessons that we can use. See TED-Ed: Lessons Worth Sharing. The idea is that an instructor can reuse (flip) a video with their own questions and commentary. You can also use the framework with YouTube videos. Neat.
A nice story from the New York Times by Michael Winerip, Robo-Readers Used to Grade Test Essays (April 22, 2012) talks automated essay scoring software (AES). The story first reports a study from the University of Akron that showed that AES software is comparable to human graders (see A Win for the Robo-Readers by Steve Kolowich from Inside Higher Ed.) The NYT story goes then to report how Les Perelman, a director of writing at MIT, has shown how you can game AES tools. Among other things they don’t check facts or truth so you can write all sorts of outrageous things and still get a good score from AES. The story discusses some of the patterns that get good scores like lexical variety and long sentences. The story ends with the possibility that AES could be matched by essay writing software,
Two former students who are computer science majors told him (Perelman) that they could design an Android app to generate essays that would receive 6’s from e-Rater. He says the nice thing about that is that smartphones would be able to submit essays directly to computer graders, and humans wouldn’t have to get involved.
Particularly interesting is an essay Perelman wrote to show how poor essays can game the system. I wish I could say that I never saw writing like this and that therefore there was no danger of AES systems rewarding the poor writing found in real essays,
In today’s society, college is ambiguous. We need it to live, but we also need it to love. Moreover, without college most of the world’s learning would be egregious. College, however, has myriad costs. One of the most important issues facing the world is how to reduce college costs. Some have argued that college costs are due to the luxuries students now expect. Others have argued that the costs are a result of athletics. In reality, high college costs are the result of excessive pay for teaching assistants.
From Slashdot a story about how the Faculty Advisory Council to the Library (of Harvard) sent around a Memorandum on Journal Pricing arguing that periodical subscriptions are not sustainable and that faculty should therefore publishing in open-access journals.
The Faculty Advisory Council to the Library, representing university faculty in all schools and in consultation with the Harvard Library leadership, reached this conclusion: major periodical subscriptions, especially to electronic journals published by historically key providers, cannot be sustained: continuing these subscriptions on their current footing is financially untenable. Doing so would seriously erode collection efforts in many other areas, already compromised.
According to National Security Agency (of the USA) whistleblower William Binney, the NSA probably has most of our email. See the video Whistleblower: The NSA is Lying–U.S. Government Has Copies of Most of Your Emails. The question then is what they are doing with it? He mentions that the email can be “put it into forms of graphing, which is building relationships or social networks for everybody, and then you watch it over time, you can build up knowledge about everyone in the country.” (see transcript on page). In other words they could (are) building a large social graph that they can use in various ways.
In the transcript of the longer video Binney talks about various programs developed to filter out all the information:
Well, it was called Thin Thread. I mean, Thin Thread was our—a test program that we set up to do that. By the way, I viewed it as we never had enough data, OK? We never got enough. It was never enough for us to work at, because I looked at velocity, variety and volume as all positive things. Volume meant you got more about your target. Velocity meant you got it faster. Variety meant you got more aspects. These were all positive things. All we had to do was to devise a way to use and utilize all of those inputs and be able to make sense of them, which is what we did.
Binney goes on to talk about the code named Stellar Wind program that Bush authorized and then was forced to change after a revolt of some sort in the Justice Department in 2004. Stories tell of senior Bush advisors trying to get Ashcroft to sign authorization papers for the program while he was in the hospital. As for Stellar Wind, it seems to be mostly about metadata – the date, to, and from of emails that you could use to build a diachronic social graph which is what Binney was talking about. Strictly speaking this would be social network analysis rather than text analysis, but they might have supplemented the system with some keyword capabilities. Another story from Time points out the problem with such analysis – that it generates too many vague false positives. “Leads from the Stellar Wind program were so vague and voluminous that field agents called them “Pizza Hut cases” — ostensibly suspicious calls that turned out to be takeout food orders.”
Either way, these hints give us a tantalizing view into how text and network analysis is being experimented with. Are there any useful research applications?
I have been working for a while on archiving the Globalization Compendium which I worked on. Yesterday I got it archived in two Institutional Repositories:
In both cases there is a Zip of a BagIt bag with the XML files, code and other documentation from the site. My first major deposit.
Daniel sent the link to this YouTube video, A walk through The Waste Land, that shows an iPad edition of The Waste Land developed by Touch Press. The version has the text, audio readings by various people, a video of a performance, the manuscripts, notes and photos. I was struck by how this extends to the iPad the experiments of the late 1980s and 1990s that exploded with the availability of HyperCard, Macromedia Director and CD-ROM. The most active publisher was Voyager that remediated books and documentaries to create interactive works like Poetry in Motion (Vimeo demo of CD) or the expanded book series, but all sorts of educational materials were also being created that never got published. As a parent I was especially aware of the availability of titles as I was buying them for my kids (who, frankly, ignored them.) Dr. Seuss ABC was one of the more effective remediations. Kids (and parents) could click on anything on the screen and entertaining animations would reinforce the alphabet.
What happened to all that activity? What happened to all those titles? To some extent they never went away, it is just that attention turned to the web as a means of delivery. The web changed the economics which then changed the design. CD-ROMs could be sold and people (like me) were willing to pay for professional titles. But, it was hard to sell access to web materials when there is so much free stuff out and an expectation of free access. Thus companies changed what they sold when adapting to the web. Web sites were built that were free and promoted the print books like Seussville. These offered supplementary activities and in some cases monetized eyeballs with advertising, but they did not give away free interactive book experiences. Now the iPad (or, to be accurate, the App Store) has brought back a viable economic model where people can buy interactive books.
With Apple’s latest announcement of iBooks textbooks and iBooks Author, the attention is back on interactive books. Apple is clearly trying to change the economics of textbooks and how they are consumed. They want schools to move to iPads and kids to get interactive textbooks from publishers and authors who use iBooks Author to remediate books. Whether Apple sews up the market or we get a more open model, there is a lot to be said for (and against) moving away from print for textbooks.
To get a sense of what the new interactive books might look like there is an interesting demo in a Ted talk by Mike Matas: A next-generatioin digital book. He demos Al Gore Our Choice published by Push Pop Press. From the demo this looks like a book with a bunch of video and info-graphics tacked on. I don’t see a compelling reason for getting the interactive version of the book. In the case of the iPad “The Waste Land” they have used multimedia to thoroughly enhance the poem with readings and scholarship that could actually change your perception of the poem. In this case it seems like a multimedia supplement that just reinforces the content. The Ted talk ends with a hokey interactive where you blow into the iPad or iPhone to animate a graphic.
To be honest, I haven’t played with either one, just watched the demos. “Our Choice” could, as Al Gore says in his Guided Tour, use interactive infographics in ways that really let you understand the data differently. I also like the pinching and folding interaction they have pioneered for picking things up. The larger question is where are interactive books going? Will Apple convince schools and publishers to move to interactive textbooks? Will kids end up carrying around both heavy print texts and iPads or will the shift be complete at the expense of many texts? Personally I still buy print books of things I expect to want to consult over time even when there is an electronic version. Print books I only have to buy once (and then move in boxes forever). Electronic versions I have buy again and again as media like CD-ROMs go out of fashion, operating systems change, and viewing devices morph. Books are designed to last a lifetime, electronic media are obsolete before you finish walking through the wasteland.
Susan pointed me to Leximancer which is a commercial text analysis tool that creates mind maps of your information. I’m struck by how compelling people find mind maps.
Leximancer enables you to navigate the complexity of text in a uniquely automated fashion. Our software identifies ‘Concepts’ within the text – not merely keywords but focused clusters of related, defining terms as conceptualised by the Author. Not according to a predefined dictionary or thesaurus.
The Concepts are presented in a compelling, interactive display so that you can clearly visualise and interrogate their inter-connectedness and co-occurrence – which is as important as the Concepts themselves – right down to the original text that spawned them.
The Guardian has a great series on the Battle for the internet. This includes a number of interventions by Tim Berners-Lee including Tim Berners-Lee urges government to stop the snooping bill and Tim Berners-Lee: demand your data from Google and Facebook. There is an article, Web freedom faces greatest threat ever, warns Google’s Sergey Brin, about the dangers of walled gardens like FaceBook and Apple’s App Store. One might say the same about Google.
Museums and the Web 2012 finished up yesterday, with a closing plenary called Epic fail – a forum on failure and ‘failing forwards’ with Seb Chan, Jane Finnis and Bruce Wyman. For two hours, we heard about 5 failed technology projects, discussing what didn’t work and why, and any positive outcomes. Maybe that’s why I woke up this morning thinking about the Bump app for iPhone.
So here’s my top 10 list of failed technology initiatives. I’m not going to discuss specific failed projects, but those technologies we, as a community, thought were worth pursuing and, for some reason or another, just didn’t end up becoming an integral part of our musetech landscape. I also want to stress that this list in no way is intended to dismiss the very real value of these technologies, or diminish the efforts of those who saw that value and tried to get programs off the ground. And sometimes, it takes a while for technology to come around again. 10-15 years ago, ebooks were the laughingstock of the failed technology Top Ten lists. But who’s laughing now??#10 – Bump for iPhone
Bump is an an iPhone app that was supposed to streamline the way we shared information ourselves, like swapping electronic business cards. Two iPhone users (Android wasn’t really around at the time) with the app installed could gently “bump” their phones and the app would input your Bump partner’s information into your contact list. Bump had a lot of hype, and every lucky bastard with an iPhone was trying to Bump their phone with everyone else. There would be meetups and professional gatherings at museum openings, with rampant Bumping. But Bump at the time turned out to be premature technology – it rarely worked, and not everyone had an iPhone. And if you were at an event and someone was impatiently waiting to Bump you, the wifi or 3G connection would invariably fail. Moral – implementing technology while someone is waiting is embarrassing.#9 – foursquare
Huh? Why is foursquare on this list? It has like 10 20 million users! And 3 million people around the world use their service per day! In 2010, it experienced growth of 3400%! In the past 5 months, it grew by 5 million users. CRAY-ZEE. And location-based interactions and check-ins aren’t going away anytime soon. So… why is it on the list?
Museums followed the hype crest for a while, then made the mistake of assuming that the public would do our work for us. In 2010 and 2011, there was a brief flurry of chatter and excitement about our new Foursquare marketing efforts, with prizes and benefits for check-ins at our events and exhibitions. So… why’d we stop doing that? Seriously – when was the last time you saw a museum website with a foursquare badge, or marketing materials with foursquare promotions? Moral – removing technology from the rotation too early is like wearing zeitgeist blinders.#8 – Prezi
I’ll admit it right off the top: I hate Prezi. Done well, it’s a beautiful alternative to the expected, stale, familiar PowerPoint. It enjoyed a two-year period in 2010-2011 where museum professionals were Prezi-fying their conference presentations. Then it stopped. Why?
First of all, there’s a learning curve to Prezi. Unlike the linear PowerPoint, it takes time to learn how to use effectively, and a good Prezi will also have some thought about the design in advance. And how many presenters start working on their presentations a month in advance? I think I see about five hands in the back of the room…
Second, well, the above is considered a good example of a well-produced Prezi. Here’s an example of a bad Prezi:
Moral: don’t make your audience seasick#7 – Laserdiscs
Way back in the 1970s, Laserdiscs were considered to be the NEW new media. They were about the size of a medium pizza (12″, thin crust, hold the cheese), and were considered to be a superior medium for art media and sound. They were also believed to be “archival” – unlike magnetic tape media, Laserdiscs were optical, like DVDs and BluRay disks today, and therefore considered to be less-vulnerable to the elements. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case, and, like compact disks, suffered from bit rot. Their size also meant there was more surface area to get damaged. And you could only fit 30 minutes of material on early Laserdiscs, so the user would have to eject it from the player and flip it over to view or interact with more content. Think of it like a cross between an LP and a CD.
Unlike magnetic mediums, Laserdiscs enjoyed the advantage of being interactive, which made it an attractive option for early gallery interactives. Due to their perceived durability, they were also used to share collection catalogs with other organizations, and as backup storage for media art and collection databases. Laserdiscs never really gained traction in the United States, though, and other playback and storage formats quickly overtook it as the media of choice. Moral: size matters.#6 – RFID tracking, CueCat, and QR codes
RFID tags, barcode readers (such as CueCat), and QR codes are examples of attempts to bridge visitors of physical exhibits to expanded information in our websites or databases. The philosophy’s a good one: there’s too much information to put on a wall label, so let’s direct the visitor to a virtual resource where they can followup and learn more. Or, let’s use the physical-virtual bridge as a way to continue our impact after the visitor has left the museum.
RFID tags suffered from negative media hype and public perception. In the case of The Tech Museum of Innovation in San Jose, visitors would be handed an RFID-embedded strip that they would wave over an exhibit and they could be emailed with more information, or results and scores from gallery games. Unfortunately, RFID tags also suffered from some recent media scares that they enabled spying and identity theft. RFID = creepy.
CueCat was the early 2000s version of QR codes. Visitors could use the cute little barcode reader to scan a code next to an artifact, then when they plugged it into their computer, it would bring up the urls it had read from the barcodes. It was, however, bulky to carry around, and many museums simply didn’t have the time, funding, or infrastructure to develop content that would sufficiently entice visitors to use it.
It’s really too early to predict its demise, but QR codes may follow the same path. Content needs to be there before adopting the technology, or incorporated as the project is being developed. For some organizations, they’ve already got some fantastic content on their websites, optimized for mobile devices, that works well for QR code use in galleries (and they have solid wifi and a tech-savvy visitor base). Just as crucially, QR codes suffer frommarketing abuse and dubious uses of QR codes that leads to the public believing that the codes are stupid.
Moral: Sean Cummings -
People will not adopt a technical solution that serves to replace a manual task, if that solution is less efficient than the manual task it replaces.
Stay tuned for Part II, in which I take a look at websites, VR, and learning communities, amongst others…
I just got a complementary copy of La macchina nel tempo: Studi dei informatica umanistica in onore di Tito Orlandi (The Time Machine: Studies in humanities computing in honour of Tito Orlandi) which I blogged about before. This got me wondering how much of Prof. Tito Orlandi’s writings are available online and what his legacy is. It turns out that Orlandi has put together a list of his publications with links to online versions where possible. There are even some in English like the excellent Is Humanities Computing a Discipline?
But how might one summarize Orlandi’s contribution? In his prefatory “Controcanto,” one of the editors of The Time Machine, Domenico Fiormonte, writes about first encountering Orlandi in a bunker where Fiormonte then spent a summer. During that summer he learned 3 things:
These three lessons seem about as good a starting place for the digital humanities as any. They also suggest some of what Tito Orlandi was interested in, namely formalization, redefinition, and interpretation. But surveying Orlandi’s writings, using the list of digital humanities publications from his personal site, you can see other themes. He believed that we needed to develop the theoretical foundations of humanities computing and that we should do that from the mathematical model of the computer, not how it works practically. (See Informatica, Formalizzazione e Discipline Umanistiche (in Italian.)) He believed that would help us understand how one can model culture on a computer. He discussed the importance of modelling before Willard McCarty did in Humanities Computing – something that should be recognized out of fairness to the pioneering work of Italian digital humanists since Busa.
Reading Orlandi and about Orlandi I also sense an impatience with those that follow him. This is what he writes in an unpublished talk given in London in 2000. He is talking about discussions by other scholars on the digital humanities.
I feel a sense of inadequateness, even disorder, in the overall change as presented by the same scholars. In fact, when they proceed to propose a definition of humanities computing, they tend to consider the products of computation, be they hardware (the Net) or software (applications like concordance programs or statistical packages), rather than the first principles of computing.
Orlandi wanted to ground the digital humanities in mathematics – a language common to informatics, science and potentially the digital humanities. That the digital humanities wandered off into hypertext, new media and so on seems to have annoyed him. He was also irritated that ideas he had been teaching and writing about for years were being ignored in the English-speaking world. Take a look at The Scholarly Environment of Humanities Computing: A Reaction to Willard McCarty’s talk on The computational transformation of the humanities. This web page discusses an outburst of his at a paper by McCarty with what Orlandi felt were ideas he had been discussing for a decade at least. It is instructive how he sets aside his pride to get at the issues that matter. He might be irritated, but he also wants to use this to reflect on more important issues.
Perilli and Fiormonte have done a great job bringing together a festschrift in honour of Orlandi. The Time Machine isn’t really about Orlandi’s thought so much as about his legacy in Italy. What we need now is for his foundational works to be translated and a retrospective interpretation of his contributions.
An article in the New York Times led me to the Google Art Project. This project doesn’t feel like a Google project, perhaps because it uses an off-black background and the interface is complex. The project brings together art work and virtual tours of many of the worlds important museums (but not all.0 You can browse by collection, artist (by first name), artworks, and user galleries. You can change the language of the interface (and it seems to change even when you don’t want it to in certain circumstances.) When viewing a gallery you can get a wall of paintings or a street view virtual tour of the gallery. Above you see the “Museum View” of a room in the Uffizi with a barrier around a Filippino Lippi that is being treated for a woodworm infestation! In the Museum View you can pan around and move up to paintings much as you would in Google Maps in Street View. On the left is a floor plan that you can also use.
This site reminds me of what was one of the best multimedia CD-ROMs ever, the Musee d’Orsay: Virtual Visit. This used QuickTime VR to provide a virtual tour. It had the sliding walls of art. It also had special guides and some nice comparison tools that let you get a sense of the size of a work of art. The Google Art Project feels loosely copied from this right down to the colour scheme. It will be interesting to see if the Google Art Project subsumes individual museum sites or consortia like the Art Museum Image Consortium (Amico.)
I find it interesting how Google is developing specialized interfaces for more and more domains. The other day I was Googling for movies in Edmonton and found myself on a movies – Google Search page that arranges information conveniently. The standard search interface is adapting.
The MLA has issued a New Variorum Shakespeare Digital Challenge. They are looking for original and innovative ways of “representing, and exploring this data.” You can download the XML files and schema from Github here to experiment with. Submissions are due by Friday, 31st of August, 2012. The winner of the challenge will get $500.
A new digital humanities collection focusing on collaboration, Collaborative Research in the Digital Humanities, has been published by Ashgate. The collection is edited by Marilyn Deegan and Willard McCarty and was developed in honour of Harold Short who retired a few years ago from King’s College London where he set up the Humanities Computing Centre (now called the Department of Digital Humanities).
I contributed a chapter on crowdsourcing entitled, “Crowdsourcing the humanities: social research and collaboration”.
How Star Trek artists imagined the iPad… 23 years ago is an article in Ars Technica about the design of the iconic Star Trek interfaces from those of PADDs (Personal Access Display Devices) to the touch screens used on the bridge. It turns out that one of the reasons for the flat touch screen interfaces was that they were cheap (compared to panels with lots of switches as contemporary spacecraft had.)
What could be simpler to make than a flat surface with no knobs, buttons, switches, or other details? Okuda designed a user interface dominated large type and sweeping, curved rectangles. The style was first employed in Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home for the Enterprise-A, and came to be referred to as “okudagrams.” The graphics could be created on transparent colored sheets very cheaply, though as ST:TNG progressed, control panels increasingly used video panels or added post-production animations.
From the photographs it looks like they didn’t just do the usual think of showing screen shots and concept art as art, but they have sequences of screens titled “Avances in Mechanics” that show, for example, how jumping has changed in games over time. The exhibit also seems to have a historical bent:
The Art of Video Games is one of the first exhibitions to explore the forty-year evolution of video games as an artistic medium, with a focus on striking visual effects and the creative use of new technologies. It features some of the most influential artists and designers during five eras of game technology, from early pioneers to contemporary designers. The exhibition focuses on the interplay of graphics, technology and storytelling through some of the best games for twenty gaming systems ranging from the Atari VCS to the PlayStation 3. (from the exhibit site)