July 2008 Archives

instructional design


Movie image.In 1971 Robert Allen Weiss of the Stanford Chemistry Department directed this video on protein synthesis. It features narration by Paul Berg, who graduated from Penn State in 1948 and went on to win the 1980 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. I was privileged to be introduced to the video by the biology faculty we're working with to create newer, more relevant learning opportunities. He was shown this video as an undergrad.

The video speaks strongly for itself.

If, through some miracle of space-time, we could watch a video of Aristotle at the Lyceum... would we chuckle? When did educators first start going out of their way to accommodate the hedonistic wants of youth? I can't help seeing this as a historical marker of some sort that tags the beginning of the end. Hindsight being 20/20, it's easy to sit in judgement. My mind is seriously reeling at the implications. What is our contemporary parallel?

Zoom in online has a series of four short videos presenting a collaboration of illustrators and graphic designers (yes; they are different) on a project themed "Serious Play". It's fascinating stuff; eight illustration students and eight graphic design students pair up to produce an issue of Wrap Magazine and the four Designing Minds videos follow the collaboration at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena.

All that goodness! A blog link took me to the first of four parts, and I went through the rest of the series by changing the number in the URL. I wanted to post the experience to delicious and figured it might be good to find a reasonable URL to post. I wasn't keen on posting the one I first hit: Part 1 of 4 I didn't see any other links handy, but part way down the page was a link that said, "For more episodes of Designing Minds, click here." So for the benefit of my network follower, I clicked.

Nothing happened. And nothing happened. And nothing happened some more. I continued with some other things, then got the increasingly familiar spinning lozenge, followed by iTunes opening. Designing Minds is a series. The other episodes are available on iTunes. Needless to say, I changed the "1" in the URL to a "2", then a "3" and "4" to view the piece. The interactions between the students, their explanations of thought processes, the shots of their work are all fascinating not only from an illustration/design perspective, but from a learning/design perspective, too.

I mentioned before how much I hate iTunesU. Let me take a moment to also mention how much I hate being surprised by the launch of an inefficient, standardless proprietary browser with absolutely no potential for human interaction. I really really hate that too. So, I don't have any way to say "go here" on iTunes and check this out. Or rather, I don't know the secret proprietary way to send somebody to specific content in itunes. Is there a twitter keystroke that will send someone right to it?

Please. Use YouTube. Use GoogleVideo. Use MotionBox. Just about anything else. With Pandora, you don't even need iTunes for music. Let that thing die.

design influences


An article called When logos look alike has been posted and cross posted on several of the blogs I try to read. It features a broad collection of logo match ups- logos that look very similar to each other. I think trends are a bigger issue: design elements adopted like gospel give an identity to a design era. I guess that when novel approaches like the 2012 Olympic logo get so widely bashed, the safety and comfort of sameness becomes the guiding light of design. Innovative becomes a descriptor for design that's the same as what we think innovative is.

Penn State swoosh.A long while back I got on the design swoosh bandwagon and came up with a "re-imagining" of the Penn State shield that I could use for unofficial purposes. I never used it; but not for the obvious reason that it was bad and inappropriate. The article about logos being the same points to my dilemma. All the work tweaking theSafeguard soap label. Bezier curves to get them just right, so they matched that image in my mind's eye... and the image in my mind's eye was from the soap my family had been using for years and years and years.

Penn State swoosh.So, now I've got this next idea- wow, is it innovative!

Purple earth mover.. Purple earth mover.. Purple earth mover.. Purple earth mover..Once, I'd have been embarrassed to push this thing around at the neighborhood sandbox. Now it strikes me as eye catching, boundary leaping design. Can an earth mover be described as adorable? This is the kind of heavy equipment needed to build Malibu Barbie's dream house. or Hello Kitty's London flat.

property in the public domain


Just a real quick Friday thought as I come away from some outside blog reading that included this from Kevin Smith at Duke:

It is a fascinating exercise, for example, to read attempts in the late 1960's and early 1970's to influence the direction of the "new" copyright law being considered (which was passed in 1976). L. Ray Patterson's "Copyright in Historical Perspective" (Vanderbilt University Press, 1968), for example, or now-Justice Stephen Breyer's 1970 Harvard Law Review article on "The Uneasy Case for Copyright," offer an all-too-contemporary sounding warning about the doleful consequences of writing a copyright law that does not pay enough attention to users' rights or assumes that the concerns of industry as expressed at a particular moment should be enshrined in a statute meant to function for decades.
...and damn if I didn't finally get it.

Music, graphics, plays, novels, photographs- yes they should return to the people after a limited period of creator ownership. Without society they wouldn't exist; they are society's due. In fact, I propose that all property- not just creative property- revert to societal ownership. After someone dies, they can pass on ownership of lands, businesses, stocks, bonds for the benefit of their heirs for 15 years. Then all of the property and all derivative properties revert to the public. Keeping land, homes and businesses in the hands of one single family is ludicrous when you consider the length of time the items exist in society. What right does one family have to perpetuate ownership of something that society provided for them

Sweet epiphany! I'm a new man!

Avatar in the dark.When I first saw Second Life, I thought it was interesting for a lot of reasons, but even I could see that it was mainly an intriguing way to interact visually over distances. It was easy, too, to see that the environment might be used effectively as an education and collaboration tool. That's pretty much where my real interest tends to fade: I'm not social at all. I teleport away from other avatars.

What I saw in Second Life was a visual medium that I knew nothing about and never had call to understand. If Penn State would ever build or just use this sort of space, it would be important for graphic designers to understand the format issues, the scaling issues, how they both effect load and processing time. It would be important for instructional designers to know how people communicate and travel about; what their expectations are and how they interpret things. There's no other test ground. For non-technical designers of any type, to learn and experiment you can either wait for someone to create an OpenCroquet environment or ProtoSphere world, or you can experiment in a virtual environment that pre-exists. Uber geeks scoff, but I see Second Life as that learning ground.

Payback for me (I bought my subscription with winnings from woot photoshop contests) is learning about the TARGA format and the differences between an image format that supports transparency and a format that supports an alpha channel. I had posted a video about Removing Fringe in SL Images but till now, it was just a help in Second Life. Now, I'm creating a few secondary images that will hopefully be of use in a game. That environment requires images in the targa format, and the implementation requires that I create alpha channels that produce exactly what I want when rendered by the game engine. The only way this non technical Mac guy can test those images is by taking them into Second Life and applyng them as textures.

It works great. Second Life renders the alpha exactly the same way that the game will- and I have complete access. I just have to wait till the sun comes up to see the damned things.

mac modbook 14


Festival shell from Old Main.Last year at this time I had a borrowed laptop that I was using to sketch on using my regular wacom tablet. I posted this drawing of the festival tent and wrote about battery life. I had roughly twenty minutes to make a sketch before my screen went dark and I was warned of the end of my battery's life.

The tent on Old Main lawn.So for a comparison, I did this on the Modbook. Same spot, but I had more time. Lots more. First I went to Irvings and sat working on a small animation in Pencil. Next I left the modbook in sleep mode and walked up to Old Main, where I sat to make this sketch. After a good ninety minutes to two hours, I was warned that I was starting to run on reserve power. I had about 8% battery life remaining when I got back to the office. I'd had the screen at full brightness, was pushing Photoshop with some complex brushes and multiple layers, and had a browser going in the background so I could post to Twitter- but I forgot about the browser completely.

Incidentally, you can see that I've had about zero artistic growth in a year; but the technology is moving forward with leaps and bounds. When I did finally return to the office after very focused Modbook use, there were several moments where my hands didn't adapt quite quickly enough to the standard keyboard and slightly fatter, more substantial pen. Besides feeling strange, I went to hit a key on the keyboard with my pen tip.

Some notes collected over the last week:

• Today I tried using the Macbook simply as a computer, without making use of its obvious special features. I downloaded an MP3 lecture and tried to listen to it as I worked. There is no stand with the modbook; nothing to make the screen vertical. The screen is horizontal and therefore vulnerable to enviromental disasters like crumbs and spills. I guess the more typical laptop has its keyboard in a horizontal tray while the screen is upright.

• I downloaded and installed a small open source animation package called Pencil. It's very simple, but quite effective, and using the Modbook with it seemed very natural and was completely absorbing.

• While working in Pencil, I noticed that dropdown menus are a problem. With a drop down, it's possible that if an item has a cascade, you might not see the little arrow behind your hand and pen. The cascade itself, if you access it, is completely covered by a right handed user's hand.

• I have to say again, the modbook desktop is small. 1280X800 pixels. I normally work with a desktop that's spans two 21" Cinema displays. That means I'm accustomed to spreading out over 3840X1200 pixels. Working with Pencil- an application in which I'm doing more than just illustration, I'm extremely pinched. As a grab and go drawing tool, I love the modbook as much as the red spiral bound Aquabee books that I used to use. There's a strong "artist-tool" connection. For more involved projects, though, I need either more space or a new set of desktop space management skills. I can't imagine it as a primary machine; though conceivably I could have the monitors, tablet and keyboard at the office (or a 21" Cintiq!) and just plug in for InDesign or web work.

I've collected the Modbook posts and arranged them linearly on my personal site. Post titles are linked back to the blog post to hopefully facilitate comments and questions. This will be my last "Modbook" post, and I will gather the information, images and insights into a single more polished html doc. Hopefully a print stylesheet will let anyone print or save as PDF with good results.

Theistic creationism.I've posted before about the cartoons in the BiSci course. After I completed the eleven that were included in the Flash piece on the creation of the universe and evolution of life, we started a unit on "creationism".

The unit touches on other theories of creation that differ from the Darwinian view. I drew a series of nine cartoons illustrating the theories that would be covered. The three posted here are representations of Theistic Creationism, Intelligent Design, and one of the many fringe views- number three, the Raelian view. Intelligent design. I tried to make them understandable at this small size, but they do enlarge if you click them. I'm not sure that we'll do that in the lessons.

My job was to first understand the theories, then come up with a lighthearted illustration that didn't offend folks that may hold the particular beliefs. Very simply put, Theistic Creationism, the first of these three, holds that God created evolution and takes an active role in the ongoing process. Intelligent Design goes a bit farther in explaining the science in God's work. Raelians on an early Earth.The final cartoon shows aliens, often mistaken for gods, visiting an early Earth where they intentionally or accidentally brought about the beginnings of life.

So now I have twenty cartoons on the same theme. I'm thinking it might make an interesting 40 page children's picture book with a cartoon on one page and short bit of witty educational text on the facing page. The text might be a problem. One of the more difficult tasks that I needed to perform was not offending people. It really goes against my natural tendencies. I'm not sure how much longer I can continue being so sweet.

Penn State
April 18, Symposium 2009; reimagine.
New content. Symposium 2008.Digital Commons at Penn State. Improve the workplace; hire for variety.


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