DAVID R STONG: June 2007 Archives

mood

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Discussions of effective communications methods have started up again. I've never really seen targeted internal communications as ineffective and just plain abscent as they have been this past year and a half. We get lots of opinions, and lots of opinions masquerade as innovative thought, but as someone who, too, has had an innovative thought, these opinions aren't necessarily thought out nor innovation. What we have inarguably is a move to communication techniques that lend themselves easily to rhetoric rather than the accurate and timely relay of specific information.

And that sense of rhetoric-our work culture now drips with it to the point that necessary information takes a back seat to implication- lends significance to a few events. The key one, for today, is the early departure of Denise Wagner. Since I too am past fifty, the early departure has particular rhetorical significance in what it implies to me, what it makes me uncomfortable with and what it says about my own career path. Or, in fact, my own worth in this environment.

I don't expect everyone to "get it," but there's an ambience of passing hanging over the place that I can't shake.

The Futures Channel

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There's an interesting presentation of video teaching objects at a site called The Futures Channel. There are a number of short video clips presented, each with links to related video clips, real world connections, and downloadable lessons. I can think of lots of uses for every clip that I've watched, and could probably design a better presentation; what sells me is the content. Someone took the time to professionally write, shoot and edit a great collection of short pieces.

Edutopia has great content, too; though their material is aimed more at educators rather than educatees.

 

The Futures Channel
Movies and activities that deliver real world K-12 math and science lessons.
Edutopia
The video collection at the George Lucas Educational Foundation.

hard times hit its...

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Coffee line at a 1908 Bowery mission.

I don't mind paying for coffee at all, and I see no reason why it wouldn't always have been expected that such well compensated adults are self sufficient. But I can think of a few more effective ways to save if ready cash is a problem...

Photosynth and Seadragon

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In one of the illustration blogs that I follow, there was a link to a video at Clip-a-day showing a new up-and-coming image technology called Photosynth. There's no need to provide a link to the Clip-a-day site; the real site is Microsoft: it shows Blaise Aguera y Arcas speaking at the Technology, Entertainment and Design conference in March. Because of the Apple slant my tool selection gives me, I almost missed an absolutely phenomenal method of aggregating, accessing, and sharing the vast store of digital photos on the internet; flickr map be damned. An equally impressive companion technology- Seadragon- could have slipped off my radar as well, yet it promises lightening fast image warehouse browsing, scaling, and zooming. Chugging along with Adobe's Bridge or Apple's Aperture, plodding through flickr- they're all useless compared to Seadragon. Hopefully, someone (Adobe) will add the technology to an already useful tool.

Very important to the success of Photosynth may be free and open photo sharing. Obviously also important is the built-in metadata stored in the image files. Locked academic repositories only for the privileged can be damned right along with flickr maps...

Blaise Aguera y Arcas speaking at the TED conference
An amazing video. Just watch it. View the others on the Photosynth site, too.
Microsoft Photosynth
A large collection of photos are analyzed for similarities by the software, then displayed in a 3D construction showing the image relationships and facilitating navigation.
Microsoft Seadragon
From wall-sized displays to mobile devices visual information can be smoothly browsed regardless of the amount of data involved or the bandwidth of the network. Speed depends only on the ratio of bandwidth to pixels currently being displayed on the screen.
Technology, Entertainment and Design (TED)
Inspired talks. Inspiring talks. Watch them all...

Thinking out loud here, but if we present the idea of expensive, well appointed professional video labs to serve the Penn State community interested in the current media revolution, isn't it like giving them linotype machines when they want to blog? The obvious everyman solution is YouTubeMixer. They say:

If you've ever uploaded from your cell phone, wished for an easy way to add titles and transitions, or just wanted to remix your own videos, Remixer is a great place to play. It lets you assemble your new video in an easy drag-and-drop timeline, and then publish it right back to YouTube. Your original videos will stay exactly the same.

YouTube also warehouses user-centric help at the video toolbox with titles like "Making and Optimizing Your Videos", "11 Steps to Add Some Spice", "Lighting for the Internet" and "Editing 101: Class is in Session". But there are tons of online free sites...

Adobe is powering a number of free, online video editing/sharing apps:

jumpcut
If you've been wondering what to do with the video you shoot with your snazzy new camera (or your phone), Jumpcut is the perfect place for you to be creative. If video isn't your thing just yet and you just want to make cool slideshows with your pictures, Jumpcut is still the best place. Finally, a free online location where you can use all your media, create great looking movies and publish to anyone you choose. There's nothing else like it.
One True Media
One True Media- the easiest way to make Online Slideshows or Video Montages. Create the perfect story to share with friends and family. With One True Media, effortlessly combine photos and video clips with words and music to personalize your story. Quickly share with our Online Slideshow or get as creative as you want with our Video Montage. One True Media is quick and easy to use with no software downloads and immediate results.
eyespot
Eyespot enables social media and participation culture like no other company. Enabling influencers and connectors in turn leads to the creation of content that attracts legions of viewers. Eyespot provides video editing and sharing software that can be easily embedded in any website. Unlike other video editing solutions, Eyespot technology is easy-to-use, intuitive, and accessible for all end-users. Our solution includes next generation video sharing technology, enabling users to share not only via email and embed codes but also to mobile phones, portable players, and other connected devices.
motionbox
Personal video is about more than just home movies; it's about capturing life -- in motion and on the fly. As we all know, life doesn't always happen in perfect, 30-second clips. So how do you dig through all your videos to get to the moments you care about most? We don't think you should have to learn complicated editing software to share the best parts of your videos online. That's why we've developed smart, simple ways to help you make the most of what you've shot.

The media is ubiquitous because anyone can create it, then share it with everyone or anyone. Are we a bit behind the curve?

This is just a test post, hopefully demonstrating a way to ease a post into our industrialized aggregation system. Sorry if it sends up notices- I can't see if it works without publishing...

Christian made an intelligent post in the company blog: The Accessible Web is a Bust - What Should We Do? He makes some points that could be discussed and expanded on quite usefully in a forum, though chances are they won't get that treatment. For some reason "forum" -which once was a place for the open discussion of great ideas -has changed in popular parlance to mean "Powerpoint with refreshments". Quite sad really, especially at a university; but you do what you can, I guess.

One statement about developers seeing accessibility as a drag on innovation struck me as true, and my conciliatory first thought was "I wonder if we'd ever have had radio if radio couldn't be used for commercial purposes until transcripts were transmitable, too." After a contemplative walk, I realized how I'd been swayed by a history written in light of the success of radio. Ticker tape was in use soon after the US Civil War. Essentially it was text over wires. Where would we be if society demanded the parallel development of text over wires and wireless telegraphy? Would faxing now be seen as an archaic form of transmission from the early part of the 20th century?

I also agree with Christian's perception that there are rules, templates, and governing bodies in place to maintain a consistent and professional appearance through Penn State's print media. As someone who occassionally works in that world, I have to add that not much is automated. Mistakes happen, transgressions occur. People receive warnings and correction. There just isn't any discussion of why, nor is there any whining about difficulty. On Penn State's web, the people that run the virtual presses have been put in charge, and none of the usual points of control are willing to risk showing their lack of knowledge or crack a book to gain more so that challenge can be made. Rules, templates and governing bodies exist for the Penn State web, but they're imperfect and powerless.

I believe Christian is right when he says there needs to be automation or the application of specialized knowledge. Web development never was a field for dilettantes, though many were hidden here. Adding rich metadata, coding for machine readability, and universal design are necessary skills at this point, at least till the geniuses figure out how to automate publication and access. I say pick two and learn, or get out.

sidebar widgets?

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At the top of my main blog page I usually display the appropriate Penn State identity mark. Using the only tool available that lets me add persistent xhtml to my page, I made a widget that makes the mark a link to the Penn State homepage. I also added links to show the ease with which a blog can comply with Penn State's web guidelines. Chances are, though, if you're reading this you've never seen them.

If you're like me, you read blogs right in an aggregator that strips out the writer's knick-knacks and wall paper in favor of a lean display of the information that most people seem to want- the textual post and pertinent images. Our own ets blog aggregates new personal posts the same way. Whether ets' Recent Personal Feed page or NetNewsWire, both aggregators offer links to complete versions of truncated posts by linking to the individual post's page. That's okay-and understandable; however, MovableType doesn't place my widgets on inner pages.

I've done some experiments with widgets, and in addition to my added Penn State links, I've placed a couple of large graphic widget "ads" to ets services. I've also placed a header that includes Flash content. I really don't care if people see the reflection at the bottom of my iPhone theme or the transparency in my Shrine or Elms themes. I'm more concerned that you can get my message easily. Sometimes, though, as in the case of the AD54 links, there's going to be important information in "widgets" and it would be good if they could at least be added by the owner to pages that stand at least a small chance of being seen.

Of course, this hints at a broader question of the perceived importance of web design. We all know the web isn't a magazine, but what does that really mean? I'll have to get back to that after the web conference...
(edit June 17: removed header)

Process

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Final difficulties with shipping now a memory, I can say this poster project was a great opportunity and an enjoyable challenge. In its final form, the poster was just a big illustration, and that's what I do. Or did. Displaying it at the NMC conference is a real bonus: I look at illustration as a foundation skill for working in any media. If you can't illustrate with one shot when you have complete control, having many shots and more people won't improve the outcome of your core abilities.

Initial flow-chart rough.Before I was involved with Brett's NMC Conference poster-the "ETS Engagement Initiative Process"-Brett had had a preliminary meeting with a visual designer to help him turn the process into a simplified flow chart. Actually, there was much planning and development before I was involved. When Brett showed me the chart, he was just unsure of how he wanted to develop the imagery. I had my usual trouble focusing on the chart and what its message was, but suggested that the linear path of the chart looked like a board game. Brett and I both saw similarities to Candyland with its colorful linear path, and Brett ran with several suggestions: the Hot Team around a campfire, a skunk for a bad idea, and possibly stepping stones as a "path through the woods." It seemed intriguing; folks could relate to the board game concept, and would be drawn to it. We both liked the potential for engagement, so Brett decided to re-envision his chart as a game and come back with a new plan.

Initial game themed rough.The new layout had rough images that Brett found and pasted in place on a rustic network of paths through a wood. Clearly it was now a planned journey with three different entry points depending on the needs of the hiker. Represented was the purposeful hiker, a campfire, a log cabin, men working, the skunk; and at the end of the process, after a successful effort, a satisfied guy in a hammock. In the lower corner was a technical looking schematic of the Critical Inquiry process that seemed out of place- I suggested that it might work as the face of a compass that the hikers carried into the woods. At this point, I needed to reiterate graphically what I "heard" Brett saying, and I suggested that I work through some specific details to produce another rough.

My research for this illustration amounted to finding a picture of Candyland. Seeing the original, I thought the color trail would be perfect, as would the hand shaped guide signs. Brett had mentioned stepping stones, and although it wasn't a critical point, I thought it would be a good time to render some things in more than rough detail so he could see how I'd make them look. It would be too easy for Brett to picture one thing based on our conversation, while I pictured something completely different. With a more developed rendering I could say, "It'll look kind of like this..."

Since "people" were going to be an important aspect of the picture, it was important to clarify what sort of people. I wanted to include everyone, and the easiest way to do that would be to not single any one type out. The "people" could all be gummi-people; androgynous, generic game pieces acceptable (or rejectable) by all groups. I used a series of layer styles to make the gummy game pieces- inner glow, bevel and emboss -the same technique on each, with different colors suggested by the trail. I added Brett's text so that I could size it, and show how I'd use a trailside sign as a way of presenting the text. Then I took Candyland's idea of placing the game's name in the upper right corner: since Brett puts the "ID" in "Idea", it became "IDEALAND". I copied the style from the gummi-people to the nameplate. Candyland uses peppermint sticks, I could use gummi-letters.

Initial proof of concept in Brett's clubhouse.I needed a way to create the multicolored Candyland style trail. Candyland used a trail in one multicolored band, and I knew covering a path with evenly spaced stripes would be a real chore. The answer was a massive dotted line in Illustrator. I made the stroke 100 points wide, the dashes 100 points long, and it was perfect. There would be a space separating each "square" so that I could use Photoshop's paint bucket to add bright colors to each square. With a series of darkened copies of the path (hold down option-command then use the up arrow key) each offset one pixel, I could turn the flat path into a dimensional walkway. At this point I was comfortable with what my approach would be and could demonstrate it to Brett. I figured he'd be spending a few moments in Second Life over the weekend, so I stood my rendered experiment up in his club house, sent him an IM that would be delivered as soon as he entered the world, and started laying out specifics with a pencil.

I knew that I'd need to have a sure sense of the content before rendering the complex path in Illustrator; it wouldn't be easy to move part of it to make room for something I hadn't planned for. I needed to decide exactly what each figure would be doing since they weren't really gummi people that I could pose and re-pose as needed. I needed room for a car at the very bottom. Two figures and a map before the trail even started. Each illustration within the larger piece needed to project the essence of the text in the sign that it accompanied. I had to plan what would be needed, where it would sit, and how much room was required for the eye leading path and the trail signs with Brett's all important text.

My pencil rough.As I sketched ideas, I envisioned different details: people around a campfire- hot team- I get the intimate gathering but to sustain the image, they had to be doing something that reinforced the concept while staying true to the metaphor. Of course, people around a campfire toast marshmallows. Marshmallows are candy (recognizing our source) and a hot team could be innovating ways to toast more marshmallows, for more people. The Research Review was a free space that Brett hadn't suggested anything for, so in the final, a reviewer is checking a five pronged toaster on screen. The car had to be packed and obviously leaving. For assessment, Brett had an image of thumbs up and down- that image could be enhanced to show the process of assessing, weighing options. In a pinch, I could use my lion cartoon as the guy in a hammock. With a solid enough pencil sketch, I was able to scale it in the background of my illustrator document so that I could render the path.

A skunk.After inserting the path from Illustrator into my burgeoning Photoshop document, there was only drawing to do: the skunk, the scale, the logs, the tools, the fire. Any "clip-art" would only break the theme, so I scanned pencil drawings, colored them in Photoshop, and arranged the items on stage. At the same time I rendered gummi-people pieces that let me arrange, or "pose" the final figures. Arranging everything on a colorful background worked out well, I think; the center crease and gameboard border add to the fun illusion.

See the final version on flickr.

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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