DAVID R STONG: August 2008 Archives

QR Codes

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http://ets.tlt.psu.edu/gaming/If you have a code reader enabled camera or cell phone you can tell that this gives the URL for the Gaming Community Hub. The image is a data matrix bar code and can contain readable information that could be text, a URL or phone number. Very simply put, it's a graphic sign that can be read and understood by digital devices. I don't know a lot about them- very little actually. My first exposure was in the Second Life episode on CSNY (wait- that's the music group. I mean the crime TV show) and I've had little follow up. It just seems like the beginnings of something very important, very useful, and perhaps easy to tap into.

There are several sites that can generate the bar codes. I used KAYWA to generate this one, but others include ActivePrint and Codeatron. There's lots of information available, much that points to possibilities. A post in the Mobile Learning blog seems to have a good intro with scenarios for uses in education.

Could we put up barcode signs that point to our digital presence? Could we use them to point to extended schedule information for rooms at conferences? Could they be used together with SecondLife to create a first life/second life educational journey, game or contest?

I just use my phone to make phone calls, but I hear other people actually use them for other stuff. Go figure!

I've had several conversations lately about what I would call the required level of professional involvement in a job. Let me explain what I mean by professional involvement. If I got a job with Sports Illustrated as graphic support of some type, I'd start reading up on sports. All of them. Every conceivable aspect. I'd read the sports page, go to sports bars, and even go to a Spikes game. And I'd do it on my own time. Staying sharp—staying employable—is part of what being a professional requires. If I wasn't willing to keep my tools sharp, I'd find a 9 to 5 somewhere and get a hobby.

Creative painting.Perhaps I should mention, I hate watching and reading about sports.

Instead of working for Sports Illustrated, I work for a technology group, but still need to keep my tools sharp. That involves things I think are exciting because they're in my field, but it also involves things that aren't so exciting that are in the job's field. That would be things like twitter, for instance. I do it so I understand it. I try to understand the mentality of people who claim to be "addicted" to it. Immersion is important.

The real reason for this post, though, isn't to tell other writers and designers that they need to immerse themselves; though if they hear that, it wouldn't be a bad thing. The reason is to hash out a question of degree. How much does any support person need to fit in to a work environment where only limited aspects of their skills are used? What if fitting the mold hampers the very qualities in an employee for which they were hired?

Creative writing.Again, let me explain using a job with Sports Illustrated. This time, I'm hired as a creative writer to do human interest pieces. I seem to have a special insight into how some wives feel about football season and I attract readers. As I push my knowledge, as I interact with players and fans, developing as a sports writer, I grow in the eyes of my employer. I go to training camps, games, even tour equipment factories. Slowly, though, my readership changes. The wives are gone and editors are seeing me as an up-and-coming sports columnist.

But I suck as a sports writer. As I become more and more like my employer, the joy in what I do is gone, the career path is totally foriegn, and my portfolio is filled with stuff that I don't have the heart to continue doing.

That's what I mean by degree. Now back to the technology group.

Creative programming.I've seen excellent graphics people move on. I've watched talented media people make lateral moves. I've sat sadly by as gifted writers find more satisfying jobs. In an ACM paper titled Computers for artists who work alone Barbara Meier quotes David McCaulay, the author of How Things Work after his experience working with 40 people to produce a CD version of his book. He had no desire to work that way again, and said that "what I really like is to draw in my studio at home." He says exactly how I feel. And from experience with others who I would call kindred spirits, exactly how they feel too. Yet our group is pushing community.

Over the years external pressures have led me to try to gather kindred spirits into regular community meet-ups. After some initial words of shared hope and vision, it always falls apart. It's not how any of us works, how we think, how we get ideas, get jazzed, or reflect. And it's never been the way we generate quality work. Into this category of kindred spirits I'd also place certain types of creative programers who do their best work as solo acts. We see the collective, are happy to let it exist, but have never wanted a part in it. Is it worth another attempt or can we accept that not everyone thrives in a community environment even though they contribute?

When it starts to feel like a mandated collective environment, things can get very ugly for those involved. What's the expectancy? Can it be the same across a diverse organization?

information design

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Swashbuckle cover.As a teen, I figured that if I wasn't going to sit in some field in France with a box of pastels earning a living, I might be able to be an illustrator. I don't illustrate very much anymore, and missed it—until I realized that illustration is just information design, which is very much part of what I do now. Take this drawing of a tobacco hornworm. It illustrated an article about Penn State research into natural substances that make crops taste bad to predatory insects. There are things included that likely only mattered to me, but some are there for specific groups. Colored pencil isn't my preferred medium, but at the time- 1991- Tobacco horn worm eating.there were a number of drawings of bugs hanging in the Frost Entymological Museum that were all done in colored pencil. I liked the tie-in, and thought people familiar with the Frost might get a sense of familiarity. The "stage set" features the walls and woodwork of the Victorian Manor. The cart is the same as those used for table side Caesar salads. The waiter's dress is from the Vic and the discarded dinners are specific menu items. The woman in the background is my ex, and the table base, just for me, is upside down- which is how I always saw them when I got to work. It all added depth to the illustration even though many readers probably didn't even get that it was a tobacco hornworm.

Cell cycle.That is all old stuff, though. The information that I include in recent "illustrations" has the purpose of conveying specific facts and ideas to students. Learning the material is an obvious prerequisite for real success, and often guides many of my design choices. Occasionally, as with this example, there's already imagery available that for some reason can't be used. I was shown this image of cell mitosis and asked to recreate it so it could be used in our online course. The circular presentation of the information appears to be standard across the sources that we looked at.Cell cycle. I kept it, and to reinforce the cyclical nature of the process overlapped the arrows. To reinforce the idea that cells appear to be static during 75% of this process and actually split during 25% of the process, I included images of the cell. Orientation was changed to facilitate label reading and colors were brought into line with others used in the course. Interesting stuff even without the pastels and Provence.

I'm curious if we could be contributing successful images to the wikipedia. An image of a cell cycle exists in the wikipedia, for instance, but it's possible that this one may be useful as well. Could it be uploaded, given a creative commons license, and attributed to ets at Penn State? Instead of struggling to maintain resource libraries and repositories of our own, we could add our authority to the public knowledge base.

Incidentally, these are two of the pertinent blogs that I try to follow:

InfographicsNews
Always interesting, information and opinion with noteworthy examples of the presentation of information .
information aesthetics
A blog about data visualization and communication. Great examples on a regular basis.
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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