DAVID R STONG: October 2008 Archives

molemen

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I love doing illustrations. Years ago I even thought that my skills were developing enough that it might make a good career. But like an aging high school athlete who's gone to work in his dad's gas station, my skills have faded. I can still look for weekend pickup games, though.Sketch of a mole man. When I saw the 700 Mole Men challenge posted on an illustration blog that I follow, I knew that I'd found a game.

I'm unsure of a lot of the particulars, but the challenge seemed simple: pick a name from the list of 700 mole men in John Hodgman's new book More Information Than You Require, illustrate it, upload the image to flickr and send it to the 700 mole-men group. Easy enough; I gave myself Saturday and Sunday to play with it, figuring that I'd upload whatever I came up with by Sunday afternoon.

The name that grabbed me first is number 101, Mr. Francis Carlsbadcavern, a guanomonger. It was a pleasure thinking of what the business would be, what the equipment would look like. I didn't even know what size these things were, but there was a photo of a naked mole rat on the web site so I guessed naked mole rat size. His pump truck is an oatmeal box with yogurt lid wheels. I wasn't going for cute here... I was going for kind of smarmy. The guy is an uneducated but hard working dealer in bat poo. Nothing cute there.

Sketch of a mole man.Originally the guy was on the right and the cart on the left. I switched them on a whim, added some details and painted myself into a corner. The clock was ticking and there was no time to redraw. The textured background is a bit too juicy, the guy's right shoulder and hand are badly drawn. In fact, I should put the whole thing on the light table and do one more rendering with some attention to anatomy. But times up. Like the aging high school athlete after the pickup game, I came away with pulled muscles, a twisted ankle, and a nagging "what were you thinking?" pounding in my head; but I came away thinking it was fun enough to do again.

I get the Illustration Friday challenge every week. Maybe I'll finally figure it out and give it a try. I think next time, I'll go for cute.

we are...

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Litter covering the sidewalk.

Every Sunday. If we can all be eleven athletes, we have to be the jerks that do this, too.

alt text

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In an
imperfect world, we need to rely on the person using an image to provide text equivalent content for their intended use.
Remember the computer in Star Trek? Picard could tell it to zoom in on a feature in a landscape, and it new exactly where to zoom. Geordi didn't need to type in any pixel coordinates. With that capability, a computer would be able to answer any questions a user who can't see the image has about the scene. When I was working with Multimedia and Emerging Technologies I found the work of James Wang at Stanford. He was developing a program that imbued computers with the ability to recognize images. It was primitive, but if you had a photo of a mountainous landscape and wanted similar shots, the program could do an image search that returned similar landscapes. Of course, there were a few images that didn't belong: a close-up of a crumpled blue and gray truck bumper, for instance, but many hit the mark. Wang now is continuing his work right here at Penn State. It's remarkable, and has the promise of an ideal in which computers can read images and give accurate descriptions of all of the image's content.

Unfortunately that ideal is a long way off. For now we have metadata descriptions that rely on users to write them or metadata that's added by cameras, we have the longdesc attribute, and we have the alt attribute. I like the idea of creator added metadata. I've tried it, but there are no screen readers that can harvest it, so it's utility is in question. I've used longdesc when necessary, and try to always use alt text. Alt text is the easiest to use, but like the others, is far from perfect.

If I look to the W3C for guidance on alt text, the WCAG say that equivalent content must be provided. There are very few content rich images on the W3C's pages, but I found one to examine for insight into proper handling; the W3C Team has a group photo. The text in the body of the page includes the names of the 56 team members in the image, and the ALT text for the image says, "Photo of W3C Team, November 2005." I'd say the W3C calls that equivalent.

So would I, really; but I can see the image. I can also see that Shadi Abou-Zahra has a beautifully colored blue pull-over on, and that Ivan Herman's beard is a distinctive black and silver. The ALT text doesn't mention the radiance of Eric Miller's smile or how attractive Coralie Mercier is with high cheekbones and a white blouse open at the neck. Dermatologists may perceive other qualities in the faces, and fabric dealers may perceive qualities in the clothing. An electrician may be interested in the large wall mounted globe lamp. Sociologists may be interested in the poses and distance between the people or who is touching whom. What, then, is really an equivalent? Would a typical longdesc include the information a blind Socio-anthropologist needs after finding this image on the web? I doubt it. In an imperfect world, I think we need to rely on the person placing an image to provide text equivalent content for their intended use.

And if I give you
an image for your
web page, who is responsible for the alt text? Me or you?
So what, then, is appropriate Alt text for a Wordle image? I used two wordle images in this blog several days ago. Both have alt text that I think is appropriate. Each features the primary words only, which was the intent in my use of the images. I wanted to subtly point out that our web page didn't seem as "student focused" as other CIC schools regardless of our "student focus." Is it critical then, or "equivalent", to include that the Penn State wordle has the word "make" very small? Or "Thursday?" I don't think so. Some word centric people may see it otherwise, I'm sure. It's hard to see other things as data, and hard to see words as anything else. Who should be the arbiter?

Incidentally, both Wordle images from my blog have a slightly more extensive though certainly not complete set of words in their metadata descriptions. As does the Wordle for Spanier's State of the University address; which is happily far more student centric, with the word Students right after Penn State.

games

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With the intriguing title "Will Video Games become better than life?" Brett posted a blog entry with a link to a deeply engaging TED video on games. I commented, then realized that the question more than likely refers to the possibility that electronic games could be more fulfilling than, well, not electronic games. I hesitate to say real life, because a life spent playing games is very real. I edited my comment, but thought this might be the place to expand on my original, more discipline specific, answer.

My original comment was this:

The question about being better than life is an odd one- similar to "what's infinity plus one." It reminds me of a story... Pliny tells a tale in Natural History of a contest in 400BCE between two artists trying to paint the most realistic painting. On the day of judging, one artist, Zeuxis, pulled the drapes from his painting to reveal grapes that were painted so realistically that birds flew down to peck at them. Everyone was, of course, amazed. The judges told the second artist, Parhasius, to pull back the drapes from his painting. and—drum roll please—he couldn't because the drapes were the painting. The paintings no longer exist, but looking at similar trompe l'oeil paintings from the era, one wonders about the development of perception. Over fifteen hundred years later, around 1290, Giotto began introducing styles that enabled painters to mimic three dimensions. His pupils developed accurate shading, but they all had to wait for Brunelleschi to nail down the mechanics of perspective. Each era thought their own painting styles were the most vivid and lifelike.

So can games be better than life? Impossible. But they can give people a glimpse of life that many didn't know existed but a few visionaries have been able to realize and expose.

(This is by Giotto- work once considered "eye-foolingly real". )

So I'm thinking about games and their place in society. I'm thinking that digital games are the direct descendants of classic painting. Paintings tried to emulate life while engaging the viewer in a sensory experience that could challenge, teach, and uplift among other things. Break a game apart and you'd find the link in its mitochondria, I'm sure. Painting was the tool of the shaman, and wal paintings were once as engaging as Halo3… and with that, I am just too damned frustrated with words and typing to continue. Sorry there's so much to read and no illustrations. It makes me crazy, too.

wordle, on university focus

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Word cloud accenting students, university and campus.Several weeks ago, Matt Pasiewicz posted on the Educause blog a tag cloud of text from University Home Pages. He created the cloud using Wordle.

Wordle is a fun little Java toy and the images (with proper attribution) it generates could have significant marketing uses. It takes text entered into a dialog box and creates a tag cloud with the size, color, and weight of the text based on frequency of occurrence. Just like a tag cloud.

Word cloud accenting research, technology, and information.It took me a while to get around to it, but I just grabbed the text from the "text only" version of the Penn State home page and ran it through Wordle. I used the available options to pick a color scheme for Penn State- to be fair, I guess I should've used grayscale. Draw your own conclusions; and by all means, give Wordle a try!

difficult?

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it sounds
reasonable, and
very much like a
good development
direction
Brad posted an interesting post titled tags as cms interface . He ends with several questions that I tried to answer by commenting, had a bad case of spinning lozenges followed by several crashes, then realized my answer might be, after all, better stated here. At least I can save before the crash.

If what we will do to change a banner image is upload an image using the "Blogs at Penn State Image Upload Thingy" and tag it "@banner" it sounds reasonable, and very much like a good development direction.

After giving it an initial attempt, I have some questions, too. First I tried "Tools>Import" which made sense, but I couldn't find a spot to add a tag. Then I realized the image was an "Asset" so I went to "Manage>Assets" and didn't have any assets to manage. I remembered Brad linked back to Erin's directions, so I went to those for initial help. Since the page I bookmark to get to my blog is actually the "Manage Entries" page, it took me a bit to find the Dashboard. Once there I couldn't see "Upload File" under the Create tab- only "user" and "Blog". I realized I needed to go to an individual blog (I have three...) which has its own "Dashboard". I "Uploaded" and I clearly saw the spot to add a tag.

So not only is it possible, it could be an improvement.

I am not a technology insider. To me this entire process is still cryptic at best. Possibly we could find a few average students who will let us give them blogs and pay them to help us investigate, then watch what they do. Ask them to work on them in our "lab" but not on their own time. I bet we'll be surprised what the skill-comfort level really is. Possibly we could petition the McNair Scholars for input?

So… is this too much for most students to "grok"? I say yes.

image test (bolt2)

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bolt

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Capture from the clip. Sometime in November, Disney's new computer animation piece, Bolt will be released. It isn't a Pixar extravaganza, but a simpler piece generated by Disney studios alone—Like Meet the Robinsons and Chicken Little . I think a piece like Bolt could be compared to earlier Disney work like The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron - cartoons that honed young animator's skills without much public fanfare, Scan from the book.though these Disney folks are getting pretty good even without Pixar.

I love computer generated animation, and look forward to everything Pixar does and most of what Disney does too. There's a lot that bothers me though- and it usually bothers me after–the–fact, not before; and never enough to keep me from actually attending and basking in the sensory perfection of a piece like Ratatouille . What bugs me is the sterility; and that might be the wrong word… packaged sensations? Programmed responses? Isn't that what art is ? Computer work from years ago, like the series Reboot made me wonder if illustration and cell animation would at some point be brushed aside in favor of the more photo-perfect styles. For producer/directors, there's a great deal of visionary power in being able to view computer animation in–the–works Capture from the clip.and call for relighting, grander or subtler movement, or different points of view, all while looking over the animator's shoulder.

I'm delighted then when I see alternatives, and the Disney marketing machine has lots of alternatives. I heard of the Bolt Little Golden Book in an illustration blog I follow. I looked in town for a copy but no one had it. Scan from the book.Early this morning, I found a copy on sale at the grocery store so I didn't have to go through Amazon.

The book is delightful. The style is crisp and simple, making no effort to be the same as the film it depicts. The captures and scans that I have here are arranged to contrast the depictions of similar scenes, and clicking them goes to the Amazon or Trailer sites respectively. There's something satisfying in the texture and tone of the Little Golden Book drawings. They were done by Joe Moshier, who also did character design for The Emperor's New Groove . As I mentioned, Disney's marketing machine is massive, and there are actually a number of different books out- aimed at different age levels and reading abilities, I imagine, and they all feature different styles and different artists.Capture from the clip. There's even a larger book due called The Art of Bolt and it features a painted cover that's possibly a conceptual piece done in gouache.

I guess I find comfort in these books. There's a sensuality in this sort of illustration that modeled, generated, machine rendered animation doesn't yet match.Scan from the book. Maybe it will some day, either by advances in the medium, or changes in the perception of artists and audiences. Bolt existed so accurately in its own 3D space that an additional 3D version could be released. It would have been easy to generate single frame images for a book- even new single frame images that didn't exist in the film but that were composed just for single shot vertical illustrations. But, the Machine chose to use 2D images. Like the credits in Ratatouille or The Incredibles we have sensual, visual contrast.

Why? Not sure. Maybe for artistic reasons. Maybe for reasons that would make me shudder—like for more, or cheaper, toy tie-in opportunities. For now, I'll just enjoy my golden book. And maybe I'll take out my pastels and draw a hamster or two.

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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